The sad story of grunge


Cover by Neal Preston

I was quite shocked when I realised the other day that Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) is the only surviving frontman of the big 5 grunge groups of the 90s.

It’s a very sad story:

  • Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) – drug addiction, died by suicide
  • Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) – drug addiction, died by suicide
  • Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots) – drug addiction, died of an overdose
  • Layne Staley (Alice in Chains) – drug addiction, died of an overdose.

There was also

  • Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone) – drug addiction, died of an overdose
  • Mike Starr (Alice in Chains) – drug addiction, died of an overdose

I guess that in those circles at the time it was very easy to get drugs, and very hard to stay away from them. Heroin is the hardest and most awful of them all and I have read that it was widely used at that time in those circles. Being famous tends to attract the worst kind of hangers on, and I guess drug dealers are attracted by money and possible customers. It must also be very hard to get sober when you are in a band where everyone else takes drugs.

Another aspect of it is probably that the arts often attract vulnerable, fragile people who dig deep into their trauma to create amazing – often very dark – things. This was probably true of the grunge movement to a great extent.

Actors in training are often asked to relive traumatic moments in order to bring authenticity to their parts. But this vulnerability or ensuing rage may also lead to drug use to calm the demons. And the pressures of fame must be enormous – the burden of the love of your fans, to keep on making hits, the fame machine, greedy music companies, becoming a commodity. Maybe all you want is to make music and the fans and music companies feel they own you. If anyone has watched the Aviici documentary you can see that he was exhausted, ill, suffering from alcohol dependence, and begging for a rest. But his manager sat beside him telling him he had interviews and big shows to do. They kept booking huge arenas to capitalise on his popularity. It was ultimately no surprise when he took his life.

Layne Staley has one of the most amazing voices I have ever heard. But the band’s touring and his life were both cut short in the saddest of ways. I rewatched the documentary Montage of Heck (about Kurt Cobain) recently and was reminded of how, at the time, it was never a matter of if but a matter of when he would die.

I wonder if – in the grunge era – drugs came first and fuelled the creativity, or if creativity came first and drugs quelled the pain?

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

3 thoughts

  1. During the 90’s, I was a teenager but I was big time into rap and hip hop. Fast forward a decade later and I meet my (future) husband and he introduced me to grunge music. I have never looked back! My husband’s favourite band was/is Soundgarden and while I agree with you that Layne Staley had a wonderful voice, Chris Cornell’s voice takes it out of the park. Everything that happened to all of these insanely talented singers and musicians is an absolute tragedy. I got interested in grunge music after the death of Layne Staley and Kurt Cobain, but I was lucky enough to see Soundgarden twice in concert when they made their come back. They came to Germany and I got to see them in Berlin (solo concert) and Munich (as an opening act for Black Sabbath) and both times I was blown away… Chris Cornell’s death was an absolute shock to us when we heard of it and we genuinely mourned him. Later on, Scott Weiland died and also Mark Lanegan, from The Screaming Trees. He has the deepest voice for a white man I’ve ever heard. His voice reminds me of that of Barry White. Thank you for this entry, it was really wonderful to read their names again. I’m off to listen to their music now. Thank you for brightening up my Sunday!

    1. I love Chris Cornell – Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart is always on repeat when we are on the bike. He was brilliant and his death was such a shock. I cannot believe so many of them are gone. They burned so brightly that may it was inevitable they would burn out early.

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