Originally Written for UNCOOL
I loved the ‘90s in the uncoolest possible time. Kurt Cobain was already dead. White-out writing on my high school Jansport backpack bearing the tags “No Doubt” and “Bush” was fading. It was freshman year of college, and it was 2003.
Most of the “cooler” ‘90s exposure I’d gotten (Jesus and Mary Chain, PJ Harvey, though her influence wouldn’t be evident on my music until years later) came from my memories of Beavis and Butthead and My So-Called Life (Archers of LOL). I fetishized the ‘90s radio scene (basically, whatever was being played on KROQ circa ‘92-98) because I was far enough removed from it, growing up in a small ethnic enclave in the San Fernando Valley, and certainly not yet hip to Pitchfork, for it to seem historical by the time I went to college. I listened to ‘70s music when I was supposed to be listening to ‘90s music, and ‘90s music during the Pitchfork indie explosion. Though it wasn’t entirely the reason why I loved the stuff, something about its disconnectedness to the current scene made me feel closer to it.
I took my ‘90s musical artifacts with me to the dorms and held onto them as the indie era was in full bloom. Over time, my tastes diversified–I would collect all the Interpol and Mogwai and Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade MP3s I could muster and pose as a cool kid in innumerable American Apparel band t-shirts. But these bands were like the new friends you make in college: you’re having fun smoking a shit-ton of weed together, but sometimes you just wanna go home for a weekend and hang with your old pals Gwen and Gavin in your parents’ garage.
Liking the Jesus and Mary Chain gave me some cred, I’ll admit, but for the most part I was endlessly made fun of for listening to grunge. Namely the undeniable bro-cheese of Soundgarden. My loyalties to Soundgarden were echoed (and bullied, but I didn’t care!) at Lollapalooza 2011, when I opted for their conflicting set time over Arcade Fire’s. My best friend Christina was the only one nice enough to let me peer-pressure her into sticking around with me, and once she did, she too was transformed by the revival of her high school radio scream-alongs. We belted along to “Rusty Cage” and “Black Hole Sun,” and I even let a few tears slip through while watching Chris Cornell hold down his unspeakably challenging riffs while wailing.
Turns out I was cooler than I thought all along: all the popular kids are now donned in flannel and alien happy face stickers, using My So-Called Life reruns as fashion source material (I’m not going to complain about that, I love me a good flannel pattern dress). Liking Nirvana is cool again! And part of this is because our music cloud era gives new generations access to limitless catalogs of music, making any era of music equally navigable. To me it makes the experience of rediscovering The Crow soundtrack, feat. Jesus and Mary Chain and that unholy track “Time Baby III” by Medicine all the more personalized and appreciated. It’s untouched by modern criticism, protecting it from daily discussion. It’s all the more yours or mine.
It comes from the same place I was in when I took my scratched up Bush and Pumpkins CDs to the dorm room and spent hours ripping them onto iTunes while my floor mates were arguing over the new Franz Ferdinand. It’s purist discovery that can be singularly yours because it is–even if only in your own bedroom–detached from what everybody else is listening to.
Though any period or genre of music is now open for exploration, something about the blatant angst and forthcoming nature of ‘90s grunge/lyrics, and particularly their lack of affectation (celebrating guitar chops instead of choppy haircuts and reaching emo-levels of earnestness instead of pretension) has always been so appealing to teens. It’s raw stuff.
Ironically, the revivalism of the ‘90s has so far been purely aesthetic. It’s nostalgic, and it’s funny, but Buzzfeed top 40 photo nostalgia lists and Azealia Banks music videos are pretty much where it ends in terms of cultural discussion.
We don’t quite have a ‘90s-reviving artist yet in the vein of how Wild Nothing repackaged the ‘80s. While some bands have tried, the current crop offers Xerox vs. collage, while Wild Nothing and other Captured Tracks acts bring their references into a contemporary place. I’m still waiting on the band that’ll do the same for Cornell and Cobain.
Instead, the era has been regurgitated in a shit splash of Lisa Frank, Tupac holograms, and (gasp!) seapunk. But with an entire history of music now at our fingertips, it’s only a matter of time before the unabashed aggro powers of the ‘90s circle back into something really musically artful that aren’t just homages or rehashes of grunge and shoegaze bands. When it comes, I’ll be there in my garage, ready to make some new friends.