Friday, December 9, 2016

It Came From the '90s: Not For You

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

Generation X. Alternative Nation. Slackers. Kids in flannels.

In the early and mid 1990s, teens and young adults of a certain age were given all of those monikers, and several others too. Full disclosure, I was one of those kids. Every generation goes through a period like that—when they're the up-and-comers trying to break free of the previous generation, A period of endless media and societal fascination leading to unfair stereotyping and marginalization.

Pearl Jam's "Not For You," from 1994's seismic blast of an album Vitalogy, seemed to be directly addressing this divide between the members of Gen X and their elders. Vitalogy was the most anticipated album of the year. Kurt Cobain killed himself that spring, leaving Pearl Jam alone at the top of the rock mountain, whether they wanted to be there or not. They were the biggest band in the world during those few years. They used this platform to fight Ticketmaster when no one else would. To broadcast their own FM station, Self-Pollution Radio, out of Eddie Vedder's house, where Vedder played DJ spinning his favorite records and an all-star lineup of Seattle musicians dropped by to jam with the band live on air. Throughout it all they were building a fan base of dedicated, like-minded kids and young adults who could relate to their music's themes of alienation, isolation, resistance, indifference, and so many more.

In '94-'95, "Not For You" seemed to annoy some listeners—let's be honest, mostly critics—who felt Vedder was singing directly to them. Why would he be telling his audience that this is not for them? He wasn't. He was actually singing to the masses that didn't really understand the cult of Pearl Jam, nor did they care to. Instead they wanted to exploit the band and their audience. The song was a manifesto to those who got it. And if you didn't get it, you could still mosh to it, at least.

It scores a indelible scene in the 1996 documentary Hype!, which chronicles the explosive musical youth movement known as "the Seattle scene." Set against footage of the band playing the song for a Self-Pollution broadcast, then shifting to shots from various locations across Seattle and Washington state, then back again to the studio where the band is now joined by friends and fellow musicians like Lane Staley, Krist Novoselic, and the Soundgarden boys.
All that's sacred comes from youth
dedication, naive and true
with no power, nothing to do
I still remember, why don't you...don't you...

Listening to Vedder sing those lyrics in the bridge, within the context of the film, only further underscores the trajectory of grunge's explosive early years and then its over-saturation and decline. Like most youth movements—and all these years later I still have no doubt that it was indeed a movement—what began as something pure was quickly chewed up and spit out by media and cultural forces beyond the alterna-kids' control.

The lesson seemed to be that certain things, such as a song like "Not For You," were worth protecting, and worth holding onto. They helped get us through those transition years between childhood and young adulthood. In the two decades since, they continue to remind us that we were once the new kids, the ones people looked at suspiciously. We were the ones with no power, and nothing to do. Yet we were still seen as a threat to the established order.

I still remember. Why don't you?

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