October 29, 2013

Bygone left populism in music

Temple of the Dog, "Hunger Strike" (1991)

Neglected to include this in my list of '90s music worth saving from a fire. I was looking through Billboard Year-End charts for ideas, and this one slipped through the cracks.

Grunge was a short-lived fusion of populist heartland rock with intensity and ornament from heavy metal. Hence only possible once those two component styles had been developed well enough, and before sincerity and fellow-feeling (from heartland rock) and belting out your emotions (from metal) went out of fashion during the ironic, solipsistic, and minimalist Nineties.

At the time, fans of grunge arrogantly heralded it as the wave of the future, delivered from Rock Heaven to replace the overwrought hair metal Establishment. Those fans were in for a rude awakening: the new zeitgeist of meta-self-awareness would only snicker at anything that came from someplace genuine, and that did not interrupt its connection with the audience by constantly winking at itself.

Worse, in contrast to Live Aid, Farm Aid, Hear 'n Aid (the metal benefit concert), etc., populism and charity went nowhere in the '90s. How many new fans did Pearl Jam gain by taking on the fleecing monopoly of Ticketmaster? Music fans couldn't even get worked up by injustice in an industry that they cared a lot about -- obviously caring about anything further still from their own little world would only fail more pathetically.

I never understood all the hate that the grungers kept dumping on hard rock from the late '80s and earlier. At least among my friends, we were still listening to Guns N' Roses, AC/DC, and Aerosmith, while enjoying the Big New Thing of grunge. That didn't really include power ballad hair metal, but we didn't dump on it either. By striving to distance themselves from their near relatives of the '80s, grunge die-hards only hastened the demise of any style that sincerely delivered emotion.

As far as I know, grunge fans have never taken partial blame for the sudden suckiness of "rock" music from the mid-'90s onward. Like, "Y'know, we really exaggerated how bad music was in the '80s, and foolishly ignored the chance that new music would get real bad real fast. And we're sorry for setting fire to a house that was already becoming abandoned by audiences." It's never too late to atone for your sins, dudes.

Related: what the Left focused on in the 1980s.


  1. >sudden suckiness of 'rock' music from the mid-nineties onward.

    Well, what is rock? Out of drums, by guitar. What's today's top 40? Out of disco, by rap. That's by drums (drum machines, plus samples) out of guitar (or other twangy strings). It doesn't suck. Quite okay, in fact: Take a mediocre white girl disco singer, say Lady Gaga, add a mediocre black rapper, you get an okay duet.

    The only good Lady Gaga song, the one about being the cute drunk girl at the party, she was better than mediocre. Pretty okay, really. The rapper was worse than mediocre, though not much. High end ineptitude. The song still went okay, because the basic duet form was as clear as the message: 'Just Dance'.

    By comparison, the only good video from grunge, the one with the anarchist cheerleaders? It was okay. One good song does not a thriving genre make.

    Go ahead. Prove me wrong. Tell me a bunch of good grunge songs. i'm not asking geat, just high-end okay.


  2. I don't think that Agnostic is saying they're good, but rather that they're sincere. Unlike the manufactured, self-aware music of the 90s-till-present.


  3. Man in the Box
    Sea of Sorrow*
    Bleed the Freak
    Them Bones
    Down in a Hole
    *ironically, a relatively upbeat tune.

    That's just from the first couple of Alice in Chains LPs. What are their videos like? I don't know, music is for your ears rather than eyes. And music played by real human musicians is different from a machine looping a sample.

  4. I guess grunge is a product of the very end of the crime wave, when things were getting out of control and people wanted it to stop. Grunge reflects this through its negativity.



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