Temple of the Dog

#371: The Birth of Grunge

NIRVANA

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#371: The Birth of Grunge

1991.

The pendulum of rock music was swinging back to heavy. The world had tired of Poison, Warrant, and even the once mighty David Lee Roth. His latest album (A Lil’ Ain’t Enough) had tanked and the tour poorly attended. On the other hand, Metallica were transforming from the little thrash band that could into a worldwide juggernaut. Change was in the air, but what we didn’t expect were the dark clouds blowing in from Seattle.

I had been aware of a few newer bands. Soundgarden for example had some airplay with “Loud Love”, but I wasn’t impressed. There was another new group called Temple of the Dog that had a music video with two singers. “What’s up with this new band, Temple of the Dog?” I asked my highschool friends. They shrugged. “Haven’t heard of ‘em.”  Highschool ended and I began a new adventure at Wilfrid Laurier University, majoring in History. And that’s when I saw “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Because the schism of grunge and metal had yet to occur, it was played on the Pepsi Power Hour, where Temple of the Dog had also debuted. I had even read a Nirvana concert review in an early issue of M.E.A.T Magazine, but they weren’t really on my radar. I thought the singer had a great voice even though his ratty old sweater was pretty lame. I thought he kind of looked like a dirty Sting. The singer’s voice and the drummer’s chops were the best part of this band that otherwise didn’t click for me.

Some other singles and videos trickled onto the airwaves: “Jesus Christ Pose”, “Alive”, and more. It all happened so quickly. In a matter of months, a new crop of darker, detuned bands had replaced the likes of Van Halen on the charts. These new bands didn’t concentrate on an image, which in itself became their image. Shaggy beards, unkept hair, shorter do’s – these new rock bands didn’t look much like the old. Even their onstage personas were different. Where bands used to try to entertain and give bang for the buck, these new ones seemed to take a page out of shoegazer bands’ books. Layne Stayley from Alice in Chains was noted for standing still in one place on stage much of the time. Pearl Jam replaced lights and flashbombs with jams and crowd surfing. Worst of all to me was the disrespect this new crop had for the old, just like in the punk days of old. Krist Novoselic of Nirvana said on television that he hated heavy metal because it all sounded like with was spat out of a computer. The fact that heavy metal fans were buying his albums by the hundreds of thousands didn’t seem to click with him. Mudhoney were talking about beating up Sebastian Bach. It was getting crazy and a huge split happened within heavy rock music.

It was hard to keep up with the rapid changes. What was in a few months ago was deader than dead. What never would have had a chance of charting in 1990 was now #1. Artists that once looked cool suddenly looked ridiculous. But most importantly, the fun was disappearing from rock and roll. It was no longer enough to sing about cars or girls. Now you had to have something from your soul to confess, or a social issue to address. It was a lot less fun to sing, “Even flow, thoughts arrive like butterflies, oh he don’t know so he chases them away,” than it was to sing, “I got it bad, got it bad, got it bad, I’m hot for teacher.”

I resisted the change. I owned no grunge albums until late ’92, when I was finally drawn in by the song “Would” by Alice in Chains. The Dirt album took some getting used to, but it was at least built upon metal riffs. Pearl Jam and Nirvana remained all but incomprehensible to me. A couple years later, Soundgarden managed to suck me in with “Spoonman”. I had to admit that these bands had a lot of talented players: guys like Matt Cameron and Jerry Cantrell were earning mainstream respect among musicians. As these bands grew in popularity, I would always advise kids to keep an eye on the rearview mirror. “Yeah, Soundgarden are great. But have you ever heard original Black Sabbath? They were the original Soundgarden.” I didn’t want the roots (and my roots!) to be forgotten.

Grunge and I had an uneasy relationship for a few years, but soon it no longer mattered. Other types of music were coming to the forefront now, even more heinous and evil: pop punk, boy bands, and the post-grunge onslaught. I slowly grew to enjoy Pearl Jam and some Nirvana. I even own a Stone Temple Pilots CD or two. But my heart will always remain with the music that grunge nearly destroyed forever – hard rock!

Hard rock went into a sort of hibernation for a while, but it could never be killed.  Not even by something as all-consuming as grunge was.  Today, hard rock is back in business again.

The Four Horsemen: “Back in Business Again”

You never met a man like me
You wouldn’t understand
I’m in the rock’n’roll business honey
I’m in a rock’n’roll band
And we were headed for the top babe
Way back in ’91
Some record business scumbags took it from us
Well they forgot my gun
Well now we’re back in business folks
I’ve come to claim what’s mine
See we’re the Four fucking Horsemen
Back for a second time

I’m a fast talkin’, woman lovin’, whiskey drinkin’, good for nothin’ rock n roll star
In a hell raisin’, trouble lovin’, whiskey drinkin’, mother f***in’ rock n roll band
I make my dirty little fortune
In this rock n roll band
We’re here to entertain you
We’re back in business again
Hahahaha

Moron after moron at the meet and greet
They’d do just about anything for a front row seat
When you see me on the stage one thing you’ll understand
It’s what I do, it’s what I am, I’m just a rock n roll man
And you don’t hear me whining about my fame and fortune

I’m a hell raisin’, trouble lovin’, fast talkin’, good for nothin’ rock n roll star
In a trail blazin’, skin lovin’, whiskey drinkin’, mother f***in’ rock n roll band
I make my dirty little fortune
In this rock n roll band
We’re here to rock n roll you
We’re back in business again

Now pay attention
I got a little story here to tell ya
It kinda goes like this
You know I had a couple years off there babe
To kinda take some time
And I heard a bunch of whining, little wussy rock n rollers
Complaining about how fame and fortune’s got them down
I say we gather up all these little bastards
Shove them back to their lil’ nowhere town
See I was born on this stage
And I plan to stick around!