Last night I was feeling nostalgic, which is rare. Not for anything in particular, mind you — it was just a feeling of having misplaced something… my youth, perhaps.
You see, I was born in 1974 and came of age in the late 1980s-early-’90s, thereby witnessing the genesis and proliferation of “grunge.”
Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t live in Seattle at the time. What a nightmare that must’ve been, with A&R assholes parachuting in and shitty Midwestern bands swarming the city in some kind of flannel gold rush.
In the throes of my reminiscence, I recalled an incident in which the New York Times was fooled into believing that there was a special slang shared by grunge fans. (They did indeed speak, in between sips of latte and shots of heroin.)
The entire idea is borderline ludicrous, but it’s emblematic of the way cultural journalism has historically been performed. I’m sure some enterprising writer (or 20) asked similar questions of Southern California teens back when surf music was boss. And you can still see it practiced to some degree today: if the “kids” are into something, the assumption is that there’s got to be a uniform social linguistics to go with it. Sexting, anyone?
The Times did not get the 1990s irony memo, however, and stumbled right into a killer prank.
In November 1992, The Grey Lady was doing an article on the sudden ascendancy of grunge, from Fenders to fashion. No surprise there. The piece also included a sidebar of hip “grunge lingo” (I bet this was the editor’s idea — those lamestains fucking love sidebars). Unfortunately, the info came from a single source who made the whole thing up on the spot.
It was Wall Street Journal scribe and What’s the Matter With Kansas? author Thomas Frank (another friend of the organization) who ultimately revealed the hoax in the cultural criticism journal The Baffler. Turns out, a 25 year-old Seattle resident named Megan Jasper was simply tired of all the superficial attention her city was receiving and decided to snowball the Times writer just for fun. The paper was not amused at Frank’s outing of the hoax. Wikipedia:
The Times demanded that Frank fax over an apology for claiming it had printed false information, believing that it was Frank who was the hoaxer. Frank instead sent a letter standing by the story. “When The Newspaper of Record goes searching for the Next Big Thing and the Next Big Thing piddles on its leg,” he wrote, “we think that’s funny.” Frank considered the article to be part of an attempt by mainstream culture to co-opt the grunge scene and felt that the Times had gotten what it deserved.
Since I don’t want to leave you hanging, here’s a list of “grunge speak” terminology. Whaddya say we all pull together and get these in the contemporary lexicon once and for all? (Oddly, some of them appear to have already made it.)
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta put on my wack slacks and kickers and get to swingin’ on the flippity-flop. You cob nobblers can keep your harsh realm. Rock on!