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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Overblown

Grunge nostalgia is a mixed blessing for people like myself. I weigh pros and cons -- hoping to not minimize or over-embellish the impact.

Sure, it's great to remind others how important bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden were to me and people my age (as well the people at MTV and the journalists who covered what we saw and read). But it would do a disservice to younger generations by claiming this time in rock history was the greatest ever.

I wouldn't say there has been a massive flood of grunge nostalgia in terms of products to buy, but it has made a lot of people talk, write, and think about it. Which I find healthy, in general.

For me, as a consumer, I have a lot of hesitation towards checking out the various permutations of the Nevermind reissue. While it might be nice to sample Butch Vig's mix of the album, I don't think it's something worth owning. And with the B-side bonus tracks? Well, they can be found on other releases (and not just the Outcesticide bootleg series anymore). The Paramount show on DVD? I'll rent it on Netflix.

I also have an aversion to skimpy retrospectives that fill maybe ten magazine pages or four minutes on a network TV news program. I like some meat with these kinds of meals, and I am thankful there are new books out there on the subject.

There's the Pearl Jam Twenty book and documentary, but I'd have to say the item most worth people's time is Mark Yarm's book, Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge. Sure, there is another oral history of grunge called Grunge is Dead. There's also Loser, an exhaustive (and frankly, difficult to cut through) look at Seattle rock music, pre- and post-grunge. But if you enjoyed Doug Pray's documentary Hype! like I did (and still do), Everybody seems to expand themes and stories to a T. And reading it doesn't feel like you're experiencing an ABC miniseries from the 70s.

I know people who frown on oral histories (I heard a few qualms when I told them my second book will be one), but frankly, I can't think of a better way to describe a scene. No one person can be responsible for a music scene, so why should there be one narrator?

While there are stories touched on that have been presented elsewhere, there is so much I've never seen in print before. Getting Buzz Osborne's perspective on Nirvana's rise and fall is pretty fascinating. Learning more about the U-Men, Andy Wood, and Mia Zapata was also great. And getting the perspective of alleged copycats (Candlebox) was a nice touch.

This is not a rosy look at things -- the final quarter feels like a sad decline riddled by death, drug use, and strained relations between longtime friends and lovers. Not the kind of stuff where you feel inspired to plant a tree or climb a mountain, but there's no way of sugarcoating things. To sugarcoat would be a cheat.

Maybe this is the best way to remember this era (or any era, for that matter) -- not everything was sunshine, but it wasn't like walking in mud all day.

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