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Entry Level: Neill Jameson on Grunge

Photo c/o Rock n Roll Socialite
Photo c/o Rock n Roll Socialite

Entry Level is a new series in which metal musicians re-examine the records that piqued their interests in music as children and young adults.

Neill Jameson is the vocalist and sole founding member of Krieg. He is also writes as columnist and gadfly-in-chief at Decibel Magazine. His column, Low Culture, appears in the print edition of the magazine. Read his most recent column here.

I grew during a strange time–which I suppose is how anyone feels about the time they started getting weird hairs and noticing the world for the first time–but I feel history can back me up on the late-’80s-turning-into-the-’90s as a dynamic and fucked up time for shifts of pop and subcultures. My story is also similar to many others in that I was somewhat of a pariah in my school since my parents were shit poor and the materialism of the ’80s was the word of the day. I simply did not fit in, and for the first time in my life I actually embraced it and stopped giving a fuck.

What does this little aside have to do with anything? Glad you asked, friend! Invisible Oranges asked me to be one of the first in a line of musicians who are going to stumble through writing about an album that changed us at an early age and made us want to become musicians, or at least fool people into thinking we are. Still reading? Sorry, it’s only going to ruin my reputation more as we go on.

I didn’t pop out of the womb listening to Venom and Slayer or whatever ludicrous claim people like to make. My wheelhouse as a kid was shit like Guns ‘N Roses, Motley Crue, AC/DC, that whole thing. I was interested in things that were loud, outrageous and more guitar driven than the pop of the 1980s that was ubiquitous at the time so that’s where I was drawn to. But they mostly spoke about things I had no idea about because I was ten and had no concept of sex, drugs and barely any about rock and roll. Then I got to junior high and the whole Seattle thing happened. By this point I was already hairless balls deep into Faith No More and King’s X who were giving me an alternative to what I was already seeing as excessive self-indulgence in popular culture. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I was at all an enlightened child, not by any means, but this was more of a reaction to people who had a sickening sense of superiority about them because their parents had more money or they were better at things normal, well-adjusted people were into. My first real “us vs. them” kind of moment.

Anyway, fast forward a few months and I was standing in line outside of a record store, waiting for it to open up, which was the first time in my life I’d ever done something like that. The record I was waiting to get was Dirt by Alice in Chains, a record I’d been waiting what felt like forever for (because I was barely 13 or so and we’re all morons at that age, even your own kids who you swear are fucking “geniuses”) due to the “Would?” video playing everywhere that summer. It also happened to come out the day that I was moving from Pittsburgh to New Jersey so I listened to it on repeat the entire drive.

It was, at that time in my life, the darkest thing I’d ever heard. I obviously had no fucking idea about drug addiction or any of the other self-destructive themes throughout the record, but musically it spoke to a part of me that yearned for something beyond my surroundings sonically. It was one of the first times where I considered the concept of trying to learn an instrument, which is something that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do until my very conservative father was buried a year and a half or so later. In a weird, circular way the line “all this time I swore I’d never be like my old man” from “Hate to Feel” has stuck with me for almost 25 years for that reason.

Since the whole point of this exercise is to talk about a record that made us change our minds and lives and what not and follow the musical path I’d have to honestly say the moment was I was absolutely sure of what I wanted to do was when I first listened to Nirvana’s Incesticide collection.

At the time I had no real concept of what a compilation of vinyl and demos were, because like I said earlier I was a kid and stupid, but like half of the country at the time I was super obsessed with Nevermind. So, obviously I was stoked that there was a “new” record out. This was different than what I had expected: the songs were rawer, stranger and had an odd flow to them. They were more primal, I’d even say more urgent. It was something I could envision myself doing. The primitive repetitive nature of the tracks sank in, seemed meditative, and because of that repetition because an interest of mine. Or perhaps just because I say the same shit over and over and need some deep excuse to be so boring. Either way, I guess.

Grunge was the first music scene I tried to latch onto and identified with on more than just a sonic level. By the time it was drying and dying out I had already begun my descent into death and black metal which continued to dominate my life for the last twenty plus years. But about fifteen years ago I started to revisit the sounds, like the two aforementioned records, that shaped my adolescence and discovered I still found value in them. And I still do to this day. It’s important that we don’t forget our past or the moments that shape us because it could mean we’ll lose sight of who we are now.

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