Monday, January 23, 2006

A Lunge at Grunge

When I was a teenager (waaay back in the late 70's and early 80's. Shut up, so I'm old), I was a member of a secret society. A society so utterly secret that it didn't have a name. There were no meetings or official slogans. We had no agenda. Members of this society did not have to apply for membership, or go through an initiation process. Above all, we never talked about the society, or our membership, because we didn't have to. It was understood. We grokked.

The only way to identify another member of our society was through a visual identification of the society's unofficial outfit. While variations were always welcome, it was understood that the outfit had basic elements which had to be present in order to identify you as a member of the society.

First off, you wore boots. Kodiak boots, to be exact. Undone and wide open, the laces trailing on the ground. This was done primarily to piss off adults. The boots had to be steel toed, simply to protect you from the cruel, toe-snapping crush of another Kodiak-boot wearing individual who is stomping on your foot to see if you have steel-toed boots.

The next article of clothing is the pants, which must be jeans. Must. Be. Jeans. Old jeans, the more worn, ripped and torn, the better. This created a bit of a challenge back then, because when I was a kid, no one had ever had the idea of selling pre-faded jeans. New jeans were bright blue, crisp, and would even hold a crease (if your mom was cruel/naive enough to iron your jeans).

Whenever my family was going out for a meal, or visiting relatives, I would always immediately run off and change into a nice, crisp new pair of jeans. For years, my mother mistakenly believed that I was a respectful child who wanted to look my best for my relatives. The fact was, I took any opportunity to wear my new jeans when going out somewhere where there were no cool people to see me.

Next, the t-shirt. T-shirts could be plain, without logos or decoration, as long as they were solid colours - preferably dark, but white was ok too. Ideally, a t-shirt (or a jersey, if applicable) could bear the logo of a rock band. Pink Floyd (especially the Wall or Dark Side of the Moon logos), Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones were the coolest shirts. If you were very, very lucky, you had a Motorhead shirt.

Under no circumstances would anyone be foolish enough to wear a t-shirt with a product/company logo on it. Back then, a logo-shirt indicated that you got the shirt for free, in a contest or something. A free shirt meant you were poor, and you would be mocked for being poor. The attitude back then was that no one would actually pay money for a t-shirt with a company logo on it, because only a fool would pay money out of their pocket to advertise a company or product.

Over the t-shirt could be worn an optional, standard button-down shirt, but only if the buttons were undone. Doing up the buttons indicated that you were probably wearing an advertising t-shirt.

On top of that, was the ultimate piece of clothing - the Lumberjacket. The lumberjacket was everything. It indicated status, it kept you warm, it kept you safe. There were some issues with lumberjackets; for example a brand new lumberjacket had little micro-fibers on the outside that were highly flammable. If you saw someone with a brand-new lumberjacket, you would immediately set it on fire for the entertainment value. Luckily, the micro fibers usually - usually - burned out quickly.

The standard lumberjacket was red. Some lucky bastards had a green lumberjacket, and even fewer were lucky and cool enough to have a blue lumberjacket. I tried to get a green or blue lumberjacket as a kid, but could never find them. To this day, I am convinced there was a secret code exchange that you had to go to in order to get he salesguy to sell you a green lumberjacket.

Me: I wanna buy a green lumberjacket.
Salesperson: We don't sell green lumberjackets.

The secret code was probably something like this:

Cool Guy: I wanna buy a lumberjacket.
Salesperson: They're right here.
Cool Guy: These lumberjackets are nice, if you like red.
Salesperson: I have a red bicycle.
Cool Guy: Does it have a bell?
Salesperson: Yes, I ring it all the time.
Cool Guy: When the bells ring at St. Mary's, its time for prayer.
Salesperson: Come with me.

Then the Salesperson would lead the customer over to a floor-length mirror, press a concealed button, and reveal a secret room, filled with green lumberjackets. Even then, you had to know a new, different code to access the room with the blue lumberjackets.

We dressed this way for years, and our secret society bloomed. Then, something horrible happened. Somewhere, in Hollywood, or in the music industry, I don't know where, but somewhere, somebody gave our style a name. They called it grunge. In naming it, they destroyed it, because the key element of this lifestyle was that it was unnamed and unacknowledged.

By applying the name "grunge", the style was officially dead. Of course, it thrived and grew for decades afterwards, much like the hair and fingernails on a corpse appear to keep growing after death. The same thing happened to punk, and to Goth, and will continue to happen over the years. Something cool is born, somebody decides to market it, and they kill the very thing they are trying to exploit.


Rach said...

Prior to the early 90's members of this tribe could also be identified by the mullet or rat tail that dangled over the collar of the Lumberjack Jacket in which men idly flicked while pulling out their lighter from the upper left hand pocket of said Lumberjack Jacket.

Before they were named grunge, in my snooty school we called them "Stoners". They were usually the coolest people around because clearly they didn't give a shit.

Got any pics of that Ash?

Rach said...

Shit if our country is going to go back to the 80's in politics we might as well break out the Kodiaks!

Asher Hunter said...

I might have pictures of that time somewhere, but it will take some digging!

Samuel said...

As a Nirvana fan, this was a very entertaining read. Very entertaining indeed.

Keep 'em coming!