Remember the nineties? I do, I graduated from high school in 1993, a year that was marked by a stiff rise in what had recently been labeled ‘grunge’ music. Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ was released in 1991 and had taken over MTV along with Sonic Youth, Stone Temple Pilots, and Pearl Jam. Movies like ‘Singles’ the Cameron Crowe film came out in 1992, Kurt Cobain met his end in 1994, and a new movement called riot grrrl made its way out of the Northwest fueled by bands like Bratmobile and Bikini Kill. Girls wearing whatever they wanted, publishing zines and writing songs about what it meant to be female in a new youth culture; I was in, I dropped everything and bought a ’79 Suburban with a friend in Milwaukee and we set out for the Northwest in 1994. The same year Carrie Brownstein graduated from a high school in Redmond, Washington and began working her way toward what would become the band Sleater –Kinney.
You may also know Brownstein from the TV show ‘Portlandia’ which is now in its sixth season on IFC. In this show her and Fred Armisen artfully ridicule and mock the culture of the Northwest. (Please watch the video for ‘The Dream of the 90’s is Alive in Portland’ and be prepared to laugh at your 90’s self). After reading her memoir, I can see where doing ‘Portlandia’ might be some sort of relief after having lived through a scene dominated by the idea of authenticity. ‘Poser’ was a regular term back then, for someone dressing or acting like they belonged in a scene that was clearly not for them. Brownstein touches on this idea when she describes putting a Misfits sticker on her Honda Civic,
“The sticker depicted an image of Kennedy getting shot in Dallas……a totally offensive and disrespectful image that I nonetheless hoped would let people know that I considered myself a rebel. These things seemed very important. How else could we identify another weirdo or outlier? These symbols intimated a belief system, a way of thinking not just about music but about school and friends and politics and society” (54).
So there is this story in her memoir, the one that has the tone and feeling of the 90’s as the backdrop, and then there is Sleater-Kinney the band and her relationship therein. I do like Sleater-Kinney, not as authentically as one of my sisters’ does, but in the true spirit of the times she always had better music taste than me. Brownstein has all the cred she needs to be a 90’s girl, she knows underground bands and obscure punk and riot grrrl shows as if it were an oral history project and reminds us all that there was a time before the term ‘hipster’ became part of the cultural vernacular. On top of this she is a great writer who almost went for her MFA in Nonfiction Writing in California. Brownstein releases herself from the game of who’s who by just loving being a musician, feeling at home on stage, and loving, like we all did, the release that music allows a person.