Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Daily Show Ten Years ago

Been a while since we've done one of these, but since there's an election around the corner, let's reminisce a bit about, well, other problems we used to have...

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Indecision 2000 - Undecided
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Alternative 90s: The AV Club's Retrospective: 1991

We kicked off by reaction to Part One earlier this week. Start there for background. Now we'll catch up with Part 2: 1991: What's so civil about war, anyway?.

Hyden devotes the majority of his 1991 column to the intense, public feud between Kurt Cobain and Axl Rose. It's an interesting place to move forward. Our collective memory doesn't recall a time when Hair Bands and Grunge Bands shared the same stage. We forget that Use Your Illusions I and II came out just a few months before Nevermind. For most people, these bands occupy times separated by years conceptually. Yet there was this tumultuous overlap. Hyden rightfully identifies the incongruity between reality and perception, and does some really solid research in providing key details. As Hyden points out, this was no mere battle of egos:

"Rose signified old-guard, cock-rock superstardom, and Cobain was never more deliberate in his desire to dismantle that institution than in his outspoken criticism of Guns N’ Roses."
That said, Hyden gives proper credit to GnR for transcending the other Hair Metal at the time (highlighting the Welcome to the Jungle video). There was a major difference between Guns n Roses and the rest of the Hair acts out there. They weren't singing "She's only seventeen" or about "Cherry Pie."

Hyden's main point is that there is a lot in more in common between these two iconic figures than people think. And he turns the column to the personal and how he interpreted all that was going on.
"In 'One In A Million,' Rose sings, 'It’s been such a long time since I knew right from wrong / It’s all a means to an end, I keep it movin’ along.' By the end of 1991, I chose Kurt Cobain over Axl Rose because I wanted someone who did know the difference between right and wrong."
For Hyden, this is the balancing point in his life as a music fan. And it was for many.

He touches on it briefly, but devotes so much time to the details that he misses what I believe is the interesting part about this moment in history. Nobody remembers that these were the two most popular American rock bands at the same time. And many people liked both. The stories he recants are crucial but don't really address the movement until that last line about knowing the difference. Not to go all Wesley Willis, but I saw Smashing Pumpkins open for Guns N Roses at the Rosemont Horizon in early 1992. Maybe such a bill didn't make any sense, but it happened. Some people booed and threw things during the Pumpkins set. Others appreciated the shredding taking place onstage. The booers would surely become enamored with Smashing Pumpkins two years later, and tell all their friends that they saw them when they were "nobody."

The thing is, both bands kicked ass on stage that night. And I didn't have to choose between them. In the moment it didn't feel like the end of anything. Only years later can we say that Grunge eliminated Hair Metal. I suppose that was Cobain's crusade and he was in tune with that goal. If that was a key objective for Cobain, he surely failed. Not because Axl's still here, but because of what became of Alternative Rock in the years to come (from Collective Soul to Matchbox 20 to Nickelback). In the end he didn't want Axl's throne, or really any more time in the spotlight. If this integrity issue was so important to him, then maybe it's for the best he didn't live past 1994. Then again, we only knew the glory days would be so short after the fact. But that's a topic yet to come.

Other comments:

Hyden says, "The dual release of the Use Your Illusion albums was an act of hubris so brazen in its arrogance and yet strangely admirable in its artistic stubbornness that nobody had been fucking crazy enough to try anything like it before, or attempt to copy it in the nearly two decades since." Perhaps it's not a perfect comparison because it's not like he's a huge star, but Tom Waits released both Blood Money and Alice on May 7, 2002.

I feel like Hyden missed an opportunity here. If this is really a retrospective look at the entire alternative movement, 1991 is the year where everything started to pivot. Obviously any movement takes years of gradual shifting to set up, but 1991 is the year everyone circles, and for good reason. Lollapalooza began that year. And all these are just some of the albums that were released:
Pearl Jam - Ten
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Smashing Pumpkins - Gish
Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger
Fishbone - The Reality of My Surroundings
Primus - Sailing the Seas of Cheese
Dinosaur Jr. - Green Mind

So he focused on a key story - a very important one, but I worry that we are losing the thread a bit. Still, another worthwhile read. Looking forward to 1992 which should be out tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

RIP Greg Giraldo

A long time ago Comedy Central aired a half-hour stand-up special by Greg Giraldo. I'd never head of him, but his act absolutely killed me. I think I watched it about 37 times. I could recite the whole thing for you right now. Over the years his routine progressed, becoming angrier, more incisive and manic. Hypocrisy was his most frequent target, but no conventional wisdom was safe. I caught his act at Zanies in Chicago a few years back, and he was so torqued up that even unexpected laughter from the audience threw him off his game a bit. But you got the feeling that he enjoyed those moments even more.

Giraldo graduated from Harvard Law School, but gave up on that career to try his hand at comedy. It's obviously one of the most challenging professions to attempt, and even harder to find true success. In the end, stand up comedy is a matter of taste. There are people who think Andrew Dice Clay was the best ever, and they have a right to their opinion. There are people who find Dane Cook better than tolerable. And they can be right, too. If you think it's funny, you laugh. I can say that there was never a comedian who fit my specific tastes better than Giraldo. If a scientist went into a lab to create a one just for me, he'd have a hell of a time doing any better than Mr. and Mrs. Giraldo already did. I'm really going to miss whatever he would have had to say about the news and our culture as they unfold in the future. I don't think we'll find another quite like him...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Alternative 90s. The AV Club's Restrospective: 1990

In reviewing the Top 50 Albums of the 00's, even though I have clearly enjoyed the journey through the decade's best, I have found myself longing for a more prolific time. I turned 14 in 1989, the perfect age to receive the gift that was the ascension of Alternative Rock. My rock and roll formative years began right then. It was a tremendous time to care about music, and thanks to my own impulses and a series of friends who helped me connect to everything I was hearing, everything that happened during the entire decade had a profound effect on me. I wasn't a hipster savant who found the greatest unknown rawk discoveries way before anyone else. But I kind of felt like it anyway. Growing up just outside Chicago, we had unfettered access to some of the world's greatest record stores, random independent and college radio stations, and even some all-ages shows. In some ways, it was the first time I truly cared about something.

Over at the AV Club, Steven Hyden is reviewing the 1990s Grunge movement year by year. I happen to find this a totally worthy endeavor for the reasons above and many more. Much of what happened in those halcyon days has been lost because there was no internet to document them, or because nobody's made an iconic movie yet, or simply because we've all moved on.

What Hyden is doing is more important than it seems at first glance. If you're in your 30s, then I urge you to read the feature and find your own reaction. If you're younger, well, as Hyden says, I shouldn't say something like "you missed out!" But really, you did. And if you want to know why mainstream music sucks ass the way it does today, it's important to understand that it once sucked even more ass, and somehow that got fixed, but only for a couple of years before it rapidly eased its way back to sucking ass.

Because I have my own ideas and experience (and blog), I'm going to post my reaction to each of Hyden's ten segments. Up first, Part 1: 1990.

Hyden sets the table well. He gives his background, calling himself an "awkward adolescent from Appleton, Wisconsin." The context is important here. He doesn't completely explain quite how bad the music scene had been. He mentions some of the atrocities, but it's important to remember that by the end of 1989 we're only a year removed from New Kids on the Block. We were at the apex of Richard Marx, Bobby Brown, Paula Abdul, Milli Vanilli. "Rock" music offered Poison, Great White, Mike and the Mechanics, White Lion, and a duet between Cher and Peter Cetera. Vanilla Ice was yet to come. Hyden chooses to play a bit loose with the timeline here as the majority of the column deals with the mainstream arrival of Nirvana's "Nevermind," something that didn't really start happening until 1992 (the album was released at the end of September in 1991). Just so we're clear about the context, here are the top 12 singles from 1990:
1. Hold On, Wilson Phillips
2. It Must Have Been Love, Roxette
3. Nothing Compares 2 U, Sinead O'Connor
4. Poison, Bell Biv Devoe
5. Vogue, Madonna
6. Vision of Love, Mariah Carey
7. Another Day In Paradise, Phil Collins
8. Hold On, En Vogue
9. Cradle of Love, Billy Idol
10. Blaze of Glory, Jon Bon Jovi
11. Do Me!, Bell Biv Devoe
12. How Am I Supposed to Live Without You, Michael Bolton

So yes, apart from Billy Idol's death rattle, those were dark days indeed, especially in Appleton, Wisconsin.

But given that we're here to celebrate the past, perhaps it doesn't make sense to dwell too much on the bleak state of pop music entering the decade. Hyden jumps forward because if you're going to talk about rock in the 90s, the discussion must begin with Nevermind. And he couldn't be more on-point with the key issues:

"Kurt Cobain turned himself into a radio star at a time when somebody like him becoming a radio star seemed unfathomable."
"These guys were not supposed to be here, on MTV, sandwiched between Jane Child and Lisa Stanfield videos at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday."
The truly amazing thing that happened in the 1990s is that for a brief period of time, the inmates ran the asylum. Or at least that's the way it seemed. Bands that had no business becoming rock stars became the biggest rock stars in the world. And like any revolution, it happened seemingly without warning. After controlling which bands made it big throughout the 80s, the industry was caught by surprise. This never happens in mainstream music. I hope that we get into the details in the entries regarding subsequent years.

Eventually, Hyden steers away from the musical implications and arrives at the social ones, saying:
"I honestly wonder if the rise of grunge and alternative rock in the early ’90s will be the last time that a musical movement has that kind of impact on youth culture."
That topic, only touched upon, leaves a lot of room for exploration. Did youth culture actually change in ways it wouldn't have otherwise? Was the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video the reason tattoos became mainstream? (I had always attributed this to Alan Iverson, but I now question that theory.) Did young Americans really start to think a different way? Is The Big Bang Theory in the here and now because of Nevermind? These questions deserve their own posting, and perhaps Hyden will go into more detail later. As someone who lived through it, it's impossible to answer. There's no "control sample" me.

To sum up, an excellent start to the series for Hyden, and I greatly look forward to the subsequent entries. 1991 is already up, and we'll take a look at it here as soon as possible.

Please share your thoughts. Where were you when your face first melted to something other than Hendrix or Hazel? And what do you think of Hyden's premises?