|Left to right: Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, Layne Staley|
Alice In Chains and Soundgarden were the first bands to sign to a major, Columbia Records and A&M, respectively, in 1989. Alice in Chains's first album, Facelift, was released in 1990 and the single Man In The Box was a moderate success on MTV. The band members were admitted admirers of heavy metal and glam rock, but guitarist Jerry Cantrell had too much of his own guitar style to simply copy an exhaustedly repeated sound and turned up with ingenious riffs that melded some classic rock skills with angry, dirty chords. The band also eased on their obsession with hair spray and make up and became less removed from the slack-y look we would later know as grunge.
|Mother Love Bone|
Then, the big bang of grunge happened in three instances. First, a three-piece band from Aberdeen relocated to Seattle, released their debut album Bleach in 1989 through the small but extremely important Sub Pop label, and then their sophomore Nevermind in 1991 through Geffen Records. Nirvana, as they were called, proceeded to unleash Smells Like Teen Spirit, the single that planted the seed for them to become the reluctant symbols of a generation.
|Time magazine, Oct 23, 1993|
By 1993, the third factor happened. It was brutal, cruel, relentless, and as soulless as the Dark Lord: the media. All of the yellow smiles, promises of great fortune, hyped up fans and exposure took the four bards of critical rock into a spinning hurricane. The spotlight was on Seattle, and many bands that had a similar look or sound were encouraged to produce albums that mimicked the success thereof. San Francisco band Stone Temple Pilots were even accused of being Pearl Jam ripoffs, but those were unschooled opinions from critics. Other bands like Collective Soul, Candlebox, and Bush were eventually signed to major labels, with a very good chance that they owed it all to the big four.
|Nirvana: seriousness was out of the question|
Meanwhile, 1993 saw the darker side of the spoon for Alice In Chains's lead singer Layne Staley. Heroin was the culprit as Layne's health began to dwindle, and he became more erratic during tours. His band released the record-selling EP Jar Of Flies, which saw a softer, folk side to Alice In Chains and showcased just how truly rich the roots of the band was. They eventually returned to the studio in 1994 to work on their Alice In Chains album, the last with Layne Staley. The vocalist's drug problems worsened to the point that their 1995 tour was cancelled after a few dates. Staley joined seattle supergroup Mad Season, and they released a very unique album in 1996 called Above, which seemed to put the troubled singer in a better state. As the rock gods demanded, he relapsed shortly thereafter, going through a long road to overdose in 2002.
|Alice In Chains, in a simpler time|
There is a silver lining to this. Alice In Chains have found new life with singer William DuVall, Soundgarden have reunited, and Pearl Jam seem to have rediscovered the joys of playing music and have been back in the spotlight for some years now. The spirit of Nirvana lives on through Dave Grohl and his stadium rock band Foo Fighters, elegantly shedding any inferiority complex regarding his previous band.
|London Bridge Studios: the gateway for Seattle's grunge into the world|
What tied all of the "grunge" together? It wasn't necessarily the music. We covered that. Sure they dressed alike, but so did every rock band in their own time: the Seattle guys happened to be cold and needed flannel shirts. Regardless of what anyone says, in all of the inaccurate analysis one might find in books, Internet, and old newspapers (or even this humble article), one truth remains.
We recognize periods in history for their achievements, not for the Reagan-era depression of heroin, suicide, and bleakness of Seattle's youth. There was spontaneity, curiosity, childlike wonder in the music that came out of that scene that influenced people all over the world, although it was shrouded in a futureless gloom of the broken American dream. In the next article, you will see just how far that went into our culture.
What about you? Did you know any of this? Was any of my writing inaccurate? Inspiring? Comment or die in regret.
|Radio friendly unit shifters: Pearl Jam went straight to the A-list of radio from their first tour|