Eras of Influence: Exploring the Sounds of the 1990s

This article is part of an ongoing series in which I examine the artists and music that defined specific eras of my life. Check out the introduction to the series here.

1990s: Alanis Morissette, Nirvana, No Doubt, Boyz II Men

As the 90s rolled around, I started to gain a little more autonomy. On occasion, my mom let me choose the radio station. On the schoolbus, someone might talk about a cool new song that had just hit the airwaves. And I would use these moments to begin stretching my wings into new sounds. To put it plainly, I grew a very quick interest in anything that had a guitar.

And the sound of a guitar in the 90s was distinct. While I didn’t yet have the chops to distinguish between different styles of rock, I frequently used the term alternative to describe my tastes. Alternative to what? I don’t think anyone my age really knew. But it was a sound and it made me feel cool. My mom didn’t listen to Nirvana or The Smashing Pumpkins. She feigned interest in No Doubt’s breakout single “Don’t Speak”, but not enough to explore the entirety of Tragic Kingdom. I held my cassette tape of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill in special esteem. It had a swear word!

I remember how early sounds of the decade, in the form of groups like Ace of Base and TLC, blended the fleeting influence of the late 80s with something fresh and new that helped define the pop music of a new decade. A new wave of R&B sounds hit the radio in the form of Boyz II Men and All-4-One. The former’s third studio album II was owned by nearly everyone in my middle school.

During this period, my lawn-mowing and leaf-raking money was used almost exclusively on music – first on cassettes, then on CDs. My first compact disc, purchased in conjunction with a Discman, was Hanson’s Middle of Nowhere (yikes). Did I have to sit perfectly still to avoid my favorite songs skipping? Of course. But the days of rewinding and fast forwarding were over.

As much as I was able to stretch my own wings through the early and mid part of the decade, I still hadn’t found something that was quite my own. I was open to anything, by hadn’t quite pinpointed a sound or a scene that would engulf me. That would all change in 1997, which we’ll explore next time as my first clearly defined era of influence.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Nirvana Members Reunite to Play Cal Jam 2018

This weekend, Foo Fighters held their second annual Cal Jam music festival at San Bernardino, California, resulting in a surprise set from Nirvana. During the six-song set, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic were joined on stage by Deer Tick’s John McCauley and Joan Jett, filling in for Kurt Cobain for three songs each.

Jett joined the band for “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “All Apologies”, and “Breed”, while McCauley took the stage for “In Bloom”, “Serve the Servants”, and “Scentless Apprentice”.

Watch a few of the performances below:

Grohl and Novoselic previously got back together to perform during Nirvana’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction and during a 2012 “Saturday Night Live” appearance with Paul McCartney.

Which song from the performance is your favorite? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Stalking Seattle: Exploring the Dark History of One City’s Rock Legends


For years, it’s been a dream of mine to travel to Seattle and visit the old haunts of some of my favorite musicians. Like so many others my age, I was deeply impacted by the alt rock explosion in the early 90s – a movement that would forever alter not only the underground music scene, but pop culture itself and the philosophical trajectory of an entire generation.

It’s safe to say that It’s All Dead wouldn’t exist without this movement and the local sounds that sparked it.

As anyone that’s spent more than 10 minutes with me can attest, Kurt Cobain is easily my favorite musician. I’ve read nearly every book written about him, spent countless hours reading, obsessing and writing about the impact and arc of alternative rock, and argued relentlessly for In Utero’s superiority to Nevermind.

However, for all of this self-proclaimed head knowledge, I had yet to step foot in the city that spawned it or walk down the roads that told its stories. This mission was recently (and belatedly) accomplished, thanks in large part to Stalking Seattle, the city’s surprisingly one and only rock and roll tour.

Statue of Jimi Hendrix, unveiled in 1997

Statue of Jimi Hendrix, unveiled in 1997

In the early afternoon, we climbed into the back of a black minivan with a few fellow music lovers and a kind-hearted, sharp-witted tour guide named Charity. She immediately strikes you as someone who is friends with everyone. This likely isn’t far from the truth, as her knowledge of the Seattle rock scene is one born from having lived in it and amongst it.

Charity is a Seattle native who started the tour a few years ago after repeated urges from those around her to fill the city’s glaring tourist void. She’s fully equipped for the task, with enough charisma to match her vast knowledge and experiences.

Throughout the afternoon, Charity shares stories of laughter, tears, joy, amazement and solemn reflection of over a decade’s worth of proceedings. She and her friends literally watched the small community around them explode into a worldwide phenomenon, finding themselves at ground zero. Even years later, you can still catch a flicker of awe in her voice as she marvels at the events.

Among the many stops along the way are sites such as the apartment of deceased Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood, the building where members of what would become Pearl Jam first heard Eddie Vedder sing their songs, venues where Nirvana first played in front of a crowd, settings for the seminal Cameron Crowe film, Singles, the sculpture that inspired Chris Cornell to write Soundgarden’s smash song “Black Hole Sun”, and the high school of Jimi Hendrix.

Black Sun sculpture that inspired Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun"

Black Sun sculpture that inspired Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”

Each stop includes a story told from Charity’s perspective, along with local lore and details to fill in the gaps. Even more intriguing is the speculation and questions that linger in the aftermath of so many of these events and settings.

Herein lies the most fascinating and disturbing reality about Seattle’s celebrated music scene. Just above the sparkling reflection of artistic talent and bold culture-shifting influence lies a dark cloud of grief. Moments I had long anticipated as being filled with joy and wonder were often full of sober reflection.

Andy Wood’s heroine overdose, Kurt Cobain’s suicide, Jimi Hendrix’s mysterious death, Chris Cornell’s crippling substance abuse problems, and the tragic murder of Gits singer Mia Zapata are just a few of the events that cast a dark shadow over the city’s streets that, to this day, are still plagued by heroin use. Be not mistaken, there is beauty here, but it came at a cost.

In no moment is this more apparent than while standing outside of the home formerly owned by Cobain and Courtney Love, located in the ritziest neighborhood in Seattle. During their time there, the house is described as being nearly dilapidated, with peeling wallpaper and water leaking in from the roof.

Outside the home, now completely restored, lies a small park with a single wooden bench, which has become a shrine for Cobain. It’s covered with song lyrics and pictures, and on this afternoon, is dressed with an old sweater and a few wilting flowers.

A bench located in the park next to Cobain's Seattle home

A bench located in the park next to Cobain’s Seattle home

As each of us approaches the bench for a picture, Charity quips, “Don’t smile, but don’t look too sad.” We all chuckle at the notion, finding it difficult to find the appropriate response for the moment. It is truly one filled with a deep sadness and a healthy reverence.

In so many ways, that lone bench embodies not only the life and lasting impact of Cobain, but of an entire generation of the city’s music and culture. Unique, yet hauntingly out of place. Inviting, yet starkly alone.

My experience of Seattle wasn’t as I expected, but was instead profoundly more impactful. Walking these paths and listening to these stories is humbling in the most unexpected of ways. We find ourselves forever grateful for the music and voices that impacted our lives so deeply, while simultaneously learning from and feeling a deep sting from the events that came in their wake.

Visiting Seattle soon? Be sure to check out Seattle’s premier rock and roll sightseeing tour – Stalking Seattle.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Watch Nirvana’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performance


Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April and the broadcast of the induction ceremony and performance was recently aired on HBO this past weekend. Nirvana’s segment has been uploaded and can be viewed below. Performances include special guests Joan Jett, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, St. Vincent and Lorde. Take a look!

Which performance was your favorite? Let us know in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Nirvana inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame


Seattle grunge legends Nirvana have officially been voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This is the first year that the band was eligible, as their debut single “Love Buzz” was released in 1988. This year, for the second time ever, fans had the ability to vote on the nominees, along with artists, rock scholars and music professionals.

The band released their wildly popular album Nevermind in 1991 to critical acclaim, selling more than 30 million records worldwide. Their 1993 follow-up, In Utero, a polarizing record upon its release, is now considered a rock classic and was re-released earlier this year as part of the record’s 20th anniversary. Nirvana disbanded in 1994 upon the untimely death of lead singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain.

The band’s two remaining members, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, had the following to say upon the announcement of their induction:

“This is a great honor. Thank you to the people who nominated and voted for us. Thank you most of all to Kurt Cobain. And to everyone who’s kept Rock music going strong for 60 years and counting.”–Krist Novoselic

“For once… I’m speechless. From the basements, to the dingy clubs, to the broken down vans, to… the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’d like to thank the committee not only for this induction, but also for recognizing Nirvana for what we were: pure rock and roll. Most of all, thank you to all of the fans that have supported rock and roll throughout the years, and to Kurt and Krist, without whom I would not be here today.”–Dave Grohl

Details on the induction ceremony are forthcoming. In the meantime, check out the 20th anniversary deluxe edition of In Utero on iTunes.

Share your favorite memories and songs of the band in the replies.

Posted by Kiel Hauck