Saturday 25 November 2017

How to explain grunge rock in three minutes

Kurt Cobain on stage during the filming of MTV Unplugged.
Kurt Cobain on stage during the filming of MTV Unplugged.

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.


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.

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