“I can't move!”
Grunge is one of the more fortunate offspring genres to come out of heavy metal, based in Seattle, Washington and named after a board game similar to Jumanji (that one with the animals). The original board game was meant to release a new fantastic sound of music when activated; however, something went seriously wrong along the way and a lot of smelly people from Seattle came out instead. Confused as to why they were there and what had just happened, these smelly people began to pass the time by applying their close-caveman minds into trying to do covers of Black Sabbath they heard on the radio. Realizing that it was nearly the 1990s, and that 9 is 6 upside down, the Seattlites wanted this new decade to be the opposite of those carefree hippie days, and to counter the '60s trend of "acid rock" they invented "heroin metal". Unfortunately, they had no sense of music or rhythm and all their instruments were broken and sludgy.
These scroungy, dirty men demanded their music be played on the radio! This was achieved by simply scaring the record companies into giving them a contract through threatening to release large quantities of heroin into the unsuspecting public, and worse yet during the aftermath of the 1980s cocaine rush. What the record companies didn't realize was that the junkies of grunge weren't ever going to give their damn heroin away for free, and so the big-wigs gave in. Now that their music was going to be played all they needed was some visuals; album art and music videos that look like the result of taking acid while already on a heroin high. As a result of their love of spinning wheels, disfigured dogs, and high-fiving in front of big words, this was all achieved in good time.
But as it turns out, a lot of people seemed to buy what ever the hell was being released and it became popular, hailed as the flagship genre of Generation X. A Pixies cover band known simply as Nirvana were considered close enough to Seattle, and led the grunge movement despite the fact that their music wasn't near as depressing or even grungy enough. Nirvana themselves are not to blame for this — in fact, lead singer Kurt Cobain was so reluctant of this label he ended up killing himself to rid his association with grunge, but God only knows this didn't work.
The original grunge band was a group of fancy Seattle kids and an Indian called Soundgarden, in 1984. The musicians at Soundgarden were convinced that the slow, chunky Black Sabbath blues metal sound wasn't weird enough for them, so they fused it with odd progressive influences including off-time riffs and alternative tunings, and topped it off with Cornell's irritating ear-piercing wailing over it. This didn't emerge out of an active attempt to create interesting music however; Soundgarden simply had no idea how to play in time, tune their guitars or even sing. The band spawned their hit first album, Louder Than the Speed of Love, with the title track being a hit single in the Seattle area — unfortunately, it was the 1980s, and alternative music wasn't popular outside of this isolated region.
Meanwhile, a musician called Layne Staley was the vocalist of a local glam rock band, simply named Sleze. After attending a concert and hearing Soundgarden's heavy metal legendary, Staley came to the realization that his bandmates were talentless fruitcakes and that glam music actually sucks. He joined his close friend Jerry Cantrell and, although unaware at the time, formed the greatest heavy metal band to have walked the earth: Alice in Chains. Originally formed as "Alice in cheap flannel clothes sitting in a street corner begging for pennies to feed her addiction", Alice in Chains began as a Guns 'n' Roses-type band, but slightly less terrible. Alice then distinguished themselves from the other grunge bands by removing the punk influence, as the band members preferred music over punk rock. Their odd fusion of metal, country and blues so defined grunge that previous grunge bands apologized for having ripped off Alice before they were even formed.
Alice in Chains, fueled by their desire to both warn the post-eighties world of the horrors of drugs and kill glam rock, were by far much heavier than Soundgarden. A nearby band called Pearl Jam, formed by surviving members of the recently defunct Mother Love Bone and fronted by a Scott Weiland impersonator called Eddie Vedder, knew this was no easy feat, and so decided not to even attempt at out-weighing the band. Pearl Jam instead used their sludgy guitars to sing light-hearted poppy ballads about murdering prostitutes, homeless people and incest. After a Seattle punk group called Nirvana, fronted by Kurt Cobain, brought the grunge city of Seattle to the attention of outsiders, it was Pearl Jam's accessible music that brought grunge to mainstream popularity, as the pop radios playing their music completely missed the vulgar, depressing lyrics most of their songs carried.
All this success led to a 1980s funk band then called Mighty Joe Young to switch to grunge music and try and rise to fame, but only after changing their name to Shirley Temple's Pussy to display how metal they now were. Of course, such a name was considered too obscene for a hardcore metal band. They changed their name to Stone Temple Pilots and after writing hardcore songs about sex offense, domestic abuse, and going insane, the rest is history. Unfortunately for history, they decided to ditch the heavy metal part of their music and just became a light-hearted pop-rock band after that.
The Seattle Sound
Grunge is typically described by music teachers as a cross between heavy metal and punk rock. Grunge songs are often
out-of-time written in unconventional time signatures, out-of-tune use alternate guitar tunings, devoid of melody use abrasive vocal techniques, and lack any musical skill favor emotion over complexity. The genre shares with metal a heavy and sludgy sound, dissonant harmonies, complex instrumentation, blues-esque solos, evil vocals and lyrics about doom and gloom, and the genre shares with punk absolutely nothing.
The grunge sound — the source of the genre name — is achieved by playing a really sludgy sound on your guitar. Due to the homeless nature of grunge artists, many of them only have one finger on their fretting hand, resulting in more simplistic songs than the contemporary thrash metal scene. The bass guitar is thus a popular choice of instrument for grungers. Popular grunge guitarist Jerry Cantrell (pictured above) of Alice in Chains fame plugged his guitars into a special wah-pedal that was melted inside Layne Staley's heroin spoon, achieving the sludgy effect necessary for his metal-country solos, while Soundgarden hired a Seattle vicar who poured holy water over their amps, a process described on their song "Holy Water". Pearl Jam did the same but instead of holy water, covered their amps with the tears of homeless people and boys named Jeremy. Noticing these humorous song-title puns, Scott Weiland took it up to eleven and sexually assaulted the band's guitar gear, though as he forgot to ask guitarist Dean DeLeo for permission to molest the latter's gear, raised heated tensions within the band.
For vocals, grunge musicians usually like to make the most impossible-to-emulate vocal noises imaginable. Chris Cornell, for instance, usually raises his voice at a pitch that is higher than Layne Staley on a Saturday night. Eddie Vedder of Peal Jam's rich baritone vocal style is complimented by the sorrowful whining sound, and this is achieved because listening his own songs makes him cry. Going hand-in-hand with the vocals, the most important part of grunge is the lyrics. Lyrical concerns in grunge include drugs (particularly heroin, though other depressants are acceptable), depression, battling depression with drugs, homelessness and poverty, dealing with poverty using drugs, losing faith, regaining faith after doing drugs, sexual crime, committing sexual crimes while high on drugs, and other very taboo and melancholy topics. While most grunge bands sing gloomy doom metal songs about depression and drugs, Nirvana yell upbeat rock songs about rebellious teenagers and sticking it to the Man (and also, on occasion, deodorant). Eddie Vedder however is known to avoid lyrics on occasion, instead making do with unintelligible gibberish. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana also utilizes such a technique, but adds his own spin on it by removing any form of melody. Some famous grunge lyrics are:
Another important element of grunge music is dissonant harmonies. This is because grunge artists do not know how to write music and thus have no idea how to correctly write decent harmonies. Just as vital is the clean-verse-loud-chorus structure that grunge songs are known to follow. Due to musical incompetence, grunge musicians lack the important skill of subtlety, and thus have to shout and play loud to make it clear that the chorus is here.
How to become a grunger
In contrast to other rock genres, only five grunge bands exist. If you are not any of these bands, you have no hope of being a grunge group. To become a true grunger, one must first and immediately stop using the term "grunger" because it's not a word. To counter the flashy glam artists of the '80s, grunge artists believed in focusing entirely on the music and not fashion, and tried to avoid imagery by dressing in their own normal clothing, which just so happened to be cheap and scruffy. Strangely, a band is only considered grunge if they dress in this certain way: like a scruffy vagrant you would see sitting in a street corner dressed in dirty flannel jackets, ripped jeans, and long, unwashed hair with a heroin needle.
Of course, like all trends, you must completely miss the point and instead try and be as fashionable as you can. To achieve this look, facial hair is a must — beards and sideburns if you can. If you are a woman and can't grow facial hair, make up for it by growing plenty of head hair and make that head hair messy and greasy — enough to become a complete turn-off to all men. It should be noted however that there are no female grunge musicians, so ladies, don't bother. Clothes to be worn include worn jeans and flannel shirts. Wear everything second hand, including your underwear. Finally, you must have a hate for the whiny(er) emo scum that corrupt the music industry, although since this is completely irrelevant to grunge fans, no musician ever talks about this (although it is clear they do, since everyone hates emos).
If you wish to truly be admired for your grunge tastes, you must not under any circumstances name "Nirvana" if someone asks you a question along the lines of "name a grunge band". This is equivalent to saying "Michael Jackson" when asked "what is your favourite brand of toothpaste?". Nirvana are totally mainstream, and if you name this band you, like, probably can't even name any song apart from "Smells Like Teen Spirit"...poser. If you do not want grunge fans to tear you apart, you must be able to name irrelevant and unknown '80s Seattle bands, such as the Melvins, Screaming Trees, or whatever. This will show you have a diverse musical taste and it will make you look smarter, rather than naming actual talented bands like Alice in Chains or Stone Temple Pilots — bonus points if you say "Stone Temple Plagiarists", though in the event that a true grunge fan asks you to prove this, distract them by pointing and yelling "look over there! A trendy teen wearing a Nirvana shirt!" before you flee the scene.
Grunge differs from other genres of heavy metal and indeed most music in that there are very few notable bands. As a result of grunge's bias towards Seattle, few bands outside of Seattle can qualify as "grunge", while every band inside of Seattle will automatically qualify as grunge. Notable bands include, and absolutely limited to, the four grunge bands mentioned previously in this article. Punk bands like Nirvana and Mudhoney qualify as grunge due to their Seattle location and scruffy look — Kurt Cobain, who lived under a bridge in his pre-fame years, wrote the album Bleach while homeless, leading to a very grunge album, while Mudhoney guest starred on one Alice in Chains song, giving them street cred. Non-notable grunge bands include Gruntruck and Tad.
Grunge is comprised of young white men, and as a result artists like Jimi Hendrix and Ann Wilson, who were from Seattle, are excluded from grunge for being black and/or female, respectively, despite Wilson attempting to get grunge cred by starring on an Alice in Chains song as well, and the former's attempt at being grunge by abusing effects pedals and heroin. Grunge bands like STP and Paw, though not from Washington, managed to pour their blood, sweat and heroin into making grunge music, but due to their foreign roots paid the price of being labelled "Pearl Jam clones" — Eddie Vedder himself objected to this, but as nobody could understand him, his complaints went unnoticed.
Post-grunge was born in the mid-1990s following the demise of Nirvana, when a Yoshi egg dropped out of Dave Grohl's behind and landed in a nest. Mother Grohl proceeded to sit on this strange artifact until three UFOs cracked out, which Grohl promptly named the Foo Fighters. His band Foo Fighters is often labelled "post-grunge", along with other inferior copycat bands like Puddle of Mudd, Seether, Shinedown, and Nickelback — this label has nothing to do with the type of music they produce, but is entirely related to the fact that Dave Grohl was once in a band labelled "grunge".