Where I’m at: Back in DC, last weekend on the road for awhile!
What I’m doing: winding down from an eXtreme weekend biking and beaching! (www.teamxba.org)
Why I’m posting: feeling poetic again
While driving to and from Philadelphia this weekend, I got to use the rental car’s XM radio and pretty much exclusively listened to a 90s grunge rock station called Lithium.
Lithium – taking its name appropriately from the atomic element frequently used to treat depression (at least during the 90s) – appropriate for the type of depression-derived songwriting characterized by the 90s. It’s also an appropriate name because the station should probably have been called “Nirvana (who had a hit song called “Lithium”)/Smashing Pumpkins XM, with a sprinkling of other artists highlighting the decade.” Okay, “Lithium” rolls off the tongue better.
It’s important to note here that I’m now an adult with all the maturity and piece-of-mind which accompanies (quiet scoffs are warranted here). While the angst-ridden music of the 1990s perfectly captured both the mood of the day and my mood of everyday, I feel like I’ve grown to the point where I now listen to more “mature” music like indie and folk rock. Instead of immature lyrics like “A friend in need is a friend indeed; a friend with weed is better” (Placebo’s “Pure Morning”), I now listen to grown-up lyrics like “I’m Mr. November; I won’t f-ck us over” (The National’s “Mr. November). Please note the subtle irony.
Still, I can’t help but feel less inspired – at least poetically – by the music I listen to now than by the music streaming 24/7 on stations like Lithium and the one playing in my mind. Perhaps this is more indicative of my own stasis rather than a commentary on the music itself, but there is something very Wagner-esque to grunge rock (think of the primeval scene in “The Matrix” with all the people in the “real city” dancing underground). Layer some wicked licks (Mike McCready of Pearl Jam wins here), groovy base (Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, anyone?) and some poetic introspection (Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins: “I fear that I am ordinary, just like everyone”) and you’ve got yourself some soul-stirring lyrics.
Okay, so I know the 90s were a bit ridiculous in many ways, but so were the 60s and 70s. I think (or at least I hope) that we will look back at the decade’s music and realize how often certain bands, songs, and people captured the accompanying emotional roller coaster of such ridiculousness. Anytime I’m feeling lost in the adult world, I listen to Blink 182’s “Dammit” and think, yes, “I guess this is growing up.”
So ultimately, I am unapologetically putting the 1990s forward as the decade whose music has most inspired me. Just as bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers grew up (from “Suck My Kiss”-like songs filling albums between good songs to full albums – and full attire – like “Californication”), so did I. Just as bands like Everclear lived through depression and tough times (from “Heroine Girl” to “Wonderful”), so did I. And just as bands lost innocence, often through losing members (like Nirvana, most notably), we all lost a lot of innocence, and so did I.
What 90s music tag best describes the decade then? A “jagged little pill” (Alanis Morrissette)? That we “found out what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes” (Everlast)? That “heaven felt like it (was) so far away” (Silverchair)? I vote for the slightly cryptic affirmation/disbelieving sigh of The Crash Test Dummies: mmmmm mmmmm mmmmm. Mmm indeed.