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.