When it comes to my musical tastes I’m usually pretty mainstream. I don’t consider this a bad thing though I’m sure some of my alternative music loving friends from early high school would disagree. But what other people think has never really been what draws me to any particular type of music.
While D&D were in town for their wedding last month we sat around listening to Pandora and I have no idea what station came on but the Smashing Pumpkins started pumping out of the speakers. I immediately groaned. D said she’s never liked them either and I thanked her for being (it seems) the only other one in the world besides me who feels that way.
I proceeded to say ‘Yeah, and I really dislike the Beatles, Stones and Springsteen too’ to which she replied ‘See, I knew there was a reason we were friends’. D groaned and asked us how we couldn’t like those iconic bands. We both shrugged because the only real answer is that we just don’t. Music and what attracts us to it is a very personal choice.
Sometimes I feel music is such a powerful influence in the world that it can solidify relationships or raise a cause for the best debates about merits of melody, style and genre. But just like religion, abortion, and war, no one will ever be able to prove that their side is the right one. It’s all personal preference. I favor a plethora of varied musical stylings but that doesn’t necessarily include the bands that revolutionized the music industry.
As you already know I was a girl who loved (loves) both pop and hard core rock. In the late eighties most of the rock bands I listened to would’ve been considered metal, be it heavy or hair. Bands that wore makeup and tight leather pants back then were either hair bands (Poison, Warrant) or music for the freak crowd (The Cure, Duran Duran) and I liked them both.
Pop radio wasn’t entirely sure what to do with these songs and bands. Back in the late eighties and early nineties radio was pretty well segregated. Nowadays you might hear Katy Perry, Bon Jovi, the Foo Fighters, Metallica and Carrie Underwood all on the same radio station. It wasn’t like that back then.
In the early nineties the label ‘alternative’ had a very different meaning. The music in that category was probably in rotation on WFNX (RIP) and was perhaps a local band that had gained a modicum of stardom in their current scene but hadn’t taken it national. They weren’t going to be played on Kiss 108 or any of the other pop stations. But by the time I graduated high school that was all about to change as Nirvana hit the mainstream and started a new style of music pouring out of speakers everywhere.
The Music was as Grungy as the Place
I remember the first time I saw the cover for Nevermind because the image was so striking compared to the other covers of the time. I was walking through Harvard Square, something I did regularly back in high school because Cambridge was just the next town east of Arlington, and came up Mt. Auburn Street which intersected with another main drag, JFK. Tower Records was right there on the corner in a prime location for all to peruse the latest selections. And for some of the skater kids who hung out in the Pit to shoplift with a clean getaway, no doubt.
The building was diagonally across the street from The Garage, a former parking garage refurbished to house commercial stores. At the time it had a little Mexican joint and a pizza place (at the top level of the former car spiral) where the slices were about a quarter of a pizza for only a couple bucks. I frequently spent the only money I had left on a slice to keep myself fed while the bulk of my money was spent on music. The Garage also housed my favorite record store, Newbury Comics, which I preferred to Tower because it had a true Boston vibe and they played rock in-store. Newbury was grittier, more real, and less expensive than its commercial counterpart.
The Square was full of dirt, grime, grit, the most interesting people, and all the music anyone could ever wish to feast their ears on. Music in every genre was available in Tower Records though and the window posters were big enough to attract people from blocks away. The cover of Nevermind hanging in the window the day I passed by didn’t disappoint.
A naked baby, almost smiling, was fully submerged in a pool and looked to be chasing a fish hooked dollar bill. The message was powerful and I interpreted it as us Americans chasing the almighty dollar from birth whether we drown or get snared in the process. The interpretive message worked for their visual art but it didn’t sell me on the album. I just didn’t feel their particular music because the lyrics seemed to be just as shrouded in mystery as the cover art. I didn’t get it.
Yes I’m admitting it out loud – I wasn’t, and still am not, a fan of Nirvana.
I definitely found music that spoke to me out of that era – Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam – but Nirvana just didn’t do it for me at all. But I can’t discount that music was forever changed after the release and mainstream acceptance of their second album.
I stopped hanging out at the Square regularly shortly after graduating from high school. As a gal working and/or going to college there just wasn’t time to hang out and spend my lazy days perusing music I really wanted to buy but couldn’t afford without a job. Believe me, the irony of finally having the money to spend but no time to go and do it was not lost on me. It’s probably one of the main reasons I later got a job at a record store in the suburbs near where I lived.
Since Nirvana hit the scene over twenty years ago there really hasn’t been another huge game changer in the face of musical direction, but, instead, music itself seemed to take on a new direction. Stations started playing cross-genre artists so it wouldn’t be strange to hear a country, rock, and pop artist played on the same station. These days I can buy single digital tracks of songs by bands from whom I may not want to hear an entire album.
And though I’m not much a fan of the band there are one or two songs I own by Nirvana simply because they were/are so influential it would be hard to keep them totally out of my collection (that goes for the Beatles, Stones and Springsteen too). Plus Matt was a big fan so their albums live on in our house.
In the end I should thank Nirvana for helping to bring an end to music segregation on major market radio. As a gal who enjoys a slew of different genres I like that I can put on one station and comfortably listen to as much mainstream music as I choose despite what their genre label might be. Because these days alternative is just as mainstream as pop.
May’s Month of Music
In Bloom – Nirvana (Pandora first track)