Tuesday, June 19, 2007

random thoughts on grunge

"You don't ever have to be ashamed of liking crap like the Verve or the Doors. If something touches you, it touches you. It doesn't matter how facile or ordinary or manufactured it is".

As I've mentioned here before, when I was a teenager I was absolutely obsessed with the writing of a clutch of Melody Maker journalists, of which Everett True was the doyen and prime mover - a hilarious chancer with a great poetic style, ET's writings were self-obsessed, furious and apology free. Better still, he had no truck with cliche and his taste was good. Only his obsession with Courtney Love grated. Unlike his colleagues Simon Price, Neil Kulkarni and Taylor Parkes, he avoided overt intellectualisation, trading on instinct and authenticity, and was always good fun.

Siobhán leant me True's book, 'Live Through This', which I was reading with nostalgic joy on the train this morning. It's a potted history of American rock in the early nineties, and hilariously opinionated. True's hatred of Billy Corgan has certainly not diminished over the years. I find books on music hard to read sequentially as the index always leads me excitedly to the bands that mean the most to me. I guess that's an interesting way of looking back and examining your prejudices and allegiances. First port of call was to the section covering Pavement, then the Lemonheads, then Dinosaur/Sebadoh, then Huggy Bear. As you might expect the Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam do very badly out of the deal. I was pleased to see that True pins Evan Dando successfully as one of the great singers and writers of the day, far more complex, intelligent and talented than the crude stereotype we've become familiar with. Anyway, here's a few choice quotes from a quick browse, and some random thoughts - excuse the lack of focus:

On the Lemonheads: "The singer Evan most resembles is the Flying Burrito Brothers' doomed Gram Parsons and his tormented, mid seventies country soul. He has the same love for tradition, and same knack of stepping slightly to the shadows when writing about subjects. Evan enjoys writing about special inanimate objects, such as 'Favourite T' (shirt) or 'Stove' - a song inspired by a routine call from the gas engineer. Evan is even better than Gram, though, because his songs are of my time. They have an extra resonance for my generation. It always matters, the context in which you hear pop music".

Reading this on the train I slip on my ipod and flick through to 'Stove'. It's a genius song, but the kick for me is not that cute 'I miss my stove / she's all alone' hook but the contemplative pay-off, where he throws off a tender 'I feel sad, I guess'. No more and no less.

On Huggy Bear: "A brief explosion in time, a distorted mess of vibrato, crackling and noise that we used to call 'music' for want of a better word".

When I first heard Huggy Bear it felt like they had picked up everything I knew about pop music and punk rock and crashed it down on the floor - all the constituent parts remained, mostly unharmed, but laid out in some new arrangement, unlinear and chaotic. So I think his description is good. True's section about Huggy Bear, however, mostly consists of talking about the fact that Jo and Jon were his flatmates, which seems a bit of a waste.

On Sebadoh: "When I first saw the 'Doh play, in their hometown of Boston, '92, they stopped me dead in my tracks and caused me to shed tears. With a few chords and words, they made me question the purpose of live music. My existence felt like a sham, a charade, a bogus rigmarole of drink and chat and the odd knowing wink".

I loved the dichotomy between Sebadoh and Pavement's live performances; both were scruffy and unrehearsed, both nerdish and charming in their way. But Pavement were actually charming, and charmed you direct from the stage. Sebadoh were like detuned magnets on stage together, making me think of a Circus Lupus lyric, "bodies [...] bound to repulse especially when misaligned". True talks of Sebadoh as the band that best channelled the spirit of Nirvana after Kurt's death. I'm not sure about that. Conversely, in the Guardian last week Wayne Coyne asked of Nirvana, "Who is this band that sounds just like Nickelback? What are these drug addicts going on about?".

They did change everything though, Nirvana, for me anyway. They were the window through which I learned how to appreciate a whole host of unfamiliar concepts and my introduction to a secret language. Everett True's writing helped me to understand, or to feel that I understood, so I guess he must know what he's talking about. He says this:

We had talked about changing things with Nirvana. What would we have replaced the old order with, though? We wanted something better. What did that mean? We wanted something less macho, more female-led, more sensitive and spontaneous and fun and exciting. Jad Fair and Courtney Love and Kim Deal, Kathleen Hanna, Daniel Johnston and Dan Treacy. We wanted our friends, our peers, our dreams and our heroes in positions of authority; is that such a crime? We wanted a place where bullies and braggarts didn't automatically rule. We wanted a place where women aren't automatically second class citizens because they - we - are already part of us. A place where commercial radio counted for shit. A place where no managerial types could make hypocritical speeches about maintaining freedom of speech within the press while simultaneously repressing the press' right to same through use of a few well-placed lawsuits and threats.

What did we want: Not much, just Nirvana.
This is bullshit, isn't it? The paragraph above. But this is the way the indie rock community used to think (and perhaps still does). It certainly is the way I used to think (and perhaps still do). So again, Everett True voices it right, and takes me back to the early nineties. Odd.

Sorry if this doesn't make much sense.


Stephen Newton said...

I didn't know you were supposed to be ashamed for liking the Doors... or the Verve... when did that happen?

jonathan said...

Everett True doesn't exactly mince his words when it comes to bands he doesn't like. The first mention of the Smashing Pumpkins in the book is something along the lines of 'Slap-headed no-talent Billy Corgan had written a song about this subject on his despicable corporate rock train-crash Siamese Dream'...

I like the Doors and not ashamed to admit it! Portentous pretentious rock music, yes please!

Am with the man 100% on The Verve, though :-)