How to explain grunge rock in three minutes
The upcoming rock-documentary Cobain: Montage of Heck is essentially a shot of cinematic crack for some of us.
We cannot resist, and we don’t want to. Why would we want to? For a significant tranche of the population, now aged between their late thirties and about 50, Kurt Cobain was (still is) God. We loved Kurt and loved grunge and loved his peers – as in the good bands, like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, not the sucky ones like Candlebox – with a demented passion that at times came close to going “full One Direction”. What's more, Cobain is dead 21 years this week and what better time to explain his legacy.
They/it/he were our north, south, east and west, our working week and Sunday rest. They were our noon, our midnight, our talk and song; we thought that love would last forever – we were wrong. Sob.
“But hold on there, granddad,” I hear the youth of today saying in an annoying mid-Atlantic accent. “What exactly was this quote-unquote ‘grunge’ scene all about?”
I’m glad you asked. I shall now explain, for the younger generations, the greatest genre of music in history –
TYPICAL SOUND: sludgy guitar chords, functional bass-lines, technically proficient but somehow annoying “off-tempo” drumming which is a bitch for the other musicians to keep up with but sounds cool I guess.
FAVOURED CHORDS: minor, obscure, melancholic. Ideally sarcastic, if possible.
VOCALS: should approximate the sound of a totally wasted, possibly suicidal android moaning through a metal pipe…on a distant moon.
OVERALL EFFECT: a sort of murky, anxious, discordant and astronomically depressing vibe. Yep, that good.
TYPICAL VIDEO: the torso of a discarded Barbie doll is skewered on a broken beer-bottle before being dragged across the guitar neck. This represents something, dude. Like, the patriarchy or whatever?
TYPICAL BAND NAMES: The Radical Homosexual Agenda, imabarbiegirl, The Freakz, Whipping Dance, noisenikkk.
TYPICAL SONG TITLES: Doctor of Nothing, sickbloodyvomitnausea, Live With This Hell, Cola Librarian, wolf/lamb, Raze Your Face.
TYPICAL LYRICS: “Got hooked up to the Doctor of Nothing…hypodermic love, I knew it was coming…needle’s panic, he said he was lonely…screaming, bloody – oh Mama won’t you hold me…”
THE LOOK: enormous clumpy boots, flannel shirts, combat shorts, unwashed hair and goatees. For men and women.
THE PHILOSOPHY: feminism, gay rights, irony, postmodernism, apathy, cynicism, idealism, and of course…sarcasm. Truly the highest form of wit.
FAVOURITE PASTIMES: sleeping, reading, being sarcastic in interviews, doing hard drugs they really shouldn’t be doing.
LEGENDS: Kurt, Courtney, Eddie, Layne – only first names needed here – Bikini Kill, Sonic Youth, Babes in Toyland, Mudhoney, Kim Thayil of Soundgarden (Chris Cornell was a bit too good-looking), Steve Albini, Sleater-Kinney, Neil Young, J Mascis, Kristin Hersh, Richard Linklater, Douglas Coupland, Gillian Anderson, Ethan Hawke, Janeane Garofalo, Bridget Fonda, and not forgetting my beautiful and adored wife (in a parallel universe), Winona Ryder.
VILLAINS: Axl Rose.
DO SAY: Whatever. (Then sigh sarcastically.)
DON'T SAY: This song could use a ten-minute guitar solo round about now. Or a sax solo.