Books

Grunge by Michael Lavine and Thurston Moore

Sub Pop's first lens on the grunge scene offers an early look at the signs of flannel to come, and the distinctive regional imprints on the sounds that followed punk.


Grunge

Publisher: Abrams Image
Length: 160 pages
Author: Michael Lavine
Price: $24.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2009-10
Amazon

"I'm looking for something no one seems to have." Before anyone heard singer Mark Arm spit-spray the microphone on Sub Pop's first Mudhoney EP, photographer Michael Lavine was in Seattle, looking for something that no one in town seemed to have—no super-fuzz, no flannel fetishes.

What he found and photographed in late-'80s Seattle—images that make up the best portion of Grunge, Lavine's second book—were groups of plainclothes punks searching the horizons of the Pacific Northwest for some sort of regional resonance. In the book's opening photo, "Sir Plus", a group of androgynous teenagers stand expectantly near a sign that reads "Northwest Native: Sportclothes for Fun and Games". A handmade sign beneath advertises "Rugby wear on sale"; a military surplus store sits across the street, waiting to be ransacked for the rags and riches that would, like it or not, cloak a genre.

"Bad name. Lame name, actually," writes Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore in his introduction to Lavine's photos. "On one hand, that word was ridiculous... on the other hand, just beautiful: A smart and amusing shrug within the American scream-dream." A shrug because grunge happened too fast to claim itself—done in by Marc Jacobs' infamous collection for Perry Ellis, overeager record executives, a blonde boy with a gun.

Grunge succeeds in those photos that capture a Seattle local (or once, a long-haired Billy Corgan) pre-shrug, when eyes still looked for a future rather than rolled in disgust at the path they found themselves on. Sabrina, an Olympia spike-head, stands in front of painstakingly ornamented door; she wears mismatched plaids and a "Touch me, I'm sick" stare. It's one of several loaded moments amidst a few blanks—see Lavine's shots of Washington "Mods" in parkas and Union Jacks.

When Grunge moves into band photos, it's Lavine's earliest work—an '87 session with White Zombie, Sub Pop shots of Sonic Youth and Mudhoney circa '88—that signals the arrival of a scene or two. Lavine's Richard Avedon-style portraits of Rob Zombie and Sean Yseult and stark studio shots of the 'Honey crew place all grunge genesis stories in the looks of the subjects—the regional fashions and expressions of what punk wrought.

But as Lavine moves closer to 1993—further from Nevermind, closer to In Utero—he grows more concerned with constructing stories around his shoots. Pearl Jam appears before a distorted woods scene, Eddie Vedder's mouth taped shut; Royal Trux gets the jailbreak spotlight treatment and throws a smug, sexual insolence towards the lens. Lavine offers Soundgarden in 1989 and again in 1990. In the former, Chris Cornell is off-kilter, too young—his eyes are as fearless as his chest is hairless. In the latter, he puts a revolver in his mouth while guitarist Kim Thayil goes wide-eyed. Don't dare him, his expression reads. Grunge is dangerous, after all.

No, not dangerous. A challenge, sure—but more an inward push than outward, more an effort to see something that no one has seen than a fight to sell something no one has sold. Years before Cobain fell into Love, Lavine snapped a dark and stormy man in a winter coat and a regal blonde woman beside him in Seattle, 1983. His eyes question right, hers dare directly at the camera.

The shot is mirrored in a 1992 photo of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love near the book's end. Each grips the other—his thumb showing a half-moon bruise, her arms milky and clean—and looks away from the camera. By the end of Grunge, both Lavine and his subjects seem to have their eyes set on other styles and stories. But the rare, vulnerable moments of anticipation and acceptance make Grunge most memorable.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Music

Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.