We have Sirius XM satellite radio capability in our car but we don’t subscribe to it. It costs money, and I don’t like exchanging that for goods and services, especially if it means I’m going to be securing the jobs of people I don’t even know. The Sirius people send us a lot of mail intended to entice and/or guilt us into subscribing to their service, with envelopes that declare things like “Commercial-free music!”, “Unparalleled selection!”, and “Hope you’re enjoying your terrible local radio stations, if you can hear them over the cries and growling stomachs of our children!” Most recently they’ve been kind and desperate enough to offer us two weeks of free XM radio, and while en route from errand to errand I’ve found myself mostly listening to Lithium, a station that plays all 90’s “alternative rock”, which back then meant “alternative to complete silence” as it was pretty much the only thing on the radio at the time. I still like a lot of that stuff in spite of myself, both for the nostalgia much of it unavoidably drudges up and because I’m a sucker for a good melody, a trait that even the worst of that genre’s lot could generally lay claim to.
Perhaps as a middle finger to the typical syrupy, lovey-dovey lyrics of the majority of the popular songs in the decade that preceded it, but more likely because they were all high on black tar heroin, 90’s “Buzz Bin” bands were prone to penning lyrics that either made no attempt to make sense and were just there because instrumentals typically don’t sell, and maybe it all means something and maybe it doesn’t but who cares man, it’s the 90’s (Beck, Cake, Soul Coughing, Primus, Presidents of the United States of America, Ween) or they were willfully downbeat exercises in hopelessness-wallowing the likes of which we all occasionally find scrawled in old stinky notebooks in our parents’ basement (pretty much everyone else). Sound and attitude prevailed; prose, by and large, took one for the team. But it was a new dawn for music, and people were trying some new things, or at any rate things that previously hadn’t gotten a lot of airplay.
That being said, I have some questions for some of you 90’s bands:
Oh boy. Remember this goofy bastard, smooshing his face into your face and wagging his 80-foot long ponytail all over your television, spastically gesticulating in front of a mildly interesting tree and shirtlessly delivering to a driving beat the singularly unwelcome news that he is the only person in the world who cares about you? Re-meet Live, one of the more humorless participants in the grunge-lite phenomenon, and for awhile there one of the more financially successful as well. In 1994 you couldn’t enter a room containing an electronic device of any kind without frontman Ed Koyaanisqatsi blatting and braying a four-minute flood of embarrassing pleas and inane platitudes all over the lucky inhabitants of said electronic-device-containing room. There was no escape. You could have locked yourself in a empty room on a remote island, and within minutes you’d be farting the chorus to “Selling the Drama”. Live was there for you, whether you wanted them or not.
But what were they going on about? And why were they so insistent on sneaking unpleasant imagery into omnipresent songs that would be playing in Rite Aids for the foreseeable future? The chorus of “Selling the Drama” contains a lyric that for all the world sounds like “Yay, now we won’t be raped”. Yay, indeed! But why won’t we? Is it because we’re listening to a notoriously unsexy, rapist-boner-deflating band? And why is no one there to catch the placenta at the beginning of “Lightning Crashes”? Sure, maybe you lose some emotional heft and encounter pentameter problems by changing it to “Her placenta falls into the pan conveniently placed under her bed by a thoughtful nurse for just such a purpose”, but still, it’s a gross way to begin a song, and what kind of Mickey Mouse hospital is this? “Here comes the placenta, Doc!” “Aahh, just let it fall on the floor. I’ll kick it over near the trash can later. The baby’s dead, anyway. Hey, does anybody else feel that…I don’t know, kind of a rolling thunder chasing the wind sensation? Anybody else getting that?”
I have to give Live and Ed Campcucamonga credit, though, for always having delivered their incomprehensible, overwrought message with the utmost conviction. “Hey, man, this is criminal, this hard line symmetry of people and pets” may or may not mean a blessed thing, but it sure sounds like it does. “Tell me about it!” you want to reply, shaking your head in awe and disgust.
Before finding Christ and modifying their style to accommodate a younger, more optimistic fanbase, Hanson was originally an Australian quasi-grunge trio known as Silverchair, who foisted a briefly ubiquitous, catchy enough single called “Tomorrow” on the listening public back in 1993 or 4. It’s this one:
I only have one question for Silverchair, and that is: From what tap is the supposedly very hard to drink water coming from? Surely not from the aforementioned nonexistent sink? Quibbling aside, as songs about overweight men learning about patience in underground bathroomless communities with undisclosed water sources of notably poor quality go, “Tomorrow” is easily top-ten material.
There is no meat left to beat on the dead horse that is Creed. You’re punching the ground, maybe a little mane hair, or part of a hoof. That’s just going to hurt your hand. But it never fails to amuse me to point out the fact that, on top of all the other asinine lyrics and embarrassing Spike TV appearances that stemmed from this band’s success, Scott Stapp manages to inject nine – count ’em, nine – syllables into the word “again” in the first verse of “Higher”, one of their biggest and most unavoidable hits. It’s the usual drawn-out, “hunger dunger dang” bullcrap employed by many better and worse similar bands, but sometimes I like to pretend that this is simply how Scott Stapp says the word “again”. Perhaps after running through a take of this song, he may have said something like, “Hey guys, that wasn’t bad, but I think we can do better. Can we try that one a-geh-ee-yeh-yeh-ee-yeh-ee-yen?”
Sorry about posting a Creed video.
A high school friend of mine who was worldlier in the ways of music then myself once lent Pearl Jam’s “Ten” CD to me, unrequested, telling me I just had to check it out. Upon checking it out as instructed in the comfort of my bedroom, I remember my initial thoughts being something along the lines of “Well, at least now I know what it sounds like when a man with no asshole tries to take a shit”. Fast-forward a year later, and all of a sudden I’m wearing Pearl Jam tee-shirts under the plaid flannel shirts my mom bought me at T.J. Maxx and supplying my friends who had cable with blank Fuji videocassettes and asking them to try and get the “Evenflow” video on tape, so clearly something happened in between those two events. As with most all of the bands I enjoyed back then, I know nothing of their current output, but to this day I’ll still happily and gutturally caterwaul along with “Alive” in the car whenever WKIT or WTOS deigns to throw it on. I have no real beef with Pearl Jam. They are good at playing guitars and going bluuuuuurrrrggggghh.
But what, please, is happening in “Yellow Ledbetter”? Surely as a self-respected, bestselling musician and vocalist you cannot simply go “Nog a zee gog, a bliggy ziggy goggy nanny yay, and a corn and a bank and a sock and a gank and a cola at Denny’s” into a microphone while your bandmate plays a sweet if cribbed from Hendrix riff in the background and then release it as a B-side to overwhelming acclaim that continues to this day, can you? Well, we all now the answer to that by now, and oddly, it’s this blatant, brazen meaninglessness that seems to have assured the song’s ongoing longevity in our collective culture consciousness. Again, it sure SOUNDS like it means something, and what could be more angsty and 90’s-ish than badly wanting to mean but not having anything to mean about? When Vedder screams “I don’t wanna wear that black soda bag!”, you truly hope that he doesn’t have to, and yet fear that he probably will. Just like we all do.
Wear it with pride, friends. We’ll see ya next time.