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Shut up and eat your cabbage rolls

Apparently, I please no one.

Although the brood loved tonight’s tacos (leaving nothing for me to take to work for lunch), too often I’m left with then staring at their plates, well after I’ve spent a couple of hours working on something, asking, “Um, and, we’re supposed to eat this?”

My esteemed colleague spends some time writing about his excellent adventures in the kitchen, tales I often take to heart, experimenting in the kitchen (as best I can) and putting his suggested creations on a plate — only to see blank faces looking over their dinner and asking, “And, what are we supposed to do with this? Eat it?”

“Karl gave me the idea.”

“Then he can eat it.”

“Look, just give it a try, he swears it’s delicious.”

“Well, he’s mean and we’re not sure he likes kids.”

“Believe me, I’ve watched him with the Bonz and he loves kids.”

“Not if he’s suggesting you make this for us to eat.”

“You loved his mac and cheese.”

“We’ll give him that. Otherwise, he hates kids.”

Kids, of course, have an extremely limited repertoire of things they’ll actually eat (usually limited to something they can drench with milk). Otherwise they stare, pick, stir, find reasons why they’re not hungry and ask to go to bed.

There’s no pleasing em’, no pleasing anyone.

Over the weekend, a friend mentioned that I was “blessed” that I have this forum, a place where I can air my views, stretch out my creative urge (although some readers of The SUN would accuse me of doing that in my news reporting ...) and generally make a giant ass of myself.

One of these days, I’ll have to examine the cost/benefit analysis (or blessing/curse equation) and determine if showing my face on these pages is actually working to my advantage. Until then, I suppose I’ll continue offending whatever groups make my fingers tingle and my forehead throb. Oddfellows, grocery clerks, politicians, investment bankers, bad musicians, gun nuts, Russian brides, “chem-trail” paranoids, Disney executives, drivers of cars with Texas license plates, Cheeseheads, deadheads, boneheads, et al, the list grows with each passing column.

In my own defense, there’s no conscious attempt to offend or affront; it just seems that, week after week, someone’s going to get their feelings hurt. It seems that any issue I raise is going to be met by someone raising holy hell over something I wrote, offhanded and tongue in cheek though it might be.

Like my kids, some readers are going to look at it and ask, “Am I supposed to eat this?”

Case in point, in a column published a month or so back I mentioned in passing, that the ’90s sucked — at least as far as music was concerned. The reaction was worse than my kids staring at a plate of cabbage rolls. Not only were some readers tossing plates around (something my children would never do) but took it upon themselves to provide a list of bands who, for one reason or another, redeemed the decade in their eyes.

Fair enough. I wasn’t saying that the decade lacked any good music: I’d give an assured nod to their lists, agreeing that there were a number of bands and musicians who stepped up and saved the ’90s from being an utter loss. Nonetheless, it was a decade that saw the primacy of techno and crap-rap, dirt-head pseudo-grunge, redolent jam band circle jerking and the rise of rip-off mega-concerts such as Lollapalooza and OzFest.

With few exceptions, the music was derivative, adding little to what arose in the ’80s. largely unimaginative and boring. It was a decade that forced me to (happily) revisit the music from earlier decades, comparing the older music to what was coming out in the ’90s, and gain a renewed appreciation for the older stuff.

While conceding that there were some bands and artists that actually made the decade worthwhile, I am entrenched in my stand that, by and large, it was a wretched time for music.

With that said, my concessions include Nirvana, of course. At the start of the ’90s and with the emergence of Nirvana, I was excited. It looked as though the decade would be getting off to a good start. Raw, angry, loud and brutally honest, Nirvana created a new sound that suddenly ripped a badly needed hole in rock radio (one that had been previously filled by dumbbell hair bands).

Unfortunately, what Nirvana had wrought was soon followed by a plague of imitators and also-rans, what the press soon dubbed as “grunge rock” while the corporate suits glommed onto every flannel shirttail with greedy glee.

Thus, rock radio was soon polluted with the sounds of the B-listers: Pearl Jam, with lead singer Eddie Veder squeezing two flat chords through a pained rictus as if he’d been backed up for months (dude, less smack, more All-Bran); Soundgarden, the best of the B-listers but falling far too hard on the heavy metal side; Screaming Trees, who, having taken their name from a small Jack Handy joke, were at least as snicker-worthy; Stone Temple Pilots, a one-trick pony whose trick usually involved a ride in a taxi cab to rehab; Alice in Chains, as redundant and irrelevant as they were execrable; and Bush, a band with all the entertainment value of a ball-and-cup.

As if the grunge B-listers weren’t reason enough to set any beflanneled junkie in your rifle sites, the scene soon degraded into sappy second-wave bands that gave guitars a bad name. Matchbox Twenty, Creed, Staind, Puddle of Mudd, Three Days Grace, Nickelback and countless other witless curs hit the charts with a dumbed-down sound (and even dumber lyrics) that possessed middle-aged office managers to get tramp stamps and led Real Estate agents to grow face mullets (goatees).

That those bands continue threatening another album or (shudder) revival tours is sufficient to believe that the Mayans were right regarding next year’s calendar.

Fortunately, rock was saved from across the pond. Oasis and the rest of the Britpop bands such as Blur (the nemesis of Oasis), Low, The Stone Roses, Pulp, Ash, Black Grape, Supergrass , Teenage Fanclub, and Lush likewise salvage some of the decade’s assault on rock (in that category, I’d also include American bands that righteously appropriated the Britpop sound: The Dandy Warhols, The Posies, The Smithereens, Garbage and The Verve Pipe).

With the exception of Oasis (by far the best and the most talented of all those bands), there was a sad inconsistency amongst most of the Britpop bands, even if the aggregate sound was splendidly psychedelic and hard rocking.

While the whole “rave scene” thing almost single-handedly destroyed the decade — techno/house/ambient/trance and the rest (what could be more boring than music that required a dose of ecstasy to appreciate?) — I admit that it’s evolution into the broader form of “electronica” has led to some of the best music of the last decade.

Bjork created some fascinating music in the ’90s but her influence is far-reaching, well into the present.

However, it was Radiohead that really mattered. Originally part of the Britpop scene, Radiohead broke free from that sound with two of the most extraordinary and revolutionary albums of that (or any decade: 1998’s “OK Computer” and “Kid A” in 2000.

On occasion I’ve heard Radiohead described as “this generation’s Pink Floyd” but I don’t find them nearly that prosaic or pedestrian. Radiohead made (and continues to make) music that challenges the mind as well as the ear. Their continued ability to push the sonic envelope (without resorting to obtuse experimentalism) is captured almost daily by indie rock bands currently shaping the soundscape.

Also on the electronic end, but with a much harder, metallic edge, were bands that grew out of the industrial/goth/dark punk dance scene. While largely inconsistent (and with an almost cartoonish determination to shock ala Alice Cooper), bands like Front 242, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, KMFDM and Revolting Cocks exploded out of an otherwise somnambulant goth scene littered with self-involved cry babies like The Smiths, The Mission, Sisters of Mercy, Cocteau Twins, Cabaret Voltaire, Dead Can Dance, et al.

Taking a cue from industrial-metal pioneers such as Skinny Puppy, Pigface, Swans, Godflesh and Ministry, the harder, angrier and more aggressive electro-metal bands reinvigorated a scene that had largely been reduced to the highlight of camping out at a corner table in Denny’s for catty conversation on the finer points of self-mutilation.

The best of that bunch was Nine Inch Nails, a “one-man band” (Trent Reznor) that moved industrial-metal out of underground clubs and into the mainstream. Groups that followed — Tool, Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Filter, Static-X and Stabbing Westward — cashed in on Reznor’s far-reaching vision. Unfortunately, one great album, “The Downward Spiral,” was not enough to salvage several mediocre ones. Still, the influence is still felt in the metal scene as well as Indie bands like Elbow and The Horrors.

More unfortunately, the influence of industrial-metal, mixed with rap, gave rise to a truly puerile sub-genre that spawned such atrocities as Limp Bizkit, Korn and Papa Roach (only Rage Against the Machine transcended the rap-rock genre). Whereas Robin Williams said, “If you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there,” if you remember the rap rock bands, you were in the ’90s but you were too stupid to care.

Two more movements in rock served to soil the decade with the alacrity of a puppy with loose bowels.

The emergence of Emo and pop punk should be enough to consign the 90s to the trash heap of history. While bands like Green Day (who my son loves) and Pennywise were tolerable )if not mildly entertaining), groups like Jimmy Eat World, The Promise Ring, Mineral and Samiam made me want to grab a baseball bat and make someone really cry.

Punk should be about anger and aggression, not simpering self-reflection and self-involved mewling. Emo reduces power to pabulum, a mere bucket of safety pins standing next to the cash register at Hot Topic.

Lastly, the worst of the worst in the ’90s had to have been the jam band scene, poking its dreadlocked and unshowered head out of a sleeping bag parked on hand-me-down sofa.

Filling the void left by the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995, the jam bands provided something to do for millions of trust funders, purveyors of veggie burritos and whippets, and all other blissed-out bums with nothing but time to waste and nowhere to go.

Into that void fell nitwitted noodlers such as Phish, Widespead Panic, Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, Leftover Salmon and The String Cheese Incident. Long on pointless improvisation and short on anything resembling innovation, the jam bands represented the absolute nadir of ’90s music, providing compelling rationale for the saying, “Support clean air, kill a hippie.”

It was a grim time, kiddies. Bill Gates threatened to rule the world and jam bands threatened to destroy music with a 45-minute guitar solo.

If anything salvaged music in the ’90s, it again fell onto the backs of African-Americans — as it had in so many previous decades (stretching back to the start of the 20th century). Indeed, rap music cannot be ignored or underestimated on its influence that, beginning in the ’90s, continues to assert its power to this very moment.

Although the ’90s began “gangsta” and became quite tiresome with the street tough braggadocio (especially the mindless East Coast v. West Coast rivalry), outright misogyny and potential for making suburban white boys dress up in silly sweats, wear their ball caps at an angle, doff gaudy gold chains and refer to peers as “dawg.”

As the artists matured, made money, and saw lesser-lights sentenced to long bids in prison, some incredible music was made as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Puff Daddy (as we knew him then), Jay-Z, DMX, KRS-One, Kool Moe Dee and (of course) Eminem produced some of the most vibrant, subversive and influential music of the decade.

Still, giving props to those few (and I await the list of artists I should have included) will not reconcile me to those readers who will continue to insist that I am wrong regarding the ’90s. Even some pretty decent music by PJ Harvey, Beck, Smashing Pumpkins and Jane’s Addiction weren’t enough to speak well of a decade devoted to raves and jam band fests.

I stand by what I say. Now shut up and eat your stuffed cabbage rolls.

jim@pagosasun.com

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