[Today: Remembering Grunge...]
A few years back I dragged The P out to the Great American Music Hall to see Mudhoney. I’m sure she was bored witless, but one of the things I love about my wife is that she’s always up for a show. I was never a huge Mudhoney fan back in the day, but lately they represent one of the few chances to get a taste of real grunge music, and they didn’t disappoint this semi-fan. It seems so apocryphal that I feel the need to qualify the following: as I remember it, lead singer Mark Arm ran up into the balcony overlooking the stage, climbed up onto the railing, and jumped down onto the stage. Not an impossible jump, but it seems like such a perfect grunge moment that now I wonder if I dreamed it up to satisfy my expectations of what the show must have been like. Who cares? All I remember is a great, rowdy show that delivered exactly what I was after…
Grunge reached its peak in 1992, the year I graduated from college. My college roommates were a diverse bunch – four guys who liked all kinds of different music, from metal to rap to classic rock to pure pop. My roommate Keith was a metalhead and had like-minded friends from Seattle who would drive down for periodic visits. Each time, they’d come storming in raving about bands like Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Nirvana. They brought us Temple Of The Dog in the fall of 1991, minutes after it was released and months before anyone else had a clue. We’d put their discoveries on the hi-fi and crank them up and drink cheap beer and sit around basking in the glow of this music. Additionally, my high school friend Aldo was at the University of Washington, and I’d get the occasional word from him about these amazing triple-bill shows he was seeing for two bucks in Seattle bars. It’s viewed in hindsight as a huge corporate grab (which it turned into) but grunge really was a local movement that had genuine energy and excitement behind it, well before the majors caught on.
At that time, of course, it wasn’t called “grunge”, it was just the next wave of rock, and it sounded a lot fresher than the same old stuff clogging the airwaves. I’ve never quite understood what distinguishes music as grunge – perhaps a combination of geography, attitude, flannel and distortion? The soundtrack to the movie Singles collects some great songs and provokes a few more questions. What is Paul Westerberg’s sap doing here? Are Smashing Pumpkins really grunge? Why was this movie so bad? Alice In Chains kill it on album-opener ‘Would’ – perhaps the purest distillation of the idea of grunge, but lead singer Layne Stahley’s gruesome death makes their music sound like chilling, self-fulfilling prophecy. Pearl Jam contribute a couple of decent songs that anticipate the boring albums they’ve been turning out for the last decade. Soundgarden add two completely different tunes that foretell their split later in the decade – ‘Birth Ritual’ and Chris Cornell’s acoustic ‘Seasons’. Nirvana was already too huge to be included here, but they were as doomed as grunge itself.
And right in the middle of the pomp of the Singles soundtrack sits ‘Overblown’ by Mudhoney. Shouting against the very commercialization of his scene that this soundtrack represented, Mark Arm sings “Everybody loves us/Everybody loves our town/That’s why I’m thinking lately/The time for leaving is now.” Ironically, Mudhoney was probably the band least affected by the spoils that grunge brought. And far from leaving town, Arm and Mudhoney are the last band still regularly conjuring the spirit of Seattle circa 1992…
Listen: Pushin’ Forward Back [Temple Of The Dog]
Listen: Would? [Alice In Chains]
Listen: Seasons [Chris Cornell]
Listen: Breath [Pearl Jam]
Listen: Overblown [Mudhoney]