The April 1993 issue of SPIN included the “A to Z of Alternative Culture.” It’s about what you’d expect for the time and venue, only even more so.
A proto-listicle laid out as an encyclopedic directory, it’s purported goal was to codify the semiotics of the so-called “alternative” cultural scene. Or to grab the lowest of the low-hanging fruit and process them into a field guide for the consciously hep set. The article’s introductory passage is a bit muddy on that front, with a first paragraph railing against the marketing-driven stereotyping of Gen X and a second one that flatters the fuck out of those who conformed to the cliches.
There aren’t many surprises among the various entries. ABBA is in there, along with The Brady Bunch, Heathers, Slacker and David Letterman. There’s praise for SNL, a real shocker since SPIN devoted an entire issue to the creaky institution two months prior and was chasing the same “not-quite-as-hip, not-quite-as-youthful” target demo.
The Simpsons got a longer write-up, which feels more than a little tragic in light of the show’s long slide into a rotting behemoth forever denied the sweet mercy of death. Adrienne Shelly also earned a shout-out as an indie film goddess, evoking a more harrowing form of tragedy via hindsight.
Macs, grunge, monster trucks, and MTV coasted in on the corporate-backed heels of the zeitgeist. Entries for Riot Grrrls and Queercore are there to add some socio-political cred, and U2 gets a mention because it wouldn’t be a legitimate SPIN article if they didn’t.
The only real puzzlers in the roster are the call-outs to musical genres which never really manifested on a scale to merit inclusion in an article supposedly documenting generational commonalities. Shout-outs to dancehall, world beat, whatever the fuck “eco-rock” was felt like push-marketing pieces that wandered in from some other part of the magazine. (In fairness, this was an era where a reissue of Tito Rodríguez’s back-catalog would result in articles by semi-captive music journos claiming direct connections between Cuban mambo jams and Nirvana’s Nevermind.)
In a broader sense, the article drove home something that I’ve been pondering for a while — how plastic the 90s “altsplosion” appears in hindsight. I was no fan of it when it happened. It made my drop my punk posturing out of fear of being associated with the hepcat hivemind, but wasn’t until the past couple of years I realized how utterly laughable, rote, and forgettable it all was.
It made the late Eighties seem less horrible by comparison, and that’s no small feat considering how I experienced the late Eighties.