Joan Jett fronting Nirvana for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony was one of the worst kept secrets in rock n’ roll but it turned out to be a red herring. The news went viral Tuesday after The Foo Fighters posted an Instagram photo of Jett’s iconic Gibson Melody Maker guitar alongside the instruments of surviving band members Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear, but in the end the group had much more planned for the night…
It’s debatable as to who actually coined the term “grunge”. Some accredit it to Mark Arm of the band Mudhoney; others attribute it to various music journalists or Sub Pop records founder Bruce Pavitt. At the end of the day though, grunge was just a word. A word used to categorize a very diverse set of rock bands that just so happened to originate from the Pacific Northwest and played loud, electric guitar rock. For better or worse, these bands were all lumped together, even though each one had its own unique style, sound and influences. Nirvana was influenced by punk. Pearl Jam took cues from classic rock. And then there were the metal guys. The sludgy, dark, heavy bands – like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Tad. Read more…
The newest class of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been announced. This year’s group includes grunge rockers Nirvana, the glam rock band KISS, smooth pop duo Hall and Oates, former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel, songbird Linda Ronstadt and folk hero Cat Stevens (aka Yusuf Islam).
Each of the acts is undoubtedly an influential music legend, but this list is making us wonder how Rock and Roll do you have to be to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
As Charles Darwin so famously pointed out way back when, a big part of survival is adapting to your environment. So when Nirvana’s Nevermind was released in 1991 and threatened to wipe out metal for good, it was time for a few changes. Some bands went on hiatus or even disbanded; others began to experiment with their sound, incorporating grunge and alternative influences. The result was a mixed bag – a few albums were actually pretty successful. Others? Not so much.
As he is quick to point out, Bruce Pavitt had a front row seat to one of rock’s most exciting periods. In 1986 the Chicago native formed the influential indie label Sub Pop Records to chronicle the louder than love sounds of his adopted hometown of Seattle, Washington. Along with partner Jonathan Poneman they released seminal recordings from such groups as Soundgarden (whose lead guitarist Kim Thayil is a childhood friend), Mudhoney and most famously Nirvana, whom Pavitt is said to have personally signed. The latter two bands are the subjects of Pavitt’s new book, Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989, available now from Bazillion Points Books. The book chronicles in photos and text Nirvana’s 1989 tour of Europe with label mates Tad, leading up to their career making appearance at the Lame Fest Sub Pop UK Showcase in London with headliners Mudhoney. Bruce Pavitt spoke to us about grunge’s golden era and the groundbreaking record label he left in 1996 but still maintains close ties to. Read more…
The Seattle scene of the late eighties and early nineties produced some of the most beloved rock bands not just of the last twenty years, but of all-time. The influence and impact that acts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains had on the world of music, both artistically and commercially, cannot really be overstated. However, there is far more to the “grunge” story than just the rise and fall of these four bands, as author Mark Yarm goes to very impressive lengths to chronicle is his new book Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History Of Grunge (now available in handy paperback form!)
Over the course of three years and change, Yarm interviewed over 250 key players in the Seattle scene of that now historic era, everyone from superstars like Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) and Courtney Love, to the owners of the storied Sub Pop record label, to bands like the U-Men and the Melvins that were very influential in the scene but never quite broke on a national level in the way that the Big Four did. The book was named one of the Top Ten Nonfiction Books of 2011 by no less an authority than Time Magazine, and is full of so many entertaining stories and thrilling anecdotes that we have read it cover-to-cover TWICE. You should do the same!
We recently sat down with ELOT author Mark Yarm over a cocktail or two in Brooklyn and talked about many subjects relating to the book, everything ranging from what it’s like to receive manic phone calls from Courtney Love, to Seattle’s well-documented infatuation with heroin, to the “missed opportunity” that was Cameron Crowe‘s Pearl Jam Twenty.
VH1: One of the things that everyone, including myself, finds so impressive about this book is the comprehensiveness. You talked to virtually every major player in the Seattle scene. How did you go about convincing people that you were the person who could tackle this story?
Mark Yarm: The general rule of thumb was that the further away from the white hot epicenter of the grunge explosion of the early nineties, the easier it was. I had the Blender piece that this emerged from, which was an oral history of Sub-Pop on the occasion of their 20th anniversary in 2008. I had already spoken to a lot of the players, and that was a good calling card for me. Some people didn’t talk to me, most notably Pearl Jam since they had their own book coming out. They’re usually not the most accessible guys, anyway. I had spoken to Jeff [Ament] and Stone [Gossard] for the Blender piece, and I also talked to Matt Cameron through the Soundgarden people. I spoke to all their previous drummers, who, if you’ve seen the Cameron Crowe documentary [PJ20], they didn’t bother talking to those guys. They just kind of gloss over them in a funny interstitial.
Chris Cornell is one of the figures in the book that gets some crap because he was always ripping his shirt off. A lot of people, including people in his own band, didn’t like that he presented himself in that way. What was your sense of him, and did he ever tell you why he chose to be the shirtless guy?
There was a Mudhoney song, the song that this book gets its title after, called “Overblown.” It takes kind of a veiled jab at him (“And you’re up there, shirtless and flexin’ / Display of a macho freak”). I asked him about that song, and it didn’t really bother him. If you’re gonna be The Shirtless Guy, you gotta own it, I guess?
I don’t know, I’ve never been The Shirtless Guy!
Me neither! Not since infancy. But yeah, it was a small bone of contention because it was so ostentatious, and this was a scene that in many ways —not all ways, but in many ways— rejected that as “rock star behavior.”