Theoretically Speaking S3 | E15:

What Makes Grunge, Grunge ?

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Bill Bois’ Music Theory For Non-Musicians


…if there was ever an art where breaking the rules is one of the rules, it’s music.

REDDITOR R/COMPRIMENS


What Makes Grunge, Grunge? 

Seattle.

Even if you hadn’t already read the title, I could just say the city’s name.

And you’d think, “grunge.”

Seattle has a long music history, though. From the garage rock of The Sonics, to the innovative virtuosity of Jimi Hendrix, to the sophisticated hard rock of Heart, Seattle’s contributions to rock music are well known and respected.

There’s more to it than that, of course. Seattle had a strong jazz scene in the first half of the 20th Century and also embraced politically left-leaning folk music. Even vaudeville had a place there. 

After World War II, local laws changed to put tighter reigns on venues that may or may not have allowed on premises gambling and prostitution.

With that, the outlets for artists dried up, especially after Boeing started up, and a lot of aerospace engineers moved in.

It became a town for slide rules, not slide guitars.

Boeing = Boring.

“Nashville Tower? This is Captain Oveur, aboard Delta/Boeing # 1517.
We’ve had to restrain passenger “V. Dog.” Please have the TSA ready for detainment.”

But things happened underground.

Even before The Beatles and the British Invasion, amateur musicians began rehearsing in garages up and down the west coast.

Garage rock was simple, energetic, and fun.

Though some professionals played garage rock, it has the reputation of being friends just getting together and calling themselves a band. The instrumentation was whatever instruments each group of friends played.

Some bands didn’t have any friends who could sing.

In Seattle, The Wailers, The Ventures, and The Frantics produced outstanding instrumental garage rock singles.

Down the road in Portland, The Kingsmen had a hit with Louie Louie, which might as well have been an instrumental because no one could understand the lyrics.

Garage rock is often seen as an ancestor of punk. It’s so simple, anyone can play it. No training is required, all you really need is a guitar, an amp, and a fuzzbox. Just like punk.

Garages can be cold, by the way.

That’s why everyone in grunge wore flannel.

Through the 70s and into the 80s, Seattle gradually became the perfect petri dish for a new sort of sound.

Not only did small venues open, but so did independent record stores and labels, and college radio stations and fanzines. It was a tiny scene, everyone knew each other and supported each other. The punk spirit of DIY was in full force.

What Seattle didn’t have was a good location for touring bands. If a group from east of the Mississippi was booking a tour, they might make it to San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. It’s a long way from there to Portland, and from there they could go to Seattle and, passports permitting, Vancouver .

But then what?

The next major city heading back home would be Minneapolis, 1,700 miles away.

Many tours skipped the Pacific northwest entirely. Likewise, Seattle bands rarely played out of the area.

That left musicians in Seattle isolated and their sound evolved in its own way. 

One band that made it up to Seattle was the Los Angeles group Black Flag. Known for their fast, aggressive, hardcore punk sound, they arrived just after changing their sound. Their second album, 1984’s My War, annoyed fans of their first record by slowing the tempo down significantly. 

As Black Sabbath and other early heavy metal bands had already proved, slower speeds sound heavier. Black Flag’s new sound influenced Seattle bands like The Melvins, Soundgarden, and Green River.

The Melvins were the first metal-adjacent band to use drop D tuning, where the low E string is tuned down to a D. This makes the guitar sound even darker and heavier. The Melvins taught it to Soundgarden.

Green River didn’t last long but is interesting in that its various members would go on to be in Malfunkshun, Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, Love Battery, and Pearl Jam.

That shouldn’t be surprising in a small, insular scene. 

Not only were musicians in and out of multiple bands over time, they were in the audience, too.  More often than not, the audience was only musicians from other bands. If you want people to come to your show next week, you go to see them play this week. It helps keep the clubs open, too. 

Somehow, you all still make it to your day jobs the next morning.

In the mid-80s, rock radio and MTV were playing a lot of glam metal, or hair metal as it was derisively called. Given Seattle’s insular nature, glam metal wasn’t popular in its underground scene. Rock god hairspray machismo is obviously fake when everyone will see you working at Peet’s the next day.

Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone, both fronted by singer Andrew Wood, as well as Alice In Chains, started out as glam metal, but toned it down as the slower, heavier, sound was coming into vogue. Soundgarden’s 1989 song Big Dumb Sex satirizes glam metal’s superficial penchant for treating women as sex objects.

Parenthetically, the album that song came from, Louder Than Love, inspired Metallica to write Enter Sandman. While they remained a metal band, they slowed way down, and had their biggest hits.

In 1986, local label CZ Records put out a compilation album of Seattle bands. Called Deep Six, it included Green River, The Melvins, Malfunkshun, Skin Yard, Soundgarden, and The U-Men. It didn’t sell well, but it’s some of the first recordings we have of early grunge. I’ll include a song from it in Suggested Listening below, but here’s a link to a playlist of the entire album.

The biggest Seattle label was SubPop.

In the days before downloadable music, they had ads in music magazines with a form you could mail in. That would sign you up for their Singles Club.

For a fee, they’d ship you a copy of every single they released. This slowly grew the label and spread the word about Seattle.

And word got out, making it all the way to the major labels. PolyGram signed Mother Love Bone and released an EP called Shine on a new subsidiary label they created just for the band. Hopes were high.

Unfortunately, and perhaps predictably, singer Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose a few days before their full length album, Apple, came out. His death was one of many within the Seattle scene.

Wood’s roommate, Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell wrote two songs in tribute to his late friend.

He approached Mother Love Bone members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament about recording them.

Gossard asked his high school friend Mike McCready to play guitar, and Cornell asked Eddie Vedder to come in for some backing vocals. Matt Cameron from Soundgarden played drums.

It turned into a full album. Both the album and the band were called Temple Of The Dog.

The singles Hunger Strike and Say Hello 2 Heaven peaked at #4 and 5 respectively on the US Mainstream Rock chart.

From that project, Gossard, Ament, McCready, and Vedder started a band they called Mookie Blaylock, after a favorite basketball player. They eventually decided that was a terrible name and changed it to the more psychedelic Pearl Jam. They did, however, name their first album Ten, which was the number on Blaylock’s uniform.

Ten wasn’t a success. At first.

Word of mouth grew though, and radio stations started playing their first single Alive. The album took a year to get to the top ten on the Billboard album chart, eventually peaking at #2. It has since gone 13 times platinum. They’re still together and selling out stadiums.

One hundred miles southwest of Seattle, where the Wishkah River meets the Chahalis, two friends who liked The Melvins started a band. Several bands, actually. Their first was a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band. They started doing originals and went through a few drummers.

But Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic eventually settled on a name:

Nirvana.

They released an album on SubPop called Bleach, which made it to #89 on the Billboard 200 album chart.

That’s pretty good for an indie label and got the attention of DGC, a subsidiary of A&M.

The label teamed them up with producer Butch Vig, so the resulting album, Nevermind, is a mixture of punk angst and slick major label production. 

You already know what happened next.

You may even know where you were the first time you heard Smells Like Teen Spirit on the radio.

It was a paradigm shift.

Suddenly, hair metal was old-fashioned. This was the new sound.

Nevermind knocked Michael Jackson out of the number one spot on the Billboard 200. It’s sold 30 million copies globally.

With the success of Nevermind and Ten, major labels scoured Seattle for other bands to sign. Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Screaming Trees, and many more got deals. Even bands that weren’t grunge in the slightest, like Presidents Of The United States Of America, got signed simply because they were from Seattle. 

(Which is OK. PotUSoA are a pretty fun band.)

All the little chicks with the crimson lips go:
‘V-Dog Rocks, V-Dog Rocks
‘ “

Grunge-adjacent bands from other places got signed, too.

Smashing Pumpkins were from Chicago, Hole was from Los Angeles, Sonic Youth were from New York, Stone Temple Pilots were from San Diego, and Babes In Toyland were from Minneapolis. Australia’s Silverchair and Bush from the United Kingdom had huge hits.

It had been a close community where everyone supported each other. But with A&R reps in every nightclub on any night of the week, it became more of a competition, more of a job.

With that, and the stresses of the industry, came an increase of depression and drug use. 

The attention changed things in the Seattle scene.

Kurt Cobain killed himself in 1994. The same year, Kristen Pfaff, the bassist for Hole, died of a heroin overdose. Layne Staley of Alice In Chains died in 2002 from a mix of heroin and cocaine. Alice In Chains bassist Mike Starr overdosed on prescription meds in 2011. Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots OD’d in 2015. Chris Cornell hung himself in 2017.

These are all tragedies.

The one we forget about, however, is probably the most shocking. 

Mia Zapata

The body of Mia Zapata, lead singer for The Gits, was found on a street corner at 3:30am on July 7, 1993. She had been beaten, raped, and strangled. The medical examiner recognized her because he was a fan. He said the beating was so brutal that she would have died even without being strangled.

Saliva from where she had been bitten was saved in cold storage and, after the invention of DNA technology, led to the arrest and conviction of her killer ten years later. He had a long record of violence against women.

In the intervening years, Seattle bands pooled their resources and raised $70,000 for a private investigator.

The surviving members of The Gits approached Joan Jett, who was a fan, about doing an album and touring with the proceeds going to the fund.

They did both, calling the project Evil Stig, which is Gits Live backwards.

Zapata’s friends created a non-profit called Home Alive with the purpose of teaching women self-defense, meaning both martial arts and de-escalation techniques. They provide these courses with a pay structure that means even low income women can learn how to protect themselves.

The role of women in grunge isn’t limited to musicianship or running labels.

And the men in the scene are more supportive of women than almost anywhere else in the industry.

In no grunge music video will you see women as objects. 

Eddie Vedder famously wrote “Pro-choice” on his arm with a sharpie on Pearl Jam’s appearance on MTV Unplugged.

In a 1992 interview with Spin Magazine, Kurt Cobain said, “I would like to get rid of the homophobes, sexists, and racists in our audience. I know they’re out there. And it really bothers me.”

Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and others had feminist lyrics. Both Cobain and Vedder would often write from a woman’s point of view. When Nirvana performed at their induction to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, the late Cobain’s role was filled by several people: Joan Jett, Lorde, Annie Clark of St. Vincent, and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. All women. No men. Just how Cobain would have wanted it.

Part of Nirvana’s feminism may have come from their move from Aberdeen to Olympia, home of the Riot Grrrl movement.

It was there that Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill gave Cobain the title Smells Like Teen Spirit.

I may get to Riot Grrrl in another article.

We’ve forgotten the feminist side of grunge, but it’s a vital part of what grunge was.

That makes it all the sadder that we’ve also forgotten the first band to record something that can be called grunge, a year before Green River. We’ve forgotten what was perhaps the very first grunge band.

They were called Bam Bam. It was started by a husband and wife team, singer Tina Bell and guitarist Tommy Martin, in 1983. Listening to them now, they sound familiar, but at the time they were unique.

No one sounded like them.

Dark, heavy, aggressive, and melodic.

It doesn’t seem possible that Bell’s huge voice could come from her 5’2” frame.

The guitar is over-processed in an 80s kind of way, but their songs hold up as well as any early grunge act. Why then don’t we know anything about them? Why weren’t they included on the Deep Six compilation? And why are they never mentioned in histories of grunge?

It could very well be the same reason Bell learned to use a mic stand in self-defense. She was black. 

At a club called The Metropolis, two skinheads stood in front and yelled a racist word. You know the word. An eyewitness said she waved the mic stand around a couple times and thwacked one racist on the head. Then she thwacked the other one. They both went down hard.

She became known more for that incident than for her music. And I’m not helping by mentioning it here.

But it’s part of the story that her race kept some people from hearing her art.

We missed out on her absolute powerhouse of a voice and her planet-sized charisma.

We missed out in part because labels couldn’t figure out how to market a rock band with a black female singer.

And in part due to our own shortcomings.

She left Bam Bam in 1990. The band continued as a trio. Bell and Martin divorced in 1996 and she became reclusive, dying in 2012. She was found in her empty apartment, a week or more after she died. The cause of death was cirrhosis of the liver. She drank herself to death. She died of depression.

The prior year, her son, T.J. Martin, won the Best Documentary Feature Oscar for directing Undefeated.

Tina Bell has been called the Godmother of Grunge and we should celebrate her.

Instead, we’ve forgotten her entirely.

Those who remember have decided to just not talk about it.

Grunge is a combination of punk, metal, and classic rock that talks about dark subjects, depression chief among them.

Yet, there’s something positive about it. Rather than hide behind feelgood lyrics, these singers write about the truth of being human. And listeners realize they’re not alone in feeling that way. It’s helpful.

People say it’s good to get things off your chest. Grunge certainly let songwriters do that, but we’ve lost so many of them that we have to wonder how well it worked.

Music is supposed to heal both the musician and the audience. It helped a lot of us. 

But not everyone.

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Suggested ListeningFull YouTube Playlist

Walk Don’t Run
The Ventures

1960

Psycho
The Sonics
1965

Curses In The Dark
Bam Bam

1984

Throb
Skin Yard
1986

Shotgun Wedding
Malfunkshun

1987

Touch Me I’m Sick
Mudhoney
1988

Big Dumb Sex
Soundgarden
1989

Between The Eyes
Love Battery
1989

Stardog Champion
Mother Love Bone
1990

Second Skin
The Gits
1991

Hunger Strike
Temple Of The Dog
1991

Come As You Are
Nirvana

1991

Them Bones
Alice In Chains

1992

Crazy Love
Gruntruck

1992

Nearly Lost You
Screaming Trees

1992

Daughter
Pearl Jam
1993

Whirlwind
Evil Stig
1995


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Bill Bois

Bill Bois - bassist, pie fan, aging gentleman punk, keeper of the TNOCS spreadsheet:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/138BvuV84ZH7ugcwR1HVtH6HmOHiZIDAGMIegPPAXc-I/edit#gid=0

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Phylum of Alexandria
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March 10, 2023 8:03 am

I’ll have to check out those female grunge acts, but I definitely can’t imagine grunge being what it grew into without female No Wave artists like Lydia Lunch, Kim Gordon, and Jarboe. And Courtney Love was a kindred spirit, even though her LA connections brought the hard drugs into Kurt’s orbit.

Kurt seemed to regard Seattle and Subpop with some level of distaste later on. He regretted that the weirder songs they recorded in 1988-9 (which ended up on Incesticide) weren’t included on Bleach, and the album as released pigeonholed them as cromagnon headbanger types.

I can’t tell if that’s simply Kurt’s own hipster insecurities getting the best of him (for instance, he always made fun of Aerosmith despite loving their music), or if there was an element of him reacting against a real culture of machismo there.

Aside from Nirvana and Mudhoney’s early work, my favorite Seattle stuff is the U-Men, which kind of reminds me of The Birthday Party and Scratch Acid. I guess it’s the Stooges connection. When I first heard Fun House and Raw Power, I heard grunge in a new light.

JJ Live At Leeds
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March 10, 2023 11:21 am

Hearing The Stooges it’s incredible they were making that noise in the late 60s. Then I listen to The Sonics and the line goes back even further.

LinkCrawford
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March 10, 2023 8:38 am

I went on my mission for the LDS church in July 1990. I faithfully avoided media pretty much completely, as directed. We were supposed to avoid distraction, and looking back, I’m totally glad I did it. But when I got home in July 1992 and showed back up at college in August, I was met with a music scene that I barely recognized. The first time I asked someone where all these bands came from, the short answer was “Seattle”. Good write-up, VDog, as usual.

LinkCrawford
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March 10, 2023 8:41 am

I think this ode to Seattle by one of the grunge pioneers himself really set the stage for the watershed change in music at the time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unhx40WNsRE

mt58
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March 10, 2023 9:02 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Something something Bobby Sherman:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRNpa_vTjRM

LinkCrawford
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March 10, 2023 12:52 pm
Reply to  mt58

I didn’t know this connection!

cappiethedog
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March 10, 2023 10:56 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Just as catchy as Robyn Hitchcock’s “Viva! Sea-Tac”.

Pauly Steyreen
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March 10, 2023 10:07 am

Great memories! The first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was at a high school dance, of all places, my senior year. It was one of the last songs of the dance. Of course, the music up to that point was all pop and R&B. But when Nirvana came on, everyone on the dance floor evacuated and about a dozen of us at the periphery invaded the space and moshed ourselves into a collective concussion. It was glorious!!! Within a couple months, all you heard from me and my friends’ tape decks was Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam. It was indeed a sea change, and a most welcome one at that.

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 10, 2023 10:27 am
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

That’s awesome.

When I first heard Nirvana, I was but a child. “Teen Spirit” and PJ’s “Jeremy” definitely hit me…but so did “Prince Ali” from the Aladdin soundtrack.

So yeah, very different perspective.

JJ Live At Leeds
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March 10, 2023 11:27 am
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

I was at high school when Teen Spirit came out as well. In my rural backwater at that time it was either mainstream pop or hair metal that were the big things. There weren’t many of us that latched onto Nirvana but as the ones thst were passionate about music we had control of the common room tape deck so everyone had to listen whether they liked it or not. Mostly not.

blu_cheez
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March 10, 2023 3:42 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

I was 20, and a friend played it at a party. Blew my freaking mind. Like: I was different after hearing that song. Still have the two flannel shirts I bought soon after.

cappiethedog
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March 10, 2023 11:04 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

The guy behind the counter at Tower Records told me Bleach was available, but only on cassette, when I purchased Nevermind. I must have looked surprised because he said: “Yeah. They sold-out.”

I don’t think selling-out is a thing anymore.

This would be my introduction to Sub Pop, the gateway label to Kill Rock Stars and K.

Pauly Steyreen
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March 10, 2023 11:32 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

K Records… Tiger Trap and Heavenly and many other twee greats… *swoon*

cappiethedog
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March 12, 2023 1:43 am
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Lois Maffeo covering The Zombies’ “Way I Feel Inside” was the twee-est of them all.

P! U! N! K! GIRL!

I think Heavenly is reuniting.

Pauly Steyreen
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March 12, 2023 11:48 am
Reply to  cappiethedog

I did not know that — very cool!

When I was a college radio DJ (for one semester), I frequently spun the “P.U.N.K. Girl” song. I even recently requested it on my local college station. What a fun, upbeat, feminist queer love song!

I remember that Lois Strumpet album vaguely. I was more into Tiger Trap, Cub, that cute and upbeat but hidden melancholy vibe. Almost kid-like in its innocence (like Tiger Trap spinoff The Softies).

I’m gonna go listen to some Heavenly now!

Pauly Steyreen
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March 12, 2023 11:51 am
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Everybody watching this very insidery exchange about K Records’ twee glee from the mid-90’s, experience the joy for yourself:

https://youtu.be/FIyEwA7G8qY

cappiethedog
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March 12, 2023 4:03 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

I didn’t get past It’s Love. I guess Rose Melberg bought Pulse, because that’s Adrian Tomine’s artwork on the cover.

Beat Happening’s You Turn Me On was such a revelation. Wow! That guy can barely carry a tune. I just bought everything on K’s roster.

The Halo Benders crack me up, because Calvin Johnson and Doug Martsch sound like they’re singing different songs.

mt58
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March 10, 2023 10:54 am

“You may even know where you were the first time you heard Smells Like Teen Spirit on the radio.”

I’d been hearing some exciting buzz about a new band from Seattle. As this was time in life where I’d generally stopped buying records, I just tried to keep an ear out for it. But a couple of weeks went by and I somehow still hadn’t caught “Let’s Go, Teen Spirit” (sic) on the radio.

Around 8:30 one late September Saturday night, I happened to see this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5OQ1_gzJa4

I made sure to make a pot of coffee so that I wouldn’t fall asleep. And that was my introduction to Nirvana.

“It was a paradigm shift.”

That’s not hyperbole. It was a paradigm shift.

thegue
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March 10, 2023 11:24 am
Reply to  mt58

Agreed, and everyone I knew that experienced felt the same way, which I think is unusual…?

Throughout history, many “eras” are only defined after they’ve passed, but man when 1991/92 hit, I suddenly became re-engaged with music outside the clubs.

It lasted until I left for the Middle East and discovered Brit Pop.

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 10, 2023 12:46 pm
Reply to  mt58

Entering a new era of great depression: “Brother Can You Paradigm?”

LinkCrawford
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March 10, 2023 12:55 pm

Ha!

cappiethedog
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March 10, 2023 11:07 pm
Reply to  mt58

This is really random. But the promo reminds me of reading about how Tim Meadows was a huge Dinosaur Jr. fan in the pages of Rolling Stone.

JJ Live At Leeds
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March 10, 2023 11:11 am

I like the reasoning for why flannel became the fabric of choice, I’d never considered it was a matter of practicality.

I’ve also found why The Shadows never made it in the US; you already had The Ventures. Some of those bands on the playlist I’ve never heard before, really liking the Love Battery and Gits tracks.

Grunge was one genre that didn’t travel in terms of inspiring a similar scene over here. The likes of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains all became well known here but there weren’t really any British grunge bands. Not that made much impact unless I’m missing some. Bush seemed to get lumped in as our answer to grunge but I’m not convinced of that and they didn’t do that well commercially here.

Grunge’s big influence here seemed to be inspiring the likes of Blur and Suede to play up their Britishness in response to the US invasion and set themselves apart from grunge – from which we got Britpop and an inadvertent creation of the defining genre of the mid 90s over this side of the pond.

Last edited 11 months ago by JJ Live At Leeds
JJ Live At Leeds
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March 10, 2023 11:53 am
Reply to  Virgindog

I thought that was cos of the lack of friction, once they started sliding on the ice in spandex there was no stopping them.

LinkCrawford
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March 10, 2023 12:57 pm

More than once, Tom in the adjacent cube has lamented that he went to college in the grunge era…because he felt that he missed out on much more flattering fashion worn by the ladies in other eras. He got the flannels.

Eric-J
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March 13, 2023 11:44 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

And big, baggy sweaters.

Yeah, grunge “fashion” was largely defined by warm, cheap clothing. The scenesters shopped at thrift stores because they were broke as hell, not (just) to find cute vintage clothes.

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 13, 2023 12:20 pm
Reply to  Eric-J

Well also, tell a teenage boy that it’s good to look like a slob and many will jump at this opportunity!

Fun memories of wearing medical scrub pants, a T-shirt with tie print, and an old twead suit jacket to school.  😅 

Last edited 11 months ago by Phylum of Alexandria
lovethisconcept
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March 10, 2023 11:24 am

I have known and loved so many of these bands. But I had missed Bam Bam and Tina Bell completely. And that is a shame. Thank you for bringing her to my attention.

lovethisconcept
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March 10, 2023 11:35 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Maybe we can start a movement. She deserved better.
#JusticeforTinaBell

cappiethedog
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March 10, 2023 11:18 pm

I never heard of Tina Bell either.

Cursory look at her Wikipedia page tells me that she and her bandmates had too much integrity. Instead of signing to a small label, they released their album independently.

A black frontwoman in rock? I don’t remember any. I remember Doug Pinnick of King’s X.

I’m a little blown away.

thegue
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March 10, 2023 11:25 am

V,

What a great story, none of which I knew. Makes you wonder what’s up Nirvana’s ex-bassist (who shall remained unnamed) these many years later.

I have some listening to do, but man Tina Bell kicks some ass.

thegue
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March 10, 2023 12:41 pm
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what’s up WITH*

Is there editing? If so I don’t know how to…

LinkCrawford
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March 10, 2023 12:58 pm
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Hover over the bottom of your comment and a gear appears and allows you to manage your comment.

cstolliver
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March 10, 2023 5:18 pm

Great job, as always, Bill. Grunge wasn’t quite my thing, although I will say as the music moved more acoustic and melodic by mid-decade, I found myself liking individual songs by grunge artists.

MT: Hilarious photo of the My So-Called Life guys, but also good call, as that series’ soundtrack made use of grunge and alternative artists from the period. And Jared Leto wound up earning his own musical, non-TV fame via Thirty Seconds to Mars.

cappiethedog
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March 10, 2023 11:46 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

Remember the episode in which Angela mistakenly thought “Red” was about her, and not Jordan Catalano’s car?

Edith G
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March 10, 2023 5:55 pm

Great article V-Dog. I never realized that Grunge was a genre that happened to be both feminist and respectful of women, this writing gave me a new perspective about that.

cappiethedog
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March 10, 2023 10:54 pm

Lewis Largent passed away today.

Rest in peace.

I saw “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on MTV and got real excited.

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 11, 2023 8:39 am

Alternate History to Consider:

Kurt never changed his band’s name to Nirvana, and the world was introduced to grunge and alternative by a band called…Fecal Matter.  🤔 

dutchg8r
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March 11, 2023 11:36 am

Brilliant, Professor VDog, wonderfully written synopsis of the evolution of that sound. It never occurred to me that those bands essentially germinated in an isolated bubble because the Pacific Northwest was still considered off the beaten path for touring major label bands. Makes perfect sense though, and also explains why they were such a tight knit group of bands that all seemed like they were a giant family.

My dad got hired by Boeing straight out of college, and the late 60s counter culture vibe out there in Seattle fit my parents like a glove. It was just them, no kids at that point, 2500 miles away from their families on the east coast, no doubt they felt they were living the life. (Then Boeing laid off a huge chunk of their workforce, and my parents had to come back to Philly and basically start a new life over from scratch)

They stayed in contact with the friends they made out there over the subsequent decades. I remember coming home from college for Christmas one year, and I’m reading through their Christmas cards they’d received, and one of the Seattle folks would always write these lengthy recaps in a very artsy hippie tone, which always amused me to no end. So this particular year she was lamenting on the loss of ‘Kurt’ and how hard it had been for all of them, especially her son. Puzzled, I asked my mom – who’s she talking about, like it’s a family member? Mom said it was Cobain; the son mentioned was part of Nirvana’s inner circle production team. So yeah, to say grunge bands were a huge extended family is no joke.

I caught an episode of Forensic Files just recently in a rerun that discussed Mia Zapata’s murder, what a tragic story. Never heard of Kim Bell though, she sounds absolutely fascinating. And it’s a shame her latter part of her life was so lost to alcohol. I’d love to see someone do a documentary on the Women of Grunge.

Thanks for this Bill!!! Nom-nom-nom…. 😁

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March 11, 2023 1:42 pm

Did anybody approach Kathleen Hanna to perform “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at the RRHOF? I know Hanna was dealing with Lyme’s. Maybe she wasn’t up to it physically.

That would have been something.

Joan Jett did a fine job, though.

Maybe it was just a star wattage issue.

Kathleen Hanna was a talking head in The Go-Gos. At the outset of the documentary, I detected a little shade from Jane Wiedlin directed towards The Runaways.

Hanna’s appearance surprised me. It made me wonder if there was a little resentment about not being asked to participate in her good friend’s tribute.

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 11, 2023 1:52 pm
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And Kim Gordon was fantastic:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sS74oMhHgNU

cappiethedog
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March 12, 2023 1:54 am

Kim Gordon comes pretty close to being a proxy for Kathleen Hanna. That was great.

(hangs head in shame)

I never saw this before.

I’m not shocked that Thurston Moore and Gordon collaborated with Yoko Ono.

I gotta take another crack at the Sonic Youth discography.

Truly, I’m embarrassed that I’m not in love with their music.

Pauly Steyreen
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March 12, 2023 12:17 pm
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If I had to name an all-time favorite band (a concept I don’t really “do” but still, if a gun were held to my head), I’d go with Sonic Youth. So many great records over the years, amazing in the early 80’s and still amazing in the mid-2000’s. Daydream Nation is definitely my favorite album of all time, no hedging there. (It used to be Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime.)

And they were such mensches… nearly every band in the 80’s indie scene was indebted to Sonic Youth and the doors they opened, the ways they promoted and helped up-and-coming bands. (I’ll make my plug again for Michael Azerrad’s excellent book Our Band Could Be Your Life.)

So of course I was heartbroken when I learned of Kim and Thurston’s divorce. I’m on Team Kim all the way here folks… Thurston dude don’t be betraying your woman. Not cool!

cappiethedog
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March 12, 2023 4:06 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

I thought that was Miley Cyrus on the cover art for The Best Day.

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 12, 2023 7:07 pm
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They have a lot of different sounds, and I don’t which you might prefer or dislike, so I don’t know if a recommendation would work. I can only say that I find their guitar interplay reliably beautiful. Sometimes I find their lyrics and vocals a little silly, but when it works it’s magical (or at least good-bratty).

My favorite album happens to be Sister, but it makes special sense to me in the autumn and winter months as it gets colder and darker. Maybe that’s less relevant in Hawaii though…  🤔 

cappiethedog
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March 13, 2023 12:18 am

I never played Sister before. I’ll start there.

Kim Gordon is just the epitome of cool. I like listening to her talk.

Sonic Youth is master of the cover song, that’s for sure.

Not just “Superstar”, but “Ca Plane Pour Moi”, too.

The subtext of Robert Smigel’s guerilla-style appearance on our NBC affiliate is that we don’t need a weather report, let alone, two, in a thirty-minute block.

Oh, it just occurred to me.

I like their sound. And it’s exciting to hear within the context of songcraft. Don’t they go into the studio and find the song in the course of their experimenting?

I hope Richard Carpenter liked “Superstar”. I play that a lot, ironically enough. If I Was a Carpenter is one of the tightest tribute albums ever. I’m pretty sure Carpenter never heard of Babes in Toyland. A niece must’ve told him: “Call them.”

Eric-J
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March 13, 2023 11:53 am

At the same time Grunge was exploding, Seattle also had a thriving independent Comics scene – Fantagraphics relocated there in 1989, and published Peter Bagge’s “Neat Stuff” and “Hate” included his Buddy Bradley stories, which were located in Seattle, (later moving to New Jersey.)

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