It was two years or so after my mother, two brothers, and I moved to this fine country of green grassed suburbs, big food, grand billboards and all the other curious mysteries we only heard of in the land of Israel. Israel in the 1980’s and early 1990’s was still a backwater country where culture was lacking, or ten years behind. We started watching shows like Dallas way after the world found out who shot JR, who ever he is?!? However, as back-country as we were we still had an advantage over our Israeli peers, and that was our American cultural DNA. Having been born to American parents, and a father who was a touring musician, gave us a limitless taste for music, especially American, and to a lesser extent English music. Unfortunately this meant that our love for Israeli music is close to non-existent except for a song or two that rang loud during our childhoods in Tel-Aviv. This changed during the heaviest period for my parents which was the first Gulf War, which became the backdrop to their bitter break-up and later divorce. However, the move opened my eyes to the full access of music, films, and all other cultural curiosities. Instead of being the boy outside, I infiltrated the secret. This secret was American music.
The first sounds that crept up in my bones were the heavy buzz guitars of Guns N Roses, Metallica, Green Day, and of course the band that caught my ear, and my older brother’s who copped their single from a nice Dutch lady in Israel. Nirvana’s music spoke volumes to me even though my American angst had to grow from inside as opposed to growing up with it in the United States. But this was it. This was my future, and like Paul McCartney feared before he took his first hit of LSD I would forever be changed.
We moved to the United States 22 years ago, but 20 years ago is when I really began to notice the music wafting like plumes of smoke, no pun intended, out of my brother’s room. The early part of 1994 saw the release of many classic albums, as well as debuts and re-issues that expanded my musical pallet. One of the first albums, actually in the form of an EP, that caught me was Alice in Chains’ Jar of Flies. What struck me the most was the beauty of the song “Stay Away,” which has an interesting video to match. It’s a beautiful tune, yet the video shows this brooding nemesis of a kid who unleashes the fury causing many of the innocent looking circus performers to folly and be killed. Of course th best part is that he unleashes the fury by unscrewing the top of…..a jar of flies.
Another great album that shook me to the core, due to its bombastic delivery of Punk, was Green Day’s Dookie. Although not their first, as the corrupt hands of the Rock and Roll Hall of Shame pointed out by including them in this year’s roster? Really? It was 1994 where they literally blew up because the album was a thrust of white lightning akin to the likes of the Clash. Billy Joe Armstrong was channeling the bite of the Ramones with the satire of the Clash and the delivery of the Damned. This was all compacted together by his, and the band’s, roots in the west coast punk scene, which was afar cry from the east coast version that travels at the speed of light. Of course anyone who was my age in 1994, the ripe ol’ age of 13, remembers that the first single for the album, as well as their first video, was for their song “Longview.”
It so simple as it begins with a slow drum pace with the bass hitting a few chords to compliment the beat. It then rises into the upper levels of noise as Billy sings about the boring monotony of life. I identified with this so well living in the white trash suburbs of New Haven, in the lovely state of Connecticut. He says it all in the chorus pleading for someone or something to take him away, as he beats himself into complicity. It’s all about that lack of contact felt in the dawn of alienation that we call Generation X. The nail hits its head into the coffin when Billy sings that his mon told him to get a job, but she hates the one she has. He then tragically laments that masturbation’s lost its fun and I’m………..
On March 8th in 1994 two very strong and very different albums emerged that blew my mind away, Nine Inch Nail’s The Downward Spiral and GangStarr’s Hard to Earn. Each was a menace of a powerhouse in its own way. They can be seen as opposite sides of the same coin as both the groups, one headed by Trent Rezner, and the other by Guru (Although DJ Premier played a pivotal role). One shows you the underbelly of society through the use of industrial sounds and crashing landscapes of sound.
The other is vividly similar by portraying the underbelly of life on the streets corners, tenement buildings in the projects, dingy subway underground, parks with the odd characters, and shoot outs in East New York, also known as Brooklyn, AKA The Planet.
Although the backgrounds, origins, and treading grounds of these artists were very different, they both existed on the same plain. They existed on the plain where my ear, as well as my brothers and friend’s ears, could create a connective tissue. They both spoke of desolation and a longing for upliftment from their current situation. Whether is was physical, as for GangStarr, or metaphysical, as for NIN, they both spoke the same words of poetry to me and my jilted generation.
There were many more ventures into the musical realm that year that caught my ear, and eyes thanks to MTV still playing mostly music at that point. I can never forget, as most lads my age, the first CD I ever bought. It was Soungarden’s amazing Superunknown. All I remember is asking my mother to pick it up for me, and as she handed it to me all I could do was gaze at the cover.
It was a bizarre mystery. Was that the lead singer Chris Cornell belting out another ghastly scream of beauty, as he’s known for. He seems to hover menacingly over an upside down dark forest. This was some heavy image to some very heavy music. Of course all you youngens who are 32 remember the first single and video for the album, which I still see rummaging through my head to this day.
“Black Hole Sun” could be the anthem of our generation. This is the call of generation X where the darkness is all around us, but we remain to revel as we become apathetic to our surroundings. The video makes it darker as these contorted faces go from smile to dread as the black hole sun sucks their fraudulent asses back to Eisenhower’s America. This is rebellion without the protest, writ large and remains in our hearts and minds. Although this was what the media labeled “Grunge” music it was universally loved. I remember hearing an interview with the Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man and he said that he loves this song so much he bumps it rolling through the 16 – ooooo.
It’s funny because I don;t necessarily recall all the albums, but what I most vividly remember are the videos. MTV did a great job in feeding me a consistency of music, and by 1994 it was a whole mixture which was usually a mixture of the newest rap videos along with the grunge bands, and everyone in between. I can’t forget the first time I saw the Offspring’s video for “Separated,” and I liked that it had a MIddle Eastern flavor with the guitar riffs.
Now that’s energy. Although I should give props to their second video for “Self Esteem,” but this is where it was at. Another great video was from an angry fellow who I never knew of before. I never heard of the punk band Black Flag yet, and all I saw was this ranting, angry guy screaming at me. I wonder if I should trust him?
“Liar” is a great song, and a great piece of poetry as well. It penetrates because he says all the right things that effective liars have said since the dawn of time.
In a past blog post I spoke of some of the now classic rap albums that dropped in 1994. I can wax poetic about Illmatic all day,
But that’s in the past…blog. There were plenty of videos I encountered by groups I had heard of, but never fully formed the interest to pursue any further. That is until I immersed myself in their catalogs while eating up all that they had to offer. Blur, headed by the masterful Damon Albern are one with the release of their album Parklife.
Sonic Youth is another band that took me a while to embrace. However, I remember their video from their 1994 album, which is not one of their best on a whole, Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star.
Unfortunately the g-ds of you tube don’t have the video for the song “Bull in the Heather,” but this 1994 rendition on the David Letterman Show gives it the true Sonic Youth treatment.
There were plenty more hits and videos to go, and I just spanned from January to the beginning of May, so stay tuned for more recaps of the olden days where we went to school, hated being in school, skipped class, walked to the downtown area, and lounged around like the lost youth that we tried to be.
Vive le 1994