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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Teenage Angst Has Paid Off Well: Grunge and Social Revolution

Note: This is my US history term paper, and is thus significantly lengthier than my other posts, just as a heads up.

Teenage Angst Has Paid Off Well:
Grunge and Social Revolution

Michael O’Neill

            People sometimes define periods of American history by the music that was popular at the time. The 1920’s are to this day referred to as the “Jazz Age;” the 1970’s are remembered for disco. Perhaps most notably, the early 1990’s are recognized by many as the glory days of grunge, as a new and exciting brand of alternative music that shook the mainstream. During this time, youth were growing more and more agitated with the older generations as the government floundered under President George H.W. Bush, falling deeper and deeper into a recession between 1990 and 1992. [1] Americans showed their desire for change as Democratic candidate Bill Clinton defeated Bush in the 1992 election, with third-party candidate Ross Perot managing to grab nineteen percent of the popular vote. [2] Clearly, the American public wanted something different. Simultaneously, the plastic music of the 1980’s had grown stale, making the time ripe for a new genre of music to come along. These factors combined to set the stage for the rise of grunge music, which used apathetic lyrics and an organic sound to connect with disillusioned young people across the nation.
            Starting in late 1991, grunge music began to explode in popularity, growing out of a Seattle-based scene and eventually sustaining a presence in pop culture for a few brief yet substantial years.[3] Not only did it change music, however, it also created a youth-based social movement, the effects of which helped reshape various aspects of American society. Most tangibly, grunge re-shaped rock music, movies, and fashion. Besides this, the grunge era generated a new youth counter-culture, provided an outlet for new political ideals to be broadcast to a large audience, and increased the gap between Generation X and the Baby Boomers.
            Before analyzing grunge as a musical proclamation, it is necessary to briefly examine the rock music popular in the years preceding its peak, to which it was largely a response of. For the most part, rock music in the 1980’s was dominated by a more accessible form of heavy metal known as ‘pop metal.’[4] The genre was characterized by melodic hooks, quick tempos, flashy guitar playing, and clean production values. Notable artists who fell under this genre included Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and perhaps most prominently, Van Halen.[5] The other sub-genre of rock to see mainstream success during this time was arena rock, pushed forward by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and U2.[6] By the beginning of the decade, punk music had experienced a decline in popularity, with the leaders of the movement branching out into different varieties of rock.[7] Soon, alternative-leaning ‘post-punk’ groups such as The Smiths and The Cure began to receive both critical and commercial acclaim in the UK, while only seeing minor success stateside.[8]
            Even before the eighties wrapped up, many music listeners were craving a new sound, one drastically different from the over-the-top glam metal and arena rock scenes that were still extremely popular. Into this role stepped grunge, a combination of several different genres that would take hold of a generation of exasperated youth. Britannica identifies grunge music as a distinguishable sub-genre of rock “combining guitar distortion, anguished vocals, and heartfelt, angst-ridden lyrics.”[9] Though debate over usage of the term exists, grunge is somewhat of a catch-all term for most of the alternative rock bands to gain popularity during the early 1990’s, though most shared at least a few musical characteristics. Due to this broad definition, a considerable amount of variation exists among the various grunge artists, each drawing different degrees of influence from the assorted sub-genres of rock that came before them. Typically, grunge bands employed a combination of punk rock and heavy metal, utilizing punk’s rebellious spirit and heavy metal’s tendency for catchy hooks and powerful guitar riffs.[10] Some groups, most notably Soundgarden, also drew inspiration from the hard rock of the seventies.[11] Nirvana front man and grunge kingpin Kurt Cobain was influenced by everybody from rock trailblazers The Beatles, to college rock giants like The Pixies and R.E.M., to more conventional classic rockers such as Aerosmith and Cheap Trick.[12] Based on this extensive variety, grunge was a wide-ranging genre that took ideas from numerous types of rock music and pooled them into a refreshing sound that would soon spark a social revolution.

           Grunge music first appeared in Seattle, the epicenter of the genre throughout its run, in the mid-to-late 1980’s. Part of the reason that Seattle became the foundation of the movement is purely coincidental; just by chance, a disproportional amount of the country’s most talented musicians were based out of the Northwestern metropolis. Of course, there are logical explanations for this as well. The University of Washington attracted many youths to the city who would facilitate the growth of the Seattle scene.[13] Furthermore, several new music venues had opened in the city around the same time, generating an even stronger urban music culture.[14] RKCNDY opened its doors in 1991, just as grunge was hitting its stride, and hosted plenty of shows by local bands.[15] The Crocodile opened the same year, a venue where Nirvana played some of their early concerts.[16] As a result, says cultural geography expert Thomas L. Bell, Seattle now possessed “the nexus of an independent music industry infrastructure,” which included the now-famous record company known as Sub Pop.[17] The indie label played host to a number of early Seattle-based grunge acts, such as Green River, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden.[18] Sub Pop additionally released grunge icons Nirvana’s first full-length album, Bleach, in 1989, unknowingly exposing to the world one of rock’s most iconic acts in history for the first time.[19] The label helped popularize grunge music on a more national scale, as national media and major labels took note of the growing scene in Seattle.[20] Widely-circulated British music publication NME (short for New Musical Express) featured several Seattle bands throughout 1990, among them Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney. [21] That same year, Sub Pop was bought out during financial struggles by record company David Geffen Company, taking Nirvana and their other still-contracted acts along with them onto the major record label.[22] These circumstances, coupled with the sorry state of rock music in the mainstream, would soon result in the spread of grunge music outside Seattle to the rest of the United States.
            Grunge’s big break came in late 1991, with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind and its legendary lead single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” NME gave both Nevermind and former grungers Hole’s Pretty on the Inside critical acclaim that September, and from then on, grunge albums began selling more copies and gain more of a presence in the public eye.[23] “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is still recognized today as the song that broke grunge into the mainstream. Says pop culture expert Marc Oxoby, the track “seemed overnight to become an anthem for the nation’s malaise, and particularly for America’s youth culture,” dominating both radio waves and MTV video rotations.[24] Nirvana became the faces of grunge, with singer Kurt Cobain as the leader, as their music spread like wildfire. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit #1 in 1992, and the band gained substantial exposure via airtime on MTV, a performance Saturday Night Live, and appearances in Rolling Stone and other music magazines.[25] Two other singles off Nevermind climbed up near the top of Billboard’s “Mainstream Rock” chart in 1992: “Come As You Are” peaked at number three, while “In Bloom” reached the fifth slot.[26] “Lithium” also cracked into the top twenty, and remained on the chart for sixteen weeks.[27] Still, nothing matched the heights reached by the explosive lead single. To many, Nirvana was the grunge band, Nevermind was the grunge album, and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the grunge smash hit.
            Nirvana’s triumphs paved the way for other grunge acts to score commercial success. Pearl Jam’s debut record Ten, released the same month as Nevermind, made a lengthy yet steady climb to #1 by 1992.[28] Alice in Chains and Soundgarden each saw a rise in album sales following Nevermind, with each band’s respective albums Dirt and Superunknown their biggest hits yet.[29] The former produced a #7 hit on the rock charts in “Rooster,”[30] and Superunknown spawned three different singles to break into the Mainstream Rock top five: “Spoonman” (#3), “Fell on Black Days” (#4), and chart-topper “Black Hole Sun.”[31] Mudhoney and Green River, who had been two of the scene’s earliest members, also benefitted greatly from the added exposure.[32] Mudhoney’s 1991 record Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge rode the grunge wave to become one of Sub Pop’s best-selling releases ever.[33] Nirvana’s follow up to Nevermind, the bleak, raw In Utero, entered the charts at the top in 1993.[34] The musical revolution that grunge created was now in full effect.
            Part of the reason grunge was so popular was its stark contrast to its predecessor as king of the rock genres, the pop metal that flourished in the 1980’s. People had tired of this lavish and highly sexualized style of music, and grunge acted as a remedy, thanks to the drastic differences between the two genres. Both may have relied somewhat on catchy melodic hooks, but the similarities stop there. The heavy metal bands of the ‘80’s favored a “polished, smooth sound,” whereas grunge artists used a dirtier, more organic-sounding style.[35] Extravagant guitar parts and solos were major characteristics of ‘glam metal,’ as it was often called.[36] In contrast, the guitars in grunge songs usually used heavy distortion, earning them the “murky-guitar” label.[37]
            Not only different on a musical level, the images and lyrical content of both styles were near polar opposites of each other. Pop metal was commonly known as ‘hair metal,’ due to the appearances of members of the genre’s biggest bands. Long hair, lots of makeup, and flashy clothing were all typically worn by bands like Mötley Crüe and Ratt.[38] Grunge musicians, on the other hand, dressed in much simpler attire, preferring comfort over showiness.[39] The lyrics of eighties-based heavy metal songs were often highly sexual, bland, and/or repetitive.[40] An example of this is Poison’s hit “Talk Dirty to Me,” which contains the lyrics, “I’ve got to touch you, ‘cause baby we’ll be at the drive in, in the old man’s ford, behind the bushes until I’m screaming for more,” clearly describing a sexual encounter.[41] The music video for Mötley Crüe’s unapologetically titled “Girls, Girls, Girls” takes place in a strip club and mostly shows women pole dancing.[42] “It’s all wine, women, and song,” Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot once explained, adding, “nothing annoys me more than records about politics this, Greenpeace that… all we are is total escapism.”[43]
            Grunge was a drastic departure from and provisional response to the hair metal scene of the 1980’s, and marked a new era of alternative music being simultaneously commercially viable and critically acceptable in the United States. Grunge lyrics often had a radically different attitude than those mentioned above, focusing at times on personal strife and on political ideas at others. Songs often featured “cynicism, pain, and bitter humour” and reflected the angst felt by the nation’s youth at the time.[44] The ‘cynicism’ and ‘pain’ elements are seen in songs like Nirvana’s despondently titled “I Hate Myself and I Want to Die,” a case where the name of the song speaks for itself. That ‘bitter humour’ part can be found in another Nirvana track, “Dumb,” in which Kurt Cobain mordantly mumbles, “I think I’m dumb, or maybe just happy.”[45] Pearl Jam’s “Do the Evolution” stands as a good example of a politically-charged grunge song, which lamented the arrogance of mankind and the destruction of nature. The song’s opening verse hits the message home right away, as singer Eddie Vedder shrieks, “I’m ahead, I’m a man, I’m the first mammal to wear pants, yeah. I’m at peace with my lust, I can kill ‘cause in God I trust, yeah; it’s evolution, baby.”[46]
            Besides indicating a change from the rock music of previous years, grunge also had an impact on other music genres that were also popular during the genre’s height. Britannica points out that grunge “played an enormous role in moving alternative rock into the pop mainstream,” helping numerous artists of other alternative sub-genres achieve commercial success.[47] Bands like Sonic Youth and Smashing Pumpkins, who despite being marketed as grunge at the time actually shared few characteristics with the Seattle-based genre, gained much popularity during the early nineties as a result of the new alternative craze. New radio stations began forming under exclusively alternative formats.[48] It also resulted in the creation of many alternative-based music festivals, the biggest being Lollapalooza and Woodstock ’94, which was held in honor of the original Woodstock’s 25th anniversary.[49] Lastly, it effectively killed off the now much-maligned pop metal genre, which practically disappeared in the nineties after ruling the decade prior. Grunge was arguably the major style of music during the early 1990’s, and its influence was felt throughout the music world both during this time and for years after its untimely demise.
Impact on Future Music & Other Art Forms
            The most direct musical offspring of grunge is the style appropriately known as ‘post-grunge,’ named as such because it directly succeeded its parent genre atop rock radio. Post-grunge artists, as put by online music guide All Music, “imitated the sound and style of grunge, but not necessarily the individual idiosyncrasies of its original artists.”[50] This greatly diminished the meaning of grunge, as post-grunge artists were largely half-rate knock-offs of the real thing. Some, like Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters, maintained artistic individuality and integrity. Others, such as Creed, Candlebox, and Nickleback, scored commercial success but are widely regarded as some of the worst bands in history; respected music magazine SPIN included all three on their list of “The 30 Biggest Punching Bags in Pop History,” with Creed landing at number four.[51]                                                                     
           Even today, two decades after Cobain’s death, the impact of grunge can be felt in newly-released rock music. Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains are all still together, with Pearl Jam releasing Lightning Bolt to critical praise in 2013.[52] Modern indie rock bands such as Cloud Nothings and Wavves have been compared to Nirvana, with music critic Jessica Hopper saying the following about the latter’s newest release, 2013’s Afraid of Heights: It's unclear whether Wavves frontboy Nathan Williams is hoping to list towards Cobainhood, but he seems plenty happy to hone coulda-been Nirvana licks to perfection on Afraid of Heights.”[53] Online music publication Gigwise listed a dynamic range major alternative acts, including Muse, Flaming Lips, 30 Seconds to Mars, Frank Turner, and Weezer as artists who have been inspired by Cobain’s three-piece in one way or another.[54] Muse bassist Chris Wosltenhome was quoted in the piece as saying that Nirvana “was what made us want to be in bands.”[55] 30 Seconds to Mars front man Jared Leto stated that “Nirvana gave… the gift of permission for all of us to have the right to pick up an instrument and create.”[56] Most indie and alternative bands of the modern era owe a lot to Nirvana, if not for direct musical inspiration then definitely for making alternative music as a whole more acceptable and popular.
            Music was not the only art form to be impacted by the grunge movement. The film industry began creating content with grunge fans as target audiences. The first blockbuster “grunge” movie was 1992’s Singles, which took place in Seattle, featured main characters in their twenties, and even included a fictional grunge band.[57] In case that was not enough indication of whom Singles was targeting, three members of Pearl Jam played small roles in the film, as did Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell.[58] Soundgarden and Alice in Chains also performed in the movie. Moreover, the film’s soundtrack featured songs from all three aforementioned groups, plus Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, and Mother Love Bone, eventually going platinum and becoming one of the top-selling movie soundtracks of all time.[59]            
            Even the fashion world was not safe from the effects of the rapidly growing grunge movement. Once Nirvana and the other Seattle bands took off, everyone wanted to capture the grunge look by dressing like the musicians who performed the music they loved so dearly. The grunge style normally featured flannel shirts, worn jeans, and boots, a look that had naturally developed for functionality, as the clothing made sense given the climate in Washington.[60] (See Appendix for a visual representation.)[61] Disorder was a big part of the style, and the goal was “was to look tousled and unkempt, as though no conscious attention had been paid to one's appearance,” as described by Seattle-based celebrity photographer Karen Mason Blair.[62] Grunge outfits were thus often mismatched, clashing, and even appeared slovenly.[63] Even the word ‘grunge’ itself could be used to describe the messy style, by definition meaning filth or dirt. Fashion brands soon picked up on the growing fad, selling grunge-style clothing at premium prices. From this trend came the concept of selling clothes that were deliberately designed to look used, depleted, and dirty, a practice that continues to this day.[64] The Pearl Jam song “Corduroy” was about the corporatization of the grunge look, the irony behind spending hundreds of dollars on clothes that don’t look new.[65] When asked about the meaning of the track, singer Eddie Vedder said “that song was based on a remake of the brown corduroy jacket that I wore. I think I got mine for 12 bucks, and it was being sold for like $650.”[66]
A Rebellion of Youth
            While grunge obviously had a massive impact on music, film, and fashion, to describe the movement as a purely artistic one is to marginalize not only the leaders of grunge but also its participants and followers. In truth, the force that drove grunge into the mainstream was the counter-culture that developed around it in Seattle, much like how the psychedelic and folk rock of the sixties was powered by the hippies. David Szatmary quotes Sub Pop founders Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman in explaining how “people (were) moving out here to become part of a scene,” and labeled the city as a “Mecca” for alternative culture during the early nineties.[67] It was the music scene that lured most of the young adults of grunge to Seattle, and by bringing them together grunge music inadvertently gave birth to a social revolution comparable to the hippies of San Francisco in the late 1960’s.[68] As the music became more popular, so did the counterculture, which in time extended itself across the nation.
            As stated earlier, grunge fans were typically young people dissatisfied with American living in the late eighties and earlier nineties, and were usually Caucasian suburbanites who were the offspring of the baby-boomers.[69] Youths during this time were not happy with the state of the nation, as unemployment rose and the future looked less than bright.[70] The music of grunge bands connected with this so-called “Generation X,” as the band members had experienced many of the same emotions and issues that their fans did.[71] While some wrote these feelings off as petty angst, the fears young people had were very real and extremely disenchanting. Courtney Love spoke about the sources of this youth desperation and despair, explaining that “we had to grow up with this idealization that was never going to [expletive] come true, and it turned us into a bunch of cynics – or a bunch of drug addicts.”[72] Since the music of grunge reflected these lamentations, it acted as the unifying force of the social movement.
            Gen Xers valued authenticity and individuality highly, resulting in an increased resistance to mass media and the corporatization of grunge. Originally, Kurt Cobain wanted to throw away his fame post-Nevermind in order to escape Nirvana’s ever-increasing commercialization. “We were going to put out a record that completely, you know, ruin your reputation and only a few thousand people from every city would show up (to concerts),” he said about the group’s 1993 release, In Utero.[73] The album even included the satirically-titled track “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter,” a tongue-in-cheek jab at radio stations and record labels alike.[74]
            Nirvana was not the group to try futilely to resist pop culture’s grasp; Pearl Jam in particular were known for their anti-corporate attitudes. The group refused to produce music videos for any of their singles after their debut album Ten, standing steadfastly to their principles in a tremendously bold move for the time.[75] Pearl Jam even held disdain for the Grammy awards, as made clear by Vedder in the group’s acceptance speech at the 1996 awards after winning “Best Hard Rock Performance” for Vitalogy’s “Spin the Black Circle.” Vedder joined the rest of the band onstage before declaring with a head scratch and a shrug, “I don’t know what this means. I don’t think it means anything. That’s just how I feel.”[76]                
Grunge as a Political Force
            Accompanying the grunge lifestyle was a new set of political ideals implemented by the followers of the counter-culture into their everyday lives. For the most part, the ideology of grunge fans was built mostly on political attitudes and beliefs, and only rarely were attempts made to actually change American government or legislation. Grunge as a subculture held and actively advocated for political ideals including but not limited to gender equality, resistance to authority, avoidance of monopolies on businesses, gun control, and acceptance of alternative sexualities. In short, the grunge movement advanced liberal social attitudes at a time when conservatives had controlled the White House for three consecutive terms.
            The most noteworthy political movement to arise out of Generation X and grunge music was the third wave of feminism, in which “race, class, queerness and gender equality took centre stage.”[77] The movement was sparked by the rise of “riot grrrl,” a predominantly female-populated sub-genre of punk music that held close ties with grunge.[78] Grunge artists such as Hole and L7 were often grouped under the riot grrrl label as well, confirming the connection between the two.[79] Riot grrrl bands like Bikini Kill had members who were all women, and often wrote pro-feminist lyrics.[80] These punk feminists facilitated the resurgence of feminism in the country, as their music reached a wide audience.[81] The new feminism was more militant than its previous forms, as the violent nature of riot grrrl music showed, and encouraged women to participate in the arts, to fight racism, and to be open about their sexualities.[82] Hole were far and away the most successful group whose songs could often be interpreted as feminist. Courtney Love wrote Live Through This track “Asking For It” after feeling violated by fans after stage diving at a show, and became an anti-rape anthem for many women across the country.[83] Grunge’s male counterparts also chimed in, with Cobain, Love’s husband, penning “Rape Me” for Nirvana. The song’s message of defiance and perseverance in the eyes of such a traumatic experience showed that the men of grunge could identify with the genre’s women, furthering their feminist causes.[84] From grunge and riot grrl, this new feminism continued to grow, with pop bands like the Spice Girls actively promoting gender equality through their music in the late 1990’s.[85] Since this time, feminism has been a consistent presence in American politics, maintaining the basic ideal of gender equality to this day. Bringing feminism back on a large scale is a hugely important effect of grunge, though it wasn’t the only political idea the cultural movement endorsed.
            Grunge served as an outlet for many young people to challenge authority and the American political climate. Of all the movement’s musical leaders, Pearl Jam was certainly the most politically active. Through their music and actions, the group advocated many leftist stances that were usually shared by its fans. Their attitudes towards commercialization have already been discussed with their anti-music video practices, but they soon took it a step further.[86]  In the mid-nineties, Pearl Jam became embroiled in a public debate with ticket sellers Ticketmaster, who the band claimed had blacklisted the group to concert venues for protesting the company’s high prices.[87] The group even filed a complaint at the US Justice Department, which held a hearing to determine whether Ticketmaster had violated federal law.[88] Band member Stone Gossard had this to say at the hearing:
All the members of Pearl Jam remember what it was like to be young and not have a lot of money. Many Pearl Jam fans are teenagers who do not have the money to pay thirty dollars or more that is often charged for tickets today. We have made a conscious decision that we do not want to put the price of our concerts out of the reach of our fans. Mr. Chairman, this is really about choices. Fans can go from one music store to another to find the best deal on a CD. But they can’t go anywhere but Ticketmaster for concert tickets.[89]

The band’s noble stance ultimately failed, as no other major rock groups joined them in their boycott of Ticketmaster shows.[90] Pearl Jam played smaller shows at less popular venues as a result of their protests, sacrificing financial gains for artistic and moral integrity.[91] This type of action is in line with grunge’s principles, but was the first and truly only case of grunge artists actually making an effort to enforce their ideals via the political process.
            Pearl Jam was also particularly known for their politically charged lyrics. The most poignant example is the anti-gun Vs. track “Glorified G,” which mocks the attitudes of American gun enthusiasts.[92] In the song, Vedder cries satirically, “got a gun, fact I got two, that’s ok, man, ‘cause I love God. Glorified version of a pellet gun, feels so manly when armed.” [93] It’s a scathing criticism of American gun culture, and echoes the general feelings of the largely liberal grunge crowd.
            Lastly, grunge musicians often promoted acceptance of LGBT individuals. The riot grrl movement advocated most heavily for sexual equality, as many of the genre’s performers were in fact homosexual.[94] Kurt Cobain claimed that as a teen he questioned his own sexuality, and in doing so made it difficult for anyone in the grunge community to be outwardly homophobic.[95] This ties in with the pro-individuality stance that was so key to grunge, and was another step towards widespread public acceptance of homosexuals.
            Though artists have made political statements before to no avail, grunge’s subculture and resulting network of young activists ensured that the words of the likes of Vedder, Cobain, and Love meant something. The political climate of the United States shifted to the left in accordance with grunge’s largely liberal fan base, as Democrat Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, a peak year in grunge.[96] He became the first liberal President since Jimmy Carter, following the tenures of conservative Republicans Ronald Reagan and George Bush in the eighties and early nineties.[97] That election saw an unusually large turnout of youth voters, which can at least partially be attributed to increased political awareness and activity resulting from the grunge movement.[98] Clinton even went on MTV, a hub of grunge culture, to campaign for the youth vote.[99]
            Some of the new President’s legislation reflected the leftist positions of grunge, and were supported by the movement’s members. Most notable was perhaps the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Bill, which put in place background checks on people purchasing guns in the United States.[100] Songs like Pearl Jam’s aforementioned “Glorified G” indicated that grunge musicians and fans would be in support of such a bill, and while it’s nearly impossible to prove how much public opinion on this issue was influenced by the music, it certainly didn't hurt the cause. Grunge may not have been the only reason for Clinton’s election and legislative decisions, but there’s no denying that the politically charged youth making up the counter-culture supported much of what their new President did and at least to some degree helped sway public opinion in his favor.

A Generation of Resentment
            The final and perhaps longest-lasting impact on society of the spread of grunge culture was an increased gap between Generation X and the Baby Boomers. Much of the previously described angst felt by grunge fans was directed at the Baby Boomers, who had raised them on the idea of the American dream and failed to deliver on their promise.[101] Grievances over the lack of availability of decent job opportunities and a general dismissive attitude towards youth from elders are what made young people resent their parents so much. [102]Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil once ranted about his anger at the generation preceding his, saying the following:
There’s millions and millions of people in their 40s who think they’re so [expletive] special… they’re this ultimate white-bread, suburban, upper-middle-class group that were spoiled little [expletive] as kids ‘cause they were all children of Dr. Spock, and then they were stupid, stinky hippies, and then they were spoiled little yuppie materialists.[103]

While Thayil’s words may have been harsh, on some level they represented how much of Generation X felt. That is to say, the musicians weren't the only ones harboring negative feelings towards their parents; the fans who made up Gen X weren't exactly thrilled with the preceding generation, either. Pop culture researcher Catherine Strong observes that “there was a certain amount of harmony between grunge and a significant segment of young people at the time,” and also that “grunge placed (emphasis) on opposing older generations, particularly the Baby Boomers.”[104] Thus, grunge music and specifically its lyrics didn’t simply portray the feelings of a few talented individuals, but rather represented the entire fan base’s feelings of bitterness towards their parents.
            Part of the problem was that the older generation failed to accept the complaints of Generation X as anything more than petulant whining. Never was this more apparent than in the days immediately preceding Kurt Cobain’s death, as the Baby Boomers neither understood nor empathized with him or his grieving fans. Andy Rooney gave an infamous speech on 60 Minutes in the weeks after the singer’s suicide, which stirred up a great deal of anger and controversy:
And what’s all this nonsense about how terrible life is? A young girl who stood outside [Cobain’s] home in Seattle, with tears streaming down her face, said, ‘it’s hard to be a young person nowadays. He helped open people’s eyes to our struggles.’ Please, wipe the tears from your eyes dear. You’re breaking my heart. I’d love to relieve the pain you’re going through by switching my age for yours.[105]

Rooney’s sarcastic and condescending tone outraged many viewers, particularly those of Generation X, who felt his words epitomized the Baby Boomers’ attitude towards youth in the country. In the end, the damage was irreparable, as the generational gap between Gen X and the Baby Boomers has never been fully repaired.
            Grunge’s honeymoon phase came to a screeching halt in April, 1994, when Kurt Cobain, the recognized king of grunge who was often referred to as his generation’s John Lennon, committed suicide.[106] The movement’s biggest band, Nirvana, was done, and from there on grunge music began to dry up. Pearl Jam moved away towards a decidedly more conventional rock style, as Soundgarden also departed grunge for greener pastures.[107] Mudhoney and the Melvins left their major labels, returning once again to niche band status.[108] Hole, whose singer/guitarist Courtney Love was married to Cobain, released the agonizingly-timed and sadly, coincidentally titled Live Through This just four days after the Nirvana singer’s death.[109] Love, widowed and devastated, underwent more hardship months later when the band’s bassist, Kristen Pfaff, died of a drug overdose.[110] The group didn’t release another album until 1998, long after grunge’s decline, and even then it was a distinctly un-grunge-like record.[111] When Kurt Cobain sported a “Grunge is Dead” t-shirt early in 1994, he had no idea how accurate that statement would soon become.[112]
            Though a simple musical shift on the surface, the grunge movement made a huge splash in the pool of American society in the early 1990’s, and set the tone for the rest of the decade. Grunge culture led to drastic changes in rock music for years to come, killing off the dreaded ‘hair metal’ while leaving post-grunge in its wake. The worlds of film and fashion weren't safe from grunge’s reach, either, as each industry made an effort to capitalize on the exploding Seattle scene. A youth-based counter-culture formed around the music that started it all, mirroring the hippies of the 1960’s. Like the hippies, grunge fans celebrated the virtues of individuality and independence from corporatization, though they also shared the hippies’ penchant for drug use, primarily heroin. Unpredictably, grunge and its punk-influenced counterpart riot grrrl started the third wave of feminism in the United States, while simultaneously taking on big business, monopolistic practices, gun culture, and homophobia. Additionally, grunge music and its counter-culture facilitated the final split between the stubborn Baby Boomers and the disaffected Generation Xers by giving a voice to concerned young people. Though Kurt Cobain may have famously uttered “oh well, whatever, never mind,” his downtrodden, indifferent attitude did not accurately reflect what the music of his band and others like it would do to American society.[113]

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1) A visual representation of the ‘grunge’ look, as displayed by Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.
Source: Makenna Alene, "Styled Person Of Interest: Kurt Cobain," Beautiful Freaks 17 (blog), entry posted April 5, 2013, accessed April 13, 2014, http://beautifulfreaks17.blogspot.com/2013/04/styled-person-of-interest-kurt-cobain.html.


[1] Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, "George H.W. Bush," Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, accessed February 27, 2014, http://www.britannica.com.libdb.belmont-hill.org:2048/EBchecked/topic/86083/George-HW-Bush/.
[2] Ibid.
[3]David P. Szatmary, Rockin' in Time: A Social History of Rock-and-Roll, 4th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000), 286.
[4] ibid., 255.
[5] Ibid., 256.
[6] Ibid., 259.
[7] Ibid., 236.
[8] Ibid., 238.
[9] Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, ed., "grunge," Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, accessed January 4, 2014, http://www.britannica.com.libdb.belmont-hill.org:2048/EBchecked/topic/247446/grunge.
[10] Rupa Huq, Beyond Subculture: Pop, Youth and Identity in a Postcolonial World (London, UK: Routledge, 2006), 137.
[11] Marc Oxoby, The 1990s, ed. Ray B. Browne, American Pop Culture Through History (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003), 162.
[12] Lars Gotrich, "50 Artists Who Inspired Kurt Cobain," www.NPR.com, last modified September 19, 2011, accessed February 8, 2014, http://www.npr.org/2011/09/19/140487084/the-mix-50-artists-who-inspired-kurt-cobain.
[13] Thomas L. Bell, "Why Seattle? An Examination of an Alternative Rock Culture Hearth," Journal of Cultural Geography 18, no. 1 (Fall/Winter 1998): 36, accessed February 10, 2014, EBSCOhost.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Tom Scanlon, "All-Ages Rkcndy Club To Close Its Doors Oct. 31," Seattle Times (Seattle, WA), September 15, 1999, Living, [Page #], accessed April 13, 2014, http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19990915&slug=2983164.
[16] Tom Scanlon, "Crocodile Cafe Abruptly Closes Its Doors," Seattle Times(Seattle, WA), December 17, 2007, Local News, [Page #], accessed April 13, 2014, http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2004078691_webcroc17m.html.
[17] Bell, "Why Seattle? An Examination," 36.
[18] Catherine Strong, Grunge: Music and Memory (Surrey, United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing, 2011), 16.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid., 17.
[21] Ibid., 50.
[22] Szatmary, Rockin' in Time: A Social, 285.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Oxoby, The 1990s, 161.
[25] Szatmary, Rockin' in Time: A Social, 286.
[26]  Billboard, "Nirvana - Chart History," Billboard.com, accessed April 13, 2014, http://www.billboard.com/artist/312336/nirvana/chart?f=376.
[27] Szatmary, Rockin' in Time: A Social, 286.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibid., 287.
[30] Billboard, "Alice in Chains - Chart History," Billboard.com, accessed April 13, 2014, http://www.billboard.com/artist/278597/alice-chains/chart?page=2&f=376.
[31] Billboard, "Soundgarden - Chart History," Billboard.com, accessed April 13, 2014, http://www.billboard.com/artist/279997/soundgarden/chart?page=1&f=376.
[32] Szatmary, Rockin' in Time: A Social, 287.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Ibid., 286.
[35] Ibid., 256.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, "grunge."
[38] Szatmary, Rockin' in Time: A Social, 257.
[39] Karen Mason Blair, "The Grunge Look: Alice in Chains," in American Decades Primary Sources, by Cynthia Rose (Detroit, MI: Gale, 2004), 10:158-159, accessed March 2, 2014, http://ic.galegroup.com.libdb.belmont-hill.org:2048/ic/bic1/PrimarySourcesDetailsPage/PrimarySourcesDetailsWindow?failOverType=&query=&prodId=BIC1&windowstate=normal&contentModules=&mode=view&displayGroupName=PrimarySources&limiter=&currPage=&disableHighlighting=false&displayGroups=&sortBy=&search_within_results=&p=BIC1&action=e&catId=&activityType=&scanId=&documentId=GALE%7CCX3490201889&source=Bookmark&u=mlin_m_belhill&jsid=31e7683eca4a7b968b0a1f6f3e1e0b41..
[40] Szatmary, Rockin' in Time: A Social, 256.
[41] Poison, "Poison - Talk Dirty to Me," SongMeanings.com, accessed March 1, 2014, http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/132749/.
[42] "Mötley Crüe - Girls, Girls, Girls," YouTube.com, video file, 04:34, posted by MotleyCrueVEVO, November 11, 2010, accessed March 1, 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2XdmyBtCRQ.
[43] Szatmary, Rockin' in Time: A Social, 256.
[44] Robert Walser, "Grunge," Oxford Mus, accessed February 8, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.libdb.belmont-hill.org:2048/subscriber/article/grove/music/49139?q=grunge&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit.
[45]  Nirvana, "Nirvana - Dumb," www.SongMeanings.com, accessed February 8, 2014, http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/372/
[46] Pearl Jam, 'Do the Evolution' Lyrics, PearlJam.com, accessed January 4, 2014, http://pearljam.com/music/lyrics/all/all/20844/do_the_evolution.
[47] Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, "grunge."
[48] Oxoby, The 1990s, 165.
[49] Ibid.
[50] "Post-Grunge," AllMusic.com, accessed March 1, 2014, http://www.allmusic.com/style/post-grunge-ma0000005020/artists.
[51] Andrew Martin, "The 30 Most Hated Acts Of All Time, According To Spin," PrefixMag.com, last modified March 22, 2012, accessed April 13, 2014, http://www.prefixmag.com/news/the-30-most-hated-acts-of-all-time-according-to-sp/63535/.
[52] Will Hermes, Pearl Jam - "Lightning Bolt" Review, RollingStone.com, last modified October 15, 2013, accessed March 1, 2014, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/lightning-bolt-20131015.
[53] Jessica Hopper, "Wavves, 'Afraid of Heights' (Mom + Pop/Warner Bros.)," Spin.com, last modified March 25, 2013, accessed March 1, 2014, http://www.spin.com/reviews/wavves-afraid-of-heights-mom-and-pop-warner-bros/.
[54] Andrew Trendell, "Nirvana's In Utero Is 20 - Here Are The Artists That It Inspired," Gigwise.com, last modified September 13, 2013, accessed April 13, 2014, http://www.gigwise.com/photos/84167/nirvanas-in-utero-is-20---here-are-the-artists-that-it-inspired.
[55] Ibid.
[56] Ibid.
[57] Szatmary, Rockin' in Time: A Social, 286.
[58] "Singles (1992) Full Cast & Crew," Imdb.com, accessed March 1, 2014, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105415/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast.
[59] Michael Nelson, "Singles Soundtrack Turns 20," Stereogum.com, last modified June 28, 2012, accessed March 1, 2014, http://www.stereogum.com/1075861/singles-soundtrack-turns-20/.
[60] Mason Blair, "The Grunge Look: Alice," in American Decades Primary Sources, 10:158-159.
[61] Makenna Alene, "Styled Person Of Interest: Kurt Cobain," Beautiful Freaks 17 (blog), entry posted April 5, 2013, accessed April 13, 2014, http://beautifulfreaks17.blogspot.com/2013/04/styled-person-of-interest-kurt-cobain.html.
[62] Mason Blair, "The Grunge Look: Alice," in American Decades Primary Sources, 10:158-159.
[63][63] Ibid.
[64] Ibid.
[65] Eddie Vedder, "Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam," interview by Josh Modell, AVClub.com, last modified November 6, 2002, accessed March 2, 2014, http://www.avclub.com/article/eddie-vedder-of-pearl-jam-13789.
[66] Ibid.
[67] Ibid.
[68] Ibid.
[69] Huq, Beyond Subculture: Pop, Youth, 139.
[70] Walser, "Grunge."
[71] Szatmary, Rockin' in Time: A Social, 287.
[72] Ibid., 288.
[73] "Nirvana - 04/08/1994 - MTV News Report on Kurt Cobain's Death Live," YouTube, video file, 30:01, posted by NirvanaUnseen, April 21, 2013, accessed March 2, 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qibk2XNemY.
[74] Huq, Beyond Subculture: Pop, Youth, 138.
[75] Batchelor, "Smells Like MTV: Music," www.PopMatters.com.
[76] "Pearl Jam 1996 Grammy's Speech," YouTube, video file, 01:12, posted by CornellisGod, August 25, 2007, accessed March 2, 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHEYs0CMe4U#t=12.
[77] Devon Murphy, "Feminist Movement's Future In Question After The Third Wave," editorial, HuffingtonPost.CA, last modified June 24, 2013, accessed February 9, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/24/modern-feminism_n_3471768.html.
[78] Strong, Grunge: Music and Memory, 110.
[79] Huq, Beyond Subculture: Pop, Youth, 140.
[80] Strong, Grunge: Music and Memory, 110.
[81] Steve Feliciano, "The Riot Grrrl Movement," NYPL.org, last modified June 19, 2013, accessed January 4, 2014, http://www.nypl.org/blog/2013/06/19/riot-grrrl-movement.
[82] Ibid.
[83] Kim France, "Led by Alanis Morissette and Courtney Love, a whole new breed of feminism is standing atop the pop cultural heap," New York Magazine, June 3, 1996, 41.
[84] Nirvana, Nirvana - "Rape Me" Lyrics, SongMeanings.com, accessed January 4, 2014, http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/15729/.
[85] Huq, Beyond Subculture: Pop, Youth, 145.
[86] Batchelor, "Smells Like MTV: Music," www.PopMatters.com.
[87] Pearl Jam Twenty, directed and screenplay by Cameron Crowe, produced by Cameron Crowe, Michele Anthony, and Morgan Neville, Abramorama, 2011, accessed March 2, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kpo-5tv6zbY.
[88] Ibid.
[89] Ibid.
[90] Ibid.
[91] Ibid.
[92] Pearl Jam, 'Glorified G' Lyrics, PearlJam.com, accessed January 4, 2014, http://pearljam.com/music/lyrics/all/all/20871/glorified_g.
[93] Ibid.
[94] Feliciano, "The Riot Grrrl Movement," NYPL.org.
[95] Cavan Sieczkowski, "Kurt Cobain Said He Thought He Was Gay As A Child In Unearthed Jon Savage Interview," HuffingtonPost.com, last modified October 23, 2013, accessed March 2, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/23/kurt-cobian-gay_n_4150810.html.
[96] BBC, "1992: Clinton beats Bush to the White House," BBC.co.uk, accessed April 13, 2014, http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/november/4/newsid_3659000/3659498.stm.
[97] Ibid.
[98] Matthew C. Nisbet, "A Look Back at 1992: How Bill Clinton Engaged Younger Voters," BigThink.com, last modified December 14, 2011, accessed April 13, 2014, http://bigthink.com/age-of-engagement/a-look-back-at-1992-how-bill-clinton-engaged-younger-voters.
[99] Ibid.
[100] Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 921-922 (1994). Accessed April 13, 2014. http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-103hr1025rh/pdf/BILLS-103hr1025rh.pdf.
[101] Szatmary, Rockin' in Time: A Social, 287.
[102] Walser, "Grunge."
[103] Szatmary, Rockin' in Time: A Social, 287.
[104] Strong, Grunge: Music and Memory, 137.
[105] Pearl Jam Twenty, directed and narrated by Cameron Crowe, produced by Cameron Crowe, Michele Anthony, and Morgan Neville, Abramorama, 2011, accessed January 6, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfOt8OuwHmQ.
[106] "NBC News reports on Kurt Cobain's death 4-94," YouTube.com, video file, 01:16, posted by Bigkatmanning, May 1, 2008, accessed March 1, 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJSj_gRZXnA.
[107] Strong, Grunge: Music and Memory, 20.
[108] Ibid.
[109] Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "Hole - Biography," AllMusic.com, accessed March 1, 2014, http://www.allmusic.com/artist/hole-mn0000680476/biography.
[110] Ibid.
[111] Ibid.
[112] Strong, Grunge: Music and Memory, 20.
[113] Nirvana, "Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit," SongMeanings.com, accessed March 2, 2014, http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/3995/.

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