Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Maybe I was in the right time at the right place twenty years ago: Me and the Music Explosion of 1991

My daughter lamented recently that she wishes she was a teenager in an earlier decade.  Anything other than this one.  This is boring.  Everything happened in the 60s and 80s and 70s. Cool stuff was going on in the 50s.  People looked fabulous in the 30s and 40s.

She told me I was lucky to be a young adult in the 90s.  My first reaction was that I actually missed much of the 90s because of all the gestating and lactating.  haha.  ha.

But maybe she's right.  Maybe I am lucky to have been there.  Yes, I spent the latter half of the decade completely immersed in my children, and I wouldn't trade that for anything, but I had a few good years in the early 90s there.

September 1991: I was newly married and starting my first year of college.  I was a little country bumpkin with no idea how to read a bus schedule (but that deserves its own story) and was scared silly about the whole school thing.  I was The Married Chick; it was funny seeing the young dudes' faces change when they heard the word married.

But even chicks with wedding rings can go to the school pub.  And I did.  The pub had a couple of big screens up on the walls with videos playing.  Coming from a home with no cable TV, I was way behind on my video watching.  So I sat there being fascinated and creeped out by Ozzy Osbourne's No More Tears.  I was an Ozzy fan.  Still am. Despite his regular fascinating creepiness.

But something new was about to whack us all upside the head.  That month, that first month of my first (and only) college year, THIS HAPPENED.

 from amazon.com

A scumbaggy looking trio of slackers put out this little album that sounded like somebody took the history of punk music, a good portion of the Beatles, and metal's buzzy distortion and stuck it in a dirty blender, then set the thing on HIGH.  

Now the thing is, I used to be enough of a rebel that I was wary of liking any music just because everybody else did or just because it's on the radio all the time or the guy in Rolling Stone says it's good. I did the same thing a couple years earlier with Guns N Roses.  But the problem was that despite Appetite For Destruction being one of the most offensive records I'd ever heard it was also one of the best.  I couldn't deny the energy and the melodies and the intensity.  It didn't take long before I just completely gave up and gave in.  

Funny thing is, all this time, I've never owned a copy of this record.  Never had to.  First all my friends had it (on cassette!) and to this day any rock radio station won't go more than a few hours without playing a song off of Nevermind.  

Hey, wanna feel old?  That cute baby has facial hair now.  

(the whole article is here)
Also he's taken up wearing pants.  How things change, eh?

So, I was around for that piece of history.

That same month, another huge album hit the air.

from http://sleevage.com

This had me going givvidawaynah nonstop.  I had heard of this band; I remember waking up to the radio one morning convinced that Ozzy Osbourne and Stevie Wonder had done a collaboration for the song "Higher Ground."  For about two hours after that I was thinking, "How in the hell did that happen?"  But it didn't.  It was these guys.  And that's all I knew about them.  

For me, this album kind of is the soundtrack of Art School.  I threw a lot of pottery to this record. And by throw I mean, y'kno, stuck a lump of clay on the wheel and squeezed it.  I squeezed mud to Red Hot Chili Peppers.  

You know what also happened at that time? This piece of brilliance.  We howled with delight when we saw the cover!

from sleevage.com

Metallica was unavoidable in high school.  I think even the preppies listened to Metallica.  And yes, we spent our hard earned art student/ assistant recording engineer cash on this disc.  I did all my drawing assignment homework to it and wrote lyrics all over the cover of my sketch book, like a high school student.  It actually dropped in August but I was busy driving across Canada with my new husband, through landscapes where the radio scrolled all the way through and found nothing.  Back in Ontario I got all dosed up on Metallica.  They're not even my favourite band but I loved this record.  

Then one day, sitting in the student building pub, I heard this magnificent noise. Huge guitars and frantic drumbeats, and bags and bags of bass.  Whaaaaat?  Interesting!  I tried to look over the top of the crowd to see what was going on up there on the screen.

Oh look, this video has some of my favourite stuff in it. 

Well, shirtless long haired rock stars?  Flames?  Musical instruments?  ...car parts???  What is all that?  Tell me more!  

"So... THIS is the Soundgarden I have read about but had not heard, because my local radio station doesn't play anything other than big-label music, scientifically created in a lab for maximal hit potential?  Tell me more!"

This record ended up being one of my favourites OF ALL TIME.


Their videos got played a lot in the pub.  Funny that I remember that so clearly when I think of my college experience.  You'd think I was in there every day.  This video totally blew my mind.  All strobe lights and desert and apparently this dude doesn't own any shirts.  Being an impoverished college student I really had sympathy.

image from interscope.com
Also I was concerned that maybe he wasn't eating enough, being all ribsy and all, and maybe he should drop by the student pub on Thursday evenings for cheap chicken wings.

I can't shut up about Badmotorfinger.  It was all Drop D tuning and messed up time signatures, making it so much more complex and interesting than a lot of the rock music that came before it.  Jethro eventually started calling Soundgarden "the Black Sabbath of the 90s" which was, coming from him, a compliment.  

It didn't even occur to me at the time that there was some really cool stuff happening in rock music.  I was just digging what was going on.  You rarely know history is being made at the time.

Meanwhile, I woke up every morning to hear "November Rain" on the radio, which I thought was a total bummer to be a Guns N Roses song.  I only liked the ending.  I never had a copy of either one of the Use Your Illusions either.  Even though part of it had been recorded at the studio my Jethro was working at at that time.  But that's a whole other story.  In any case Guns N Roses started to really bum me out in 1991.

Then U2 dropped Achtung Baby which my friends and I had to listen to nonstop at every house party ever.  Brilliant album.  Again, never owned a copy... never needed to because it's gloriously ubiquitous!

The other big house party hit was Lenny Kravitz.  I used to have the lyrics for Mama Said memorized.

Man, Lenny was so freakin' cool.  I wanted to dress like that guy every day.  But I wasn't that kind of cool.

It wasn't all good though.  Freddie Mercury died.  That was a sobering loss that put a damper on the party.

The next year I finally heard Pearl Jam.  Their first album, Ten, is the kind of record that puts me in a mood instantly.  It's a record best listened to on a quiet day, holding still and listening.


And yeah, there was a time when I had the lyrics for Evenflow memorized.  It's all gone now.

And also Alice In Chains happened.  Guess where they were from?  Seattle.  Just like the other ground-breaking bands who released albums in that three month span at the end of 1991.  It was a thing.  


It's kind of interesting to think about the convergence of ideas and collaborations that feed into something huge.

Somewhere in there I remember being in the kitchen of our sketchy apartment above the Chinese takeaway/ Portuguese hair salon and listening to the radio.... commentary on the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I was very withdrawn into my own world, and the world of art school, but this was a piece of news that sunk in.  

Because music was such a huge part of my world, and still is, these are the things that stick in my mind.

So this evening as we were doing our barn chores, my daughter and I talked about things she'll remember from her teenage years.

America's first black president.

Prince William's wedding.

Muse at Lollapalooza.

The Black Keys.

Myles Kennedy.

And she probably won't even know at the time what could end up being monumental in her life.


Paul Tee said...

Brilliant retrospective. I think more so than today, music was the emotional language of the generations; antiestablishment, the rebellion, a new way ahead.

Today we are more jaded and knowledgeable to have that same feel of being in front of everything.

Well said.

Heidi the Hick said...

I do wonder what the teenagers of this decade will later define as important.

Heidi the Hick said...

Sadly, I think the death of Steve Jobs will be one of those landmarks. My kids grew up on Mac. His work is a big part of their lives.