Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Dude, the soundtrack for your biopic sucks!" Part III

Good day, fellow music mavens!

Way back in the early Eighties a gent by the name of Mark Arm (later of Green River and Mudhoney fame) used the following colorful descriptors to characterize the sound of his then-current band Mr. Epp and the Calculations:

"Pure grunge! Pure noise! Pure shit!"

When an original, independent music movement emerged from the Pacific Northwest woods like a sonic Sasquatch, the industry and the media freaked out, unable to package, label and market it.  "Grunge" seemed as good a term as any, but frankly I hate that description.  Regardless of what you call it,  we had our own modest musical revolution to be proud of in the late Eighties and early Nineties.

The first band of that ilk that I heard of wasn't who you'd think.  It was Temple of the Dog, a tribute band assembled by Chris Cornell in memory of Andrew Wood, a close friend and lead singer of the glam/metal outfit Mother Love Bone who died of a heroin overdose.  Andrew's early demise would prove to be the most galling, cliche and wasteful characteristic of the movement and it was repeated an-nauseum over the next few years.  Here's a sample of Temple's ruminations:

This led me to the works of Cornell's own band, Soundgarden.  Here's a particularly nasty little musical punch to the mush:

In this I'd finally found my ideal music.  This "Seattle Sound" (for lack of a better term) possessed the aggression of metal, a surfeit of lyrical relevance and considerably better musicianship than punk.  I was in a pure state of bliss, of rapture, of...

No.  I won't say it yet.   

This became even more pronounced in late 1990 when alternative was dragged kicking and screaming into the mainstream.  Now this wasn't accomplished by the media, record executives or market research.  It was done in the most democratic way possible: by one earnest, timely and talented band and hordes of fans desperate for genuine music.

To illustrate, here's a chart of top singles in 1990:

Minus a few aberrant examples (such as Sinead O'Connor, Faith No More, the B-52's) the lion's share of what's on this chart is pure product: safe, neatly groomed musical mcnuggets that can be imaged, produced and marketed like any other mediocre commodity designed for easy consumption.

And here's the same chart two years later:

Now, granted, there's still tons of crap (like Boys II Men, Kris Kross, and Lord of Mullets Billy Ray Cyrus) but isn't the difference amazing?  Do you see what can happen when we collectively thumb our noses at musical gruel and embrace better things?  Of course, in order to do that, we do need some incentive...

Now, don't get me wrong, I really think these charts exhibit something totally aberrant.  Alternative music, is supposed to be, y'know, alternative.  But for a few shining years in the Early Nineties, everything made sense to me in this crazy world.

And we owe it all to Nirvana.

As soon as I saw the video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on Good Rockin' Tonite I knew at once that my generation would finally have the sort of  musical legacy that folks from the 60's were proud of.  One single, one album and one band managed to give a big 'ole enema to the bloated music industry and a giant "f#@& you" to record executive weasels who wanted to keep feeding us a constant intravenous drip of audio diarrhea.

The Music Business Program ad for "AI International" that Nirvana spoofs in their  "Live!  Tonight!  Sold out!" video is a perfect example of what I'm talking about:

Nirvana is so beloved to me, here's another live clip of them performing one my favorite tunes of all time:

As I said before, this grassroots movement was a bit of an anomaly, but it was great while it lasted.   L7, Brad, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, Hole, Blind Melon, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Screaming Trees, and the following  enterprising lads all had unprecedented exposure:

But all good things must come to an end.  Haute couture fashion shows began to sport flannel-bedecked runway models.  Employees at Sub Pop made up fake "grunge-speak" just to get the scene-obsessed media (see FAIL below) to go away and pay attention to something more vapid.  Every crap band with a pulse that lived on the West Coast was getting signed by corporate pinheads in the hopes that they'd become the next Golden Calf.

It was as if Kurt killed himself because he just didn't want to preside over the inevitable.

In the aftermath of such loss, the mid-to-late 90's were a dark time.  Easily interviewed, attractively packaged and completely talentless divas, boy bands and novelty acts began to dominate again.  If not for acts like Sloan, Pearl Jam, Beck, No Doubt, The Beastie Boys, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, A Perfect Circle, U2, Hole, Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots, Tool, Rage Against The Machine, and Monster Magnet, I would have cracked up.

A few bands deserve special mention.  I'd missed our very own Tragically Hip during their Up To Here phase but as they got progressively weirder and found their own unique sound, I sat up and took notice.  Here's their historical Saturday Night Live performance of "Grace, Too" from 1995:

With their copious references to KISS, Kitty Pryde and Dungeons & Dragons, Weezer's self-titled debut album as well as Pinkerton and Maladroit provided tremendous sustenance during this time.  Here's "The Good Life" from Pinkerton:

Dogged survivors of the Seattle scene Modest Mouse also kept me duly entertained:

Radiohead was also there for me, taking me into paths barely tread.  Here they are performing "Fake Plastic Trees" at Glastonbury:

And finally Built To Spill convinced me that alternative and indie music was still alive, well, and doing just fine away from the wilting glare of the zeitgeist:

Well, that's all for now, kiddies.  In the final installment of my musical odyssey I'll cover exciting times as hope springs eternal, popular music is hits terrible new lows, prove that today is the best time to be a music fan and finally explain why Nickelback should eat a bowl of d!@%s.


BadmotorfingerTen Temple of the Dog   
IncesticideDay for NightPinkerton
OK ComputerKeep It Like a SecretGood News for People Who Love Bad News

1 comment:

Epic said...

Nice one! All very true....