Kurt Cobain With a Gun and a headdress
I’d rather be dead than cool.” – Kurt Cobain.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the music I used to listen to as a teenager in the 1990s. It can sometimes be a sombre practice to think about the version of you that once was. What a chubby-cheeked, rock music-obsessed little punk ass I used to be (although my friends and I didn’t listen to much ‘Punk‘ per se, but rather one of its most impactful offspring, Grunge).

The Wikipedia article on ‘Grunge’ confounds it and the ‘Seattle Sound’, and claims that only a handful of bands (Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam & company), almost all of which are from Seattle, are defined as ‘Grunge.’ Now, I may have been just a little shrimp-terd back then, but things never seemed this way to me at the time. Grunge seemed to be more like an attitude or a philosophy, and it was gaining steam by piggy-backing on the rising popularity of ‘Alternative’ Rock.

Most bands that made their bones from 1987 to 1994 (as ‘College Rock’ exploded into the mainstream) could probably be considered, at least in part, contributors to the ‘Grunge Movement’.

Sonic Youth, R.E.M., The Tragically Hip (in the 1980s)

Throughout the 1980s Sonic Youth (left) & R.E.M (middle) were responsible for gradually ushering in the sound of Alternative rock. The Tragically Hip (right) had a similar impact in Canada.

The Grunge “Movement”? You’re Kidding Right?

No way. I’m serious. And I’m not a snot-nosed teenage runt anymore, so I think I’ve earned the right to voice my opinions on the subject of modern subcultures. Here’s what I’m getting at:

Back in the 50s the Beats came to prominence, touting the ideals of a liberal lifestyle. Some kids took these ideas to heart, and as they grew up they became more and more immersed in these ideals. They expanded them and ushered in an era of social change greater than anything the world had ever seen. You’ve heard of Hippies, right?

The image of a rock musician in 1969 was colorful, idealistic, grungy, hairy, carefree, breezy, psychedelic, wild, philosophical, and they seemed rooted only by a belief in social change and unconditional love.

Seattle-born guitarist Jimi Hendrix electrified the vibes of the Love Generation. The album cover of ‘Axis: Bold Of Love‘ (rel. 1967) radiates psychedelia.

What happened to rock music in the 70s and 80s was a stripping down of the various elements of this new creative culture. Sometimes a style was carried forward without including the core beliefs that were associated with its inception. A simple example of this is how ‘Glam rock’, after sprouting out of ‘Psychedelic Rock’, evolved into ‘Hair Metal’. I’m not trying to knock Hair Metal here, I’ll save that for another article. This example was simply meant to illustrate the point that while Hair Metal has stylistic and sonic links pointing back to significant cultural movements, it’s not actually a big part of any social movement—, not like Grunge was.

David Bowie vs. Motley Crue

David Bowie (left) is an artist who also holds a timeless reputation as a cultural revolutionary. Motley Crue (right) well, not so much.

We don’t give a shit. That’s grunge’s amendment to the Beat Constitution. The Beats were about living cheap, being free, and the realization that you could be an intellectual and a vagabond at the same time. The Hippies were about opening new doors, and unconditional love for your fellow human. Punks brought decades-old existentialist ideas into the mainstream and posed the question: “Perhaps nothing fucking matters?”

Finally, the Grunge Generation, completely enamoured after devouring everything that came before, chose Kurt Cobain & company to collectively spit out a newer message: Everything the man is telling you is a total pile of crap. The world can be different, it can be as we design it. We can live in peace. Fuck capitalism. I’m gonna live in a hut, and wear cheap clothes, and dream all day about how incredible things could be if we neglected to keep fattening up the powers that be, and focused on our ideas and our dreams.

Grunge ideals are sparse, but that’s kinda the point. Angst is as prominent as it was with Punk. However their picture of the universe is that of an open door. We’re being offered a chance to soar above hypocrisy if we cling to that same love that was so fundamentally important to the Love Generation. Essentially, what this movement did for us was unify many counter-cultural ideals under one flag. Grunge may be so out, but I couldn’t give less of a good God-damn. I’ll be Grunge forever.