[Hype Hype Hooray] My Winter of Discontent or Why I Finally Get Grunge

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Hype Hype Hooray is a biweekly “critique” of the music scene and the blogosphere that feeds it, told through the lens of Jamie Hale, a journalist who likes music about as much as he likes scotch and a firm leather chair. Please enjoy with a grain of salt.

Not long ago, I drove into Portland, Oregon–my car full of every precious thing I own, my heart full of hope for this Pacific Northwest wonderland. The sun shone brightly that day, a near cloudless winter sky greeting me to a new land and a new life. Then everything changed.

I now sit here in a chilly house in northwest Portland, wrapped in blankets, my red fingers numbly typing away at my laptop. I glance out the window, wet with freshly fallen rain, and I sigh. Why does it have to be this way? What happened to the sun?

I think I’m developing a vitamin D deficiency. I need to stock up on cod liver oil.

I scroll through my iPod, looking for something to fit the mood. Phoenix did it for me when I lived in vibrant D.C., and Toro Y Moi worked for the mystical deserts of New Mexico. When I hiked the hills of Idaho I dug Avi Buffalo, while Deer Tick took me through the farmlands of Iowa.

What do I listen to here? What fits this gloomy world?

I scroll by Arcade Fire, which doesn’t feel right, and past Radiohead, which seems too pathetic. Finally I happen upon a band I haven’t listened to in a while, Soundgarden. I press play, and oh does it sound so nice.

*                    *                    *

I’m not talking about their recent record, Animal Queen, or whatever nonsense title they picked. I’m talking about the good ol’ days: Badmotorfinger, Superunknown, Down on the Upside. I turn on “Rusty Cage,” “My Wave,” “Pretty Noose,” even “Spoonman,” and I tune out and delve into a downtrodden, angst-filled world.

The crunching guitars and slow, melancholy melodies dig into my painful, sunless life like nothing else can. The lyrics invoke imagery of rust and darkness, of pain and suffering. I mean, “Black Hole Sun” is pretty transparent.

I used to listen to grunge in my brooding, teenage days in Pennsylvania, but it never really connected in the way it should–I always felt like a tourist in a faraway world. When I closed my eyes and sunk into Screaming Trees’ “Nearly Lost You,” it felt like ointment on my emotional wounds, but something wasn’t right. Everybody was upbeat. Outside the sun shined brightly.

How could I sit on the lush green grass beneath a big blue sky, on a warm, beautiful day and connect with “Rape Me?”

Now, more than a decade older, I find myself in the region where this music came from–the same grey, moss-covered land. In the winter of 1996, Soundgarden recorded Down on the Upside at a Seattle studio, and the results shouldn’t be surprising. Have you listened to “Pretty Noose?” Have you heard the sad, angry pain? THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE SUN GOES AWAY.

When the robots inevitably take over the world on December 21, 2412 (we built the robots to have a decent sense of humor), and they destroy all human life with nuclear bombs that cast the planet in a dark, nuclear winter, the surviving humans that live in the old subway systems, when they want to make beautiful music to express their tortured souls, will create a new wave of grunge. What else could come from those poor, sunless people?

Vitamin deficiencies aside, the sun provides a feeling of warmth and happiness, one that many people feel, say, during a joyful holiday season. In the northwest, people only have morose holidays. Instead of exchanging gifts they exchange somber looks. The only click, click, click on the rooftop is the endless stream of rain. Families feast in silence.

At the risk of making stupid claims about genres of music that were overplayed, overhyped and are generally considered “sooo two decades ago,” I feel like I can finally connect to grunge. It commiserates with my sadness and amplifies my anger.

Of the grunge musicians, people very well might have asked, “what are these guys so mad about?” Well let me tell you something, PEOPLE: I’ve seen the dismal winter skies, filled with unforgiving grey clouds, constantly dripping rain like a leaky faucet that just won’t stop, bloop-bloop-blooping all night long, like Chinese water torture, driving you mad, driving you sad, driving you off a cliff into the dark canyon of insanity!

You talk about doomsday today, but I brush it off! I’ve seen the apocalypse my friends, and it is winter in the Pacific Northwest!

Enjoy your white Christmas, rest of the country. Enjoy your blue skies and shining sun, spreading warmth and joy over your peaceful lives. I’ll be here in Portland, huddled in blankets, sipping cocoa spiked with cod liver oil and listening to grunge–sweet, beautiful grunge.

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