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.