Five Amazing Grunge Artifacts That Time (and You) Forgot
You stopped scrawling "World Domination" on the backs of school notebooks. You swapped your Pearl Jam Christmas singles for some Warp Records vinyl when you were graciously informed that this was the next big thing. You didn't recognize Kim Thayil in that recent photograph, what with his navel-length, raven-black beard now nattily trimmed and sprinkled with gray. Your mom donated your flannel shirts and "wack slacks" to Goodwill, but you didn't give a rat's breath because grunge had gone belly up long ago.
And anyway, wasn't it hopelessly similar to just about every other much ballyhooed music movement? The climax went unnoticed. Its signifiers were borrowed. (John Fogerty and Mike Watt want their flannel back.) There were moments that felt utterly contrived. There were artists who glommed on and artists not quite good enough to glom on and artists who spent their careers running away from the label. There were tiresome schoolyard squabbles and phony alliances and a case of the old guard predictably clashing with the new.
Of course, there were also moments you wanted to wrap your arms around and never let go. And there was brilliance, and transcendent brilliance, and underappreciated brilliance, and even a ditty about a "Half Ass Monkey Boy." Okay, we take it back: Grunge wasn't so prosaic after all.
This week, Universal is celebrating where it all seemingly began by releasing a 20th anniversary box set of Nirvana's Nevermind. Along with a remastered version of the landmark album, the multidisc package will offer demos, B-sides, alternate mixes, and a live show. In honor of this release and the genre's 20th birthday, we'll chronicle some of the grunge artifacts that -- unlike those flannel shirts and ripped jeans -- the one-time enthusiasts just can't let go.
5. Sub Pop's "Touch Me I'm Sick" T-shirt
The title to Mudhoney's 1988 debut single, "Touch Me I'm Sick," ultimately became one of the movement's go-to slogans. The phrase was emblazoned across the vendor detritus (T-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, etc.) typically hawked at summer festivals. It was taunting, it was full of self-loathing -- it was perfect. However, your "Touch Me I'm Sick" tee has been relegated to the deep recesses of your closet, as wearing it in today's contagious disease-obsessed world would likely get you quarantined and a hospital mate named Gwyneth.
4. That TAD promo poster
From Mark Yarm's Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge:
"Have you seen that poster? I don't know who did it," said onetime TAD bassist Kurt Danielson. "It was somebody in connection with the European tour. It was a black- and-white photograph of Bill Clinton making a speech. And his hand gestures and facial gestures were perfect for the insertion of a fake joint, and there was a quote on the bottom saying 'THIS IS HEAVY SHIT,' referring to TAD's music, of course. It was hilarious."
However, your significant other doesn't agree, and so Slick Willie is currently toking up all by himself in the attic.