February 9, 2010
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 2000, a revealing moment at a Cracker concert on the right way for bands to treat their fans, and Metallica’s bold example of how not to. For earlier installments, go here.
Because I had seen them open for the Spin Doctors, at the young and impressionable age of fifteen, I’ve always been a bigger-than-average fan of the 90s one-hit wonders band, Cracker. Still recording albums almost twenty years after their eponymous debut, Cracker is as good an example as any of a band of hard-workin’ dudes content to play to their small but hardcore following. The hit(s) dried up, but Johnny Hickman’s flamboyant country-blues electric guitar and David Lowery’s biting cynicism remain intact.
In Summer 2000, I got to check out Cracker at the 7th House in Pontiac, MI. It was my fourth or fifth time seeing the band, (like I said, I’ve always been a fan). Plus, tickets were always cheap. Before the show, some people were mistreated by the venue’s management, and word got back to Cracker before they hit the stage.
Come show time, Lowery, Hickman and Co. hit the stage and basically went through the motions: the lows weren’t low, and the highs weren’t high. The notes were all there, but one could tell the group was totally phoning it in. About thirty minutes into the show, Lowery finally broke the silence and said something like, “I was really pissed off when I got up here tonight. It’s got nothing to do with you guys: I heard through the grapevine that some people were mistreated by the management. I’m here to let you know: you don’t have to come to a place that treats you like shit (even if we’re playing).” Cracker then ditched the set list and took requests for the next two hours. What started out as kind of routine ended up being one of the best shows I’d seen to that point.
More on #17: 2000
January 2, 2010
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1999, Britney Spears’ responsibility for the downfall of the music industry, Limp Bizkit and cock rock, and the death of Mark Sandman. For earlier installments, go here.
Okay, so I posited a long time ago (I don’t expect you to remember), that Alanis’ Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill is the exact moment when the music industry started to fall apart, and that the real tragedy is how good the Morrissette album really is. Turns out, I got the year, album and artist of the downfall wrong, but I got the gender (half) right.
One bitter cold morning in January 1999, I’m over at my friend Rob’s house, imbibing in a wake-and-bake before class. Rob’s got MTV on in the background. All of a sudden, this gay disco (gay disco as a genre, not a slur)-sounding dance tune pops on the screen, amid this Catholic School setting, led by a Barbie Doll-looking girl in pleats and pigtails, moaning about something vaguely sadomasochistic (and yet completely homogenized). I spit out a heroic lung of pot smoke and doubled over, choking. I’d lived through the Spice Girls before, but they were at least sexual creatures: I felt like Humbert Humbert, ogling Britney Spears, and she was only 17 to my 19 at the time.
It’s a really dirty trick to play on a straight nineteen-year-old male, to make him feel like an old pervert for checking out a curvaceous, pretty and perky young woman on television, but Britney Spears’ handlers made it happen. Plus, the questionably sadomasochistic themes in her debut single, juxtaposed against her saving-herself-for-marriage public statement provided plenty of water cooler fodder for at least the next couple of years. Parents had something new (and Disney-sponsored) to deprive their children of, young dudes had a new fetish object, seemingly everyone had a new record to buy (…Baby, One More Time has sold an estimated 25 million copies worldwide), and young women had a new model of physical beauty they could never possibly live up to. This was a far cry from the promise of the Riot Grrl movement only ten years before, or even, for that matter, the batshit crazy Courtney Love, who at least occasionally acted in a good movie, and turned out three albums that she co-wrote and played on.
In the end, Britney Spears is like a Happy Meal from McDonald’s. Let me explain: in his book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser contends that the McDonald’s Happy Meal is set up as such to overload a child’s system and leave him neurologically confused. The caffeine and sugar in the soda mixes with the fat in the fries and the burger, coagulates with the sweetness of the cheese and ketchup, and a kid’s bouncing off the wall, already looking for that next awful cocktail. Plus, it comes with a free toy.
More on #16: 1999
December 27, 2009
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1998, the misery that was caused by Van Halen III, Barenaked Ladies rise to prominence, and John Popper’s paradoxical conservativism. For earlier installments, go here.
Last week, I sang praises for Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, for its display of restraint in an era of nihilism and excess. Today, I can think of no greater example of that nihilism and excess than 1998’s Van Halen III, the pretty-much universally unloved post-Sammy Hagar effort by the brothers Van Halen, Michael Anthony and former Extreme singer Gary Cherone.
Is there a less-apt name for the group responsible for the 1991 syrupy ballad, “More Than Words?” Yeah. “Awesome Cool Dudes” is one. “The Kickass” is another. “Shit Hot, Crazy-Good Rock Band” is another (all but the latter are real band names of farily good bands, by the way).
Have I heard Van Halen III? Only once. My roommate at the time, Bryan, was obsessively into VH, and bought III the day it came out. It sounded, even at the time, like the most over-distilled, generic crap typical of what dominated the radio and MTV in the latter half of the 90s. I doubt Bryan even listened to it a second time – certainly not while I was around.
This is yet another example of greedy, overpaid and out of touch rock musicians not knowing when to exit the realm of contemporary hit-makers and start on track toward retirement. The first indicator that you’ve been around too long is when your band is on its’ third lead singer. If you’re in a rock band so dysfunctional that it can’t keep a consistent front man, it’s time to pack it in. Period.
Who did Van Halen III serve? The people in the band and the people making their living off the band. III was nothing more than an extremely expensive excuse for the band to mount ANOTHER summer stadium tour. Nothing more than that. It’s important to note, too, that Van Halen have issued no further studio effort since III, though the band has continued to tour (now with David Lee Roth back in the fold, as well as Eddie Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang, on bass).
More on #15: 1998
December 19, 2009
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1997, the evils of an ironic Goo Goo Dolls cover, Jan Wenner being solely responsible for the downfall of the music industry, and Mr. Pridemore listing his top five 1997 albums. For earlier installments, go here.
So, my interest in music — which, we established a few weeks ago began in 1993 and immediately escalated to zealotry — has kept me interested in the aural side of popular culture long after many of my early peers (folks who got to play in the cool bands in high school, and such) dropped off the radar and stopped taking in new music. Over the last year or so, I’ve even noticed the kind of ironic nostalgia from people younger than me over songs that I (and most other self-respecting people) never wanted to hear again in the day, and certainly don’t want to be reminded of ten or more years after the fact. Younger bands I play shows with have started doing ironic covers of Goo Goo Dolls songs, the same way that the cool bands I knew growing up did ironic covers of Eddie Money songs. Get it? It’s circular.
And I’m befuddled by this kind of ironic nostalgia in the same way that hipsters ten years my senior must have been befuddled by my ironic nostalgia for the 80s at the time. This kind of detachment is thrice problematic:
1. The ironic cover of a passé pop song idea jumped the shark in 2002. It’s true: Dynamite Hack’s (remember them? Me neither)’s white boy acoustic ballad version of the NWA classic “Boyz in the Hood” was the last nail in the coffin.
2. All nostalgia is at least somewhat poisonous. Jan Wenner and David Geffen are still trying to get you to buy repackaged Doors collections, rather than invest emotionally in current artists. This is not because the Doors are a better band than, say, the Smoking Popes. Rather, this is because it is much easier (read: cost-effective) to sell the same old shit to each subsequent generation than spend energy cultivating new artists. Plus, when you get down to it, Jan Wenner couldn’t give a shit less if you like the stuff you consume, just so long as you pay through the nose for it. Keeping overhead low is priority number one for guys like Wenner. Never forget that.
(Folks, I don’t entirely know why Jan Wenner’s my particular scapegoat here. There are a lot of people responsible for the current industry slump. My only guess is that Wenner’s refusal to allow the Monkees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has something to do with it (further, if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame really had anything to do with Rock and/or Roll, wouldn’t the “and” be shortened to an “‘n”? Just asking.))
3. Ironic nostalgia gets in the way of a lot of the good stuff that happened. I know I personally didn’t discover any of the truly great, groundbreaking bands that came out in the 1980s (Black Flag, the Minutemen, the Replacements, the list goes on) because I was too busy banging my head to Goldfinger’s version of “99 Luftballons.” Would my life have been so much better, so much sooner, had I eschewed the Goldfinger record for, say Black Flag’s blistering semi-cover of “Louie, Louie,” (an afterthought on their seminal The First Four Years) or the Minutemen’s jammy take on CCR’s “Don’t Look Now” (ditto on the band’s magnum opus Double Nickels on the Dime)?
Yes. Jesus Christ. I would probably also have been spared obsession with Mustard Plug’s punk-ska take on The Verve Pipe’s “The Freshman.” Which, to be fair, was actually pretty funny, and not really nostalgia at all: the two versions were released a year apart-than one band paying cheeky tribute to their friends.
I hope I’ve made my point. And if you’re still with me:
Five Records from 1997 for My Children (and my Children’s Children):
More on #14: 1997
December 12, 2009
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1996, Mr. Pridemore personally insulting a Monkee, the fuck-ups involving the 1996 Lollapalooza festival, and the torture and slaying of animals at Marilyn Manson concerts. For earlier installments, go here.
In July of 1996, I called Mickey Dolenz a fucking liar. Waiting in line for an autograph of the Monkees’ Greatest Hits CD I’d just purchased, I became incensed over a soundbite I’d heard from Dolenz a few years previous. Dolenz (in my memory) had said something like, “I don’t understand all the hoopla about the Monkees. The Monkees were talentless.” As I approached the Prefab Four’s drummer that evening, I brought up the soundbite (which, admittedly, may have been a product of my imagination) and told him I thought he’d belied the catalog of songs in the band’s repertoire and the Monkees’ cultural staying power through the years.
I was the oldest fan in attendance, who wasn’t a parent ushering in sons and daughters. When Dolenz denied having said such a thing, I said, “You’re a fucking liar,” grabbed my newly-autographed CD, and stomped off, leaving at least a couple of bewildered kids and one washed up pop star in my wake.
I take little pride (besides the anecdote) in having wrecked Mickey Dolenz’s evening, and no satisfaction at all in having ruined the night for anyone seeking autographs. And while my borderline-Trekkie rebuking of Dolenz’ offhandedly delivered callous comment doesn’t really fit into the greater cultural landscape of 1996, it seems important to let the reader know that your narrator’s manic obsession with twelve tones arranged in varying patterns runs deeper than Lake Superior.
Possibly a greater crime committed against seventeen year old rock fans across the country was the 1996 Lollapalooza Festival. The traveling “alternative” rock festival, which had served an unhip suburban kid like me his first exposure to bands like the Coctails and Brainiac only a year before, had lost their founder, Perry Farrell, to other projects. Not surprisingly (though still disappointing), the festival’s new organizers eschewed a lot of its’ grassroots leanings, scuttling past eclectic lineups for the likes of the mainstream Metallica, Soundgarden, the Ramones and Rancid.
More on #13: 1996
December 6, 2009
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1995, those crazy workhorses in R.E.M., the blessed union of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, and the slew of tragic musician deaths that hit the world halfway through the nineties. For earlier installments, go here.
Perhaps I was a tad too hard on Hole last week. In January 1995, former “college rock” darlings R.E.M. embarked on a massive world tour to support Monster, their hard-rockin’-est album since Green, their 1988 Warner Bros. debut (and their first tour in six years). Less than two months later, drummer Bill Berry suffered an aneurysm onstage in Lausanne, Switzerland. Shows were postponed, and the tour ultimately resumed (friends of mine attended when the band came to Detroit in May, but I missed it for some reason), but R.E.M. were plagued with more and more problems as the tour ran on: bassist Mike Mills had to undergo abdominal surgery to remove an intestinal adhesion in July, while singer Michael Stipe had to undergo emergency hernia surgery the following month. Berry ultimately left the band in October 1997, citing lack of enthusiasm for pop stardom. The band has soldiered on as a trio, to middling commercial and critical success, acting mostly as a vehicle to play R.E.M.’s (more popular) back catalog.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. R.E.M. still trundle out decent records every few years, and their fans remain happy. Never having played in front of even one stadium full of people, let alone playing stadiums night after night for years, I cannot begin to imagine the incredible pressure that must have squeezed these people to the point of exhaustion. And then I think about the amount of money, man hours and preparation spent in getting a band of R.E.M.’s caliber on the road, and I cannot remain unhappy with that band’s decision to soldier on through health crises, nor can I fault any member of the band for deciding to quit or keep going. A gigantic rock band like R.E.M. is ultimately responsible for a lot more peoples’ livelihoods than their own, so a lot more than “somebody doesn’t feel good,” (or in Berry’s case, somebody’s on death’s door) has to be taken into account.
I do sort of wish, though, that the members of R.E.M. who kept going would make albums that compared to Automatic for the People, though. I’m not just a little tired of these big bands putting out albums and their fans going, “Have you heard the new (Insert fading Gen X band name here) album? It’s not bad!”
Not bad=not good, people. Please don’t forget that.
More on #12: 1995
November 28, 2009
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1994, Courtney Love’s response to the death of Kurt Cobain (and how Rivers Cuomo plays into all this) and Pearl Jam, Korn, and the steep descent of metal. For earlier installments, go here.
One of the funniest conspiracy theories I’ve heard about in the last few years is that Kurt Cobain and Rivers Cuomo are the same person. Right: Kurt Cobain was so affected by the spotlight that he faked his own death, only to return a few months later with a new, poppier sound and a slightly altered look. Even his wife, Courtney Love, believes his death was real. Yeah.
When you think about it, the number of flimsy similarities between the two men are astounding. Nirvana and Weezer were both signed to the David Geffen Company (their recording careers only overlap by the slimmest margin). Both men were the sole songwriters in their respective bands, though Cuomo has deferred to the other guys in recent years, and Dave Grohl got to write one of the B-Sides for In Utero. Cuomo and Cobain are both often seen wearing sweaters in photographs; Cuomo’s dapper and preppy, Cobain’s most likely intended to cover up track marks. Both debuted with music most people did not hear (Weezer’s earliest recordings are still-unreleased pop metal tracks), followed by a slicker-than-owl-shit major label debut, then followed by an intensely personal, self-produced sophomore effort. In Utero is infinitely better than Nevermind, and Pinkerton is infinitely better than The Blue Album. Weezer, after Pinkerton, have slowly pissed away everything that was great about them, while Cobain didn’t last long enough to watch his career go to shit.
Of course, Cobain was a left-handed guitarist, while Cuomo is right-handed, but have you ever noticed that Cuomo became something of a fret-shredder between the first two albums?
More on #11: 1994
November 21, 2009
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1993, the birth of a conscious music listener, and falling in and out of love with They Might Be Giants. For earlier installments, go here.
1993 is a defining year for me, Brook Pridemore, as a musician/music obsessor (one can’t really exist without the other). Aside from Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged premiere in November (the defining live document of the 90s) and Prince changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol, 1993 is the year I became conscious. So, while the year may not be the best for music (certainly ‘95 and ‘97 are go-to years for “the classics”), 1993 will always evoke something of a coming of age nostalgia within me. The historical equivalent of the participant’s trophy in softball you’ve got in a box somewhere, maybe, or the barely-meeting-the-weight-requirement large mouth bass you caught when you were a kid, that ended up stuffed and mounted, a constant reminder of simpler times. 1993 is the year I came of age.
It seems innocuous now, but one February morning in ‘93, I was watching Saturday Morning cartoons with my much-younger sister. An episode of Tiny Toon Adventures that featured animated videos to two songs by quirky Brooklyn group They Might Be Giants crossed my periphery. And that was it. I had no idea what these guys looked like (as TMBG were depicted by Tiny Toons characters, you see), but I could tell just by hearing them that they looked more like me (skinny, pale, gawky) than the hip hop crews or cartoon-y hard rock bands my contemporaries were discovering. Gangbangin’ was in, but it’s hard to be a gangbanger in a lake-dominated suburb thirty miles north of the inner city of Detroit. Being a hesher was in, but I still don’t quite dig on metal, and it’s hard to be a hesher without dirt weed.
They Might Be Giants seemed like they spoke to me, personally. In the last dying days before the Internet diluted the mystery a band could wrap itself in, I went on a quest to find all of their albums to date, and learn all the lyrics. The things I had picked for my career focus to date (funny car designer, video game programmer, etc.) went out the window. I was going to be a singer like They Might Be Giants. Christmas 1993, when I got my first guitar, TMBG’s guitarist, John Flansburgh, served as my first role model. Never known for his flash, Flansburgh held the band’s quirky, percolated rhythms together with his simple, creative strumming. “Birdhouse in Your Soul” is buoyed by Flansburgh’s tic-tac bassline across it’s chorus. You may never have noticed that bouncy little line in there, but it’s an essential element to what gives the song it’s danceable backbone.
More on #10: 1993