Our misplaced nostalgia for that most acceptable of decades, the 90s, is bringing us to some very strange places. Whether it be acting like Temple of the Dog weren’t Bad Company for sad sacks, aping that most forward-thinking style of not tucking in one’s shirt, or just following the minutia of the Sonic Youth break up, like Twilight fans with worse taste in music, 90s revivalism has made VH1 commentators of us all. The next circle of Hell will be writing a never-ending series of “Women who Rock!” articles. You’re all too young to remember, but the 90s weren’t that great—I mean, they were, but only because I was in my 20s. If you’re in your 20s right now and the whatever-we-call-the-2010-to-2020s isn’t the best era for music/culture/cuisine/whatever THAT EVER HAPPENED IN THE HISTORY OF TIME, then you’re doing your 20s wrong. The 90s are mine and, trust, you don’t really want them.
Let’s actually look at some of the horrible detritus that the 1990s has left us with. First of all, yeah, though they existed before, “Women in Rock” articles were basically the tribble of the decade. You would have thought that the Riot Grrrl movement—with its total refusal to talk to mainstream press like SPIN—would have driven some sort of point home. But no, it just egged on every reporter with a deadline and anatomy of either variety to write a column grouping together a bunch of women who shared nothing in common beyond the same number of digits used to grip their guitars. They were the baby doll dresses of music writing, on display every week and in every publication. It was depressing (then and only more so now).
Second of all, the 90s brought back guitar solos in “alternative” music. Say what you will about Reagan and REM, but the 80s made it pretty clear that guitar solos were best left to the Steve Vai’s of the world, and nice boys and girls in ripped shirts and thick glasses needn’t bother (at least, with the exception of Greg Ginn). That was great, but then the 90s—with its Dinosaur Jr.s and Pearl Jams—ruined it forever. Now even punk bands solo, and every time they do, I cry and wish Deee-Lite won the culture wars.*
Tertiary, Wu Tang Clan. Wait, calm the fuck down, I’m not bad-mouthing Wu Tang Clan. They were easily the Velvet Underground (except popular) of the decade in both artistic and long-term cultural influence. Most of it was positive, but you can’t deny the pernicious influence, either. There’s an entire generation of mid-30s-white-dude-in-Wu-Wears, incapable of parting with either their stubble or their skateboards, whose entire identities were formed memorizing the lyrics to “Protect Ya Neck.” Those hooligans outside Max Fish and Enids, working on their hangovers for their graphic design day jobs and using the word “faggot” like it was going out of style? They’re the 90s' fault.
Fourthilly, because of the 1990s, we all have to have an opinion about Courtney Love. Man, I really don’t want to have to have an opinion about Courtney Love. She wrote some great songs. She said some profoundly stupid things. An equal number of people I adore and people I despise have done hard drugs at her house. There; I just wrote all the thinkpieces needed about Courtney Love. Thank me by pretending she moved to Borneo immediately after doing the first two and a half Hole records. And stop posting semi-nudes of Francis Bean. It will stop being creepy on her 50th birthday.
Fivetastic, while the trope of the 1990s being the “Golden Age of Hip Hop” may or may not be true (ask one of my smarter friends. I have a Nice and Smooth cassingle and that’s it), one thing is for sure: the 90s were a golden age for noise rock and pop punk. But to what end? Pop punk quickly became a dumbed-down hair metal, with frosted tips replacing curly flowing locks. And noise rock? Well, admittedly, noise rock pretty much stayed the same, but only I and Ben Greenberg give a shit. So my point stands: the 90s will break your heart.
Look, every decade idolizes and reviles in equal parts what came before it. But now, with the Internet, that’s unnecessary. People my age or older can moan about the removal of mystery, but fuck a mystery—let the past be seen as it was: heroic AND foolish. Yes, Nirvana was swell. So was Babes in Toyland and so was Cypress Hill….but so what? The 1990s were just the ten years in between the 1980s and the aughts. I had a fluffy mohawk for part of it. It was brutal.
I’ll be leading a discussion of the documentary Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel this weekend at Nitehawk Cinema. The movie is just about the most perfect encapsulation of both the good and bad of the 90s that one could possibly hope for. As the drummer for Hole, Schemel was both a protagonist and a constant documentor of the Cobain/Love thread that ran throughout the whole decade for so many of us. It’s particularly interesting to watch all these talented so-called “alt” musicians reenact the same dramas, selfish drug use, and inevitable betrays of both principals and each other that has been occurring in rock and jazz and country since the inception of popular music. Please come and yell at me offline for all the mean things I said in my highly-scientific article about everyone’s favorite decade.
*BTW, for those of you sitting at your computers going, “Haha… Oh, Zack, you fool, Deee-Lite DID win! Frank Ocean is mayor of mine and everybody else’s souls! You are so dum,” I would strongly suggest you A) shut up, my mom says I’m very bright, and B) leave the coasts for a day. The Billboard charts are still pretty much 50 percent guitar music. Hinder, even if none of your friends wrote about them, happened. Coldplay happened. Black Keys and Kings of Leon happened. Now, Imagine Dragons are happeningggggg. Sorry, blogfessor.
Zach Lipez owns no Wu Wear. Follow him on Twitter - @zacharylipez