When the tweens in my house start showing a preference for Nirvana t-shirts and platform boots, begging for septum piercings, and saying things like “the ‘90s were awesome,” my first reaction is to find this both delightful and woefully misguided. I mean, good god, does anyone else remember Ugly Kid Joe??
But when my older sister points out that she can absolutely understand why someone who did not live in that decade would be drawn to it because there was an innocence about it that was not possible after the turn of the century, I must agree.
We were born in the mid-to-late 1970s and entered high school in rural Central Maine in the early ‘90s. From my perspective, if ever there is a time period frozen in a crystalline composite of nostalgia and teenage angst, it is this one. I didn’t own a cell phone until I was 25 and didn’t own a computer until I was 29. There was nothing else to do in my young adulthood but ponder memories. Of course, it was different after we were all online, had cellphones, and collectively lost our parents as we knew them to the post 9/11, twenty-four-hour news cycle. And there was a lot of truly great music.
So when iTunes keeps suggesting and I keep ignoring a ’90s Alternative Hits playlist, I finally open it and I find I must weigh in. For the children.
But first, I am not a musician. Though I can sing — well even, I am not a performer. I have spent my entire life loving music more than almost anything else. I have never been able to precisely describe the breathless ache that coincides with loving a song any more than something living can be truly examined, and so I can only ever chase it. The artist Agnes Martin spent her life making these beautifully sparse abstract paintings. She wanted a response of pure emotion as easily as we do with music, without asking for explanations. And if music is the purest art form, the rest of what we do is at best an approximation.
Nothing can touch us the way that sound can. It is equally baffling to me that certain songs can so profoundly move one person and drive another to fury, and thus I will remind readers to take the following with a grain of salt. My opinion is only that, and though at times I am going to sound like a punchable little snot, I promise I do not really judge anyone anymore for something that brings them joy (unless it is John Mayer, and if that is what truly brings you joy in life, well, someone had to break it to you). I could say it is because frankly, no one seems all that interested in my opinions now, but no one did then either.
I would have judged you when I was 16 (and for the record, most of the time, I absolutely deserved to be punched for something bitchy I had done, was going to do, or was thinking). Anyway, I sing along to Billy Joel songs on the car radio too. It is that 16-year-old self, however, that I will be required to channel in order to write the following music reviews. You have been warned.