Updated: Jan 5, 2022
“And I forget just why I taste, oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile. I found it hard, it’s hard to find. Oh well, whatever, never mind.”, the lyrics making up the final verse of the Nirvana song that blew up the world in 1991, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, (off their sophomore album Nevermind) could be the rallying cry, and epitaph, of every GenX kid from 1991 through today. Described as disaffected youth and depressed slackers who would amount to nothing, these words were as timely and fitting as could be. Looking back, they still are.
Significant moments in history are usually discussed in the “where were you when” type of conversations. My parents, and their entire generation, would always discuss the assassination JFK that way. “I’ll never forget where I was when President Kennedy was killed”, was how they’d say it. Older cousins of mine or brothers and sisters of my friends had their version of that when referencing the murder of John Lennon in 1980. I was only seven years old at the time and vaguely remember the news coverage, but I couldn’t tell you where I was the first time I’d heard about the shooting. I do however remember the first time I’d ever heard music by Nirvana. Oh the days of mix tapes, how I miss them.
This is what Generation Riff is about. It's a discussion of how the music of the early 90s created and sustained the culture of an entire generation. In my opinion, it's the last of the great music generations as nothing so big or shapeshifting, musically speaking, has come along since.
By 1991, after the thunderous worldwide explosion that was Nirvana, the rules had been buried in the destruction and rubble left in its wake. That was the beauty at the start of this new revolution. It killed everything that had come before it. Pop was dead, heavy metal (with the exception of Metallica) was pushed into a subgenre as its more popular, red-headed stepchild of a genre, “Hair Metal" was bludgeoned to death. If you were around, or read about what popular music was prior to the time Nirvana released Nevermind, you’d know it was perhaps at its most bland state since the late 70s with the emergence of Punk. This isn’t to say that bland music is bad and you’re an awful person for listening to it. Well, not completely anyway, I do have a music snob streak in me but that’s a “me” problem and I’m not trying to put down anyone who listens to the music I’m describing. My point here is, the music wasn’t dangerous, it didn’t challenge anyone or anything. It was void of any social or political themes. It was soulless, it was bland. Some of these songs were of course very well written as songwriting goes, they often displayed catchy melodies and pretty vocals and there’s really nothing wrong with that. If you’re looking for meaning, for inspiration or salvation in your music though, if you’re looking for the next revolution, the popular music throughout the 80s and into the very early 90s wasn’t where you were going to find it.
Come 1991 however, everything changed. With Generation Riff, I intend to discuss this in specific detail with those who were around at the time. The goal is to hear from fans, writers, public figures, record label people, and yes, the musicians who were coming up at the time. I hope you will join me on this journey back in time, enjoy the memories, look back at your youth, or if you're just coming of age now, learn about the last great musical generation.