Monday, April 29, 2013

Grunge Part IV: Alice in Chains, Dirt

I was at a semi-fancy restaurant last summer. This was before I moved for my new job, so we had a babysitter; I haven't been out to dinner with my wife since then, so that dinner is even better in my memory than it was the night we ate it. Small plates filled with raw tuna, lemongrass spring rolls, and gourmet french fries (we almost skipped those, but they ended up being the perfect dessert). No kids, a glass of wine, and '90s grunge playing softly in the background.

Wait a second. What was that last thing? Almost imperceptible to any normal person, above the din of other adult conversations, I caught the distinct drum pattern of classic '90s alternative. My wife didn't even notice there was music playing, let alone discern a particular song. But I know my '90s alt-rock. There are some albums (like Pearl Jam's Ten and Nirvana's Nevermind) from that time period that I have memorized start to finish. Other songs are so familiar to me that even though I haven't heard them since they debuted in the mid-'90s I can still remember all the words. So yeah, it was a strange choice, this ritzy place that was voted "Best Place to Order a Drink," playing grunge. But a choice I completely agreed with.

As I've discussed, there is a whole mess of grunge music I am ignorant of, but I know more than the average person in my age group. Back at my old job I used to hang out in the office of two friends with whom I would swap music recommendations. This eventually evolved into "who can name that song the fastest?" Rules were drafted, other coworkers invited, a leaderboard posted, and countless lunch hours wasted. I was late getting home more than once because I was talked into "just one more round." It was during these heated battles that I earned the nickname "Rainman." I can't help that I can recognize Radiohead's "Just" after one downstroke, or Alice in Chain's "Rooster" after one reverbed note, and other songs just by the feedback in the intro.

'90s Grunge and Alternative category was never in doubt. I was also the leader on Oldies, Old School Hip Hop, Rock, Classic Rock, Indie Rock, '80s, Pop, 2000's, and "random" on multiple coworkers' iPods. I did not, however, take first in Lite Pop, Best of 2010, Southern Rock, Country, or '70s.

I think that Tom Moon nailed it, though, when he says on the back of his book, "The more you love music, the more music you love." Now I can't claim I know every album from the grunge era: in fact, the album "Rooster" is on, Dirt, is one that I didn't hear in full until I read Moon's book. And that's a shame, because this album should have been on heavy rotation in my teenage years.

Artist: Alice in Chains
Album: Dirt
Recording #120ish

I first heard Alice in Chains in the car with my mom. Somehow I convinced her to let me put the radio on my favorite channel, and she put up with it for a few songs. In fact, I remember she said she actually liked Alice in Chains when it came on. The harmonies elicited the praise: "Now this is actually kind of musical sounding." I remember thinking the same thing, confusedly. Grunge can have harmonies? When did that start? To be fair, most of Dirt lives up to the name: this is heavy and grimy. As Moon says, "Pure Junkie Menace." But mixed in with the feedback and wallowing are the best vocals of the '90s. The dual vocal attack of Jerry Cantrell and the late Layne Staley is stunning.

If I had gotten into Alice in Chains instead of Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam and Nirvana I might have gone down a much different path in my musical tastes. Although all of those bands can be heavy at times, Alice in Chains is much closer to heavy metal than the others. This album, had I heard it back in my teenage years, could easily have been my favorite, giving me a taste for heavier music instead of the more prog rock/art rock direction I ended up heading in. In either case, though I came to this album later in life, I can absolute appreciate it and, honestly, rank it among my favorites. And it's not too late for me to be an Alice in Chains fan: the surviving members reunited in 2005 and their new album, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, is due out in just over a month. If you haven't heard the new single, check it out (the video is pretty awesome, too). It certainly sounds like old school Alice in Chains even if Staley is, sadly, gone. Oh, and if you know of a good music trivia league, let me know: unfortunately, my new coworkers haven't shown the interest that my previous ones did.

Read Moon's entry here.

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