(Note: This post should have come before “Everything Zen” – I thought I had published it and it wasn’t until I put up the post on “Everything Zen” that I realized my mistake.)
1994 is the first year where I really remember listening to the radio, and picking up on current musical trends. I was 12 going on 13, discovering myself through the radio. Kurt Cobain may have just killed himself that summer, but that fall the sounds of Weezer, Bush, Green Day, and Live were finding their way to my ears.
Previously I had relied on my siblings musical tastes. Whatever they listened to, was what I listened to and thought was good. While I certainly prided myself on my preferences in school, I found out that no one in classes was talking about U2. “Basket Case” was the rage, and kids sang all the words to Beck’s “Loser” on field-trips. Coming back from a school musical, the radio constantly played Beastie Boy’s “Sabotoge” – a song that seemed to come from outer-space on a mission to blow up the speakers and my mind.
Everything on the radio was loud and exciting. Masturbation was sung frankly in Green Day’s “Longview”, Gavin Rossdale reflected upon his “asshole brother” in Los Angeles. I was too young to get the joke about “Happy Days” in the video for Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”, but I laughed hysterically about Rivers Cuomo inviting someone to destroy his sweater in “Undone (The Sweater Song)”. Even R.E.M. (my favorite band at the time) cranked up the amps with “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”, declaring “don’t fuck with me” at the end of the song.
Looking back, 1994 really was a good year in music. It was the era in between grunge and the new-wave ska revival (which was a very strange time in music, I think.)
Even though a lot of these songs aren’t on the same caliber as a lot of other stuff I listen to now, I still enjoy them and they take me back to my 12-13 year old self. And that’s what this week’s theme is all about.
(The single says it was released in early 1995, but I distinctly remember hearing it on the Baltimore’s WHFS in the fall of 1994.)
“There’s no sex in your violence,” Gavin Rossdale whispers in the bridge of “Everything Zen”. At 28, I have no idea what the hell that phrase is even supposed to mean and I won’t pretend to, but to my 12 year old self, it was one of the most rebellious things you could say. Not only did he mention sex specifically by name, but also violence – it was an R-rated movie put to music!
At the time, I thought Bush was dangerous and raw. I had no idea that their “pseudo-grunge” was taylor made for radio and aimed at kids within age-range of me. The guitars may have been distorted, but they were polished. Rossdale may have been able to scream like Cobain, but you never feared he would actually lose his voice in the middle of the song.
Then there’s the line about his “asshole brother”. In 7th grade, asshole was not only a dirty term, but you reserved it for those who really pissed you off. The asshole was the kid who pushed you into the grass during football during recess, certainly not your brother. What could Rossdale’s brother have done to make him that mad?
Because I went to a private school my bus ride was usually somewhere between 30-45 minutes. (I kid you not.) The radio station that the bus driver put on was something akin to Top 40 radio. Bon Jovi’s “Always” was a staple on that station – the pain recently came back when I heard it on a radio in a bar recently. Ace of Base was also played a lot. Bush, was most certainly not. “Everything Zen” was like a secret that I had. When the song finally did come on, one of the girls (who I probably had a crush on) asked me who it was. I pretended not to know for some odd reason before realizing I missed my chance. Another girl chimed in before I did, “It’s Bush! Duuuuuuh!”
Sixteen Stone is one of those albums that could have only existed in 1994-95. It satisfied the public’s appetite for “grunge-style” music in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s death. For a generation of kids like me who were too young to truly feel the impact of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Sixteen Stone captures the feeling of an era. It’s rough, but not too rough. Music played just close enough to edge, but with guardrails on the side. The perfect musical training wheels.