I wore flannel in July ’cause Eddie Vedder told me to.

I have a confession to make: I’m a reluctant hipster. I like to be the first to know about the latest craze just so I can dabble in it for a sec, declare myself an expert on it, and then scorn it. It’s fun to alienate people by convincing them that you were a fan of the Spice Girls when they were on an indie label.

(Truth: they never were, and I am extremely full of it. I just liked the fact that they were Bri-ish and said “massive” all the time.)

There is nothing better for a hipster than a group of like-minded outsiders who they can flaunt their supposed individuality with, and that’s why I embraced alternative music when I was in middle and high school. During math class in the seventh grade, the teacher was instructing us on statistics. Our assignment was to create polls that our classmates could answer, and then make a graph that reflected the results. My highly imaginative poll asked, “What’s your favorite kind of music?,” and the overwhelming majority of the class answered “alternative.” Our pre-teen uniformity was decidedly…eclectic?

I loved alternative music. The best was that there was an entire radio station in Memphis devoted solely to playing it. 96X was edgy and cool, and it dubbed itself “The Modern Rock Alternative.” I was willing to overlook the fact that it played The Wallflowers because it also played Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder’s growl cancelled out the cheap K-Mart hair extension version of Bob Dylan. (A billion bonus points if you get the reference.)

My very very very favorite alternative group was The Smashing Pumpkins. YOU GUYS. Billy Corgan was so alternative and screechy and awkward and perfect. I lurved him and his posse of outsiders, which included James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlin, and D’Arcy. I have started countless posts where I’ve tried to describe what they meant to me back then, and each time I’ve abandoned the post because it’s almost impossible to pinpoint the hugeness of a teenage band-crush in 500-700 words.

I get a little choked up even looking at this picture because I loved The Smashing Pumpkins so much. I wish I got this emotional over things that matter, like Miley Cyrus.

Seattle served up a heaping pile of alternative goodness, too. I really liked Soundgarden and once wrote a letter telling Seventeen magazine that Soundgarden’s lead singer Chris Cornell should do a duet Gwen Stefani*. B and I were in the car a few weeks ago taking Wee Cee to the park and Pearl Jam’s “Dissident” came on. We ended up talking about the epicness of Pearl Jam nonstop for the rest of the ride, throughout the duration of the walk, and then until we got home. I think the baby was there the whole time, but I can’t be sure.

*Related: I also once thought that watermelon and pot roast would go really well together, and I asked my accountant if he could make that happen for me.

There were lots of other bands and singers who filled out the 96X playlist. I liked Porno For Pyros, Jane’s Addiction, and Red Hot Chili Peppers a lot, but honestly could not tell them apart really at all. All I saw was a bunch of possibly gay shirtless guys jumping around to a beat. Also, Stone Temple Pilots? They were a group that I am now kind of embarrassed to admit I liked as much as I did. The best thing about them was this poster I had of them where they were all holding their detached heads in their hands. I can’t find a picture of it on Google, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it that it existed.

Did you like alternative music in the ’90’s? 

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42 comments

  1. I like Pearl Jam – just one question though I’ve always imagined Eddie Vedder to be about 2 foot 6 tall – could this be true?

    1. It very well could be. Show biz is all smoke and mirrors to make people look tall.

  2. Twindaddy · · Reply

    I do like most of that music now, but back in the 90’s I lived in the country so I listened to…country. I’m embarrassed.

    1. Don’t be too embarrassed. It’s better to prefer Billy Ray to Miley.

      1. Twindaddy · · Reply

        Well THAT goes without saying.

        1. You can never be too careful to omit that kind of information.

          1. Twindaddy · · Reply

            True.

  3. I was a little too young then to appreciate these bands (so I just assume that’s why I never got into them now), but Chicago used to have an alternative channel, Q101, and then they got rid of it, there was outrage. They’ve since brought it back on a different channel, but it’s not the same.

    1. Q101 was still alive and kicking when I lived in Chicago, and I loved it. I was sad to hear that it fizzled out. 96X was recently brought back in Memphis, and it’s largely the same except without a funny morning show. The one bummer is that it broadcasts from Mississippi instead of Memphis so you can’t even get it without static in most of the city. Dumb.

      1. I used to love Loveline with Dr. Drew on Fridays on Q101, too. Those were the days…

  4. I still love Siamese Dream! I also thought Hole were very good in their day.

    1. Siamese Dream is AMAZING. Every single song is so good. I really liked Hole back then too. It is so weird to me that Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain’s daughter is now an adult.

  5. I didn’t get into alt/rock until high school. After my country, pop and rap phases fizzled out. And then I dove head first into METAL. And is every rock station a 90-something -x? My fave station was 93X.

    1. I got into rap and hip hop when I went to college. And I’m using the term “rap” pretty loosely because I primarily listened to Ja Rule. BALLA.

  6. This post deserves a comment and a like simply because you mentioned Smashing Pumpkins and the Spice Girls. :-D

    1. They somehow found a way to coexist in my weirdo adolescent mind! ;D

  7. Umm, I still like alternative music! I took my mom to the airport early yesterday morning, and listened to Lithium on XM the whole way because music time machines are the best. I think I heard a song from just about everyone you’ve mentioned in this post except for the Spice Girls.

    1. Yessssss. I feel like I just phoned this post in because I didn’t even think to mention Nirvana. The truth is, I didn’t really like them all that much when I was a kid because I was such a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan, and you sorta had to pick a team. But as I’ve gotten older, I appreciate them so much. They were amazing.

  8. Back then, everyone said they liked “alternative” and I said the same, cuz yeah, but I honestly never really knew what alternative meant. Like that quote from that one movie (I honestly can’t remember the movie), “alternative to what?”

    I totally rocked out to Alanis Morissette. Was she alternative?

    1. I rocked the Alanis too! She was amazing. When I was writing this post, though, it also occurred to me that I don’t really know exactly what alternative is. I have this book that I bought back then – Spin Magazine’s Alternative Record Guide – it it basically just covers everything that was released from 1985-1998. Even Dr. Dre is in there. Was he alternative?

      1. I didn’t consider him alternative, but then, when I lack a definition for alternative, I guess anything goes.

  9. I knew you were a grunger. I just did :) And pretty please with a cherry on top…write that love letter to Smashing Pumpkins. Please.

    1. One day, hopefully I’ll get the words just right and Billy Corgan will have no choice but to accept my requests for him to be C’s godfather.

      1. It could totally happen.

  10. My only question, aren’t all hipsters “reluctant hipsters” kind of by nature? ;)

    1. The makers of PBR certainly hope not ;D

  11. Warning: Unimpressive but hugely embarrassing confession coming.
    Not so many years ago, when I was working in a warehouse to pay the bills while I got Master’s degree, one of my coworkers gave me the shirt off his back, literally. Actually, he sold me the shirt off his back for a total of $60. Armani? Nope, an original T shirt from the Pearl Jam “Ten” tour with more holes than a James Frey memoir. Only embarrassing because I could barely afford to eat at the time, let alone pony up dozens of dollars for a shirt like that when I didn’t even own the matching Doc Martens.

    1. I swear you had a black Pearl Jam t-shirt back in high school too. That memory has been hiding out in my brain for a really long time.

      And don’t worry too much about ponying up $60 for a ratty old shirt. At some point, I lost BOTH of my ZERO shirts and I would probably pay about the same for one right about now.

  12. I went to see Huey Lewis when I was 13 – it’s mortifying to think about now.

    1. No worries. I saw Celine Dion in concert when I was 13.

  13. My last iPod download was Vedder’s ukelele stuff – strange tangent for him, but very, um, Vedder. (very creative)

    STPs just came through here recently – I lamented that they shared the Mississippi casino venue alongside the ilk of Englebert Humperdinck & REO Speedwagon. That’s just wrong.

    1. Ah, the Spice Girls. Old school. I was NOT on that bandwagon cause a horrible popular girl loved them. So I hated them. Cause that’s logical.

      1. Your coolness factor just exploded tenfold, which I thought was impossible ;D

        1. Yeh. Pfft! say I, to those pesky Spice Girls. I am waaaay too cool for them.

    2. My husband told me about his uke album! One thing you can say about Eddie Vedder: he is certainly, erm, adventurous. Honestly, though, I love him and I think he’s sexy so he could play a tuba and he’d still be alright with me.

  14. Smashing Pumpkins were the best by far. I still stop every time I hear them screech ‘Landfall’ and have to explain to my wife why it’s SO much better than the original. And the worst? By far – Red Hot Chili Peppers. Any band that gets pub by wearing socks on their ‘tenders’ loses me as a fan.

    1. I totally agree, obviously. I can think of only a few covers that are better than the original, and SP’s “Landslide” is one of them.

  15. I have been an Alternative junky forever… still am. Starting way back with the Heads (the Talking ones) and Violent Femmes. Still listen only to alternative stations. Mad love for Alt-j right now, mad. Way into Arcade Fire, Of Monsters and Men, Mother Mother, Imagine Dragons… etc. Still love the Pumpkins, and the Chilis… good, good stuff, mad love for it all. Fun post Emily! It almost helped get the lalalalalalalala out of my head. I’m catching up on posts, backwards. ;-)

    1. I have Elmo on continuous loop in my head. Right now, it’s his horrible tooth brushing song. I’d link to the song for you, but I like you too much to inflict that kind of torture on you this morning.

  16. I had many a P. J. poster and t-shirt, and import CD. My next fave was the late great Nirvana. Hole’s Live Through This album was fab. Smashing Pumpkins are still awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad song by them.

    1. Nirvana was awesome, and I was telling my husband the other day that I actually appreciate them way more now than I did when I was a kid. Also loved Doll Parts by Hole. Remember when Courtney Love was the good kind of trainwreck? Those were the days.

      1. It was difficult to determine, however, whether or not it was okay to wear a flannel shirt over a baby doll dress. :)

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