Thirty years. How can it have been thirty years?

There are milestone years in your life. The years that stand out above all the others. I’ve lived many years, and could pick a good half-dozen or so that stand out. But near the top of that list, 1991 remains that year for me. Musically. Culturally. Personally. It was a time when it felt like I and my generation – Generation X – were coming into our own. Where the movie and music creators we discovered and came to admire were borne of the same age as we were. The same experiences. It wasn’t 1960s or 1970s pop culture redux. It was our culture, our identity. It was U2, Guns n’ Roses, Metallica, Depeche Mode, The Stone Roses, The Pixies, and a bunch of new bands from Seattle called Pearl Jam and Nirvana (we already knew Soundgarden, but bands like Mudhoney, Teenage Fanclub, Primal Scream and more were discovered at the same time). I’d been dipping my toe in the college and alternative rock pool since 1987 but 1991 was the year I plunged in.

Ask anyone at all connected with the music and culture of Generation X but 1991 remains THE year for all of that. It truly felt like the flood gates had opened. Don’t believe me? The Pixies’ Trompe le Monde, Nirvana’s Nevermind, The Cult’s Sanctuary, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magic were all released on the same day. Seven days earlier, Guns N’ Roses released Use Your Illusion I and II, and Hole released Pretty on the Inside. Both Pearl Jam’s Ten and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger were already in stores, and the autumn would see the releases of The Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish and U2’s Achtung Baby.

Oh, and Michael Jackson released an album that, while it outsold pretty much all of the above, felt like a relic from a different era. The 80s effectively ended the summer of 1991. Generation X was moving to the forefront, the culture was moving on, and if you were in your teens and early 20s, you were riding that wave.

Very few of my teenage years were memorable, or happy for that matter. Frankly the 90s weren’t all that great either – 1990-1994 were pretty good overall. 1995 through 1998 were shit, and 1999 was great professionally, lousy personally. While my career did eventually take flight, it was amidst a great deal of personal turmoil of the type that really prevented me from enjoying my life even when “great things” were happening. But I feel if I could hop into the Wayback Machine, or hit 88 mph in my DeLorean and travel back in time to relive just one year of my younger life, it would probably be 1991. It was the year that felt different even then. It felt like things were changing, and that the future looked a lot brighter than the past (remember that feeling? Pepperidge Farm remembers). That feeling was 30 years ago.

What both fascinates and troubles me is that 1991’s memories remain fresh, a lot more so than ones from 2011 or 2001 for that matter (outside of 9/11 what does any of us really remember from 2001 anyway?). I remember the Carribean Cruise I went on in March of 1991. I remember my summer job at our small-town local newspaper, of volunteering at the local cable access station to burnish my reel, I remember the first Lollapalooza tour, and seeing so many great bands in their prime. I remember helping my still best buddy move into his college apartment an hour’s drive from my town. I remember beginning my final year of high school. I remember My Own Private Idaho, The Commitments, The Fisher King, The Silence of the Lambs, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, JFK and Cape Fear.

This wasn’t one of them. Seriously. The Commitments is awesome.

The thing they don’t tell you about aging is that generally you feel like the same person inside that you were when you were seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Older and wiser, hopefully, but not so different. So much of my teenage years remains on immediate recall, largely thanks to the music I still listen to. While I do keep up with some contemporary artists – Coldplay, Haim, The Kills, The Weeknd – my heart belongs to the past, and to the music I grew up with. It’s not just music though; it’s a salve that helps me weather the present. If I close my eyes and listen to “In Bloom” and “Alive” and even “Blaze of Glory” , for a brief moment I’m back in the 80s and 90s. Even music from artists I never much cared for – I’m looking at you Richard Marx, Pseudo Echo and Icehouse – I still have fond memories accompanying.

1991 has been on my mind a lot, lately, thanks to the rebirth of Mixtape as a TV series I’m developing with Little Engine TV. We’re still in the early stages but there have been some encouraging developments as of late. Nothing I can reveal right now obviously. The general concensus we’ve been getting overall has been that we’re in the right time to start looking back at the 90s, those celebrated but largely forgotten early years of the decade when it seemed the world was changing for the better, an upward climb out of the morass of the 80s. That time in your life when everything good and just seems within reach.

But what is it about 1991 that holds on to me? I had better years. 1992 was right around the corner; an even more pivitol year for me. If there’s one 1991 memory I carry with me, it may be this. November 29, 1991; that was when me and a bunch of HS friends trekked to the local-ish university to see a little band from Boston play on what would be their then final tour.

The Pixies were, and remain my favorite band. Long-time readers of this blog will know that. 1990’s Bossanova remains my favorite album of all time, not because it’s the best Pixies album but because it was the right album at the right time for me. Seeing them in concert was a life goa, and in late 1991 I got my chance.

Anyway, the show. It was tight, hot, raucous. And loud. Boy was it loud. There’s something about live music that reaches deeper than recorded or video. A concert is a gathering of members of the same tribe. Everybody who travels to a concert from whatever location is joining a temporary movement. All united by a love of a band and their music. our case was no different. This concert was about an hour’s drive from our small-town yet we all made that trek. We mingled with people who had driven further, and some who lived nearby (said concert was at one of the local universities). The show was, of course, amazing. But at one point near the end we were all gathered in a group watching the band and I tore my gaze away from the stage to just look at the people I was at the concertwith. Janet, Ana, Charles, Matt, Anthony, Andy, Nathalie, Elliott, Moira, Esme, Katja. All of them. And I reflected even then that in a little less than a year those faces would be memories and nothing more. They had their lives, I had mine, and our paths would likely never cross again. For the most part that held true, even in this connected world of ours. I’m one of a seemingly few people not on Facebook so I have no idea what became of most of them. There’s a couple I keep up with now but the rest are just more memories; faces in a dusty yearbook, if that.

And it makes me think of a similar concert that fell nearly 13 years later to the day – November 24, 2004 to be exact – on the Pixies’ first of many reunion tours. A decade older, playing the “hits” despite never really having a “hit” when they were together in the first place (which should give us all pause to consider what makes a “hit” anyway). I went with a friend, just the two of us, and we had a great time. The band was on point, the crowd raucous. But standing there in that cavernous hall I wondered if any of the people I saw them with in 1991 were there too. I wondered how their lives were going, how they’d turned out. Were they happy? Were they in a good place. Did they remember me?

I never got an answer; if any were there our paths did not cross. After the show we all cleared out back to our cars and began the journey back to the present, back to our 2004 lives. Back to home. But that question, unanswered as it was in 2004, did find one in 2008, when I first got the idea for a comic book series called Mixtape. Mixtape changed my life; I stopped telling stories for others and started telling them for myself. Mixtape opened doors I didn’t realize were even there. It led to Magicians Impossible and all the other successes to follow. And those successes, right to the present with the Mixtape series, all can trace their lineage back to that special year.

The fact 1991 was 30 years ago reminds me that the once far-away year of 2050 is closer than 1991. Where will I be 29 years from now? Will I even be here? Will I even be here next year? I don’t know. None of us does. The last 30 years has taken away friends and family, teachers, classmates and colleagues. Nothing is guaranteed to us; not even tomorrow. I think that’s what makes the past the past, and why our thoughts return to days of yore; because it’s safe, because it’s known. Yet, through the things we loved – the movies, the music, the memories – those days still there. We know how the past ends. The future is frightening because none of us knows what the next day will bring. Looking at the state of the world today, the prognosis is not terribly positive. Sometimes in my darker moments I ponder whether or not I want to see another day, given the road ahead looks pretty dire.

But I keep at it. I keep plugging awy at work and at life, though as written about elsewhere the hard truth remains that while I still enjoy writing I don’t really enjoy being a “writer” and all that being a writer entails; promotion, appearances, the public side of it. So henceforth I am giving up on being a writer and focusing instead on writing. On showing up and doing the work. On being there for my family and for myself. That’s the big takeaway from 1991. That those years pass you by so fast and suddenly you’ve lived a lifetime without realizing it. It makes you want to cherish the days yet to come, because some day they’ll all be done.

12 thoughts on “1991

  1. Yes yes yes! So happy to hear about Mixtape! I picked those books up when I saw you at NYCC years ago and they’re still in heavy-rotation. Does this mean we might see more comic book stories (or the original series collected in trade)?

  2. Yeah 1991 was a great year for music wasn’t it? I think even then we all knew just how good. I honestly think it might have bene the last great year in music, which is kind of sad considering this was 30 years ago!

  3. Thanks for keeping the Mixtape flame burning, Dave, I know it’s been a while but hopefully Mixtape will return to comic stores. I have scripts written. Hopefully a series commitment, if/when it comes, will goose interest. I really hope to land a legit publisher for it and to get the rest of the story illustrated.

  4. Bill, I can’t recall a year since that was as good, as groundbreaking musically. I’m sure there have been a couple but nothing on this scale. Remember this was pre-internet, pre-Napster, the last analog era we had. The end of the 90s looked a lot different than the beginning.

  5. For me the 90s didn’t truly begin until 1991. I was a metal chick so it was all about Metallica and the black album. But then I heard Nevermind, and Badmotorfinger and suddenly metal didn;t seem as hard as it used to be. But I thought Badmotorfinger didn’t come out until the autumn, after Nevermind. Or am I mistaken?

  6. No, I’m mistaken. I’ll leave the mistake as is so people reading this aren’t confused. Yes, Badmotorfinger was released in fall. I think my confusion stems from my memories of that album, which were largely me cruising around in my car with the tape in the deck. Always summer, the memory is and I just sounded like Yoda just now. And The Black Album slaps.

  7. It’s funny to me when people talk about the 90s music scene they’re really only talking a few years, late 91 to early 94. 1991 was definitely a watershed though. Looking through my old tape and CD collection a lot of it is from 1991-1992. Great music, good memories.

  8. Jeffrey – yeah same here. The “deepest” part of my music collection is pretty much 1989-1994, which is “the 90s” to me. Not that there wasn’t a lot from 1995-1999 but it was different. there’s a definite demarcation point, it seems, right around Kurt Cobain’s death, but grunge and Seattle bands were on their way out by 1994 anyway and pop music was returning to the culture. At least we still have the music.

  9. Mixtape sounds cool from what I’ve read on your website (not really a comic book reader anymore). Frankly I think we’re long-overdue for a TV series set in the 90s that’s about the 90s, not murders or scifi stuff. Like “Stranger Things” without the fantasy element. I like that show but always was more interested in the day-to-day stuff than demons from other dimensions or whatever they were. The music, the malls, the arcades, hanging out stuff like that.

  10. Cameron – yeah that’s the approach we want to take with Mixtape, to make it more akin to something like Dazed & Confused or Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Very low-stakes, hanging out type of stories. It’s difficult to write TV without forcing it into the TV structure and giving everything a defined arc. But so far it’s working.

  11. Great look back at 1991, Brad! I started my first year of college then and I think all the great music that came out that year just enhanced the experience of moving away from home, making new friends, starting a new phase of life. I saw so many great bands that year and into the next several (though I missed the first Lollapalooza) and the juke-boxes at the various bars I went to (remember those) were loaded with a lot of the new stuff. Hard to believe the “new” is 30 years ago!

  12. Laura – I agree. As stated in another comment, for me, “the 90s” musically are 1989-1994. That was when I was mot into music, when I bought the most albums, when I went to the most shows. I think in my first semester of college alone I saw U2, PJ Harvey, Primus, Sonic Youth, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains, Ministry, Teenage Fanclub, Mudhoney, and a whole bunch of other bands big and small I’ve probably forgotten about. Glad you have some good memories to go along with your music.

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