"It bugged me a lot. 'Do you have to take off the shirt? Do you have to break a mic stand every show?' It was one of those things that kind of made me quit eventually, to tell you the truth. 'Could you not take off your shirt tonight?' He wouldn't even answer." --Hiro Yamamoto, Soundgarden's original bassist, on Chris Cornell
It would be totally disingenuous of us to say that we were there, as far as "grunge"* goes; by the time we were old enough to start going to shows, Kurt Cobain was already dead and Soundgarden was playing sold-out arenas. But, as assiduous readers of the Rejectionist well know (and bless you, dear creatures, for your seemingly endless willingness to tolerate our ramblings) we have a special affection for that particular era and the bands that came out of it, and we came up at all-ages shows in Seattle and its environs, and even long after the machine of industry had descended on Seattle and stripped it of everything that looked remotely capable of generating revenue, Seattle was a pretty magical place to be a teenager. (It is never really magical to be a teenager, except in hindsight, and we spent quite a lot of our adolescence wishing we had been born in the seventies, thanks to Dazed and Confused; but if you have to be a teenager, mid-nineties Seattle was a pretty good place to do it.) Even now, bits of that era show up in our life with more regularity than they might in other people's lives; we meet people who went to elementary school with Andrew Wood, or played cello on tour with Nirvana, things like that--who knows, maybe that happens to everyone.
We finished all five hundred and forty-two pages of this book in two days, abandoning all responsibility (this, friends, is why we do not have children; had there been any children about us, we would have locked these unfortunate creatures in the bathroom, so as to not be distracted) and staying up until two in the morning, reading whole chunks of it out loud to poor long-suffering Support Team. This book is magical: hilarious and gossipy and, of course, deeply sad, and nearly everybody who was there is in it, and they all have quite a lot to say about one another. Unlike his peers (WE ARE LOOKING AT YOU, AZERRAD), Mark Yarm (no relation to Mudhoney's Mark Arm) has managed to figure out that there were ladies living in Seattle at that time, and SOME OF THEM EVEN PLAYED MUSIC, CAN YOU IMAGINE, and some of them (well, one of them, Susan Silver) made people's careers. If you have any interest at all in "grunge," this book is a smorgasbord of delights, and if you grew up, as we did, imagining how exciting your life was going to be when you were as cool as Selene Vigil, this book is, like, essential to your continued wellbeing.
To be clear, it is important to recognize that there were a lot of really, really shitty things about the nineties--by which we do not mean fashions; google "Jesse Helms," for example, or "the time Bill Clinton passed the most repressive welfare legislation since the New Deal, totally ignored two preventable genocides, and went to war without actually admitting to it"--like that sort of thing, and maybe we will have more to say about that later when we can be coherent about it. Or maybe you have coherent thoughts about it now. Those are important things to think about, before tumbling into the trap of lamenting better days. But we will humbly advance the thesis that there was something particularly extraordinary about that place and time and the people who were making music then, and ELOT does a very fine job of capturing it. And you know, the Candlebox (oh Candlebox! We hardly knew ye, thank god) chapters are worth the price of admission alone.
If you read ELOT you must promise us you will watch the Gits documentary, which does an amazing job of making clear what an extraordinary person Mia Zapata was (a word of warning--that movie will fucking DESTROY you, even if you know the ending), and you must promise as well to watch Hype!, which is wonderfully funny and sweet and sad. We were also a little cross with Mr. Yarm at his omission of Carrie Akre; look her up too, why don't you.
SPECIAL BONUS PHOTO: Here is your friend the Rejectionist, leaning on the studio where Bleach was recorded.
*"Grunge" is a loaded word, particularly to the people who had it applied to them; we are using it, as Mark Yarm does, in a humorous sort of way, and it is easier to say than "every band that played in Seattle and the surrounding area from ~1985 to ~1997 regardless of what their music sounded like." Imagine the Rejectionist making air quotes every time you read it.