AIDS, crack, and Reagan dominated the public discussion, not terrorism or the Internet-driven dumbing down of the American psyche. The hippy era seemed surprisingly far away as bell weather musicians that teens related to (no surprise) gravitated toward fascistic modes of expression. The synthesizer and the highly pitched hair guitar were the predominate delivery mechanism of hits, probably the first time an entire generation had been weened away from intelligent sounds.
Despite this, there were bright cracks in the monotonous Depeche Mode* wall––REM, Jane’s Addiction, Pixies, Red Hot Chili Peppers (though who would have guessed) and you could always go back and listen to the Beatles, Hendrix, the Byrds, Velvet Underground, Bob Marley for more substantive reference points toward pop sublimity.
I remember quite clearly the first time I heard––or should I say (very MTV generation) heard + saw Nirvana. It was my senior year in high school and we were at the cast party following our successful last performance of Romeo & Juliet. I had played the despicable apothecary in this so-called play** and had, momentously, had my first real chance at getting laid in the months preceding. Unfortunately, the girl B–- who set us up did not let me know that her best friend––the blond, mousy girl whom I did not know what to fumblingly do with in the costume room––was going to break down crying at my attempt at a kiss, mumbling something about having been abused by her father.
Yes, I can related to Cobain's MOH spoken-word track 'Aberdeen.' I was an acne-riddled loser for whom self loathing mixed with intense artistic ambition in an all-too-familiar cocktail of masturbatory creation. Thanks to the general mixed up sense of friction of the era in Oakland/Oaktown, all the usual societal guideposts were gone. What was one to believe when Bush Sr. was involved in (what was already apparent to many as) a repeat of Vietnam quagmirism in the Middle East?***
Punk was the reductionist route many of my more intelligent peers, the so-called stoners and artists, took to salvation. In Army Surplus jackets scrawled with strangled, permanent marker, or dark lipstick neo-folk glamour-puss rebellia… ok now I am just making shit up, as one did. (to be continued)
* I now count Depeche Mode’s 1987 ‘Music For the Masses’ as a semi-brilliant concept album.
** I call it a universe.
*** I did not sign up with the Selective Service for a full year after the due date (1991), in protest.
**** The Hendrix/McLaughlin Hendrix/Young jams really worth sharing are no longer up on Youtube. So be it.