30 years ago, barely a few weeks apart, were edited Ten, Pearl Jam’s debut album; and Nevermind, consecration plaque of Nirvana. Two works that would provoke the world explosion of grunge sound, the musical style originated in the prosperous industrial city of Seattle, through which the so-called Generation X manifested their existential anguish.
The distorted and shrill guitars, the catchy melodies and the bleak lyrics of grunge expressed in the aforementioned bands, which were joined by Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, among others; appeared in response to a decade marked by the synth and shake hair pop party.
And also the boom in phallic fun proposed by the so-called hair metal, with Poison, Bon Jovi, Cinderella and Twisted Sister, among some of its savvy exponents.
Kurt Cobain’s ragged scream became a trademark of the Nirvana sound. Photo AP Photo / Robert Sorbo
A show of boredom
But this musical genre was also the jaded cry that appeared in the United States in all its splendor, at the beginning of the ’90s, after several years of neoliberal policies applied by republican governments, which fed all a generation dominated by consumerism, individualism and cynicism.
Precisely, grunge broke through with worldwide force at a time when this discourse emanating from the North seemed to become hegemonic in the face of the “unquestionable evidence” that it provided. the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, which the political scientist Francis Fukuyama summed up with the totalizing expression “The end of history”, with which he titled his famous book.
“People got to know grunge in 1991 but it had been brewing for a while in Seattle, in the northwestern United States, which was a city that had a very strong industrial boom from the 70s and that made it one of the most developed cities in the country, “journalist Alfredo Rosso explained to Télam.
Eddie Vedder, in charge of Pearl Jam: a response to consumerism that ended up generating a phenomenal business. Photo AP, PL, BL, KD, RTR1998
And he pointed out more precisely: “That is to say that there was economic prosperity but, on the other hand, there was a whole mass of young people who felt a little alienated due to the lack of chances to give a creative orientation to his life. The solution to that existential crisis once again was rock music. “
The end of the “yuppies”
For his part, the writer and philosopher Gito Minore expanded that the so-called Generation X emerged after years of neoliberal governments in the United States, such as a stage after the appearance of the “yuppies”, the young consumerist and individualistic executives.
“Generation X was a label to call the ‘post-yuppies’. They were also individualistic, but nihilistic. There was that feeling of being alone,” said Minore.
At this point, Rosso positioned himself differently, noting that “that Generation X, who identified with the soulless lyrics of (Kurt) Cobain, was not so much nihilistic, but rather criticism of himself, of the society around him and of the relationships“.
As the lead singer of Soundgarden, Chris Cornell was another of the genre’s iconic artists. Photo Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP
“There is a hint of irony, but also sadness, in that feeling that looks a lot like ‘No Future’ from Sex Pistols, in the midst of the punk furor that occurred in 1977, “warned the journalist.
A mix of styles
At the sound level, grunge brought together different elements among which hard rock and pop melodies appear; to which factors more linked to the attitude and punk anger and an “unsightly” were added.
“That Seattle rock has several tax agents. On the one hand there was the hard rock of Black Sabbath, the hard blues of Led Zeppelin, that debauchery that Iggy Pop’s Los Stooges had, and this combined with a punk attitude halfway between The Sex Pistols and the West Coast bands. like Black Flag or Los Death Kennedys “, analyzed Rosso.
But social and political context, musical influences and attitudes intertwine when it comes to deconstructing this genre in greater depth, because the aesthetics contrary to the glamorous, the expressions in the lyrics and the sound made up an indissoluble whole and, almost, non-negotiable.
“It was a necessary move at the end of a decade that, from a musical point of view, had started with a lot of momentum and then, as far as rock is concerned, it had waned a bit. There was glam metal or hair metal, which was funny but it lacked that more lyrically committed thing that historically had the rock of other decades, “said Rosso.
And I add: “Grunge brings back that feeling of belonging and orphanhood a bit what that generation that grows up in the late ’80s and early’ 90s feels, “the journalist added.
Grunge, no punk
But although all the sound paths “especially because of the strident distortions”, philosophical and aesthetic find parallels with the punk movement, which occurred just over ten years before the grunge boom, there were some substantial differences between both currents.
On the one hand, With grunge, that idea of ”do it yourself” that ruled punk no longer ran too high., which resulted in much more competent musicians, although, as Rosso pointed out, “without the need for great samples of virtuosity, but always at the service of music.”
The reasons for disagreement expressed in the lyrics were also different because while punk music pointed to intense social criticism, grunge wasn’t focused on questioning politics or in defining oneself as economically marginalized, but in something more existential, related to the purposes in life.
In opposition to the consumerism of the ’80s and glamor in the music industry, grunge was also positioned as an “unsightly” aesthetic, from the fact that its main figures dressed in the same way that their fans could do it daily, perhaps inspired by Creedence Clearwater Revival or Neil Young, two of the great references of the genre.
The suicide of Kurt Cobain in 1994 and the consequent dissolution of Nirvana, in addition to the disintegration of other groups, and the strong irruption of other genres, such as Britpop, marked the decline of grunge in the second half of that decade, beyond the permanence in the foreground of the Pearl Jam and Soundgarden scene.
However, various analysts do not hesitate to affirm that grunge was the last great revolution offered by rock culture.
“I do not know if it was the last important move, but it has some foundation if you see that there was not another as significant. There were pockets, such as Britpop, that although they had very popular bands, the truth is that you will not see guys with T-shirts of Oasis or Blur “, said Rosso, who accepted that” in that sense, it was the last move that produced a very strong emotional effect“.
Source: Télam / Hernani Natale
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Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the desperate cry of sad and alienated boys