I miss records.

I think the people who listened to underground or independent music in the 80's often give the music of the 90's a bad rap.  It's understandable, of course; they saw bands that they'd been listening to for years suddenly become popular, sometimes jumping to major labels.  They saw "progressive" become "alternative."  And they saw the "genre," as it were, watered down by copycat artist after copycat artist.

Back in, I think, 1995, I went to a punk rock show and written on a table was "Punk isn't dead, but we're sure glad Kurt is."  Classy.

What these people don't realize is that there's an entire generation of kids who discovered underground music because of the big acts of the 90's.  Say what you want about bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but they wore their influences on their sleeve.  They were very outspoken about the great, little known bands that made them what they were.  Kurt Cobain told me about The Pixies.  Eddie Vedder told me about Fugazi.  And down the rabbit hole I went.

Team Dresch
The true beauty of the 90's underground "scene" is that it took place more or less just before the widespread use of the internet.  We read 'zines to get our news.  What we bought at record stores was generally determined by what that record store carried, which meant that every new record store was a chance to find something wonderful we'd never heard of before.  A friend saw a flier and that friend told another friend and that friend told me and now I know about a show a band is playing two hours away.

That was part of the joy, really.  You had to work for it.  I know that the vinyl album business is perhaps healthier than it's been in years, as records have turned into elaborate collector's editions that come complete with codes for MP3 downloads.  They're an investment now.  People scour through bins to find hidden gems that are actually worth money.  We scoured through bins for the latest 7" by a band no one had ever heard of.

The chase made it fun.

It also made it selective.

I own this Unwound record. Go me.
We spoke a language that most people didn't.  We drove hours to get to shows, wore t-shirts about our favorite bands, and stopped at every record store we could find.  Hell, we ordered things through the mail.  You had to work to stay informed.  There were no dabblers.  Music was a lifestyle because it almost had to be.

I miss the simplicity of those indie rock records from the 90's.  I miss when slow picking a power chord on clean managed to set a tone all by itself.  I miss when strumming that same chord with some distortion was considered an entirely different part to the song.  I miss when even the singing sounded a bit like yelling because none of could really sing.  I miss palm muting with a purpose.

We really were the last generation to experience all of that.  The kids after us had the internet to keep them informed.  Record stores started dying off because CDs were cheaper online.  Web sites replaced 'zines.  Your favorite band's tour dates were conveniently sent to your inbox.  You could still get that joy of discovery, but it was fleeting; it ended quickly.  In a matter of hours, you could know all there was to know about a band, own everything they'd ever recorded, and have tickets for their next show.

It's just not the same.

This all makes me sound very old, I know, and I'm sure growing nostalgia is sign of mid-life crisis.  But I miss those times.  I miss the people, the places, the bands.

And I miss the records.