Just a little less than twelve years ago, Nirvana released what was viewed as the seminal alternative rock album, Nevermind. And while that album with its widely played single, Smells Like Teen Spirit, brought light to alternative music, for me it signalled the end of a genre that I had come to love.
I grew up in the 70′s, starting my musical obsession with Beatles 8-tracks, moving to KISS, then on to the Sugar Hill Gang and finally settling on the Smiths, Pixies, Joy Division in the early 80′s. I can remember just how difficult it used to be to even find cassettes (yes, I am THAT old) of the bands we liked. We would hunt high and low and then trade tapes made on our double decks.
I will admit we took a certain joy or glee in being in on something that others did not seem to know about. They were content to bounce their heads along to whatever Madonna or Micheal Jackson song was popular. And maybe just a bit of the elitist in me was satisfied to know I was somehow cooler than they were.
But all of that came to a crashing halt during my junior year in college, with the release of that damn Nirvana album. Not that it was their first album, heck it’s not even their best. But it was more visible than anything they had done. The single rocketed up to the top and was all over emptyvee and teenybopper radio. Shortly thereafter, every major label wanted their own alternative band.
A&R reps scoured Seattle and other alternative hotspots for the next big thing. Bands that would otherwise have become boy bands saw the riches at the end of the alternative tunnel. And what that meant was a diminishment in the quality of music. It also resulted in a sort of cultural imperialism in which hordes of frat boys and teenybopper girls became “alternative” overnight.
And that is still the case today. Can you remember when piercings and body art were a symbol of rebellion against society’s mainstream values? What does it mean today except that one is capable of following the pack, like a lemming.
Thanks a lot Kurt!