I attended high school in Seattle from 1989 to 1993. It was the perfect time, the perfect place, and the perfect age from which to observe the rise and fall of Grunge.
Not that I liked it right away. I spent most of the late 80s listening to thrash metal. I was obsessed with Megadeth early on, and by 1989 I was well into second, third or fourth-tier bands like Sacred Reich, Death, and Seattle's own Metal Church.
At that point in my life "easy listening" amounted to Hard Rock bands like Van Halen or AC/DC. I wasn't a huge fan of what we then called "Van Hagar" (Van Halen + Sammy Hagar), but Alex and Eddie's talent was beyond question. OU812? Not awesome, but if you ignored the stupidity of Hagar's lyrics there were enough hooks to make it good.
About the same time, when I was 16 years old, I clued into the fact that a local band, Alice in Chains, was accompanying Van Hagar on the Monsters of Rock tour. Soon after that I saw the video for "Man in the Box" on MTV, and I liked it well enough to buy the album.
Of course back then I thought of Alice in Chains as a metal band. The term "Grunge" hadn't been coined yet, and to my ears Alice in Chains wasn't all that different from other, local metal bands I'd been hearing around Seattle. At the time I probably thought they'd learn how to "polish" their sound, and more closely resemble local favorites Queensryche. Local music history will show this attitude to be wrong, but it's what many of us thought at the time.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Puget Sound's* pre-Grunge music scene followed a rough trajectory from Bing Crosby (really!), to The Sonics (remembered for "The Witch"), to Jimi Hendrix, to Heart, to Queensryche, and then to the loose association of musicians who eventually formed bands like Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Mudhoney and Soundgarden. Most people associate Seattle with Grunge (or vice versa), but there's also a whole hazy backstory of bands that paved the way.
With the result that when bands like Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and (especially) Nirvana finally made it big, there was a whole reservoir of talent built up behind them. This only helped grow the scene later, once record producers got wise to what was happening. Suddenly these local musicians - most of them having kicked around for years - had a shot at the big time. Even now it's hard to explain the sense of excitement this turn of events generated in a place as overlooked as the city where I grew up. Bands sprung into existence overnight, friends decided they were going to be rock stars, and some of us - years later - even succeeded in doing so.
But back in 1990, around the time I bought my copy of Facelift, most of that was still on the horizon. In 1990 we were still a backwater known for making airplanes (hence Queensryche's "Jet City Woman"), and Alice in Chains was more a curiosity than anything else.
Until, as you might expect, the massive success of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and their album Nevermind. This was followed closely by Pearl Jam's Ten and then Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger. Almost before anyone knew what was happening, we had FOUR Seattle bands in the charts, and the term Grunge - whatever that means - was born.
My first concert? Alice in Chains, the Dirt Tour, Seattle Arena. The Supersuckers (another local band) and Eugenius (from Ireland) were the opening acts. I missed Nirvana at the height of their popularity, I missed Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, but yeah, I can claim that one badge of honor. After I saw dozens of other local bands that have come and gone, and I have many good memories of attending concerts during that time. As friends and I followed the scene Grunge mutated into Post Grunge, which may or may not have been the same as Alternative. Who knew what it really was? Who cared? What mattered was that it all sounded good, or at least interestingly adventurous, and we were always eager to hear more.
Looking back at that time and those bands, it's funny to think of how my opinion has changed over time. I was and I remain a lifelong fan of Alice in Chains up until Layne Staley's suicide. However these days I can't stand Pearl Jam, who I worshiped around the time Ten was released. Nirvana I liked from the beginning, but it took me a while to appreciate the simplicity of their music. Soundgarden? In the beginning I thought I hated them, but I was really equating them with earlier, more amateurish efforts. When I finally sat down and listened to Badmortorfinger - probably around the time Superunkown came out - I was in awe of it. Soundgarden is now, I have to say, is my favorite of the Grunge bands.
The early 90s. Not a bad time to be alive. Or at least that was the case for me. And when it wasn't a good time at least I had great tunes to rock out to, and great concerts in my future.
Albums That Changed My Life 7: "Rust in Peace" and Other Thrash Albums
Albums That Changed My Life 6: Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast"
Albums That Changed My Life 5: Rush's First Album and "Power Windows"
Albums That Changed My Life 4: The Top Gun Soundtrack
*For those not from the area, the Puget Sound is a huge inlet west of Seattle. Seattle and the other cities around the Puget Sound are often referred to as the Puget Sound region or the greater Puget Sound.