Nadia Elkharadly: Children of Grunge

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing Mudhoney perform for the first time.  In the subsequent review, I commented that “You’ll always love the music that you grew up with, the songs and bands that you discovered in your youth. “  It’s a notion that I kind of come back to time and time again.  Being born in 1980, I began to notice the popular music around me in the early 1990s; the era of Grunge.  And as I said in my review, I still love that music and those bands even today.  As someone who is bombarded with new music, new artists and new bands on a fairly regular basis, it’s curious to me that I still love that genre 15 years later.  And the music I love even now, likely bears more than a passing resemblance to the music that raised me.

A favourite genre usually results in a favourite band, and for me that was Soundgarden.  It was around the time I was fourteen that I first heard Soundgarden on the radio.  I’m not sure of the station.  Chances are it was Edge 102, back then known as the Spirit of Radio (back when radio still had some spirit, but I’ll let Bob opine on that subject in his own time).  The song was “Superunknown”, and something about the rapidity of the beat, the rolling waves of guitar and the echoing vocals drew me in.  It didn’t hurt that shortly thereafter I happened upon a picture of the band and saw that they were not a bad looking group of gents.  Alright, I admit it; I completely drooled over Chris Cornell.  Was it his voice, at times tough as nails, at times smooth as silk?  Was it his piercing blue eyes, the cherry on top of the cake of his dark Irish good looks?  Or was it his Greek god physique?  I digress slightly…but you get the picture.

Aside from Cornell’s good looks, (a topic that can never be exhausted in my mind), it was the music Soundgarden made that somehow struck a chord (music pun!) inside of me.  Call it teenage angst.   Whatever it was, it was the overly emotional, everything is desperate, analyse to exhaustion mindset that I was living in that made that heavy sound and gut wrenching lyricism appeal to me.  I set out to obtain as many Soundgarden tapes, and later CDs as I could, from their first releases with Subpop to the latest album at the time, Superunknown.  If I had to choose a favourite album, back then and even now my answer remains the same:  Badmotorfinger.   It was and still is an album that I can play from start to finish without a single skip, something of an asset when you’re listening on a cassette.  I listened over and over, wondering how a guitar could make sounds like that, how a voice could sound like that, and how music could consume me like that.  From that point on my life had a constant soundtrack, from the stereo in my bedroom to the headphones on the little yellow Sony Walkman I carried when I walked to school. 

The Jesus Christ Posers’ opened the floodgates of grunge music to me, and I embraced everything that came at me.  I couldn’t get enough.  But, I should probably clarify something here.  Soundgarden isn’t really “grunge” music per se.  Hard rock, bordering on heavy metal, decidedly “alternative” yes, but not quite grunge in the way that Mudhoney, The Screaming Trees, and other Seattlebands were.  Therein lays the key however:  SEATTLE.  The cloudy coastal city birthed my new favourite band and many others before, during, and after.  The movie Singles was a revelations to me.  From the multiple cameos of the musicians in the city, including members of Pearl Jam as Matt Dillon’s character’s band, the small club performances by Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, and Eric Stoltz playing the angry mime, I was enthralled and dying with jealousy.  I wanted to BE in that movie, to have my own apartment inSeattle, to go to those clubs, see those bands, and live that life.  It solidified to me that I had been born in the wrong time and place.

The Singles Soundtrack was actually a great compilation of what was what in the Seattle music scene.  The greats of the time, and of the past, all made their mark on that Soundtrack.   The contemporaries included, of course, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, The Screaming Trees, and Alice in Chains, all with amazing songs, some of which can only be found on this soundtrack.  A highlight for me is The Lovemongers live cover of Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore”, that I dare say I enjoy more than the original.  The dearly departed Jimi Hendrix, a Seattle native and idol to many of the contributing artists, appeared with the lovely ballad “May This Be Love”.  Mother Love Bone, another pioneering band of the scene appeared with “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns”, a beautiful song made especially poignant by the death of singer Andrew Wood in 1990.

Mother Love Bone only had a year together but made their mark.  Yet another band built from the ashes of another Seattle group, Wood came together with Bruce Fairweather, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, formerly of Green River (the other members went on to form Mudhoney), and drummer Greg Gilmore from Skin Yard.  The band quickly garnered a huge following and was lauded as the next big thing.  Wood was a gifted lyricist with a flamboyant and energetic stage presence.  And like many young, beautiful, and incredibly talented people before and after him, he had a terrible problem with drugs.  They managed to record one full length album, Apple, but Wood overdosed on heroin just days before its slated release in March of 1990.  The album was released to rave, but mournful, reviews later that same year.  Even as a teenager, I would pull out that CD, and grasp the sadness of talent lost, a flame, like so many others, extinguished far too quickly.

It was the death of Andrew Wood, great friend to many in the Seattlemusic scene that inspired the formation of another band I discovered in my pursuit of musical fulfillment.  Temple of the Dog was a band/cathartic creative project that came together in tribute of Wood.  Devastated by the death of his friend and roommate, Chris Cornell penned two emotional elegies as he grieved, and approached Wood’s former bandmates Ament and Gossard to help him record the songs as a single.  Soundgarden Drummer Matt Cameron came on board, as well as guitarist Mike McCready, and Seattle newcomer and singer…you guessed it, Eddie Veddar.  Two songs grew to a full album, and a short tour.  Temple of the Dog was in my mind the first super group, but only in hindsight.  At the time, it was friends coming together to mourn in the best way they knew how; by making music.  “Reach Down”, with an epically long guitar solo by McCready, and “Say Hello 2 Heaven”, with heart-wrenching lyrics by Cornell, open the cd, and the emotions just roll off the tracks in waves.  But the album doesn’t let go there.   “Hunger Strike” marks the historical vocal collaboration between Cornell and at the time unknown Veddar and I was mesmerized.  And history continued to be made, as McCready, Veddar, Ament and Gossard, went on to form Pearl Jam, a band celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, with the release of their documentary Pearl Jam 20 (recently screened at our very own Toronto International Film Festival).  Two decades later, the band plays on, when so many others have been silenced.

Much like the Canadian indie music scene now, the Seattle Scene was a family.  They worked together, supported each other, and thrived together.  The fact that so many of them rocketed to International acclaim and massive success was absolutely mind boggling to me.  I’m by no means an expert historian on the music in and out ofSeattlein the nineties, and I’ve only barely scratched the surface here.  What I am an expert on is me, and what I love, and this is it here.  It’s the music that raised me.  Music was there for me when I was a dorky kid getting picked on at a fancy private school.  I wore my doc martens with my school uniform with pride, something that would have probably made both the original doc marten wearers in Seattle, and fashionistas cringe I’m sure.  But it helped me grow, and inspired me to be creative, and voracious in my appetite for learning, researching, and discovering not only the music itself, by who made it, and where they came from.  That energy is still with me today, it’s the reason why I write about music, and why I seek out new music constantly.  In my own way, I’m living the life I wished I had in Seattle in the 90s.  I’m just doing it here in Toronto, in the…10s? 00s?  Who knows what the kids will be calling it when they’re in high school, with the internet instead of the back issues of Rolling Stone and Spin that I had to sift through at the library.  Kids these days, they don’t know how good they have it.

I’ve shown you mine, now you show me yours.  What music did you love growing up?  I promise I won’t make fun.

Until next time,

Xo

N

Nadia Elkharadly is a Toronto based writer with a serious addiction to music. Corporate drone by day, renegade rocker by night, writing is her creative outlet.  Nadia writes for the Examiner (.com) on live music in Toronto and Indie Music in Canada.  She has never been in a band but plays an awesome air guitar and also the tambourine.  Check in every Tuesday for musings about music, love, life and whatever else that comes to mind.

One Response to “Nadia Elkharadly: Children of Grunge”

  1. Amazing! Reading this makes me reminisce of my grunge roots and the music of the early 90’s that opened my eyes and ears to something that always feels like “home”…. to name a few The Toadies, Nirvana, Spacehog, PJ….. Great job Nadia!

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