Comedian Billy Connolly once talked about life before Elvis Presley. He described a drab, beige flavored reality. Where music was homogenized and tremendously sing-along-able. Connolly said that once Elvis became widely known around the world the entirety of existence suddenly appeared to be in vibrant color.
This is how many of us viewed the world before Nirvana and their album Nevermind. It was the heralding cry of a changing culture. We understood that there was an alteration in the contrast that we were previously aware of at the time. We could understand what Connolly described. However, for us instead of beige, our planet was in a continuous state of an ever-evolving Nickle-o-Deon neon.
Whether one is a fan of Nevermind or if you still openly whine thirty years later that Nirvana fucked everything up for your hair metal band, MÜff DÏvÜr.
“I am telling you, Wayne! We would have been bigger than Metallica! But that crappy Nirvana! Yarrrgh, damn you Cobain!”
Yo, hee! Yo, ho! They are the “Youth Grown Old”. It’s a sad, stinking reality but these guys on average wind up in cover bands playing Foo Fighters’ songs on the weekends while my dance partner, a girl named Liza that I just met has me trapped in the corner at some Midwestern bar called Sneaky Pete’s… oops, I digress my dear reader!
The cultural impact that Nevermind has had 30 plus years down the road cannot be ignored. The resurgence of fashions. Just like any other era we dressed in the prescribed mode of the time. Music has forever shaped our manners, our fashions, and our habits.
But this time it was also the sound that Nirvana made that helped re-shape the dank, stale corners of popular hard rock music as it rolled out its own revisited aesthetic of “Punk Rock 101.” Which is largely loud, sweaty, raw, rock music meant to rattle the oil cans on the walls of mom and dad’s small garage…gah dammit…gah damn!
The age group that I belong to showed up during the trailing end of the “slacker generation X” group born at the conclusion of the 1970s. Our “tender age was in bloom” during the early-90s. Our adolescence wrapped its arms around the pre and post Grunge era of hard rock music.
By the way this is not a review. This is a recollection.
Nirvana mesmerized a fair part of the global population of music nerds in an instant. Those imbued with “the angst.” They were absolutely loved or utterly hated. My dad used to call them “On A Nerve,” clever man he has taught me everything I have stolen from him. Too bad he wasn’t ever a writer. I could blame the bad jokes on him as well. Dig.
In the autumn of 1991 “grunge” was a word that was just making its way to my drowsy small town. However, it was picking up momentum out beyond the heartland and the respective bible belts. It took several years for it to happen, but when MTV finally became available in our basic cable packages, another world of music sprang forth.
My first moments of MTV were spent watching videos by ZZ Top, Bruce Springsteen LIVE doing a version of Edwin Starr’s “War” and many heavy-metal cock rock bands, as was the style at the time. It was pre-internet. MTV was a channel that you could explore. It played videos twenty-four hours a day. It was also during the burgeoning home VHS machine days. You could drop a tape in and record all night. It was during one of these random tape drops where I discovered its after-hours programming.
Grunge had firm roots in something formerly known as “college rock.” Soon it was a name as safe as “new wave” and kept corporate sponsors happy on big business alt-rock radio and on MTV. For kids like myself who grew up very rural, MTV was an especially valuable resource. I guess it could be described as a sort of pre-cursor social media. My hometown is located about an hour east of St Louis, Missouri, and five hours south of Chicago. The wilds of Illinois.
MTV was the place to discover the latest music in a place where the culture split heavily between the cosmopolitan and the redneck. We were far enough away from big city radio that we could not receive their broadcast signal. The radio that we could tune in was primarily country music or repulsive adult contemporary, middle-of-the-road hog wash. Its audience was the bourgeois members of everyone’s community. The lowest of common denominator.
Headbanger’s Ball and 120 Minutes. I remember my first glimpse of Nirvana. It was during Headbanger’s Ball. Kurt Cobain was decked out in a lovely, yellow gown and Riki Rachtman was thoroughly bemused. After a humorous interview, Rachtman announced that we “were tuned into Headbanger’s Ball on MTV, here is Nirvana and their video for “Smells Like Teeeeem..nnnn Spirit!”
The very next night “120 Minutes” ran the video for “Teen Spirit” and an old video of the band performing the song “Negative Creep” off their album “Bleach.” I hadn’t ever seen one video leap across the aisle from “headbanging” to “neo-alternative.” It occurred to me that I was seeing some sort of awakening within the culture.
Just as punk rock spat new life into the fattened face of bloated 1970s rock, Grunge arrived to inadvertently change the dynamics of music. After Nirvana splashed out across the nation and became international, the word “grunge” became synonymous with any band coming out of Seattle. That meant that any sort of horrible and nefariously shitty music could be stamped “Direct from Seattle” and sell copy after copy.
Many of the bands that left Seattle for Los Angeles a decade prior to find success began returning to Seattle.
The fashion part of it was at once reflected in all the flannel shirts my friends and I had. The black low-cut Chucks were mandatory, drummers favored those shoes, or you could lash on a pair of black combat boots with your baggie butt cargo shorts.
Grunge opened up the idea of getting a few friends together and jamming in the garage. It expounded upon the idea of writing wholly original music. The raw influence of Grunge made rock –and-roll accessible again to write and learn your own songs! You didn’t have to be some hunky cock-rocker with big shiny hair. In a remarkably similar fashion to punk, grunge has also been described many times as both a blessing and a curse.
Grunge changed the face of hard rock in many positive ways and at the same time was a true hit hype machine. A machine that we later learned created and ate its own.
No matter how you accepted the music or despised it, it changed the mode of not only music but also society as well. People began to not only start to get into more eclectic music styles, but their thinking also became a little more diverse. Especially for those who delved deep into the jam band scene. That was fun! Fuckin’ Hell what happened?