I don’t know how many of my readers liked late 80s/early 90s grunge, but I was a pretty big fan as a teen. Soundgarden, Nirvana, Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone were all big sources of local pride for us Seattlites back then. My dad had a ratty apartment above the Off Ramp at the time, and as a boy I’d sometimes stay at his place in the evening and hear the big name bands play underneath me. It didn’t matter too much to me that people were fighting, smoking all sorts of dope and throwing bottles in the alley — it was all fun to watch. Hell, I even got to go in the bar and watch the guys set up the stage a couple of times. It was quite exciting, and even worth having to run from that fat old queen Lee’s German shepherd bitch every time she caught me at the front door.
These guys who played the music are about Novaseeker’s age, give or take a couple years. I was a young teenager at the time, and they were my heroes. That generation of post-boomer men – born in the late 60s – must have felt and expressed the most angst of any generation since that of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. They may not have been all that intellectually articulate as youths, but they sure gave us a dose of their raw emotion. We Seattle children swam in it like fish, buying Sub-Pop LPs on vinyl and picking our favorite bands and musicians. I liked Soundgarden — Chris Cornell was my working-class hero. When we wanted to feel the dirty, rough chords we went with Mudhoney. Nirvana was a bit of a joke at first, being from the redneck logging town of Aberdeen, but they earned their respect in due course and Cobain came to define the cultural phenomenon. This was fitting, perhaps.
Today, I brushed up against a remnant of this in my kids’ preschool parent/teacher meeting. One of the central figures in the culture ended up sitting right next to me. I actually had no idea who he was when I first saw him — I thought he was your typical 40-something Seattle herb. He was dressed and coiffed like a contractor, but didn’t have the requisite physique. He was a somewhat small man with faded jeans, longish hair, a t-shirt and Vans. I hardly gave him a second look. However, when it came time to introduce ourselves, I definitely knew the name. It almost sounded like a joke at first, but there he was: a polite, mild-mannered dad at a parent meeting representing his little girl, who is my daughter’s age. I’m not going to identify the guy, because I wouldn’t want that myself, and it would be pretty low of me to do so, but he’s one of about a dozen major figures in the Seattle music scene from the 80s/90s and everyone reading would recognize his band.
He seemed to be a pretty normal, decent guy with a whole lot of money, and without a trace of the angst that animated grunge music. I think it’s for the best to see a guy who was once part of a scene that glorified waste, death and dissipation to be fostering life, but it’s doubtless been a long road. In fact, it’s been a long road for too many of us, and there are those left behind that we should remember in the coming autumn days of death’s remembrance. What it says to me is that, despite the absence of catastrophic war, disaster or pestilence, we still have reaped a grim harvest over the last couple of decades. To see men in their 40s reborn is an encouraging sign, because in their 20s these guys were masters of futility and doom.
Sometimes I think it is up to us somewhat younger men to interpret what happened in those dark years, but we need the input from those who were at their forefront, even if they didn’t fully understand or articulate what was going on at the time. Essentially, we need to distill their experiences into something powerful and meaningful not only on a spiritual and emotional basis, but on the intellectual plane as well. I know that Justin will have some of his own ideas about the dark message of grunge from that era, but I have come up with a fairly radical hypothesis concerning the spiritual phenomenon that he ought to find pretty interesting, and I’d like to explore it in collaboration with others who are interested in the spiritual bases of these trends.
For now, it would be interesting to see what these artists’ contemporaries have to say about this point in history. Sitting next to this unassuming, youngish former rock star who had a little daughter brought some questions to the fore — especially concerning the survivors of the era he defined. That generation of men that raged against a system stacked against them remains a mystery, but it is a mystery that can be unlocked and understood to a degree with stories and reflection. Just as I looked up to these guys as heroes as an adolescent, I still look to the spirit of that generation, which was thrown on the guns of “progress” and cut down in droves. Young men and their sons have many questions, and we need your experience to answer them. It was a distinct time, and it can’t be understood without your voice.