Friday, 5 August 2011

Memories of Grunge


I was a teenager in the early-to-mid 1990s. I was the wallflower type: the one whose name no one would remember after graduation, the one whose face in the class portrait would only prompt an "I have no idea who that girl was" in her fellow class mates a few years later.

The Soviet Union had collapsed and Finland had entered a phase of serious economic downturn. A lot of people had lost their jobs. Us kids, we didn't talk about that stuff, but a cloud of anxiety floated around our lives anyway. I read articles in the newspapers about the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia, the genocide in Rwanda, and the war in Chechnya. Just like many of my peers, I escaped the impossibility of the world into my room, music and writing. My friends and I went for long walks in the woods. We didn't smoke, drink, or do drugs. We just talked for hours on end about how weird life was and how it somehow seemed to escape our grasp. We laughed at it all because there was nothing else we could do. We talked about music, books and films, and as much as popular culture shaped up our daily lives, it somehow felt like it had very little to do with our actual identities. We were plagued by the typical insecurities of teenagers; the questions of who were really were, of whom we might love one day.


I had a crush on River Phoenix, and for a long time my favourite film was My Own Private Idaho. Now in hindsight, I have no idea what my 14-year-old self really understood of the movie. I remember thinking that the world seemed limitless; the fast-moving clouds above the wide plains in the film's dream sequences provided me with a strange sense of security. Whatever might happen to me in life, there'd always be places I had never been to before, innocent and pure places with something real, places where I could perhaps start over if need be. River Phoenix overdosed in the fall of 1993. Kurt Cobain shot himself in April next year. I cut their obituaries off the newspaper and glued the clippings on the pages of my angst-ridden diary.


In the 8th grade class portrait, I sit on the front row, holding the sign with the name of our school and class. The sign lays crooked on my lap. I stare into the camera with my head tilted to the side, my long hair hangs limp. I am wearing a huge red flannel shirt, dark jeans and heavy boots, and no make-up. I look like I am really fed up with the world. If you'd look up "grunge" in a pictorial dictionary, you'd see me. Yet no one I knew used the word. There was no talk of sub-cultural groups; we didn't identify ourselves like that. No one spoke of personal style. We just were who we were, or whatever it was we tried to be. We didn't realize that our flannel shirts were oversized.

Photos: Steven Meisel for Vogue, December 1992

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post honey, really nice, oxox, CR

metscan said...

I kind of " missed " the period you are writing in this post. I had my second child in the turn of 80-90´s and concentrated on being a home mom 100%.
Our life continued without the drama, that happened around us.
My firstborn, your age, continued riding as usual, we were not touched by the depression time, life went on smoothly.
Naturally, what happened in the then USSR, was a shock, but then big things were happening all over the world.
I had my cozy nest with my newborn one, and maybe it protected me from the cruel reality.

Carolyn said...

I find it hard to believe you were a wallflower! In my time we are all wearing our school uniform, but the girls' socks are rolled rebelliously down as far as they can be rolled and we have Olivia Newton John hair. But the feelings were much the same :)

the Citizen Rosebud said...

Oh I was so grunge, before Marc Jacobs, real life grunge-oh. I remember having mixed feelings when fashion appropriated the look- so not for reals, but years later looking back, I feel fond of those photos. It was a good era for me, although not necessarily a personal fashion highpoint.

Ginta said...

Oh, yes, grunge years! Checked flannel shirts, leather jackets, jeans or long skirts! And all the insecurities, dreams and despair! I guess the era has more influence on my musical, cinematic and sartorial taste as I'm acknowledging.

Shey said...

In the mid-90's I was living in Mexico, my favorite years in high school, I had a neighbor younger than us who was learning how to play the drums, he practiced Smells like teen spirit every weekend, I loved listening to 4 non blondes "What's up". I didn't wear flannel shirts but I did wear those Blossom-looking hats and flower print dresses that hit to your ankles with booties hehehe oh and black stringed chokers. I didn't know what was going on in the world at that time, I just enjoyed the freedom and safety of my small town. =)

Kari. said...

I just saw Stand By Me tonight -- great movie (with River Phoenix).