I've been going back into the music of the 90s recently. I rarely do so, since this music reminds me of the hopeful time in my youth when I felt like my generation was going to make a difference and that the world could be changed for the better. There was plenty of bad stuff out there, but the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Reagan-Bush rule seemed to signal a new era unencumbered by the ideologies of the past. The rise of the Gingrich right, Clinton's triangulation politics, and the way a growing economy made inequality worse changed my attitude by the end of the decade.
But in the early summer of 1994 I had just graduated from high school, anxious to escape my hometown after many years of feeling out of place and being reminded of that constantly by my peers. Those months coincided with what was probably the high point of "alternative rock" as a mainstream phenomenon. I could put on the radio and hear the music I had spent years staying up late on Sunday night to see on 120 Minutes. That in itself seemed like a minor miracle.
I had a soft spot for Live because they came from York, Pennsylvania, a town not unlike my hometown in Nebraska. They seemed to have retained a kind of small town earnestness. Then as now I could never get with the irony-drenched detached pose affected by the urban hipster crowd. I see it as a sign of weakness from people who are too afraid of their own emotions to experience them. One of my fatal flaws in this cynical society is that I just care too damn much.
"Selling the Drama" is one of the most earnest Live songs, a seeming generational anthem of resistance against the manipulation of authorities. I did not try to understand the particulars back in '94, I could just feel the rebellion in the chorus "We won't be raped/ we won't be scarred like that." The song drives hard, and the beat, to quote the kids, really slaps. Live's musicianship comes on strong in a song that's not the usual grunge by numbers that dominated the airwaves then.
I seemed to hear this song every day as I drove my car to work the evening shift at the rubber parts factory that summer. It never failed to steel me for a few hours of mind-numbing labor in a boiling hot room drenched in carbon black and layered with Stygian chemical smells. (The pay and my coworkers were good, though.) When I hear this song I am immediately brought back to those weeks, hopeful for the future but aware of how much hard work I had ahead of me before going to college at the end of the summer.
It's not cool to like Live nowadays, but honestly, fuck being cool. Being cool is exhausting, and for anyone over the age of 40, it's pretty damn pathetic, too. I've willed, I've walked, I've been there before.