A History Lesson in Grunge

Can you believe that on April 5th it was the 15th Anniversary of Kurt Cobain´s death? Fifteen years! Already! It’s just another reminder that I am getting old… I was 16 in 1994 so you do the math.

So I thought in honor of Kurt I am going to give you all a semi-sort of history lesson on Nirvana and the 90´s Seattle Grunge scene. I don´t think Kurt really liked the term Grunge or being a part of any scene. But Kurt didn´t seem to like a lot of things and this is my blog so fuck it.

In my opinion the Grunge and Seattle scene hands down was one of the most important music scenes of our time because it opened not only myself but a lot of others to an array of new sounds, ideas, and attitudes. I know there is a lot of energy and excitement when it comes to your youth and music but when it came to this music it didn’t age discriminate…it affected everyone and everything in its path.

In 1983 Bruce Pavitt moved to Seattle and started an Indie rock fanzine called Subterranean Pop, which later would be shortened to Sub Pop. Included along with the fanzine was a compilation cassette with bands that Bruce had covered in his fanzine. Sub Pop later became a column in a Seattle monthly magazine called The Rocket. Bruce had bigger plans for Sub pop, he wanted to start a record label but didn´t have the finances to do so. In 1987 Kim Thayil (guitarist for Soundgarden) introduced Bruce to Jonathan Poneman who was a DJ/booking agent and also a man with cash. The two joined forces and started signing bands like Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Green River and Nirvana. Sub pop was known for having a consistent sound because a lot of the bands recorded in the same 8- track studio with Jack Endino. Sub Pop had a consistent look, using the same photographer (Charles Peterson) to capture the look of Seattle rock scene for promotional campaigns. In 1989 Sub Pop arranged for a British journalist by the name of Everett True (Melody Maker) to come to Seattle and report on the thriving music scene. People say that it was this journalist who first mentioned the word ¨grunge¨ to the public.

Also in 1989 Soundgarden was the first “grunge” act from Seattle to get signed to a major label. Second was Mother Love Bone (later became Pearl Jam) to A&M but unfortunately on March 19th 1990, a month before the band´s major release the lead singer Andy Wood died of an accidental heroin overdose. The third act was Alice in Chains who had the same managers as both Soundgarden and Mother Love Bone.

Nirvana would sign to a major (DGC/Geffen) in 1991 and started recording their album Nevermind there soon after. Guns n´ Roses for the most part were the biggest band in the United States and Michael Jackson was ruling the charts. In August that same year Pearl Jam released their debut Ten and four weeks later Nirvana released Nevermind. The first single as we all know would be Smells Like Teen Spirit. This album/song would change the way people listened to popular music in the 90´s and today. The Smells Like Teen Spirit video dominated MTV. An initial shipment of 50 000 units was dispatched in 1991 but the records kept selling and selling. Today over 10 million copies of Nevermind have been sold worldwide.

The media fixation for Nirvana and Seattle-Grunge grew even stronger when Nirvana bumped Michael Jackson off the charts and landed at number 1. Nirvana was everything missing in rock, they were real and unpolished. Parents were in shock that their children could identify with music that they thought was so full of rage. What shocked bands like Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney and Soundgarden was that they now knew people around the world had the same feelings of alienation they had experienced.

Cameron Crow´s film Singles was the first “grunge” movie. It starred Bridget Fonda and Matt Dillon. The movie has cameos from Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, Layne Stayley and others. And its going to not be a shocker to you all that it is one of my favourite movies of all time..But Cameron Crow rocks..hello Almost Famous!! He wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High and directed countless other classics…

Some might think the beginning of the end came when grunge was featured in fashion magazines like Vogue. Beautiful thin , models dressed in Nirvana and flannel shirts. It seemed wrong that fashion designers like Christian Francis Roth and Marc Jacobs had also embraced grunge with their high priced cardigans and ripped jeans. It was now haute couture and fashionable.

At one point it seemed that grunge was everywhere. It’s a proven fact that with anything that becomes overly popular there is always some sort of backlash. A backlash is one thing but the death of an icon is another. When Kurt Cobain committed suicide 15 years ago people thought that the grunge movement had died with him. In my opinion music can never die as long as there is somebody listening. You have teenagers today that were infants when Kurt Cobain died that are listening to Nirvana albums. That’s a sign that the music will never die. Bands break up..Soundgarden…people die… Layne Stayley… others go on… Dave Grohl… and bands don´t break up and just keep going… Pearl Jam, Mudhoney and The Melvins.

All scenes are relevant but with this one you can dwell on the darkness and the sadness of it or you can think of what made it special. I hope you enjoyed this lesson today on the history of grunge… I´m going to bed now…good night.

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