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Friday, May 2, 2014

It Was the End of the World As We Knew It...and We Felt Fine...

"...Hey Ho, Mr. Krinkle, Have you heard the brand new sound? Its a cross between Jimi Hendrix, Bocephus, Cher, and James Brown. Its called Heavy Hometown New Wave, Cold Filtered, Low Calorie, Dry..."

In case you are wondering, it wasn't all about Nirvana. If you ask any follower of alternative music in the 90s you will probably be surprised that even though Nirvana was the one that opened the flood gates, it wasn't everyone's favorite (I was partial to Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth) nor were they the most talented band or artist at the time. That's not what it was about. Don't get me wrong, we all loved Kurt, Krist, and Dave and they did some amazing things and they are synonymous with grunge. Almost instantly Nirvana became the incidental poster child of a new movement and inadvertently incited a youth culture phenomenon. In reality they only scratched the surface of what was yet to come. 
Me in 1994

The 90s started off muddled with the runoff and leftovers of the 80s. We were still living with one foot in the decade of excess and stuck in pop culture purgatory. However, there was something bubbling right below the surface, and had been since the late 80s, ready to erupt. The year the bomb dropped and the airwaves exploded there were interludes that we never initially realized would lead to our opus. Up until that point there were so many of us that had been wandering around aimlessly, searching for an identity and yearning for something deeper than the superficial monotony of a cookie cutter society and bubble gum pop. "You just had to be there." is such a cliché, but in relation to the decade, the sentiment couldn't be any truer. The total impact of the experience cannot be expressed through words alone. It was mind blowing. In a matter of months we were weaned off of the drone of the empty, mass marketed mediocrity. We had been liberated. Generation X was born.

From that point on we were flannel clad freaks united under a sound and for a time "Smells Like Teen Spirit" became our anthem. Suddenly we knew who we were supposed to be. We had a voice. That voice was laden with frustration. It was dark, it was bright, it was heavy, it was light. We were not always full of deep seeded angst. It was raw and gritty and filled with symbolism and vivid imagery. It had a soul. It exposed this deep vulnerability and inner strength. There was passion in it that music had lacked for a while. It had feeling. Music was art again. You could easily identify each band by their sound because no one band sounded the same as another. Everyone was unique and artists ranged from folk to shoegazers to funk rock to grunge to experimental, industrial, jam bands and everything in between. From 91-92 until about 97-98 we came of age and had compiled a soundtrack of our youth only to be rivaled by that of the 60s. We even singlehandedly revived the popularity of outdoor music festivals with Woodstock 94 and Lollapolooza. (You're welcome Bonnaroo and Coachella fans.) By the end of our glory days we had etched out a place in history. 

Some of us left our past behind thinking that this school of thought was maybe too juvenile and had this idea that there was someone they were supposed to be by society’s standards and adopted those convictions and some of us clung to it as almost a gospel and testament and as the foundation of a philosophy of how we thought life should be lived.  We hoped that maybe in some small way the things we were would somehow be what society became. We were young and strong and waiting for the world to come along. It was the end of the world as we had known it for so long, but we were all felt fine with the direction it was headed. We aren't living in the past, only reliving it from time to time to appreciate where we came from, where we went, and where it will take us. In the grand scheme of things it is not completely about the clothes we wore, the music we listened to, or the things we did but what it was about was what those things represented and that in our music we left behind a heritage of free thinking, acceptance, and tolerance for future generations. We walked away from that decade with hearts and minds full of inspiration. Maybe I romanticize, but the fact remains that we made a very big impact. There are many iconic players from the era, like Layne Stayley and Andrew Wood, who are no longer with us, and Kurt Cobain’s legacy does live on. Now he and his most recognized hook, the hook that catapulted him into the limelight and the one he later loathed, are immortalized as nothing but a lyric and a sample in a Jay-Z song. Well, whatever, nevermind... 

How did the 90s change you? Are there any moments that are significant to you that I missed? I'd love to hear what you think in the comments!

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