Bombay Showcase

Forever grunge

For the world at large, the December 3 death of popular rock vocalist Scott Weiland was yet another loss caused by drug addiction. Naturally, many added the frontman of grunge band Stone Temple Pilots to the list of extremely talented musicians wasted through substance abuse: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse being some.

The hardcore followers, however, spun back in time and remembered the first half of the 1990s when grunge was in vogue. For them, it was the music that mattered, and not his personal life or habits. After all, Weiland had become a rage with the Pilots songs ‘Plush’, ‘Sex Type Thing’, ‘Vasoline’, ‘Interstate Love Song’ and ‘Big Empty’. Much later, when he joined Velvet Revolver with guitarist Slash, he had charmed with the hits ‘Slither’ and ‘She Builds Quick Machines’. He rocked on stage too.

A sub-genre of alternative rock, grunge was mainly popularised by five bands: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots. Most grunge outfits came from Seattle, but the Pilots were from California. In fact, they were initially dismissed as Pearl Jam clones, with many accusing Weiland of copying Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder. Grunge had been around for a while when the Pilots flew in. It had replaced glam-rock of the late 1980s. Seattle’s independent label Sub Pop was the first to promote the genre, but it was only after Soundgarden signed up with the larger A&M Records that the style got mainstream attention. Most bands were influenced by rock star Neil Young, who was named the ‘Godfather of Grunge’.

The songs that defined grunge included Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and ‘Lithium’, Pearl Jam’s ‘Alive’ and ‘Jeremy’, Soundgarden’s ‘Rusty Cage’ and Stone Temple Pilots’ ‘Plush’. The sound was characterised by guitars with high levels of distortion, fuzz and feedback. Solos were avoided, and lyrics would be dark and angst-ridden. Vocals would have distinct styles too, and singers Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Layne Staley of Alice in Chains and Weiland of Pilots had thousands of followers. Cobain’s 1994 suicide and tales of heroin addiction had made him a cult figure.

In India too, grunge and post-grunge (groups like Bush, Live and Candlebox) had a sizeable following, especially among Channel V and MTV audiences. At live shows, Mumbai band Pentagram would play Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ to sing-along response, and singer Gary Lawyer got a great reaction for Pearl Jam’s ‘Alive’. Guitarist Sarosh Izedyar says the best grunge cover by an Indian band was Agni’s version of Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’.

Though more people preferred classic rock or thrash metal, many local bands played grunge. As musician Shawn Pereira explains: “People loved and will always love grunge because everyone could sing the songs. It was easy to hold pitch and bands could cover those songs. One didn’t have to be a great singer to just sing along with the band.”

Though grunge had gone out of fashion by the late 1990s, it continued to influence younger rock musicians, with Pearl Jam and Pilots releasing later albums.

Following Weiland’s death, there seems to be a sudden resurgence of interest among international media and fans. It may be temporary, but if anyone puts up a live grunge tribute at one of the Mumbai nightspots, it will surely be nostalgic.

(The writer is a freelance music writer)

For fans, its Scott Weiland’s music that matters, not his personal life or habits

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 1:07:45 AM |

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