Despite the facts that — 1.) my three favorite bands were all products of the 1960s, 2.) I think several of the prototypical rock and pop songs of the 1950s have yet to be bettered and 3.) I can get into an argument with anyone who wants to agree with Homer Simpson’s assertion that rock music achieved perfection in 1974 (I easily contend it was 1966) — I still thank God every day that I came of age in the 1990s.
I’m sure sentimentality runs high for anyone that went through their teenage years in a particular decade, subscribing to particularly ridiculous fashions and simultaneously loving and hating the popular songs of the era (I think evidence can be found in my Dad recently asking me to send him an MP3 of the Jacksons’ “Blame it on the Boogie” with an additional request at the end of the inquiry — “Don’t laugh at me”).
You see, some amount of social aptitude in junior high and high school demands conformity in that no matter what your particular music tastes may be, you at least know and (to a certain level) understand the popular songs of the day. So despite the fact that I was even more of a Beatle- and Oasis-head in the mid 1990s than I am today, I still knew all the words to TLC and Spice Girls singles, despite the fact that I didn’t own the CDs. I swear.
And that’s because popular culture in the 1990s was inescapable. If put on the spot, I reckon I could still recall most of the dance moves to “Bye, Bye, Bye.” Not because I ever took anytime to learn them, but simply because I saw the video that many times in high school. You must remember that there was a time, dear readers, when both MTV and VH1 were dominated by music videos and not reality shows about 1980s rock stars hoping to find true love with 1980s groupies or teenage girls bitching about their birthday parties. There was a communal effect in something like OMC’s “How Bizarre.” Of course it was ridiculous. But you had to know it to make fun of it, didn’t you? And chances are, you knew it pretty well, because if you turned on modern radio or MTV in 1996, you heard the song.
In a way, it makes me pity today’s youth. Certainly YouTube and MySpace have unifying effects, or else the Arctic Monkeys would’ve never come to power and the world would have been spared of that Soulja Boy “Superman” business. But how many car radios are tuned to local modern radio stations anymore? If you don’t have Sirius deal pumping out a refined selection of music catered to your taste, then you probably have an iPod churning out songs you like based on a computer’s suggestion of what you like (and that based on the fact that you have both a Johnny Cash AND Kanye West song in your library).
Maybe I’m resentful that I wasn’t afforded that kind of (respected) individuality in my adolescence. But again, love it or hate it, everyone knew “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.” And I, for one, think the world was a better place for it.
I use that long introduction to defend what’s come to be my favorite series on this blog, “Confessions of a ’90s Survivor.” This is the one in which I justify posting relatively crap tracks and musing on what they meant when they were popular, and maybe more importantly, why they ever were popular. If you’re new to the site, you can see the first few entries in this series here.
And I implore you to get involved with the conversation — hearing other people muse on these songs is fantastic (see the Cardigans’ post from the earlier run of this series).
CONFESSIONS OF A ’90s SURVIVOR
Goo Goo Dolls – Iris
From City of Angels: Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture
I don’t know if this is completely justifiable, but I’m placing the blame for this one squarely on Brad Silberling, the guy who directed the movie. In truth, it’s probably down to some producer or management firm that thought “Hey, we can square these guys away with one good tune for this flick,” but in the end, I need a fall guy, and Silberling has the most distinguished title at the end of his name with regard to this movie.
The legend goes that Johnny Rzeznik was suffering from a bad case of writer’s block and entering a new era of sobriety when someone came calling for a song to help underscore this new Nicolas Cage/Meg Ryan feature that also, for whatever ungodly reason, would feature Dennis Franz’s naked backside. “Iris” was the product.
That’s right, “Iris” was the product. Teetering on the brink of extermination, this depressing-ass movie sparked a creative renaissance for Rzeznik which then bequeathed “Slide” and the rest of that Dizzy Up the Girl album that, given the choice, maybe life would not have been so bad without. And although I haven’t had to check in on the band since music video channels stopped playing music videos and I stopped having to listen to modern radio, apparently the Goos are still getting good mileage off this song.
Remarkably, sometimes I’m skeptical about God’s existence…
I suppose the movie would provide good inspiration to anybody looking for some, although if I had to write a song after seeing the movie, it probably would’ve consisted of the words I disbelievingly stammered to my friends after the lights came on: “Jesus Christ, that was depressing. What was the point of that? The guy gives up eternity for this girl and straightaway loses her? That was the most depressing movie I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe I paid for that. What’s the point? Love never works out? Even when you put eternity on the line?”
Of course, I would’ve made it rhyme. But that said, maybe it’s no coincidence that most of my friends are married now, and I’m still just the fun date for some girl to all these weddings. Oh, Brad Silberling, so much to answer for.
My skepticism and follies regarding love aside, Rzeznik was able to send a few chords around and around again on his acoustic guitar and swipe some of the movies core themes and visuals (“I’d give up forever to touch you,” “You bleed just to know you’re alive”) to crystallize a sleepy waltz and provide good fodder for a music video that could readily feature random clips from the flick.
But the reason it was able to find its own life outside of a movie that now shows up at infrequent intervals on TNT is that it has all the romantic pinings a teenager weathering their own bout of unrequited love feels.
I mean “My Heart Will Go On” was huge, but you have to remember that it was only huge while “Titanic” was huge (which, admittedly, was a long f*cking time). But once that popularity subsided, everything associated to it went with it. “City of Angels” wasn’t that good, but this song still anchored the Goo Goo Dolls’ ensuing album and justified stadium shows for awhile thereafter and a “Behind the Music” special. It’s the first lines of the chorus that resonate with everyone — “I don’t want the world to see me, ’cause I don’t think that they’d understand.” In high school, maybe it’s a line I would’ve most quickly associated with the goth kids, but really, it’s typical teenage mentality. “I can’t explain it, you just don’t get it, you’re not me, you can’t understand,” blah blah blah. Add some pretty mandolins and overly poetic imagery ( “All I can taste is this moment, and all I can breathe is your life,” anyone?) and boom, you got a song to kick off any ill-advised mix CD for the girl or guy you swear you’d give up forever for.
It’s not to say the song wasn’t perfectly timed, either. If music could be compartmentalized in the latter half of the decade, certainly acoustic-led yearnings/laments took a big share of the cupboard after Nirvana’s Unplugged album woke everyone up to the power of acoustic sets and Oasis found a Beatlesque balance to it all with “Wonderwall.” Could “Iris” have been so successful in 1992, when acoustic pop was defined by something like Extreme’s “More Than Words”? Maybe — the lyrical sentiments are perennial after all — but it’s hard to argue a lot of acoustic singer-songwriter groundwork hadn’t already been laid by the time this song blew up.
And for as much as I detested telescopes, wheeled desk chairs, over-styled hairdos, the spelling of ‘Rzeznik’ and this song’s chorus for pretty much the whole of 1998, I was screwing around on my guitar a couple weeks ago and stumbled over the chords of this song. I’d never learned to play it or even bothered to look it up, but then there it was coming out of my fingertips. And I sang the chorus, and what I could remember of the verses (which was a considerable amount considering I haven’t really thought about the song in 10 years).
It didn’t make me reflect or reconsider the Goo Goo Dolls in any way. It didn’t make me think maybe there was a deeply beautiful message in “City of Angels” that my callous teenage mind was too quick to scoff. It didn’t make me run to the music store looking for even a used copy of the soundtrack or Dizzy Up the Girl. But it made me remark casually to a friend, “You know what song I have in my head that I haven’t even heard in years? And I can still remember all the words?”
And that’s why the 1990s were so great. Are these teenagers today going to be having such conversations or momentary ruminations about the Plain White T’s in 2019? For some reason, I just don’t think so. But maybe I’m already an old fart.