This Is Nirvana Part 3: From Seattle to the World | Fanboys Anonymous

This Is Nirvana Part 3: From Seattle to the World

Posted by Eddie Siqueira Wednesday, January 1, 2014
On again and off again, I've alluded to the oddball rock trio Nirvana in my articles. I haven't provided too much analysis on the band or their music because back in the day, from afar, it was all surrounded by hype and MTV. As we dig deeper into the core (which is the true subject—the band and Kurt Cobain), we sift through the grinding gears of a machine called "the media" and its refined soullessness and inhumanity. To really understand what happened to the Aberdeen nerd and his bandmates in the early '90s, we must adventure through the rubble and ruins of the past, filled with cobwebs and skeletons adorned in plaid. Your iPhone is no good here.

seattle washington grunge

Seattle, Washington, 1990. Little of note—apart from the Space Needle, Starbucks, and Boeing—was associated with the northwestern city. Bill Gates is from Seattle, but Microsoft was merely a reputable company in that period, so truly to the outside world, there wasn't much to say about the city. Perhaps pro sports made the tranquil metropolis a recognizable name, but one NBA championship wasn't enough to transform it into a cultural haven as its music soon would.

Nirvana Kurt Cobain Krist Novoselic live
Eye of the hurricane: before the big band status
I have already portrayed the big Seattle bands and how their trip to the "upstairs" of modern music turned a few knobs in the media no one even knew existed. What's interesting is all that followed which is not music related. Movies, fashion, "grunge-speak" (I cannot wait to reach that paragraph), the alternative teen movement—it was all in the headlines with a Northwest flavor to it by 1993.

Never mind the constant stream of press material on Time, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, The New York Times, and other outlets in America and eventually the world; when something hit the TV, by all means, it had to be bought. 
Once Smells Like Teen Spirit reached the tube, the avalanche began. It started with innocent appearances on Saturday Night Live on behalf of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, touring, and the MTV phenomenon that drew the attention of so many young teens and adults to "grunge," a term so loosely coined that even Seattleites had trouble grasping it. Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, and the stories of the bands we all know followed.

Weird Al Yankovic Off the Deep End Smells Like Nirvana
Weird Al and his tasteful parody
What was interesting is that it suddenly became standard practice to copy whatever the average Joe was doing in Seattle. How did they dress? What was living in Seattle like? There was a very strange, surreal romantic story being told to the masses when in fact, Seattle was a dull, boring, cold, and rainy city to the young. As hard as it may be to be sure of what I write, I've come across too many interviews with the people who partook in that period of events that alluded to depression, drug use, and suicides to doubt myself.

While Seattle was just a city, with all the perks and flaws of any other city with similar demographics, it was a strange time and place to be growing up. Either you were one of the jocks or upscale rich kids, or you were a geek bound to work in a record store, K-Mart, or someplace similar. There wasn't an appreciated culture of cosplay (otaku or gamer) where you could geek out all you want and still get the girl; these were loser's havens back then. In Seattle, it happened to be bands. The music underground was already respected by other underground scenes from various places in the U.S. thanks to the Sub Pop label, but once it all switched over to mainstream, it comically became super important to know what type of snack was a favorite among the Seattle fans.

singles Cameron Crowe 1992 Bridget Fonda Matt Dillon Kyra Sedgwick Campbell Scott
Cast of Singles
The phones wouldn't stop ringing from journalists demanding the latest trend, and not just for band info. Anyone who had anything to do with the music scene there was interviewed. It reached a point where The New York Times called up Sub Pop and the receptionist, Megan Jasper, answered. Fed up with the bothersome attention from the press, she created "grunge speak" on the spot, inventing terms such as "lamestain" and "swingin' on the flippity-flop." only to see it published shortly thereafter on November 15, 1992. (The article is currently online!) And the city laughed at the media hounds.

Perry Ellis also cashed in (or rather, struck out) on the grunge thing. There was a Spring/Summer '93 collection designed by Marc Jacobs, which was a fiasco. The opposite must be said for the genuine style: Torn jeans were a religion for me as a kid, and plaid was the uniform of choice in school.

Perry Ellis Marc Jacob 1992 grunge collection

Let's not forget that the media is a beast of many heads. One of them is Hollywood. There was a genuine movie that was coincidentally released before the hype, called Singles (1992), a romantic comedy by director Cameron Crowe depicting Seattle's music scene and the young adults involved. After its warm reception, Warner Bros. contacted Crowe to create a sitcom whose tone resembled the movie's. When Crowe declined, it's an educated guess—and probably true—that Warner proceeded to create Friends in 1994 based on this up-and-coming Generation X, though they opted to set it in New York given the exhaustion of the whole "Seattle thing."

Frasier Kelsey Grammer David Hyde Pierce John Mahoney Jane Leeves
Cast of Frasier
The milking continued. The long-lived show Frasier, which premiered in 1993, took place in Seattle. Why? No reason. Just fashionable. I don't recall a mention of Frasier's hometown being Seattle in Cheers. There was also the movie The Crush (1993), which starred Alicia Silverstone in her breakthrough role (apart from the Aerosmith videos). Where did it take place? Seattle. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)—Seattle.

Beavis and Butthead cartoon Mike Judge
Beavis and Butthead defined what
rocked and what sucked—grunge ruled!
Seattle, Seattle. Even Beavis and Butthead said Seattle rules—and by God, if they said so, it must have been true. 
If it wasn't true, then it sure turned out that way. Things seemed at least more genuine and real-world in comparison to Manhattan, London, L.A., and other glittering places. After the money came knocking, the city thrived in a way none of the punk rock enthusiasts would have ever dreamed of.

It is highly recommended that you seek out the documentary Hype! (1996), where this is all portrayed. The film interviews many bands of the grunge scene, and they describe the "before-and-after" in ways that I will never be able to credibly document here. No matter how cynical and ridiculous the constant craving for the next big thing was, the truth is Seattle enjoyed the courtship, albeit in a timid fashion.

I know several people who lived in Seattle in recent years, and they claim it is a great city. Does anyone share that view? Did things change drastically for the better since the '80s? Or was it nice all along, only bleak to a few? The more you comment, the better the closing article on Nirvana will be. Don't be a lamestain!

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