Sunday, August 17, 2014
Track of the Week: Mudhoney "Overblown"
I am currently reading Mark Yarm's excellent oral history of the late 80s-early 90s Seattle music scene, which has had me revisiting much of the music that came out of it. The music dubbed "grunge," a deceptive title that dubiously threw together the prog-metal Soundgarden and arena rocking Pearl Jam with the punkier likes of Nirvana, was a life-giving breath of fresh air when I first heard it as a 16 year old. For the first time I felt like there was rock music being made in my own time that was just as interesting and vital as the Clash or Ramones. When any of those Seattle bands ever appeared in Rolling Stone or Spin I would buy a copy, and I read some of those articles over and over again. I tore off the cover of Nirvana on Rolling Stone where Kurt Cobain wears a t-shirt reading "Corporate Rock Magazines Still Suck" and proudly taped it to my bedroom closet door.
One of my favorite albums of the time was the soundtrack to Singles, a Cameron Crowe movie filmed and set in Seattle just right before grunge went global. I didn't actually see the movie until years later (it's alright.) My favorite song was by Mudhoney, a band who I'd heard about in all of those magazine articles, and who I learned actually predated Nirvana. Their contribution to the soundtrack is "Overblown," which I loved both for its sound and for its audacity. The song is one giant pin deflating the balloon of Seattle rock scene hype, right at the moment that grunge moved out of the indie scene into the mainstream. Singer Mark Arm, his scream-yelp dripping with maximum snot, starts the song by saying "Everybody loves us/ Everybody loves our town/ Been thinking lately/ Don't believe in it now." The song itself gallops along dementedly with some typically twisted-sounding guitar and pounding drums from the band and a catchy "hey hey hey HEY!" chorus. Other lyrics call out an unnamed lead singer as a "macho creep," and all signs point to Soundgarden's Chris Cornell. ("They gave you your own spotlight/ Just like some real rock and roll star" is particularly cutting.) It ends with the most audacious line one could utter in the midst of the Great Seattle Record Label Feeding Frenzy of 1992: "It's all over and done."
Back then I had to respect a band that would use their biggest platform to date on a soundtrack for a film romanticizing their city to rip its music scene to shreds. At the time it just seemed very punk rock contrarian, but in many ways Mudhoney prophesied the long, sad devolution of "grunge" from Candlebox to Silverchair to Creed to Nickelback. It's been good to go back and listen to the really early Seattle stuff and remember that golden little moment of discovery I had in 1991-1992, since they come along so rarely.