Metal versus grunge

Courtney Love has been in the news a lot lately, and it’s really pissing me off. I mean, it doesn’t piss me off that she’s a skank attention ho doing everything possible to get her name in the news as she releases her album. And I haven’t listened to the aforementioned CD and I probably never will, so that doesn’t bother me. What gets me is that eventually, every conversation about this no-talent walking petri dish is that eventually, almost everybody has to get on my shit about how great and talented and wise Kurt Cobain was, and then treat me like a pedarist when I wholeheartedly disagree. And since a “go fuck yourself” never seems to give enough of an explanation to people, I thought I’d take a moment to give my perspective on the issue.

Way back in the Eighties, when I was in high school, most of the people my age were listening to stupid pop music that is now on those “Hey, it’s the eighties” types of CDs that K-Tel sells in the middle of the night between ads for inflatable beds and hair replacement products. And I guess in the early Eighties, like when I was in grade school, I listened to a lot of that crap too: Men at Work, Journey, The Police, and whatever else was on MTV or WNDU U-93 back then. But at a certain point, while my classmates continued to like Banannarama and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, I branched out, and found music that seemed truer to me. Maybe it was because I was a computer geek, and I wanted to find a music that was more efficient and more powerful in the same way that I wanted to learn machine language to write computer software for my Commodore 64 that was more efficient and powerful and true. Or maybe it was because I was antisocial and somewhat isolated and this genre of music spoke to me and told me it was okay to not be into the same generic bullshit as the rest of my high school, and that there was a world beyond pep club and the Fellowship of Christian Atheletes. But anyway, that’s how I started to listen to heavy metal.

Heavy metal has evolved evolved over time, of course. And I kept buying the newest stuff, the latest artists, the heaviest extremes. It’s like a drug where you might just start snorting a tiny pick-me-up, and the next thing you know, your entire life evolves around the substance. Some of the first music I liked was, for the lack of a better category, probably called thrash. Stuff like Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and others formed the basis of my listening diet as I approached college. Sure, I liked a lot of other stuff, but those were the artists I sought out whenever I hit a record store. And although they would be indelibly etched into my brain forever, I would push it with faster and harder and heavier stuff. Finding heavier thrash, like Helloween and Dark Angel and Xentrix, opened up an entirely new world of loud and fast music. And just as I got used to finding more and more of this stuff on the Combat record label, Ray introduced me to Death Metal bands like Nocturnus, Entombed, Dismember, Morbid Angel, and a bazillion others.

While most people might just buy an occasional CD or go check out their favorite band, Death Metal became an all-consuming, all-defining lifestyle for me. I talked to everyone I could on the internet about music, hunted down any release from Roadrunner or Earache I could find, and started helping Ray with his magazine. Pretty soon, I started my own zine and also started to DJ a show at WQAX. This wasn’t about money or chicks or fame; I did this mostly to get access to more stuff, and to give access to more people. I would tape everything I didn’t have, and make tapes for anyone who asked. I got tons of free shit from record labels, and reviewed all of it. Any artist who wrote me got support, in the form of reviews, interviews, gossip, other names and addresses, or anything else. I called everyone I could and put a serious amount of fucking toll charges on my phone card in the process. I went to every half-ass, all-ages, amateur-night show I could find, even if the bands were more punk than metal, just so I could “support the scene.” Music meant a lot to me, and it all had to do with that ever-consuming desire to have more, to be more, to find more, and to quote a band that has long since sold out, go against the grain until the end.

Then came Nirvana. I can’t even remember the first time I heard these guys, but it must have been a freak accident, as I never listened to regular FM radio or pop music. I think at the time, stuff like MC Hammer or PM Dawn or something was popular, and I assumed that Nirvana was just part of this greater pop music universe of suckage. But then “grunge” came into its own being, and I guess I pictured Nirvana as “alternative” music. At that point in time, there was something called “alternative”, and it was where most music that fell somewhere between the pop and punk world was relegated. For example, most of REM’s work before the Green album, when they really sold out to FM radio, might be considered “alternative”.

Then in maybe 1991 or 1992, I started going to clubs and saw that people would slamdance to Nirvana songs, one almost always being “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” This was an interesting phenomenon, and at least it made it easier to rush out to the dance floor and knock over dumb jock types who were trying to slamdance. But around that time, the press machine behing Nirvana created this whole phenomenon called “The Seattle Sound”, and tried to make it as if Seattle was the new Berekley in the 60s, and it was the braintrust of all cultural and fashion decisions that were to be made at that moment. Soundgarden, which was more of a straight heavy metal fratboy rock band, got in line with Kurt and crew, and so did Alice in Chains and a big second tier of bands.

Why does any of this piss me off? Well, a bunch of uninteresting bands replacing a bunch of uninteresting bands in the world of pop music doesn’t bother me. And the fact that “grunge” had this crossover appeal to punks and homogenized the “alternative” scene with the pop scene didn’t do much to me either. I’ve always appreciated punk and enjoyed any brief exposure to it that I’ve encountered, although I haven’t really tried to follow it or live the lifestyle. But what really bothered me was when “grunge” purposely tried to fuck with heavy metal in some intellectual pissing contest, to prove that it was somehow obsolete.

Every retrospective TV show or magazine article talking about music of the early 1990s will talk about the rise of “grunge” rock and the death of heavy metal. But they will usually make it sound as if every person that was into heavy metal suddenly dropped their spiked wrist bands and black t-shirts and put on some flannel and started listening to the Seattle sound. THIS IS BULLSHIT. A lot of people may have done this, but a lot of people were just riding the heavy metal wave briefly, listening to hard rock shit like Poison and Cinderella and Bon Jovi and then jumping to the next trend that happened. And while I acknowledge that this is true, I don’t think ANYBODY who was into death metal suddenly watched the Nirvana Unplugged special and suddenly decided that Kurt was god and it was time to stop showering.

Most people today look at “hair metal” (once again, I will mention that this term was never used back in the day, until all of you stop using it) as one big group of people, but you have to remember that people who listened to Skid Row and the Bulletboys did not, as a rule, listen to Terrorizer and Cannibal Corpse. The former was a group very much into style and eye makeup and big hair and the pop-music crossover of this brand of heavy metal, while the latter were more involved in the death and mayhem and gore and screaming solos and banging of heads and secret satan salutes. There may have been some crossover (I liked Guns N’ Roses but I also liked Deicide) but the two groups were not related.

They were, however, the same in the eyes of political correctness, something that was born on college campuses around the time everyone started wearing flannel. And Nirvana, among other achievements, seemed to be, at least in my eyes, one of the first really politically correct bands, with a highly PC fanbase. Every Nirvana fan seemed to be a feminist, against discrimination, against The Man, and very politically involved, typically left-leaning. The movie PCU made a poke at the “causeheads”, the group of students on campus that always protested everything. Hell, Nirvana’s bassist, Chris Novoselic, recently considered a run at lieutenant governor of Washington. “Nirvana was a political band,” he said. “And we were the prophets of the disenfranchised. We spoke to the disenfranchised because we ourselves felt that way.” I don’t see how a band who a couple of years ago topped 50 million total sales in its catalog could be considered disinfranchised, but it’s important to note that the band and the fans feel that way, because maybe it explains their general attitude toward non-Nirvana fans.

I don’t remember how many arguments I got into online with Nirvana fans that were things I started myself, rather than things that I got pulled into. But it usually involved Nirvana fans saying I was inbred or a redneck or a rapist or a dumb jock because I listened to metal. And I realize this is childish, and probably just as bad as when I posted Kurt Cobain suicide haiku to the Nirvana newsgroup, but it was amazing how wrapped up in the argument these people would get. I mean, even mentioning “hey, your music sucks” was like walking up to a Jewish person and saying “Hey, I found your grandma’s body at Dachau, so I fucked it with a piece of pork.” One time me and my pal and coworker Chuck were harassing a few people about their grooming habits in a Nirvana group and the fuckers had the gall to write our boss and demand that both of us get fired for harassing a minority or something. I’m not trying to say that they were pieces of shit for not playing fair (which is true) but rather that they seemed to take great pleasure out of playing this “I’m better than you” game. They were like the smug drama club freaks that always got the shit beat out of them in high school, but similarly, they were always the type of people that acted like you were a piece of shit because you didn’t subscribe to their viewpoint or like what they liked.

And I never WANTED their love and affection or whatever. But what made them different from Garth Brooks or INXS or whatever other stupid pop trend that came down the pike was that everyone else came and went and left our little pocket of humanity known as heavy metal alone, while the “alternative” music people had to fuck things up, and it wasn’t enough for them to dominate the pop music chart, they also had to destroy our world by Making A Difference. They had to institute a sly form of genocide, a Final Solution against those who didn’t like them, who chose to listen to music that had guitar solos and didn’t faithfully subscribe to every tenet of political correctness. They could have stayed on their side of the Billboard chart, and had their little trend, and left it at that. But they had to fuck things up for us, and that’s why people into heavy metal still hate “grunge”. And that’s why many people think that Kurt Cobain’s headless corpse can go suck a dick.

And besides that, Nirvana sucked. I seriously tried to listen to Nevermind once, because a friend of mine thought they were the next Beatles. I thought maybe “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was their one shitty song, their pop track, the hit single of the album, and everything else was cool. But I thought the whole thing was useless pop dreck. I mean, it’s all too sappy sweet and predicably bland, with no musical exploration into anything complex that could derail the predicable angst of the songs. It’s like listening to the entire Hendrix discography and being subjected to a fucking god of the six string, making it talk and explode and fuck and destroy and wail and cry in every way possible, and then putting on the Beatles’ Please Please Me and humming along to “Please Please Me” and “Love Me Do”. It’s fucking impossible – you’d kill someone. I mean, I listen to Motorhead on 11, Lemmy screaming Ace of Spades at me, and then I’m supposed to find anything I like with some unwashed postpunk strumming along chords like a folk hero on methadone?

(Let’s not forget the fact that in “In Bloom”, Cobain actually makes fun of the fans who were clueless enough to be pulled in to their simple riffs and didn’t understand the super secret arcane political bullshit PC themeology that all of the cool kids did. To me, this is further proof that this whole movement was a crock, but true Nirvana fans will think that they were of the upper two percent of fans that really understood Kurt, man. Whatever.)

So it’s been almost ten years since Cobain blew his brains out. “Grunge” died, and “hair metal” came back, but neither one really mattered to me, because the one legacy of Nirvana that seems to still live on is the political correctness of fans who think they are always right, and the general wimpiness this seems to propagate in many genres of music (although most thug rappers aren’t going to pressure you into thinking about freeing Tibet or anything.) That’s all part of the “make them think they are thinking and they will love you” philosophy, and there’s no way to shake that one.

Okay, I can’t think of a way to end this, except to save and go get something to eat.


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