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Book Review: Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History Of Seattle Rock Music by Greg Prato

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For many of us, grunge stands as the last significant movement to hit rock music. Thanks to changes in the industry as a whole, it is unlikely that such a seismic shift in the culture will come again anytime soon. Over the years, a number of books have been published about the era. Nobody has captured the story quite as well as Greg Prato in his new book, Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History Of Seattle Rock Music.

Prato’s tactic of allowing the musicians and various Seattle area scenesters tell the story in their own words is remarkably effective. There are 127 people listed in the index, and through their reminiscences a pretty vivid picture of the period unfolds. One of Prato’s more impressive coups is in getting the cooperation of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. Vedder has been noticeably reticent in speaking about the history of his band and of the scene in general; it is a real treat to see him finally let down his guard and talk openly about what went on back then. 

Prato chooses an interesting place to break the story in two with the death of Mother Love Bone’s Andy Wood in 1990. Everything leading up to that pivotal moment was a slow build up of momentum. What followed was an explosion. The band that formed out of the ashes of Mother Love Bone was Pearl Jam. Alongside the group's debut Ten, the year following Wood’s death saw some other amazing records come out. For starters, Alice In Chains’ Facelift, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, and Nirvana’s Nevermind were released. 

As grunge took over, great groups like Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, and TAD released major label records. There were literally hundreds of bands putting out singles on indie labels like Sub Pop and C/Z. It was a ridiculously fertile period in music and it is little wonder the world sat up and took notice. 

Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994 tragically ended this magic era. Although plenty of good records were released by Seattle bands over the next few years, things were never the same again. Nobody flinches in discussing one of the major causes of grunge’s demise: heroin. The drug took so many people after Andy Wood it became almost commonplace. It's sad to think how many talented musicians succumbed to the drug. 

Grunge Is Dead’s publication coincides with the fifteen year anniversary of Cobain’s death. It is hard to believe it has been that long. So much of the music not only still sounds great, but remains in regular rotation on the radio all these years later. Seattle captured lightning in a bottle for a few short years in the early 1990s. Greg Prato’s Grunge Is Dead tells the story better than anything I have read so far.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    The supposed “Grunge” movement was all about rebellion against discipline,conservative style & commercial packaging.You didn’t have to be a tight virtuosic band to get noticed. Granted AIC didn’t dress up, wear leather & throw the devil horns, their music had a heavy blues discipline/style with tasteful but talented solos. The Guitar oriented “Rock” that everyone was tired of was very much present in AIC’s music. None the less, they were apart of a darker Heavy Metal scene along with C.O.C. that tended to show direct influence from Black Sabbath.

    We could also discuss how they had a huge impact on the Nu-Metal that was right around the corner. But, that may be for a later time…

  • zingzing

    lanegan has gotten a boost recently, what with association with greg dulli, isobell campbell and queens of the stone age.

    it’s also interesting to look at british guitar rock during the time. just before grunge, england was having it’s shoegaze movement, with artists like my bloody valentine creating layers of gauzy distortion and dreamy rhythms. then came madchester, with its dance beats and baggy shorts, peaking around the same time grunge was peaking in america. then grunge made it over there, and suddenly england goes all traditional guitar rock again with the brit-pop thing. now, if every brit-pop band was like blur, that would have been fine. unfortunately, they were like oasis, and then england was stuck in the post brit-pop era, which was, much like our post-grunge era, incredibly dull. thanks, grunge. you muffed up two countries.

  • Greg Barbrick

    zingzing, I agree with you. For me, the best part of this book is the first half. The bands that influenced what came before the “explosion” are much more interesting. As is an artist of the stature of Mark Lanegan, who nobody really knows about. Still, I think this is a book worth reading.

  • Greg Barbrick

    Brian, I disagree. The song “Would” was about Andy Wood’s death. The ending of that song, with Cantrell’s chords crashing against Layne Staley pleading: “If I could would you” are the very definition of grunge to me.

  • zingzing

    “For many of us, grunge stands as the last significant movement to hit rock music.”

    those people would be… not paying attention anymore. grunge was years in the making, and that which led up to it was probably more interesting. big black, the pixies, sonic youth, melvins and dinosaur, jr. all were working well before grunge took over, and their sounds play like the interesting, original ideas that grunge mish-mashed into its rather bland stew. one could go back even further to find the sound of grunge even more fragmented and interesting. going forward, grunge became a dead end and, frankly, an albatross. the late-90s post-grunge sound is what we’re steal left with today, as exemplified by such garbage as nickelback.

    still, grunge does stand as an important moment in american music. without it, a lot of people wouldn’t have gone back to find all the great bands that influenced grunge, and a lot of those people wouldn’t be making the great music to be found today if they hadn’t have done that. grunge was an interesting moment, full of promise and, better yet, full of previous history.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    It’s a shame that AIC gets lumped into the shitty “Grunge” category. As much as people don’t want to admit it, AIC was Metal. It was a dark & dismal brand but it was still Metal. “I Know Somthin'(Bout You)”(Facelift) even shows that they were dabbling with some Funk Metal influences (Ala Extreme). Soundgarden might have become more popular during that time frame but Badmotorfinger was definitely NOT Grunge.