Ethically pure grunge and cokehead Britpop prove that history is bunk half the time
Whenever historians examine the past, they tend to put forth one of two points: They either want to show how things today are totally different, or they want to argue that things are pretty much the same. The problem (of course) is that both conditions are usually true at the same time: Eleven years ago in Spin, Village Voice gossip columnist Michael Musto wrote an article that tried to reunite the cast of The Breakfast Club, an idea that MTV still thought was wildly original last summer; more than ten years have passed and nothing has changed. However, there are also two articles in this issue that make reference to My So-Called Life (one of which attempts to use Claire Danes as proof that D Generation’s debut album wasn’t terrible). More than ten years have passed and everything has changed (or at least everything that relates to Brian Krakow not getting laid).
As such, I’m unsure if the cover story on Pearl Jam (1995’s Best Band, as chosen by Spinreaders) or the concert review of Oasis (playing clubs on the Definitely Maybe tour) is a reflection of a) how rock music has changed over the past decade or (b) which cultural clich’s transcend time. What’s interesting is that both articles predict the future (one latently, one overtly), and both predictions proved accurate; the reason this qualifies as “interesting” is that any future that’s easy to predict usually proves nothing is terribly different.
The Pearl Jam story is a Q&A with Eddie Vedder at the apex of the singer’s public self-loathing. “I totally agree with that,” he says when the reporter mentions that Pearl Jam were also selected as the year’s Most Overrated Band. “I wouldn’t have put us as the best band, but I certainly would have put us as the most overrated.” Vedder goes on to express guilt that Mudhoney never experienced the platinum success of Pearl Jam (which is paradoxical, since Eddie clearly indicates that fame ruined his life, so I’m not sure why he would’ve wanted Mark Arm to have the same negative experience, but, you know, whatever). The unspoken prediction throughout this piece is that Pearl Jam secretly intend to become a smaller, less important rock band. Which they did. And that’s kind of amazing.
I’m not sure if any major band ever managed their success as adroitly as Pearl Jam — maybe U2 or the Rolling Stones, but they merely figured out a way to maintain their achieved status. Pearl Jam actually constructed the curve (and the meaning) of their entire existence. I’m confused by people who hate Pearl Jam. I can’t understand why anyone would hate a group that became the biggest band in the world and then dedicated its career to quietly becoming average size. Pearl Jam only made one great song (“Corduroy”), but they have about 19 others that are better than decent; they easily could have made three more albums that were replicants of Ten and spent the remainder of their days eating lobster claws inside a biosphere of gold. But they didn’t. They didn’t, because they thought that would make them unlikable. You see, nice guys do not finish last; nice guys finish in the middle.
Which brings us to Oasis, a band that cut out the middleman and passed the megalomania on to you. Oasis became the anti-Pearl Jam: They weren’t nice to anyone, including themselves. “Because Oasis is fueled by a creative tension growing out of the mutual loathing of the Gallagher brothers,” wrote Jonathan Bernstein, “it’s questionable whether the band will have an evolution.” Oasis did evolve; they evolved into cokeheads, and it became increasingly difficult to take them seriously. But it’s even more difficult to argue with their musical output; whereas Pearl Jam only made one great song, Noel Gallagher wrote at least three for Definitely Maybe. And he kept going. “Acquiesce” is awesome x 3. “Don’t Look Back in Anger” is awesome x 11. Everyone likes to claim Be Here Now is atrocious, but it’s still cooler than anything by Blur. In fact, Oasis produced two of the three exceptional Britpop albums released in the entire ’90s. So we are left to wonder: Who’s better off? Pearl Jam for succeeding at becoming average on purpose, or Oasis for becoming ridiculous by accident? Both Eddie and Noel adore Neil Young, a man who asked a similar question in 1979: Is it better to burn out or to fade away? Everything changes.
And everything doesn’t.