Unpopular Opinions

If you are addicted to TikTok, like some of us…cough, cough, you’ll have probably seen the phenomenon that is everyone using that sound clip from Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” and are probably just as sick of it as I am.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great song. One of her best. Not THE best. But in the top three. But like anything else associated with this new generation (what are we at now, GenZ?), they always take something and just run it into the ground and suck the life out of it until nobody can stand it anymore.

For a song that always used to make me stop skipping songs and just settle in and listen, I have snoozed that sucker for probably the next ten years.

I have to admit though I’m grateful. Like Mindfulness/Yoga/Kombucha drinking levels of gratitude that they didn’t choose “Wuthering Heights” for that episode. How I loathe that song. It is shrill, about a book I utterly despised, and the cringe-inducing throw-up-in-my-mouth levels of Darth Vader yelling “Noooooo!” the mass interpretive dance party of dozens of people in red chiffon dresses you can watch on YouTube just demonstrate that there is a Hell and if I don’t straighten my shit out, I’ll be damned for all eternity listening to Kate warble “Heathcliff! It’s me! I’m Catheeee!” until I puke up my spleen and demons do carnal things to it in front of my eyes.

So, if you liked Kate Bush running up that hill. Wait until you get a load of her controlling the weather with “Cloudbusting.” It’s a better song. Or, branch out to Souixie and the Banshees. Sinead O’Connor. Stevie Nicks. Eurythmics. Or even Heart. Chrissie Hynde might just be the Chrissie that Eddie needed to wake up.

Or, maybe just don’t.

Weird how things come together

For some odd reason, I’ve been watching old Alice in Chains videos on YouTube, more specifically breakdowns from vocal coaches, who are describing the mechanics and technical expertise of Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell. Looking at the calendar, I noticed that Layne Staley passed away 20 years ago today. April is not a good month for Seattle rock singers. Though his body wasn’t found for another two weeks, they estimate that Layne Staley died of a heroin overdose on the same day as Kurt Cobain’s death, which was eight years before.

I used to listen to the MTV Unplugged album Alice in Chains made in 1996 when I lived alone in my little studio apartment in the late 90s. I might have driven my neighbors nuts with it. To me, it is a compilation of some of their best songs, even though it lacks the heaviness of Dirt or Facelift. Though “Man in the Box” got a lot of play on hard rock stations like KBPI, sidled up with “Mandatory Metallica Monday” (and endless loops of “Wherever I May Roam” and “Enter Sandman” which are so overplayed they puts me to sleep.) I enjoyed other Alice in Chains songs so much more. Honestly, I thought “Man in the Box” was repetive and a little boring. If you want an amazing, hard AiC song, check out Them Bones.

But the first song of theirs that really hit me was one I heard on NPR while listening to World Cafe of all things. It was a song called No Excuses and it was off their Jar of Flies album (which I also probably wore out–HIGHLY recommended). There was Sean Kinney’s drum groove, which I considered next to impossible, and then there were the lines:

You my friend

I will defend

and if we change

then I’ll love you anyway

Alice in Chains, No Excuses

The song came at one of those moments in my life when everything was changing. My high school friends were drifting apart, I was seriously seeing someone (even then I didn’t think forever), and the enormity of the world stretching out ahead of me was almost overwhelming. I’ve found myself in that place many times since, saying goodbye to those I have loved, and always will, but knowing our paths have diverged.

The next song was “Down in a Hole“, which hell…I have been there many times. This song, in my opinion, is poetic perfection. The harmony is amazing. The pain drips from the whole thing (that link is the harder album version)…

“I’d like to fly, but my wings have been so denied”

That hits hard and danger close.

I had heard Alice In Chains a lot without ever really realizing. Their sound was ubiquitous during the 90s, appearing in movies like Clerks (“Got Me Wrong”), Last Action Hero (“What the Hell Have I?”), and they were even one of the “scarier” live bands in the Cameron Crowe film Singles. Almost an afterthought, or just a way to show the “grungier” side of Seattle at the time, when we were supposed to be marveling at Matt Dillon’s caricture of slackerdom as he hung out with Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell, trying to get his band going, or the yuppie architect and his dream of a monorail that plays “really good music.” Cameron Crowe might have hung out with Led Zeppelin when he was a kid, but he just showed how out of touch he was later. Having a shit ton of money will do that, I guess. (Though I wouldn’t mind trying that out myself).

It kinda reminds me of a rewatch of Wayne’s World, when Mike Meyers dragged out bands that were even old back then to represent…whatever the hell he was trying to do. Back in the day, I could quote that movie, but now I see it as an artifact of the early 90s, when it was really more of a placeholder of the mid-80s. Anybody else notice that the Red Hot Chili Peppers were the joke band the “Shitty Beatles”? While the headliner bands on the soundtrack were like a who’s who of has-beens and afterthoughts they thought would be cool for the kids? Talk about metafictional.

Layne Staley was also in the supergroup project Mad Season, (comprised of members of Alice in Chains, Screaming Trees, Pearl Jam, and Walkabout) which has a few especially wonderful, bluesy songs I never skip when they come on the playlist. John Baker Saunders preceded Layne in death, and Mark Lanegan, who was also a member of that band, died in Februrary of this year.

Here’s my three favorites:

Wake Up

River of Deceit

Long Gone Day

This hasn’t been the only time I’ve looked at the date and noticed it was the anniversary of some other event, usually an anniversary of something long passed. It’s just weird how things seem to come together. How time just keeps running away like wild horses over the hills like the poet says. You just feel the pull of it sometimes, you know? And you can’t help but have your heart pulled in that direction until you pay attention and say, “Yes, I know what it was now.”

It’s late, and I should try to sleep, but I know sleep will escape me for a while yet. Besides, it’s nice to just let the music play sometimes, sipping a whiskey, listening to old songs. Writing. Letting the paper keep the memories so my heart is a little bit lighter.

I leave you with one last Alice in Chains song to listen to or add to your playlist. I’m sure you know it, but tonight, I feel it.

Today, I have been working on edits and letting my mind wander down forgotten channels and back.

I know there are some out there who might think that glorifying the talents of a musician who lost the battle with drug addiction isn’t something a man like that deserves. The drugs killed him, but his talents are worthy of remembering, and I’m not going to judge somebody whose music has saved me plenty of times or spoken what my heart wanted to say, but my mouth could not carry.

Maybe I’ve been revisiting what is probably my favorite “grunge” era band of the 90s because I needed to be reminded that not all stories have to be happy to be beautiful or speak to people. My book isn’t happy. It is madness at times. I needed that reminder. RIP Layne. Thank you.

Every generation has its own disease

Lately I’ve noticed that 30 year cycle of nostalgia rolling across the internet. I happen to get lots of GenX posts on my For You Page on TikTok. If you are born between 1965 and 1979, you are part of this generation. We are a lot like the Lost Generation, which I’ve always been a big fan of. Only instead of surviving World War One, we survived the Cold War.

Though my classmates and I didn’t participate in air raid drills to duck and cover underneath our desks for fear of nuclear war, the subject was always talked about. Our parents, the Baby Boomers, back then were very into themselves. They were the first generation that really had both parents working. They worked hard. They played hard. I won’t get into it.

GenX is characterized mostly by our cynicism and inability to give a fuck. We’ve been Slim Pickens riding the Bomb for a long time. But one of the things we actually did care about–passionately even–was music.

I was at the tail-end of GenX, and so when my musical tastes ripened, I found more identity in the Alternative and Grunge genres than I did hair bands and the earlier “Classic Rock” though I am not ignorant of their contribution. I’ve jammed out to Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, the Doors, then Slaughter, Cinderella, Ratt, and many others. But those jams were not my…er…jam, I guess, as much as what hit in 1990-1998. What I consider the golden era of GenX music.

But here’s the thing that bugs me. People show how little they know about GenX when they think that Nirvana encapsulates the musical experience. Honestly, before Kurt Cobain died, people who listened to music were mostly tired of their shit. Nevermind had a few good songs but mostly it was a novelty experience of listening to Kurt warble incoherently with some garbage lyrics and stoned out of his fucking gourd most of the time. In Utero was some alienating crap with a few mainstream tracks like Heartshaped Box and About a Girl. Unplugged actually gave them verasity. I mean, listen to Scentless Apprentice, (awesome drum track, but the rest of it is some bullshit). Talking up Nirvana is a lot lot telling a Boomer than Woodstock was the ENTIRE experience of the ’60s.

We didn’t wander around playing Smells Like Teen Spirit all damn day. Most people I knew couldn’t even stand Nirvana until Kurt killed himself. The band itself was on the decline by then, with him hitting the horse pretty hard. When he nearly died in Rio, most people figured that was that.

We had other bands too, like Fury in the Slaughterhouse, Love Spit Love, Edwin Collins, Mazzy Star, Pornos for Pyros, Sonic Youth, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, the Samples, Folk Implosion, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Tori Amos, Nine Inch Nails, Machines of Loving Grace, Rollins Band, the Cure, Pantera, Rage Against the Machine, Live, The The, White Zombie, Oasis, the Cranberries, XTC, Jane’s Addiction, Jesus and Mary Chain, Fat Boy Slim, Concrete Blonde, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Stone Temple Pilots, Radiohead, Belly, Veruca Salt, and so many others. Those were just some off the top of my head.

Yet everyone on TikTok plays fucking Smells Like Teen Spirit like any of us actually liked that song. On that album alone, Come as You Are and In Bloom were the actual good songs. Lithium was good too. I had the single! On cassette tape! But it was hardly our anthem.

We also had Enigma, Faith No More, Queensryche, and don’t get me started on 90s R&B and hip hop. We had SWV, TLC, Salt n Pepa, New Edition, Bel Biv Devoe, Beasty Boys!, Sir Mix Alot, then Wu-Tang Clan(!!), Arrested Development, A Tribe Called Quest, Skee-lo, Geto Boys, NWA, and a plethora of others.

Maybe it’s fitting for a generation who were labled disenfranchised slackers as we were coming into our own even then that were as associated with a song that was overplayed and we were sick of even then. A whole generation who hates their birthday because all it does is prove that nobody even comes close to understanding us.

GenX huh? I love Smells Like Teen Spirit!

Yeah? Fuck you.

That isn’t us. Anymore than the Boomers are free love in hippie busses with Mamas and the Papas lilting out the windows, or Vietnam just being Fortunate Son blaring out of the side of a Huey.

They’ve tried to capture the zeitgeist of my generation (and failed) a few times in movies. Reality Bites was one. With Honors was another one. I think Singles came close, but that was very niche and very early GenX. Probably one of the best movies of the time was Kevin Smith’s Clerks. It’s childish and jejune, but the entire concept of “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” caught the spirit of my generation. Maybe Pump Up the Volume, but it was a movie about GenX written by Boomers. Sorta like Hackers, which was a movie about computers or something. Honestly it’s just a spoon for Angelina Jolie.

You want a good GenX movie, hit up Trainspotting. Or even Grosse Pointe Blank. The soundtracks alone…

The reason I’m writing this was because I was listening to my Amazon station and Alanis Morrisette came on. Jeez, I probably wore out my Jagged Little Pill album. I used to like playing it when I was doing dishes and folding laundry. I liked a girl in college who looked like Alanis from the video for “Ironic.” “You Oughta Know” was the weakest song on the album too, but it was shocking so it got play. I liked “Forgiven” and “Head Over Feet” the best. To me, Alanis was closer to the rage and heartbreak of the 90s and being GenX than any Nirvana song.

The disillusionment. The angst. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” has somehow ironically become what it was written to make fun of.