In a recent interview with Team Rock Radio, Zombie attributed the success of grunge rockers such as Nirvana with the rise of Frat/Rap rock leading to the decline of alternative culture in the states.
Quoted as saying…
“When the grunge rock thing hit with Nirvana and all that, everybody thought it was cool to be anti-rock star. They sort of anti-rock starred themselves right out the door – because the rap guys came in and said, ‘Fuck it. We’ll be the rock stars if you guys are going to wear flannel shirts and stare at your feet.’
“US rock music has never recovered from that. A whole generation of kids thought, ‘Rock music is boring. Let’s go listen to rap music.’
But how accurate is Zombies appraisal of the situation? Sure, the grunge rock phenomenon did eschew, at least on the surface, the traditions of rock stardom – but can the likes of Cobain, Bjelland and Vedder really be held responsible for the current condition of alternative music culture?!
The answer, is a complicated, yes and no. While the idea of the anti-rockstar (supposedly) pioneered by 90’s Grunge is tantalizing, it really doesn’t exist. The idea of refusing the hallmarks of rock was to reinvent the image and remove the stigma of the greedy and bloated hair metal performer that had dominated the 80’s alternative. However, if we isolate the characteristics of the aforementioned performers, we find a striking similarity between them and the icons of Grunge. Uninhibited drug usage, extended guitar solos – at least during live performances, defined commercial aesthetic (all be it, unintentionally), these were all shared attributes of the two camps.
In ‘Everybody Loves Our Town’, members of Soundgarden refer to instances of playing extended and ridiculous guitar solos whilst on stage and indulging in various narcotics. Certainly, the exploits of Cobain et al. are legendary in terms of consumption and whilst there are any number of sonic differences between, for instance, Motley Crue and Nirvana, there are also clear links between their decadent behaviours.
Grunge was a natural progression. Rob Zombies recent comments fail to recognise the perpetual ebb and flow of alternative musical subcultures. With every decade, there are two opposing forces (or more) playing out a struggle for balance of supremacy not only in terms of visibility but also, of credibility on the subcultural stage.
Hair metal and glam had sustained a pompous and self-indulgent stranglehold over the airwaves alienating many younger aspiring rock fans who found nothing to identify with in their slew of sex addled, money driven recorded rhymes. This in itself was a retaliation to the availablism of Punk Rock in the late 70’s, a need of the musicians to distance themselves from complex political narratives so as to be able to enjoy the less logical and more hedonistic aspects of the ensuing 80’s. Not forgetting of course, that Punk was a reaction to the bloated exploits of hippie psychedelia – don’t say you haven’t heard of the organ solos popular amongst fans of YES.
The circle is never ending. Grunge reacts to Hair Metal, Rap Rock reacts to Grunge. Shock Rock reacts to Rap Rock and Emo reacts to Shock Rock – Oh, and then we had indie and nu-rave. The problem with Americas rock scene isn’t that grunge took the theatrics out of rock n’ roll, thereby removing the swagger and awesome lure of the alternative. It’s that there hasn’t been a logical and explosive draw to inspire new fans of the culture in quite some time.
Zombie also assumes that the rock scene is generally better in the UK, saying that denies that there are less and less alternative events thriving the further south you move in the UK and also neglects to accept that so many rock nights on the scene now, have caved to the sweep of ironic pop that has consumed so many excellent events. It is now commonplace to hear Nirvana alongside the Backstreet Boys. Zombie also, asserts that there are no metal festivals in the US who could play host to or support the alternative – forgetting that in June alone there are four larger scale events on offer – Rock on the Range being the largest will be hosting G ‘n’ R as well as Avenged Sevenfold and Slayer. Smaller scale performances will also be held in Maryland, for instance – DeathFest where My Dying Bride will be headlining.
It certainly can be remarked that the alternative scene has been dwindling in numbers for quite some time despite the creation of new festivals to the circuit, Alt. Fest for instance. or Resistanz. Maybe the absence of festivals or events that could host Rob Zombie is directly related to the amount of effort he is putting in to stay relevant. After all, it’s not as though he is making tremendous waves in the field of industrial shlock.
The rise of Rap-Rock and the mainstreaming of alternative culture (which we should all be used to by now – it only takes a couple of months) are nothing new. The internet explosion has also lead to a larger exposure of smaller bands on a much grander scale, the flipside of which is that less people are coming into clubs in an effort to find new music. The rising tide of Hipster culture and the pretentious elitism that has reigned in clubland for years have all also lead and payed into the decline of attendees.
The political and cultural messages of contemporary rock acts are also intrinsic to their popularity. It is certainly worth noting that so much of the grandstanding rap rock contingent, Limp Bizkit, for instance, spoke only for the concerns of a piggish, consumerist and privileged point of view. Groundbreaking voices from segregated communities were pushed to the back of the bus and were marginalised on a broad and public scale.
It is easy for someone in Zombie’s position to lay the gauntlet at Grunge’s door and blame those associated for a lack of bookings but maybe, if he was willing to look a little deeper and champion the voices of the underground there would be greater activity or further options for performance and diversity as a result.
By relegating the experiences of the other from what is ostensibly, the arena of ‘otherness’, as the alternative subculture is supposed to be, we are effectively cutting off the scenes lifes-blood.