The first genre that really hit me on a metaphysical level was grunge. Technically, I am a child of the 90s, although the majority of my upbringing occurred in the 2000s. As a child, I was a huge fan of WWF and WCW (which now is known as the WWE). In fact, becoming a wrestler was my first ever desired profession, before I was even old enough to read or write, nevertheless put someone in a submission hold. During that time, it was very common for wrestlers to enter the ring with this grungy, sludgy intro. The NWO, an obvious play on NWA, composed of Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Hulk Hogan served as the primary villains, the gang who wanted to “take over” the WCW. Their entrance song is one of the most iconic and memorable songs in wrestling history, and clearly took its inspiration from the grunge movement. In some unconscious sense, I associated this sound with my childhood. When I hear their theme song I am transported back to a time when I would sit by the TV every Friday night and wait for my favorite wrestler to come on.
Alice in Chains was the first grunge band that I fell in love with, after a friend gave me a recommendation to listen to Jar of Flies EP. A small caveat; grunge can be a problematic music category, because if you really listen to the four major grunge bands, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam, they all sound drastically different. The first usage of the term “grunge” actually came from Mark Arm, lead singer of Mudhoney, where he wrote in as a critic, lambasting his own music as “Pure grunge, pure shit, pure noise!” Music critics picked up this term and quickly began to use it as a genre classification. When you look at Nirvana, who was clearly influenced heavily by punk, compared to Alice, who was more heavy metal inspired, the only commonality between these four bands is that they came out of the Seattle music scene around the same time. From a lyrical and thematic standpoint, what grunge bands do have in common is a sense of self-deprecation, angst, and alienation. Putting grunge in context with its predecessors, grunge served as a foil to the flashy, sometimes overproduced image and sound of 80s music. Don’t get me wrong. I love 80s music and there is a plethora of prolific bands that came out of the decade that still have influence over the industry even today. But there was something very artificial about the flamboyant quality of the 80s. Take hair bands, for example. Their image was clearly meticulously thought out and crafted. As opposed to Kurt Cobain who rolled up on stage in an old flannel and a ripped pair of jeans. The 80s, which was all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, the glamour of fame. As opposed to the 90s, in which debilitating drug addiction and crippling depression was candidly discussed.
After my obsession with Alice in Chains exploded, I started listening to Soundgarden and fell in love with Chris Cornell’s voice. Cornell’s voice is a powerhouse of emotion. Whatever he’s singing, you can feel the emotion radiating through your body. In my opinion, even to this day, he is one of the best rock singers of all time, from range, to power, to consistency, to emotion. Not to mention his hair, the curly tresses of a god. One of the songs that resonated with me was Rusty Cage, off their album Badmotorfinger. The song starts off with this call and response guitar riff that erupts once the entire band kicks in. Cornell sings, very convincingly, about being at his breaking point and being on the verge of exploding.
You wired me awake
And hit me with a hand of broken nails
You tied my lead and pulled my chain
To watch my blood begin to boil
But I’m gonna break
I’m gonna break my
I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run
As an isolated teenager growing up in an extremely restrictive, sometimes abusive household, I harbored a lot of anger. I lived my life on the breaking point. I was always on the edge of losing my sanity. I felt like I was trapped in a cage and I was dying to get out. It seems like grunge music really appealed to people like me, the outsiders, the loners, the losers, the ones who are misunderstood.
Grunge singers tend to be cursed to a tragic fate. With the loss of Kurt Cobain, Layne, Staley, Scott Weiland, and most recently Chris Cornell, grunge fans never get a relief from their sadness. Cornell’s suicide really affected me. Outwardly, he seemed like a man who had it all. He had a fulfilling career that spanned decades and a beautiful wife and daughter standing in his corner. However, appearances are deceiving and we never truly know what’s actually going on in someone’s life. I can’t help but think back to Rusty Cage, feeling like you’re at your breaking point and that you have to do something, ANYTHING, to escape. It deeply saddens me losing such an amazing figure in musical history, as he is one of my biggest vocal influences. At the end of the day, we are all humans and we are all susceptible to dark, consuming thoughts. No one, regardless of their social status or notoriety, is immune. It’s important to reach out when we need help, and to also be a helping hand for those who need help. And while Chris left us too soon, his legacy lives on forever.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal or self-harming thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255.
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