Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Washington: Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues

Todd Snider: Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues


Modern folk troubadour Todd Snider channels Arlo Guthrie in this half-spoken tale of rock god rise and fall circa the Seattle grunge movement of the late eighties and early nineties. The lyrics poke fun at grunge rock and its players, but like Guthrie, Snider has a bigger target in mind: underneath the hilarious send-up of the "alternative" label and grunge pose (pensive) and hairstyle (long, over the face) is a cohesive, biting social commentary on the commercial phenomenon that is/was the star maker machine, from A&R to MTV and back again, just before the napsterization of culture changed the rules of the game. Appropriate, for a guy who has somehow managed to elude true fame, despite being one of the best inheritors of the likes of John Prine, Billy Joe Shaver, and other wry working-class songwriters with an eye for blue-collar honesty and a storyteller's way with honest words.

Notably, then, the song isn't really anti-grunge; grunge is just a vehicle to get Snider somewhere much more important. As such, posting this one isn't intended to be a pre-emptive strike on what may well be Washington State's biggest contribution to the world of music so much as it is a way to ensure that any subsequent grunge music posted for this theme (or indeed any theme) can be heard in the proper historical context. But writ large, I think it also goes farther: like a few others out there (Tom Petty's Into the Great Wide Open), this is a meta-song, an industry product about industry product; as such, it tickles my irony bone while it provides a particular framework for how we hear any industry-produced music.

Someday, it would be fun to tackle songs about hitmaking, and turn the blog loose on the aging, dying industry, kicking it while it's going down. In the meantime, I'd say more, but the song kind of says it for us.

Purchase note: Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues was actually a hidden track on Todd Snider's first album, 1994's Songs for the Daily Planet; the purchase link above goes to That Was Me, which compiles the best of Snider's first three albums. Either or both, folks, but get some Snider if you haven't already.

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