#820: 1991 Was the End and 1991 Was the Beginning (Part Two)

GETTING MORE TALE #820: 1991 Was the End and 1991 Was the Beginning (Part Two)

Part One:  The Last Note of Freedom

In the annals of rock, the year 1991 is one of the most significant in the entire history of the genre.  No year since 1969 had been so singularly important.  1991 featured the newfound domination of (for argument’s sake) a brand new sub-genre.  Countless influential bands released their breakthrough records that year.  The overturning of an old order had begun.

And highschool had come to an end.  The very last locker posters had come down.  I said goodbye to my friends as we all went our separate ways.  We moved onto different universities and our little group was broken up forever.

1991 was a shock to the system, both personally and musically.

A year before, my Jon Bon Jovi Blaze of Glory T-shirt was cool as hell.  In 1991 it was stuffed in a drawer.  What the hell was going on?  I couldn’t relate to these new bands.  Kurt Cobain was baffling to me.  What was appealing about not washing your hair?  Say what you will about the merits of Bon Jovi, at least when you saw a photo of him, he had bathed and was wearing clean clothes.  I also couldn’t appreciate the musicianship of these grunge bands; not when the groups that were breaking up boasted such virtuosos as Steve Vai and Vito Bratta.  After studying serious players through the 80s, there was nothing about Cobain that I could get behind.

Even my access to mainstream hard rock was becoming limited.  The final episode of the Pepsi Power Hour aired in 1991.  The very last host was veteran Michael Williams.  It was filmed at a welding shop in Calgary, Alberta.  Williams played Metallica’s “One”, and “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog.  The shape of things to come.  The very last band ever played on the Pepsi Power Hour was Van Halen, and the the very last song was “Runaround”.  The Power Hour was then replaced by the inferior Power 30.  It was a significant change for me.  I rarely missed a Power Hour.  The Power 30 was often not worth catching at all.

The sea change in music paralleled a similarly massive shift in my life.  Out with the old, in with the new.  I didn’t know anyone in my classes.  There I sat in the World War II history classroom (really a huge auditorium) by myself.  I overheard a conversation behind me.

“Have you heard of Pearl Jam?  They sound like Black Sabbath.”

What?  What the — no they don’t!  But Seattle was being compared to early 70s Sabbath quite readily, probably due to Soundgarden and the multitude of new riffs that were emerging from the city.  The bands didn’t sound like Sabbath, per se, but the riffs and heavy doomy gloom vibes were reminiscent of the band from Birmingham.  Who were in the midst of a reunion with Ronnie James Dio, but would ultimately fail to overthrow the new grunge kingpins.

I really wanted to turn around and tell the two guys behind me what Black Sabbath were actually about, but that probably wasn’t a good way to make new friends.  University was a lonely time.  Not until second year did I meet new people to hang around.  My love of hard rock was not something I shared with my classmates.  I remember sitting in one of my history classes writing down lyrics for a song I was working on called “Clones”.  One of the lines was “Ball cap, turned back, you’re all clones.”  I couldn’t find a pathway to bonding with any of these people.  Not until I met some fellow Trekkies.*

1991 was significant for me in another way.  It was the year I became obsessed with Star Trek.  I had always watched and even had a lil’ “red shirt” when I was a toddler, but The Next Generation was hitting peak popularity.  It was always good, but five seasons in, it was becoming quite great.  This sadly coincided with the death of Gene Roddenberry in October of that year, but that only served to make Trek even more popular.  In November, The Next Generation pulled in its biggest viewership numbers since the 1986 series premier:  the two-parter “Unification” featuring Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock himself.  Pardon me — Ambassador Spock.  And if that wasn’t enough, in December Trek returned to theatres with The Undiscovered Country, the sixth and final movie with the original crew.  All of this coincided with the 25th anniversary of the original show.  It was a bittersweet but absolutely massive time to be a Trekkie.

And it just so happened that Wilfrid Laurier University was a hotbed of Trekkies.


The years that followed were all Trek-heavy in my life.  I was began buying individual episodes on VHS.  (My first tape was “Balance of Terror” featuring Mark Lenard in the debut appearance of the Romulans.)  I built model kits, I collected the books, and I pieced together a full set of Star Trek stickers from Hostess potato chips.  There was a Trekkie girl in history class named Lee that I really liked.  Lee Ditchfield.  A group of us would get together after class on Fridays to watch Monty Python and Star Trek.  (Or even study sometimes!)  The nucleus of the group was Tim Solie, a guy I knew from highschool and reconnected with in second year.  That guy could (and would) talk to anyone!  Ice broken, we formed a small little group of friends, including Lee.  But she had a boyfriend back home in Woodstock and I just didn’t even try.  I blew it.

My precious metal was not cool at Laurier, not anymore, but Trek was.  I had at least two professors that used Star Trek references in class (Anthropology 101 and European History).  I had a psychology professor whose personal philosophies mirrored the optimistic future that Gene Roddenberry instilled in his work.

After the successful Leonard Nimoy episodes of The Next Generation (“Unification” parts I and II), they were bound to try something like that again.  The following season, in an episode called “Relics”, James Doohan reprised his role as Scotty.  I overheard two professors discussing it in a stairwell.  “They did it without time travel,” said one to the other.  “And they did it reasonably well”.  He was right!

I collected a full set of these.

As time (and Trek) went on, I felt more and more comfortable at University.  By ’93, my sister Kathryn was getting ready to choose post-secondary schools.  I invited her to come to class one Friday morning to sit in and see what it was like.  I chose my Ancient Roman history class as I knew she’d find it interesting.  She was already getting nervous about starting university.  “I bet it’s nothing but Star Trek geeks and losers there!” she said.

“No, no.” I assured her.  “Nothing like that.”

So we walked in, headed down a corridor, turned a corner and walked right past a skinny Trek geek, standing there in the middle of a hallway, digging a Trek sticker out of a bag of Hostess chips.

“I knew it!” she said.

The unfortunate thing about University is that friendships are even more temporary than highschool, and it soon it’s all over.  I didn’t have any classes with Lee or Tim Solie ever again.  In fact I only saw Lee once in passing after that year.  In my third and final years, it was all new faces in every class.  And just as quickly as it started, school was all over…and so was Grunge.  Kurt died during my third year and the best work of most of those new bands was now behind them (Pearl Jam being an exemption).  In hindsight it seems unfair that this massive musical change had to coincide with these critical school years.  Like a cruel joke, metal peaked and crashed when I needed it most!  If it wasn’t for Star Trek, it would have been a far more lonely time.

*I am a Trekkie; I’ve been a Trekkie since my date of birth.  I think “Trekker” is a silly term and people look at you funny when you use it.  But if you identify as a Trekker and want me to address you as such, I’m happy to oblige.

 

28 comments

  1. Pixies + R.E.M. + Mopiness + Dog Shit = Nirvana.

    MTV Unplugged is a cool album, but Cobain was such a snobbish whiny soy boy. Acted like he was a sensitive man, while shitting on musicians who could play and write circles around him. Then turned his back on his fans because a lot jumped aboard on the Nevermind train. He didn’t want success apparently, that’s why he wrote a pop album recorded/mixed/mastered to be played on the radio with double tracked vocals and all.

    I think his first comment to the audience during the unplugged gig really sums up that douche bag’s personality. “This is off our first record. Most people don’t own it.” Wow. Scolding your audience right out of the gate calling them posers because you assume they haven’t heard Bleach? An album released on Sub Pop, with shoddy distribution and piss poor promotion? Fuck off, Kurt. I heard Bleach, and I can say it was 80% obnoxious squealing sub-punk horseshit, just like most of his discography. He was only tolerable when he was writing the pop songs he hated so much, like “About a Girl” that had actual melodies. He’d rather squeal and scream over an undrethought punk riff so that he seems “credible”. Pfft. And his deep prose was worthless as well, as he admittedly wrote his lyrics right before singing and didn’t care about them at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Cobain was such a snobbish whiny soy boy”
      YES YES YES!

      I didn’t like Cobain and his endless snarkiness. Like you suggest, the fact that they released a single based around a minor-key Boston rip-off riff hook on the Geffen label who were flying high with GnR, Nelson, Don Henley and Cher kind of showed that it was a bit shallow. It was hard to take the band serious when their main song’s video was the most important thing about them. To me, he just came across as a bit of a knob and his bandmates came across as equally as unappealing as they just seemed to giggle behind him.

      I was and am not a fan.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You know what turned me against Nirvana pretty much from the get go? That fucking Kris Novoselic guy (you know, the least talented one) was on MuchMusic saying how much he hated heavy metal because “It sounds like it was spat out of a computer”.

        I was like, “Dude, do you know that EVERYBODY buying your album right now is a metal fan?” Because that’s who bought his album first. It wasn’t the mainstream kids, it was the rockers.

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        1. Their first album sounds like it has metal influences. He’s a crock of shit. Kurt was a big Devo fan, so I’m not getting the computer criticism at all.

          Soundgarden and Alice N’ Chains are infinitely superior to Nirvana. Pearl Jam put out two albums with some decent stuff and have been generally sliding into shittier waters with each new release. Never liked Vedder’s goat voice though. And he was a whiner soy boy too.

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    2. Well I can’t particularly argue with any of this, although I did notice that about the “This is off our first record” comment. WHich I assumed to be a middle finger to everybody who bought Nevermind.

      I’m not a big fan of either of those albums to be honest . They are a greatest hits band for me.

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      1. And fast-forward all these years and it’s hard not to notice that Kurt’s drummer ended up fronting a stadium band that traded on rock hooks, much the same as Jonny BJ and his peers were doing at that point. If Nirvana started now, it would be Foo Fighters that they would be railing against, so all that posturing and silly face pulling in the early 90s looks a little daft now.

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  2. Maybe I should have been more magnanimous about Kurt. On a more positive note. 1991 was a kickass year for Trek, excluding the death of Roddenberry. TNG was going full force. Season 5 was awesome. It started to get better with 2, but 3-6 were really outstanding. 7 was a bit weird, but some gems in there for sure. Season 1 was… rough. Haha. Undiscovered Country is probably tied with Wrath of Khan as my favorite original crew movie.

    What’s your sister have against us Trekkies?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, Holen, man, you have opened a can of worms.

      She’s cool with us now.

      But back then…she was a Star WARS fan. Star WARS. We had FIERCE arguments. I’m talking about the kind when we’d probably storm out of rooms.

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  3. I now what your saying about stuffing the Jovi shirt in the drawer. I went through that 10 years earlier with KISS in 81! By that time the KISS Army had dried up and recruitment was at a all time low.
    Ha,those dudes must have got into some bad skunk weed to think PJ sounded like Sabbath!
    Another wicked post here dude!
    Good job.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Jovi shirt was also starting to get tight on me and I didn’t mention that part. LOL

      But what I DID wear was a shirt with a GIANT Spock on the front. I had so many Star Trek shirts. They outnumbered the rock ones.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good timing on this post, Sir. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been introducing my youngest boy to the joys of ST:TNG and Voyager. He loved it. It’s been good to revisit the series and remember what great stories they told and some of the fun ideas they tried to put across. Good times.

    On the T-Shirt thing, I didn’t hide my Def Leppard devotion at that point and continued to wear my colours during ’91 and ’92. There was a definite change though which pissed me off. I’d been hanging round the rock clubs a lot and saw the change in the music and audience and it just seemed like bandwagon jumping. I’ll never forget (after a couple of cheap ciders) telling one DJ that his playlist was “fucking shite, mate” knowing that two months before he’d started only really playing Soundgarden and Pearl Jam that he was well into playing Mr Big and Diamond Dave.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear you man. It wasn’t really a fun change to experience. Like, “OK Soundgarden is cool, but what the fuck is wrong with Judas Priest? Nothing, that’s what.”

      Regarding TNG and VOY, thanks to Picard I’ve been inspired to dig back and rewatch a whole bunch of episodes. It’s funny because at the time, I thought those two shows were a little same-same. But now I’d give a kidney for there to be a show like that again.

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      1. It did really irritate me at the tail end of the 90s when Maiden managed to persuade Bruce Bruce that it was time to rejoin the band and all of a sudden everyone was forgetting the “Heavy Metal is, you know, stoopid” thing and were going mental for the Gallop again. It really irritated as kept supporting the band through the (let’s face it) crap years and then all these other twats came back on board claiming to have always been there. Well, sorry… I didn’t see them at the gigs or down the HMV buying the single for Virus or some such release.

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  5. Don’t get me going on Nirvana. Didn’t get them then, don’t get them now and I think they are the most overrated band EVER!!! Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Alice at least had decent songs and sounded great. Their singers were WAYYYY BETTER!!. Anyway, great Part II Mike, enjoying this set of posts. Keep ’em coming.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gotta agree with all of that. Thanks I’m glad you enjoyed this so far especially since you inspired me to make it a trilogy! I do own Nirvana’s greatest hits CD but I bet it’s been 15 years since I played it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I too know what you mean by the temporary friendships in college. My first two years were at the community college, which are glorified high schools by the way, I was pretty much on my own. Some might say that it was because of my long hair and moccasin boots but in my third year, I transferred to the State college and met more cool people there in one semester than what I did in five at the community college.

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  7. I just can’t let the lack of talent thing stand when talking about Grunge and other early ’90s stuff. They didn’t do solos like the ’80s metal but they used more complex chords and progressions than the ’80s bands did. I was happy to hear this in the ’90s. It brought back fond memories of the prog rock bands that used complex chords and progressions. Prog rock bands could also solo as well as the ’80s bands, too. So if we’re going to play who is a better musician than who, the prog rock bands will always win and the eighties were a step down from the ’70s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It depends on the band. Bands like Soundgarden were great musicians, time signature changes and key changes galore. Nirvana were just shit. Shit at playing, their songs were simple by design because anything complex would be “pretentious”. I guarantee you Kurt hated prog. Grohl was the only passable musician out of the whole lineup. And he liked Rush, but would never admit it back then because it was uncool. Zero integrity. Not to say that shit like Poison was any more complex or good.

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