Day 5: A song that reminds you of someone
I spent my childhood listening to the oldies that my parents loved, as well as whatever 80s music we had on vinyl 45s (Google it, kids). And while I liked it all, as I got older I never felt like any of it was really mine. Middle school was when I started listening to contemporary (early 90s) music on the radio, but I didn’t yet learned how to be discriminating. I hadn’t developed tastes, likes and dislikes, so I became a sort of pop-music sponge. Hip-hop and R&B were big at the time, but hair metal was having its last hurrahs and the grunge scene was getting regular airplay (Pearl Jam’s “Black” was particularly popular then). So I smashed it all together in a chaotic miasma of pop radio as I followed in my older brother’s footsteps and began making mix tapes for myself. Oh, it was gloriously horrendous, this aural maelstrom of genres I’d created.
Then my friend Jon got an electric guitar, and everything changed.
Jon took guitar lessons and also taught himself to play classic and then-current rock, and we would hang out in his parents’ basement after school, listening to and talking about music. Sometimes he’d play his guitar, sometimes he’d put an album on and excitedly skip to certain songs he wanted me to hear. And this is how I was introduced to a little band called Stone Temple Pilots, and their debut album Core. The album’s first track, “Dead and Bloated,” begins with the late lead singer Scott Weiland’s unaccompanied snarl followed closely by the entrance of growling guitars and stomping drums. It’s at once gritty and studio-polished, and it spoke to me like nothing I’d heard on the radio ever had. And it’s not even the best song on the album! Core is filled with bone-crunching instrumentals and Weiland’s at once macho and tormented howl. But “Dead and Bloated” is the song to which I attribute my discovery of alternative rock. After that, I dove right into Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and lots of other bands that came later. Whenever I hear “Dead and Bloated,” I think back on those afternoons with Jon and how grateful I am that he helped me find “my” music.
(I do want to clarify that I know Stone Temple Pilots were not considered part of the “first wave” of grunge and alternative rock, as it were. Though Core and subsequent albums proved very popular, the music press dubbed STP “grunge imitators” and derided them for trying too hard to sound like Pearl Jam. I personally never noticed a similarity aside from both bands playing heavy, straightforward rock, and I think if Core had been released even a year earlier than it was, alongside Pearl Jam’s debut Ten instead of following it, music critics would have given it and the band a much warmer reception.)