Sound of a Generation – pt.6 August 8, 2008Posted by Matt in Sound of a Generation.
Tags: alt-country, Generation X, Uncle Tupelo, video
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Part 5 of our series can be found here (You can link to 1-4 from there).
As we’ve seen from the dirge-rock of Seattle, the hopelessness of inner city rap, and the audible nihilism emiting from the industrial music scene, the early 90′s was an era of great angst among America’s youth as they struggled to find some sembelance of identity amid the plastic culture surrounding them. As many Generation X-ers engaged in this wailing and gnashing of teeth throughout the cities and suburban wastelands, another seed was sprouting in the fertile soil of middle America.
While not to the extent that they are today, musical tastes among early 90′s youth was quite diversified, especially when compared with those of prior generations. It was not uncommon to see various styles of music – whether they be rap, country, or rock – intermingled in one’s collection of cassettes or CDs. That being the case, it was unavoidable that soon genres would begin to merge, begetting hybrids that crossed the once-unpassable boundaries between them.
The unassuming city of Belleville, IL, soon became a birthplace of one of these genre-bending styles of music when two young artists joined forces to form a group that, while never becoming hugely popular at the time, would take some of the first steps in the alt-country movement. Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy were and are enormously talented songwriters and visionary artists, so it is obvious that their short collaboration in the band Uncle Tupelo would be great. Taking some of their influence from Gram Parsons-era Byrds and some from that time’s punk bands, Uncle Tupelo’s sound was an interesting conflagration of the two – at times sounding like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and at times rocking out with heavily distorted guitars (sometimes even in the same song). Though their partnership would only last a few years, both Tweedy and Farrar would go on to form their own influential bands – Wilco and Son Volt.
Below is a clip of them playing “Whiskey Bottle,” circa 1992.
Sound of a Generation – pt.5 July 25, 2008Posted by Matt in Sound of a Generation.
Tags: Generation X, music, Nine Inch Nails, video
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As we have seen from the past few weeks, the dawn of the 90’s was a revolutionary time in the music world, but these changes were not just occurring in the murky mist of the Pacific northwest or in the long-neglected inner cities, suddenly movements seemed to appear across the country, taking sounds into new and different directions than they had previously been and turning a youthful multitude on its ear.
While the idea of hopelessness may be one that pervaded much of the music of the time, the response to the realization of the futility of life varied greatly. Nirvana and much of the Seattle scene reacted with anger, the angst of a generation realizing the world wasn’t all the great after all, the music aimed toward black America seemed to diverge into two directions: either crying out for justice or reveling in rampant materialism. Though, at this time, one person went another way, delving deep into the pit of despair and wallowing in the darkness.
Industrial music had existed for some time prior to 1989, but it was Trent Reznor who pulled the shadowy genre into the mainstream with his band (which was really just him), Nine Inch Nails. Employing a mix of synthesizers, percussion, and crunching guitars, Reznor’s nihilistic tales of gloom and woe found its niche with much of America’s disaffected youth. And it was this song, Head Like a Hole, that began his trek to the top.
Sound of a Generation – pt.4 July 18, 2008Posted by Matt in Sound of a Generation.
Tags: Generation X, NWA, public enemy, rap music
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As we have seen over the past few weeks, the (mostly) white youth of generation X in the early 90’s faced the world about them with disillusion and discontent, struggling to find some sense of identity in a world that no longer made sense. It was a time of angst and anger that was reflected deeply in the music that we listened to.
Meanwhile, other musical movements were rising from the black community.
While rap music had been around for some time by the early 90’s, it really came to prominence during that time period – beginning on the East Coast. While white suburban youth longed for something more, some bit of metaphysical meaning in a plastic, disposable existence, black Americans were still standing face-to-face with the same problems they had been dealing with for generations – poverty, injustice, inequity, and the fulfillment of basic needs. Leaders had risen and fallen, but change was slow and laborious. The ghettos of the most prosperous nation on the earth were still filled with those who had been forced into their situation for no reason other than the color of their skin. So, with this sense of frustration in mind, many in the black community turned to music as a catalyst for change and nobody represented this more in the that time period than Public Enemy.
Around that same time, though, another force was brewing on the West Coast, in the ghettos of Compton, but this one would take a different track to infamy. Where Public Enemy and other socially active groups looked at the situation and demanded action, those from the other coast looked upon their circumstances with hopelessness, denying that change was even possible within the current paradigm. Eschewing any call to action as a failure, they instead adopted a nihilistic worldview, in which hedonistic gain became the greatest good and violence was not to be avoided, but rather embraced. In the wake of Rodney King and the subsequent acquittal of the officers involved (along with decades of inequity in the justice system), policemen and figures of authority became the utmost of enemies. It was from this environment of brutality and disorder that a new genre of rap music arose into the mainstream and it was led by four men from the streets of Compton who identified themselves as NWA. With a style that was brash and profane, Ice Cube (before he was doing kids’ movies), Dr. Dre, Easy-E, and MC Ren took the nation by storm for a few short years. I wanted to use the song Straight Outta Compton for this, but decided against it due to the language (this is a family blog!), so instead here is their rather tame video for Express Yourself. Go to YouTube and search for the aforementioned song if you really want to get an idea of what they were all about.
Sound of a Generation – pt.3 July 11, 2008Posted by Matt in Sound of a Generation.
Tags: grunge, music, Screaming Trees, Sound of a Generation, Soundgarden
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In addition to the three bands previously mentioned, there was another that helped the Seattle music scene burst forth from its cloud-enshrouded home – Soundgarden. Chris Cornell’s band had existed since the mid-80’s, churning out heavy Sabbath-like riffs underneath his octave-stretching vocals. Though they seemed to lose their focus towards the end of their years together, 1991’s “Badmotorfinger” is a classic album from the grunge era.
There were several other bands that reached some level of popularity in the early 90’s as well, though none reached the same heights of commercial success as the four bands we have looked at over the past two weeks. Another favorite song of mine from that time is this one by the Screaming Trees, a band that never came to be a household name, but who put out this great tune from the Singles soundtrack.
Sound of a Generation – pt.2 July 4, 2008Posted by Matt in Sound of a Generation.
Tags: 1990's, alice in chains, Generation X, grunge, music, Pearl Jam
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See part 1 of the series here.
With the ascension of Nirvana in the early 1990′s, Seattle was suddenly thrust into the spotlight as a sort of musical Mecca, with the youth of America suddenly turning to the Pacific Northwest for some sense of direction in their aimless walk through life. Soon, the airwaves were inundated with Seattle bands, many of whom had been toiling in obscurity for years in the dismally overcast city. The sound itself was something far from that which had dominated for the last several years, with loud, crunching guitars tuned so low it sounded as though they were being beaten in a mud pit.
It was a dirty-sounding, depressing sort of tone that soon rose to the forefront of generation – one that encapsulated the feel of a generation struggling for some sense of identity. The songs of bands like Alice In Chains were slow, dirge-like and very, very heavy – bearing a great similarity in sound to earlier groups like Black Sabbath and others. They combed the depths, searching for some sense of purpose in a life of despair, but seemingly coming up empty
Around the same time, another group of young men suddenly broke through into the mainstream with a classic-rock sound, reminiscent of bands like The Doors (without the overbearing, cheesy keyboard) or The Who. From seemingly out of nowhere, Pearl Jam quickly became an internationally famous band, with Eddie Vedder’s Morrison-like singing and penchant for crowd-surfing atop his legions of adoring fans. Here’s a clip of them doing the unreleased track “Porch” from their incredible debut album.
Sound of a Generation – pt.1 June 27, 2008Posted by Matt in Sound of a Generation.
Tags: angst, Generation X, music, Nirvana
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There are various descriptors tossed about to describe generational differences – whether they be akin to values or judgments or worldviews or any other number of characteristics that set one group apart from another. There may be no arena in which these differences are more pronounced than in that of the music we listen to.
It is through the arts, and, at least for this entry, music in particular, that this overarching worldview is proclaimed – sometimes in an almost inaudible whisper, sometimes with a tone of reasonableness, and sometimes with a violent, challenging cry to masses for change, a veritable call to arms in the battle for supremacy.
The music of the 1960’s and early 70’s was especially important in this way as it aided the civil rights struggle and strongly fomented the anti-war movement. It was music of hope, and spoke of an unbridled idealism that people could make a difference in the world. Entire movements were formed around the sounds of the time as young people tirelessly worked for change.
But something happened along the way.
By the 1980’s, popular music had moved from being a rallying cry, to something empty and vacuous. Superficiality and rabid materialism infected the masses, suburbs grew, fences went up, and the idealistic dream of the 1960’s died a painful death.
By the turn of decade, the nation was at war, the economy was in recession, the plague of AIDS was spreading and the youth of America were feeling more disaffected than ever. They were angry and disappointed and coming to the realization that our generation, Generation X, would be the first one that was not better off than our parents.
But then, something arose from the fog-shrouded city of Seattle that changed everything and gave us, the disaffected youth of Generation X, a new type of music displaying our angst and anger and rocking the proverbial boat as few had before. It was empowering, revolutionary, and announced our generation, not with a megaphone, but with a ragged, disquieting scream. And, so, to end part one of our series – the song that defined a generation: