Grunge: Music and Memory

By Hansen, Lindsay | ARSC Journal, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Grunge: Music and Memory


Hansen, Lindsay, ARSC Journal


Grunge: Music and Memory. By Catherine Strong, Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2011. vii-xi + 179pp (hardcover). Bibliography, Index. ISBN 978-4-409-42376-8. Price: $99.95

This book, an extension of the author's doctoral dissertation from Australian National University, Canberra, joins a growing number of titles on grunge, such as Clinton Heylin's 2007 work, Babylon's Burning: From Punk to Grunge and Greg Prato's 2009 book, Grunge is Dead: Oral History of Seattle Rock Music. A drawback of the book is that it reads very much like a dissertation, dry and exhaustively researched, while lacking the punch of popular music journalism.

Strong is not a musicologist, rather her degrees are in sociology and social science. Although she frequently quotes music magazines like New Musical Express, the statements often seem stiff and academic. For people of a certain generation, grunge brings back fond and exciting memories and this book, while occasionally commenting on personal nostalgia, does not inspire the reader to pull out Sub Pop albums for listening. This book would benefit from images of the musicians and movement, especially from music magazines like Rolling Stone.

Divided into seven chapters, Strong's book explores grunge as it relates to memory media, Kurt Cobain, gender, and finally, Generation X as a whole. The bibliography is a strong mix of pop journalism (Rolling Stone, Mojo, etc), academic books and articles, and iconic films like Singles and Reality Bites. In her research, Strong identified the seminal works of popular music history by scholars like Peter Wicke and Simon Frith. She acknowledges that "academic writing on grunge has ... been very negative about its effects and impact on its audience and society" (p.21) and aims to break that pattern. The index is a helpful addition to the book and allows for browsing subject.

Strong carefully explains her methodology for her literature review and survey of Australians regarding grunge. She does not give a history of the musical movement or provide any interpretation of songs or music and makes it clear from the beginning that her study is based in sociology. Strong's study focuses on the ideas of collective memory and authenticity. She assumes that the reader is well acquainted with the bands associated with grunge, most notably Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. Throughout this work, Strong examines grunge music as it relates to race, class, gender, power, and politics. She frames her research around a 22-question survey (part of the appendix) and includes open-ended responses throughout the book. Sample questions include "how did you feel about Kurt Cobain's death" and "how do you feel about grunge now?"

Having identified official definitions of grunge (from the media and academic writing), Strong explores further definitions through her personal interviews. The responses fall into four categories: musical, geographical, temporal, and cultural (p.69). In one of the most engaging parts of the book, respondents comment on the fashion of the time, specific facets of music, and Seattle. …

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