I remember the first time I heard Nirvana. I lied down for a nap with the radio on after school one day. When I woke up it was night, but what threw me out of bed, what got me banging my head was "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I never heard anything like it. The noise possessed me. Right then and there I filed away my Poison and Def Leppard tapes; there were new rock stars to worship.
HYPE charts what happened in Seattle to bring forth this defining moment of a generation as well as what happened after. It's a sharp, funny documentary with scads of concert footage of bands both famous (Soundgarden) and not so (Coffin Break). Interspersed are wry observations from the locals who got so fed up with the endless, um, hype, that the only way to stay sane was to make fun of it all.
The movie is put together well, but I do have some complaints. I wish the filmmakers had shown the first live performance of "Teen Spirit" in its entirety. The part they do show is electrifying; maybe it's the combination of the grainy, shaky footage and Nirvana itself, but at that moment it was obvious that Kurt Cobain would be a superstar. This concert was ground zero for the biggest youthquake in my lifetime, so I wish it could have seen and heard the performance from beginning to end.
My second complaint is easier to forgive. For all the talk about Nirvana, not a word is mentioned about Hole. Given Courtney Love's litigious nature when it comes to her and Kurt's music, I presume she did what she had to do to keep her band out of it. It's not the director's fault, but it does harm the movie since Love is arguably the biggest star the era produced. (HYPE hit theatres about six weeks before THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT; I wonder if that was mere coincidence.)
Finally, since there's a clip of the Gits, it would have been right to at least mention lead singer Mia Zapata's 1993 murder. I didn't hear about this until years later, when "Unsolved Mysteries" did a piece on it. I wanted to know more about it, like how her death affected the community and the music. Were the Gits a local favorite? Was Zapata popular? A bitch? Movie doesn't say.
I still have all my grunge CDs. Not just the big acts but many of the wannabees, never-weres and knockoffs too: Sponge, Mad Season, Jawbox, Dink, Seven Mary Three. I don't care how derivative it sounds; this era of music was my college years, the early '90s, the best time of my life. Forgive me for wallowing in it occasionally (I type as the moody Mother Love Bone song on the SINGLES soundtrack resonates around me).
What happened to grunge? Did it die with Kurt, or with Mia, or when Weird Al gave the world his spin, or when Pearl Jam agreed to play at Ticketmaster arenas? It sure was long gone by the time Layne Staley died and the Smashing Pumpkins broke up. HYPE's running time is under ninety minutes, which seems appropriate since grunge was over quickly too. It petered out before its time, and before we knew it Hootie and the Blowfish was the next big thing. And look what pop music is now.
Oh, and I did eventually buy the Best Of collections from Poison and Def Leppard. Don't we all secretly still like the music we listened to in high school?
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