In the early 1990s, The New York Times sent a list of questions to Sub Pop records in Seattle. The paper wanted to know more about the elusive West Coast "grunge" scene and asked for a lexicon of grunge terminology. Mocking the reporter, Megan Jasper, a Sub Pop employee (and now vice president of the label), made up a bunch of nonsense words on the spot, mostly out of boredom. (For example, according to Jasper, "swingin' on the flippity-flop" was grunge speak for "hanging out.") Her attitude was emblematic of a counterculture that simply didn't care.
The grunge scene was a medley of wayward youth, largely left to its own devices. And it was documented heavily by now-renowned photographer Michael Lavine. At the time, he fit right in, although his meticulous attention to detail and technique was slightly at odds with the reckless nature of his subjects. Regardless, Lavine was there to capture the heyday of a very distinct musical culture.
Unlike some of his musical cohorts, Lavine was able to parlay his grunge time into a long-term, successful career beyond the counterculture. His photos from the '80s and '90s grunge scene now form the content of a new book, aptly named Grunge, with an introduction by none other than Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. Shredded jeans, plaid flannel and lots of hair: This may not be conventional beauty, but Lavine's photos are still nice to look at. In some ways, the grunge look is back and more beautiful than ever: Go to any indie music venue and behold the sea of plaid. But if Kurt Cobain had seen scruffy lumberjack shirts in the windows of Macy's, he probably would have laughed.
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