Memory Lane: 1994

So, SPIN Magazine released its list of the 100 Best Alt-Rock Songs of 1994, and I basically fell down a rabbit hole. This is the soundtrack to my 23rd year.

I was a hot mess, but damn, the music was fantastic.

A few of these songs remind me of a short-lived abusive relationship I was in with a drug addict (short-lived because he was an abusive drug addict, der). See: Suede; Smashing Pumpkins.

A number of these songs remind me of The Ex, a man I would spend the next four years with, give or take a few months in the middle there. (We were on a break!) See: Liz Phair, “Supernova”; Guided by Voices, “I am a Scientist”; Pearl Jam, “Better Man”.

But most of these songs remind me of being single and feeling fierce, which is how I spent most of 1994. I had a pierced lip and a tattoo, and I was Gen X to a T — a pot-smoking, aimless slacker living on my own. I had a job and was freelance writing, and spent most of my money on rent and beer at Dee’s Cafe on the South Side.

I don’t remember “Possum Kingdom” being so rapey. I do remember Urge Overkill’s version of “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon” being *exactly* that creepy, though.

The most nostalgic songs for me: “Something’s Always Wrong”, Toad the Wet Sprocket; “Gee Angel”, Sugar.

And talk about women in music: L7, Lisa Loeb, Hole, Breeders, the aforementioned Liz Phair, Bjork, Luscious Jackson. LUSCIOUS JACKSON! Lots more. And I remember every single word to “Seether” by Veruca Salt.

And now for a video.

I thought about posting the video for “Gentleman” by Afghan Whigs, but, two things: 1. I didn’t listen to the Afghan Whigs in 1994. They are a new obsession. 2. If I watch a 28-year-old Greg Dulli in this video one more fucking time, I’m going to turn into a puddle of quivering jelly.

I limited myself to the Top 10 songs, and I still have to post two. Point and counter point as it were.

1994 was the year Kurt Cobain put a bullet in his brain. “No Apologies” from Nirvana, from MTV Unplugged Nirvana, is a fitting elegy.

On the flip side, we have Courtney Love of Hole howling into the void with “Miss World”.

If you don’t feel like flipping through the slideshow at SPIN, here’s the link to the Spotify playlist.

What were you listening to in 1994?

Current Obsession: Pentatonix

Warning: Earworms ahead.

It all started with a story on NPR. I got chills listening to this young quintet. I also thought Kate would dig them.

I’ve never watched The Sing-Off (or The Voice or American Idol), so if not for this story, I would’ve totally missed them.

And now I can’t get them out of my head. Both my girls are totally hooked as well. The Pentatonix versions of “Video Killed the Radio Star” and “Dog Days are Over” are on heavy rotation in my house.

I really need two things to happen: Season 3 of The Sing-Off to come out on DVD or Blu-Ray and Pentatonix to release their CD. Album. Whatever. Get on my iPod!

I had to explain what “Video Killed the Radio Star” was about. That was fun.

Get off my lawn.

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As an aside: I love the judges on this show. I have no idea who Sara Bareilles is, but she seems very sweet. Ben Folds cracks me up. And Shawn Stockman is so sincere and enthusiastic. The absence of snark is refreshing.

I seem to be having an issue with snark lately. Hm. Will have to come back to that.

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As another earworm for all y’all: Ever think “Smells Like Teen Spirit” needed to be done with a ukulele?

I present my extremely talented cousin, Dana:

She also does an excellent cover of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”. Check her out!

What’s your current musical obsession?

Memory Lane: Nevermind

A co-worker walked up to my desk.

“Kurt Cobain killed himself,” she said.

“Uh-huh,” I said. “Right.” She looked uncertain.

This was a rumor that had been circulating for a couple of years at this point. That Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, who struggled so publicly with heroin addiction, fame, his wife and fellow addict Courtney Love, and Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder, had committed suicide.

My co-worker looked doubtful. “They’re saying they found his body. He shot himself.”

“‘They’ve’ been saying that for, like, the past two years,” I responded.

It was April 8, 2004.

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I came late to Nirvana. Like, say, summer of 1992 late.

After my Pearl Jam revelation, I made my way through Seattle-area grunge: Screaming Trees (lead singer of which, Mark Lanegan, was clearly Vedder’s voice coach), Soundgarden, Alice and Chains, and so on.

Why yes, I was a sunny, happy post college graduate. (Not.) Why do you ask?

Although Nirvana’s single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” had caught my ear, it wasn’t until I saw the video with the tattooed cheerleaders that I decided to pick up the CD. I distinctly remember hoping that it wasn’t just that one song.

To this day, Nevermind resides in my top five albums of all time.

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I know Pearl Jam and Nirvana were lumped together in the “grunge” music category. Out of the necessity that we have for labeling and categorization. I tend toward seeing their differences, though, especially these many years later.

Pearl Jam had a dark romance to them. Nirvana were nihilists.

Pearl Jam’s music was tightly focused, driven, while Nirvana’s hovered at the near edge of chaos.

Both bands knew their music history — they truly sensed their roots. PJ were rooted in Neil Young and other ’70s-era bands, plus the Ramones; for Nirvana, it was classic rock, and punk and alternative rock forerunners (The Stooges, Pixies). While both groups seemingly struggled with their sudden fame, where Pearl Jam and especially Vedder learned to channel and use the spotlight, Cobain simply turned into a deer in the headlights. Then imploded.

Pearl Jam went from angst to activism; Nirvana, although they made an amazing third album (In Utero) (counting Bleach as their first) and an amazing MTV Unplugged episode, didn’t go farther than 1994.

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Once upon a time, WYEP had a Friday night show that focused on very new music, a lot less Joni Mitchell and a lot more… well, at that time, Nirvana. An acquaintance of mine, Don, was the DJ.

And when, that evening on the air, Don announced Kurt Cobain’s body was found, I believed him. Don’s voice was hushed, serious, that of a fan already mourning a dead star.

I called him.

“Are you okay?” I blurted.

We talked for a while before he had to get back to DJ’ing. I told him about what my co-worker had said earlier in the day. “I didn’t believe her,” I said.

“I don’t blame you for not believing her. Cobain would be dead a hundred times over if every rumor of his death were true.” He went back to his shift.

I went to the bar.

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I’m not proud of this, but when Don announced Cobain’s death, the first thought that went through my head was, “Now I’ll never get to see Nirvana live!”

My second thought was for his baby girl.

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Although I never bought into the idea of Kurt Cobain as “the voice of a generation”, it’s not as if he didn’t have anything to say. He was an artist of his era trying to capture, if nothing else, his own intense experience. He was troubled, plagued by chronic pain, tortured by his fame, and, ultimately, not strong enough to take on the weight of his own world. But Nevermind — along with Ten — launched a thousand alternative rock ships.

And if I can be nothing else, I can be grateful for that.