Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Grunge Life

I had the chance to watch the documentary "Malfunkshun: The Andrew Wood Story" yesterday. To a viewer in their twenties, it probably would be nothing to write home about. It's the usual "boy comes from dysfunctional family and decides to become a rock star and dies from drug over dose just as his band is making it" story. We've all heard a ton of these stories. It's nothing original.

But I am not in my twenties. I am in my (sigh) mid-thirties. I grew up in the 90s. I was a Grunge Kid. I was flannel and ripped jeans. I was red hair and I was green hair. I was Doc Martins and Chuck Taylors. I don't mean to discount those younger viewers, but this film meant a little bit more to me than them. Although the major players in the movie are a few years older than me (most of them were in their 20s in the 1990s while I was a teenager for most of that decade), I still related to them while watching them talk about Andrew Wood and Mother Love Bone and the Grunge Scene.

The best/worst part for me while watching the documentary was that even if I had the volume turned all the way down, I would still feel extremely nostalgic about those days. All it took were the images of the shows in warehouses and tiny clubs to take me back to my youth. Although I have never lived in Seattle or Washington state (where a majority of this film took place), I did have that scene here in Western New York. I was at the center of that scene, locally. The clothes and the footwear and the hair was just set dressing. For some of us. We didn't all look the same. But, I think, we all felt the same. And a lot of those feelings came flooding back to me as I sat and watched this movie.

Even though I came from a functional, happy family, I was miserable. I never felt like I belonged. I never felt happy. But then a friend of mine played a cassette of a band that I had never heard of and a switch went off in my head or my soul or something. From that point on, everything changed. I finally had people who were going through similar things as me (or at least they sang as though they were). I had an outlet for my emotions, I had a support system. I had people. They were My People. One of us would steal our parents' cars and we'd drive to Buffalo. In Buffalo there were so many more of us. Many of them hung out in or near Home of the Hits.

For those who don't know what Home of the Hits was, I shed a tear for you. Home of the Hits was the greatest record store. Ever. It was full of hand-made zines and gig posters. I would look through the stacks of records of bands I had never heard of and talk to the owner about the music. I would meet like-minded people and we'd talk about which bands we should check out. It was like cool-music heaven. Of course it wasn't just us Grunge Kids there. We met a lot of cool Punk People and Rude Boys and Straight Edgers to name just a few. And we didn't hate each other because we were into different music. We actually got along with each other and the older ones would show the younger ones some interesting bands to check out. We were all connected.

And watching the film, it was the same way in Seattle. When Mother Love Bone started, it was made up of guys from a few different local bands (Green River, Skin Yard, Malfunkshun, and Ten Minute Warning). The lead singer (Andrew Wood) lived with the lead singer of another local Seattle band (Chris Cornell of Soundgarden). They were all friends. Their bands all played shows with each other. They all helped each other. And when Mother Love Bone disbanded after the death of Andrew Wood, the members of the band went on to form two or three other bands. Without Mother Love Bone, we would never have Temple of the Dog, and Pearl Jam. Members of this band later went on to play in Brad, Mudhoney, and Love Battery, among others. Name any band that came up in the late-80s/early 90s in the Seattle area, and it's pretty probable that they are connected to Andrew Wood by two or three degrees of separation.

Watching this movie made me sad. I wasn't sad for the passing of Andrew Wood, which was sad in itself because of the potential that Mother Love Bone had, but I was sad because of the death of The Grunge Scene. Sure, a few of the bands that made it are still touring and still making records, but it's not the same. Alice in Chains has a new lead singer, Pearl Jam is playing arenas, and Soundgarden is just now getting back together after being broken up for over ten years. It's not the same. But nothing really is.

I can go on and on with my Peter Pan dreams of how I wish the 90s never ended, but it's kind of good that it did end. A lot of those bands imploded and died for a reason. And it was the same for my friends and me. Too much excess creates rips and tears and scraps and stupid decisions and death. Nothing is meant to last forever. Just look at the Rolling Stones. If I grew up in the 60s, I think I would look at that band as a laughing stock. And as a kid from the 90s, I do not want to see Pearl Jam on tour in 2051. Everything and everyone has a shelf life. Sure, I miss the hell out of all of my friends and all the great times we had and all the stupid stuff we did, but I couldn't be doing that still. Living as much as I did in the 90s has turned me into an old man (or an old-feeling man) in his mid-30s.

But the memories, man. It's all about those damn memories. And the music. And the chronic nostalgia.

Words and music, my only tools
Let's fall in love with music
The driving force of our livings
The only international language


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