The term "grunge" was almost-universally reviled by the bands it was supposed to lớn describe. Where did the name come from? And how did it stick? A look at the etymology of grunge

Northwest Passage

Grunge. It’s a word that became synonymous with the Seattle sound. It’s a word that was used to lớn describe a number of different “alternative” bands from the region in 1980s, & then also into lớn the 1990s with bands lượt thích Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney và Screaming Trees. At one point, the term became so convoluted that the grunge label was used to describe bands lượt thích Candlebox, Stone Temple Pilots, Bush và Silverchair, bands that had little or nothing khổng lồ vì chưng with the northwest music scene and bands the progenitors of grunge hated to lớn be associated with.

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But where did the term “grunge” come from? And why “grunge?” How did a word that basically was a synonym for dirt or grime become a descriptor of a new music genre?

The first noted instance of referring lớn a Seattle b& as “grunge,” was in a 1981 letter by Mark Arm, according khổng lồ Clark Humphrey in his tài khoản of the Seattle music scene, Loser.1 In his letter, in which he nominated his own “band”, Mr. Epp & the Calculations, as the most overrated band in Seattle, Arm writes: “I hate Mr. Epp và the Calculations! Pure grunge! Pure noise! Pure shit!” (Of course, Epp as a band didn"t even exist yet.)


Tad và Nirvana. Two "grunge" bands.

Bruce Pavitt later claimed khổng lồ have popularized the term as a musical label in 1987, when he wrote some promotional copy for Green River, describing the band as “ultra-loose grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation”.2 Humphrey also notes that a Sub Pop press release described Mudhoney as “ultra sludge, glacial, heavy special, dirty punk.” It was aý muốn the many references Sub Pop would make toward “grunge” in its sale, an exploitation they cheerfully fed to reporters & fans.

In the late 80s, “grunge” did actually define a sound – high levels of distortion, feedbaông xã, fuzz effects, a fusion of punk & metal influences. Though the bands attributed khổng lồ the label definitely had quality talents, there was definitely a similar “sound” there. Much of this had lớn do with similar production & promotion. Many of these bands were on either the C/Z or Sub Pop record labels. Jaông chồng Endino, the so-called “Godfather of Grunge” recorded Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Green River, Nirvamãng cầu and Blood Circus between 1984 & 1989.

But, by 1990, “grunge,” as a synonym for loud, heavy music, had peaked. Bands like Green River, the U-Men, Cat Butt, Feast and Blood Circus had broken up; Mudhoney and Soundgarden were veering inkhổng lồ a new sound, & the scene was full of bands that didn’t fit the original label, like the Fastbacks, Young Fresh Fellows, Posies, Walkabouts & Beat Happening. (Even Nirvana, now liberated from the more restrictive sound requirements of Sub Pop, wanted khổng lồ go inkhổng lồ a poppier direction. Their more commercial approach was apparent in their breakthrough album, 1991’s Nevermind.) The 80s version of grunge, with long-haired musicians wailing away in front of tiny crowds at squalid clubs lượt thích the Central Tavern or Squid Row, was dead.

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Grunge was a fucking word used in TV commercials about scum on your shower curtains.Ben Shepherd, Soundgarden

In 1991, Nirvana’s Nevermind album, Pearl Jam’s Ten, and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger were all released, & the following year, Alice in Chains released their landmark album, Dirt. With four huge alternative sầu stars all hailing from the same region, the music media wanted a label khổng lồ describe this new Seattle sound. Despite the music sounding significantly different from each other (& from bands that originally carried the "grunge" label), the “big four” Seattle bands were all labelled as grunge. Any other bands from Seattle at the time, were lumped inlớn the category as well. Ben London of Alcohol Funnyoto described it lượt thích this: “If you lived in Seattle and were under 30 at that point, you were grunge,” no matter what your bvà sounded lượt thích.

While inaccurate, the grunge label was convenient. For years, MTV & mainstream music magazines used grunge in almost every reference to Pearl Jam, Nirvamãng cầu or Seattle music. The people directly involved with the music scene, however, hated the term. Former Rocket writer và Sub Pop staffer Jeff Gilbert said the word was lượt thích “talking to lớn someone with bad breath: you could put up with it, you still wanted to lớn distance yourself.” Ben Shepherd of Soundgarden put it a little more succinctly: “Grunge was a fucking word used in TV commercials about scum on your shower curtains.” Stone Gossard told an interviewer in the 90s that he refused to lớn even say the word.

Usage of the “g-word” was reviled in Seattle; anyone who used it identified themselves as a poseur. The ridiculousness of the "grunge" label reached a peak when bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Bush were being lumped into lớn the category as well.

Long-time Seattle scene followers even noted that this "90s definition of grunge was completely different than the "80s definition. Pearl Jam would have never been considered grunge compared to lớn bands like the U-Men, Mudhoney or TAD. And it didn"t stop there. As Everett True noted in Mark Yarm"s Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge, “the original grunge, the Sub Pop grunge, had nothing to lớn vày with the grunge that became popular, lượt thích Silverchair và Puddle of Mudd.”

Despite the bands’ almost-universal hatred of this umbrella term, it stuông chồng, even trăng tròn years later. For example, two of the most prominent books on the Seattle/northwest music scene had "grunge" in the title: Greg Prato’s Grunge Is Dead và the subtitle of the aformentioned Mark Yarm oral history, Everybody Loves Our Town. The recent wave sầu of 1990s nostalgia has brought more coverage on the "return of grunge" & its place in music history, especially as Nirvana became the first northwest b& of the era to be enshrined in the Rochồng và Roll Hall of Fame. Music fans who weren’t even alive in 1988 use grunge as an affectionate term for Pearl Jam và Nirvamãng cầu.


Greg Prato"s Grunge is Dead

So what was “grunge”? At the start, it was a joke. Then it became a simple mô tả tìm kiếm of a sound/attitude, as well as a Sub Pop hype promotional term. Ultimately, it became a quasi-genre of music based simply on bands’ Seattle origins. But whatever the meaning is, it’s clear that the term “grunge” has permanently linked those 80s & 90s northwest musicians in music history. A club, so lớn speak, of which they’ll have sầu lifetime membership. Don’t expect the musicians khổng lồ be proud, card-carrying members of this club, though.