My freshman year of high school marked the tremendous change in trends that obliterated an entire genre of music. While I was still jamming out to new bands in the dwindling arena of what has been called “hair metal,” “cock rock,” “pop metal,” and my personal favorite, “butt rock.” Newer musicians were still kicking out tunes that were long since duplicates of past Motley Crue or Poison hits. I fanatically ate up releases by Roxy Blue, Slik Toxik, Wildside, and Tyketto, as well as the more well-known bands like Skid Row, Slaughter, and Warrant. Of course, as the world was losing interest in this type of music, slowly I was discovering that fewer and fewer bands were capturing any sort of magic at all.
At times like these, anything can step in and take hold. In late 1991, this meant the powerhouse duo of Pearl Jam and Nirvana had an opportunity. They, along with multitudinous Seattle cohorts, took that ball and ran with it past the field goal and beyond Forrest Gump distances.
One of these other bands coming out of the woodwork was Soundgarden. At this time, their current release was Badmotorfinger. I had seen them on Headbanger’s Ball over the past few months (with “Outshined” and “Rusty Cage”) and thought they were mediocre. However, they then issued a re-release of the disc featuring a 5 song EP entitled Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas, and I just couldn’t resist the collector’s item-ness of it all. I caved into grunge. Oh hell, I had already caved in and gotten the big Nirvana and Pearl Jam records anyway, so the cherry was long since broken.
One person did not approve of my purchase.
See, I had this pal who was a guitar player guy. We had Speech class together, an environment that usually degenerated into the two of us discussing what CDs we had recently purchased or which bands were worthy of our adoration. His taste was more diverse than my own as his years of playing guitar gave him a little more exposure to the world than I had. He listened to everything from Anthrax to Carcass, Lillian Axe to Metallica, and was ahead of the times when it came to Soundgarden. In fact, we had discussed Soundgarden before and I had mentioned my general lack of taste for their music. He thought I was completely off my rocker and we had nearly argued over their artistic value at one point. Still, I never wavered in my judgment of the band and remained unconvinced as to their merits. So, when I brought my latest CD acquisition along to class this particular day to show off, he was less than amused.
“I thought you didn’t like Soundgarden,” he said.
“Well, I kinda like them now,” I said.
He seemed to fizzle a bit below the surface. “Oh, come on. I know you don’t like them. Why would you buy the CD if you don’t even like them?”
I felt kind of silly at the time, not sure how to respond. After all, I didn’t really like them a whole lot more than I originally did. Truth be told, to this day I still only like a small handful of songs from that album and never cared for much more than that. But I knew what he was getting at. He had liked them first. I was just a follower.
It’s a preposterous idea, but it’s one that remains everywhere in various underground music scenes. It’s like a big game of one-upmanship; I liked what is cool now back when it wasn’t cool. I’m just as, if not more than, guilty as everyone else. Yet for some reason in music circles, being “oldschool” is a badge of honor that cannot be touched. So you heard Lacuna Coil on Ozzfest and picked up Comalies and you loved it, so you went out and immediately bought Unleashed Memories and In A Reverie. This will still get a flippant eye-roll from the aged fan who reserved and special-ordered Reverie prior to release after hearing the band’s eponymous EP back in 1998. It is a double-edged sword; the band they love is now gaining an audience and might actually make some money doing what they love. But now, their status as a lover of an obscure underground band has propelled them into the evil land of popular music, something they have sworn to despise. I know I had felt that way when Jackyl took off with the stupid “Lumberjack” song. I bought the album for “I Stand Alone,” dammit.
All I really remember now is that I tried really, really hard to appreciate that Soundgarden disc. As stupid as the entire situation was, I understood that I had just tread on a fellow music fan’s territory and was not doing so with the proper intentions of relishing the band with his fervor. Badmotorfinger took quite a few spins through the CD player, but try as I may, only a handful of songs ever captured my attention and the disc quickly fell out of my favor. Today, I can look at the track list of the album and only remember those two aforementioned singles that I had seen on The Ball so many years before.
And also today, I have a collector’s vinyl of Superunknown hanging on my wall. I only like one song on that entire album, “Fell On Black Days.” And I have never cared for anything Soundgarden since.
Well over ten years later, I still feel ashamed about this entire ordeal. Perhaps it’s because I have watched people pick up albums by some of my favorite bands, only to love them for ten minutes and then toss them to the wayside. It hurts, way down in the pit of the stomach. This was my band, and you used them. I liked them first — put my heart and soul and love into them — but you came along with your passing fancy and treated them like they were nothing better than the flavor of the month.
After that fiasco, I can honestly say I have spent years discovering new music and while I wasn’t necessarily always the first person to ever hear a particular band, I have always tread carefully when it comes to the oldschool fans. I respect their passion. And while their actions and thoughts may borderline on ridiculous, I understand it. We’re talking about an art form here, not a periodic table of the elements. You don’t tell an aging punker who actually saw Sex Pistols shows that you once saw footage of them playing “Anarchy in the UK” on some VH1 special and remembered this one hottie thought they were rad so you picked up the CD but you thought Johnny Rotten’s voice was crappy so you pawned it. That’s… not cool, to say the least.
So how could I possibly go back and fix my snafu of a decade-plus past? Simple. eBay. My collector’s two-disc Soundgarden set has gone on to be owned by a real Soundgarden fan.
Gonna break my rusty cage and run,