I grew up in Seattle. I graduated from Ballard High School in 1993, right as grunge was on its way out of fashion. It was a good time to live in the Emerald City, and I have many fond memories of that chapter in my life.
Not that I miss high school all that much. But there were good times to be had in other places. Aside from holding my breath through the average school day, there were lots of all-ages shows back then, and even for a high-school kid like myself there was always something to do after school.
Like a lot of kids my age, I came to grunge from metal. I was listening to Rush in elementary school. I was listening to Zeppelin in middle school. I was listening to Iron Maiden and Metallica by the time I was 16. Most of the grunge bands were fairly close to metal, they were local, and they managed to alienate our parents. These were all marks in their favor.
It was 1991 when I first saw Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on MTV. All of my classmates saw the same video. From Nirvana it was only a step to Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam, and from such humble beginnings the music of Seattle somehow conquered the world. Suddenly grunge was everywhere, and when people were talking about grunge they were also talking about Seattle - about places I haunted every day.
Of the four bands mentioned above, Alice in Chains was probably the band I took to most readily. At that time they were touring with Van Halen, and Van Halen (the Roth incarnation, anyway) was one of my favorite bands. I can remember listening to "Facelift" over, and over, and over, and over again. I couldn't get enough of Layne Staley's voice and Jerry Cantrell's guitar.
Back then, when the Seattle Scene was in full flower, Nirvana would have been my second favorite. I thought "Nevermind" was OK, but it wasn't until "In Utero" that I really got into that band. Pearl Jam was lost on me. I also failed to understand Soundgarden, though they emerged as my favorite in later years.
There were a host of other bands, of course, many of which few remember. Gruntruck was another favorite, as was a (very) local band by the name of Engine Kid. A lot of my friends were into Mudhoney and the Supersuckers, but I found those bands tolerable at best. There was also Queensryche, which in some ways preceded Nirvana, but no one seems to think much about Queensryche anymore.
It was a good time to be into music. I can remember seeing Alice in Chains at the Seattle Arena - one of my first concerts ever. I can remember seeing Gruntruck. I can remember seeing Tad. I saw countless other bands, but Alice in Chains was the only band within grunge's "big four" that I had the chance to see. Whatever kind of music you were into back then, there was always a show to be found.
Yet no sooner had the Seattle Scene found an audience than many of these bands began to self-destruct. Alice in Chains stalled after "Dirt," though they did release other albums. Kurt Cobain's suicide pretty much signified the beginning of the end, only three years after "Nevermind" broke records. Pearl Jam continued on for some time, but their changes in musical direction estranged many fans. Soundgarden disbanded after the "Down on the Upside" tour, though they reunited in 2009.
Not that any of this bothered me much at the time. College beckoned, and my listening tastes changed. Nirvana gave way to Radiohead, and Alice in Chains gave way to Shudder to Think. I went through a Miles Davis phase. I went through a progressive rock phase. I went through a glam phase, with David Bowie on the turntable almost every day. Occasionally I would pull out my copies of "Badmotorfinger" or "Facelift," and remember what had been. Grunge quickly disappeared, but it was hard to care at the time.
But I still feel thankful for that time, and that music. It was a good time to be a teenager, and it was a good time to live in Seattle. I can remember seeing Kim Thayil in the audience at that Alice in Chains concert, and my brother serving Layne Staley burgers at the Dick's on Queen Anne. Many of those guys were MTV superstars, but they acted as if no one had bothered to tell them. By the end of the 90s many of them were just regular guys again, MTV having left them far, far behind.
It's a funny thing when that kind of attention comes to your hometown. The world is turned upside down, and things that seemed boring before somehow seem important. Then, all at once, the moment passes, and the place you grew up in is just as it was - no better, and no worse. So it was with grunge. It was everything, and nothing, and we always knew that it was going to end too soon.