|Brewsearch & Development -
|Music and music and more music. For some of us it is a medium, an emotional outlet or a
guide to introspection. It can be so inviting that we’re inspired to dive into as much of and in
as many forms of it exist. With each passing year I am reminded of the aging process by it
and many of the musicians that had a pretty significant impact on me one way or another are
circling back upon me. Whether it be whatever year anniversaries, new releases, and sadly or
more appropriately understood, tragically deceased or taken down by father time.
Sam Calagione at Dogfish Head has certainly been at the forefront of combining love for beer
and music. From Bitches Brew, celebrating Miles Davis’ amazing album of that very title and
one that many in the jazz world thought heretical – not the title the transition to electric
instruments in jazz and fusing it with rock, to Beer to Drink Music To - 2017 celebrates the
important role record shops play in your community, up to Pearl Jam 20 celebrating the
Seattle based ‘grunge’ rockers’ then 20 year anniversary of their first album ‘Ten’ which was
part of the Seattle-based sonic attack and pioneering effort at what Roger Waters once
deemed Set(ting) the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.
May 17, 2017 saw yet another fallen angel pioneer of the ‘Seattle sound,’ ‘Seattle scene,’
‘grunge,’ and/or ‘alternative rock’ in Chris Cornell: song writer, extraordinary singer, guitarist,
band leader, and a seemingly natural talent at all of the above. Mr. Cornell co-founded
Soundgarden in Seattle back in the 80s when the cultural sphere of our nation truly reflected
the gluttonous underbelly of Air America that believed itself never to fly below the clouds.
Marketing, advertising, synthesizers, Reaganomics, cocaine, Max Hedrom and Coke – aka
Coca-Cola, Spuds MacKenzie and Bud (or Bud Light? – makes no difference), the rise of
finance capitalism and the ever increasing decrease in manufacturing, the perpetual death of
our cities, IMF shifts and the World Bank directed by the US and creating trade traps
throughout the Third World, our illegally funded and operated wars in various nations, and
the list goes on. It was outright greed and hegemony at its worst and what’s sad is it has
never stopped and we haven’t learned no matter the costs nor consequences; especially the
oversight or particular neglect for both the intended and unintended.
During this period leading into the 90s, with the exception of a handful of tried and true,
punk rock was a fleeting memory, rap music/hip hop was garnering attention of all sorts for its
art form and social criticisms and in itself was actually harbouring a punk rock ethos of its own
– for me, I read into it daily as if it were an intriguing newspaper, pop charts were crammed
with pop tarts, and comedian Bill Hicks was there providing us with a fresh perspective on our
cultural collapse. The musicians for sure were the least of all safe from his harsh but rather
poignant criticisms. Especially those lacking integrity and championing banality. Hicks was
certainly a delight for those of us who were actually caught trapped thinking about the
sadness that enveloped our world. Through stand-up comedy, which seemed to me more like
a gospel, he channeled an anger and wit that certainly blew one’s mind to the point of having
to agree with the notion that there is truth in humor. He spoke of the talent and pure artistic
merit of the artists he grew up with: Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and The Who come to mind.
He grilled the musicians of the day hocking products on commercials and who pledged to be
‘drug free’ and encouraged those in his audience who agreed with this to, ‘go home tonight
and take all your albums, tapes, and cd’s and burn ‘em because all those musicians that
made all that great music that enhanced your lives throughout the years were really F-ing
high on drugs’. He made sure to drive the point home by letting you know that, ‘The Beatles
were so high they let Ringo sing a few tunes’. But these were the high times of hypocrisy and
greed to which at some point, along with rap music & Hip Hop (sub)culture – this is a piece
unto itself, small pockets of America were forming, not only in spite of or as an antithesis
to an agenda that we did not wish to be associated with, but also simply as a result of the
mediocrity that drudged along with it and it was only a matter of time before their talents
would become noticed. From Hicks’ comedy to areas like Seattle, something was brewing
and it wasn’t god forsaken Starbucks.
Around 1988 all sorts of musical buzz was being created along the Pacific Northwest with the
likes of Mother Love Bone (who through a rather tragic turn of events would rise from its own
ashes as Pearl Jam by 1991), Soundgarden and Nirvana released their first albums but had
yet to strike gold – or platinum for that matter, and Alice in Chains was following suit preparing
their first album. However, right on down the coast to LA and San Diego and little places like
the sleepy suburbs and college towns of the Midwest in areas just outside of Chicago and
Cleveland and the Beirut-esque mangled landscape of Brooklyn, NY all sorts of music and
musicians were just beginning to bloom. Jane’s Addiction was just starting to turn heads with
their cabaret style act that infused showmanship with melodic tunes sung in a piercing yet
beautiful falsetto backed by deep grooves and classic rock style riffs and note grinding.
Metallica and Guns n Roses were transitioning to a wider stadium sized audience with their
own respective brands of metal. The Beastie Boys released Paul’s Boutique and shed, what
most people dubbed License to Ill, the rebellious white boy wannabe one shot deal in the
black dominated art form of rap. And even they had yet to truly showcase their musical ability
of playing all types of music from funky instrumentals to thrash and straight up punk rock.
Little did critics know just how smart Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin were. In the very
light that masters such as George Clinton and P-Funk never let bass lines down and what
Rick Rubin was doing with sampling techniques, some sincere little fella calling himself Flea
slapped a bass so hard that the Red Hot Chili Peppers soon became the pioneers for 70s
rock infused guitar with some of the funkiest hard hitting bass lines. And in the quiet wooded
area of Burlington, Vermont a quartet calling themselves Phish, who would soon usher in a
new wave of jam bands, were playing host to a new age of neo-hippies where the likes of the
Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers (rest in peace Gregg Allman as you passed while
writing this) were to play the elder statesmen and actually catch a revival in a whole new
audience. It would not be, however, until the 90s when these bands and many of the
genres along with them would take flight and wreak havoc on mainstream America
following the explosion of Seattle.
While they shared different stages of notoriety and fate (well, that is arguable), beer and
music would usher in a rather unique slap in the face that no one either saw coming or, sort
of similar to the ‘blowback’ that historian Chalmers Johnson warned of with US militarism and
empire, didn’t think an iota into the types of responses or array of backlash that possibly
could happen when a spoonful of sugar doesn’t help the medicine go down.
In the world of beer there was this idea that, to quote Greg Koch founder of Stone Brewing
warmly, ‘yellow fizzy beer’ was for the birds and a few pioneers took it upon themselves to
wake people up from sensory deprivation. Here we see the likes of what is now dubbed The
Class of ’88 by Stan Hieronymus, an excellent writer for All About Beer Magazine. Breweries
such as Rogue, Wynkoop, Goose Island, North Coast, Great Lakes, Brooklyn Brewery, and
Dechutes are all graduates and pioneers in their own right. While Boston Beer Co., Anchor,
and Sierra Nevada brewing come to mind as the founding fathers of the microbrews along
with a few others it was these guys that established themselves and began the initial
‘movement’ of craft beer. Only then it was called microbrewing and there is all sorts of jargon
and classification qualities as to why. For those of you reading this piece I am sure you are
aware and if you aren’t I suggest reading Stan Hieronymus’ work. He is most certainly the top
scholar and professional on the subject, and countless other subjects within the industry too.
But all of these guys and the brewpubs that soon followed suit shared a similar disposition
with the bands listed above: lag time for a majority of the public to take notice or catch on
while maintaining the ability to survive until someone came along and blew the national lid off
thus provoking someone else to ‘catch a fire’ and push it into the public eye.
If Bleach, released in ’88 on SubPop records before signing to Geffen Records, was
Nirvana’s coming of age or trip through adolescence record, Nevermind was teenage angst
meets mature song writing as well as a much needed breath of fresh air. I honestly had no
idea what I was listening to for the first two years it was out and hadn’t heard Bleach at all. It
was a lot of what the critics and reviewers were calling it at the time: brash and angst ridden
with a punk ethos laden with a lot of distortion and drums that made your head swell and
burst. The guys making the music were wearing the clothes I wore all my childhood: dirty
jeans with holes, tee shirts with whatever on them, and flannels. Minus the long(ish) hair
these guys looked like me on a fall day after raking leaves and those were my favorite
clothes. But there were other things that these critics were getting right which was all the
more shocking. All of a sudden that music from another time, from a period that saw folk
and rock sort of take off in the 60s and 70s, reappeared with a vengeance that also took
from punk and metal of the underground scene and combined it with raw melodies
reminiscent of a Beatles tune.
It was simple and it was genius: 3 chords and verse/chorus/verse. But it was just a taste of the
scene that lay in wait to be signed right on top of it. Nevermind wasn’t just a wakeup call to the
lullaby being constructed all around us it was a big screw you to all of it while unapologetically
showcasing the idea that a Beatles-like melody blended with the aggressive drumming
reminiscent of Keith Moon, the attitude of Johnny Rotten but the aggressiveness of Dead
Kennedys or the sly catchy sound of other punk acts like Stiff Little Fingers or The Damned
could all impact one brain and form one sound with the anger and despair of a young man
who envisaged all these elements as being part of a whole and made it happen. Wasn’t it
Gandhi who said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’? Whatever Kurt Cobain had
intended with his music, he never the less changed the world for the better and with that paid
the ultimate price for that vision; for that change.
With the crazy success of Nevermind, came the flood. The game to sign and expose was on
and for that brief window from 1991 – 1994, my word the glory and consequence. Sound-
garden, frolicking in its off-time signatures and two great guitar elements of rhythms and
piercing solos coupled with amazing drumming fills bordering the likes of progressive rock
but not teetering over. Cornell’s voice hitting what music aficionados were saying was in the
range of 4 octaves making one recall singers from similar sub-genres like Robert Plant or
Rob Halford from Judas Priest. Alice In Chains, who released their first album Facelift in 1990,
were now being noticed for their definite roots in metal but with yet another core of musicians
who could forge that scathing edge with rhythm and vocals from lead singer Layne Staley that
were unearthly (until every record executive went looking for the next …) that when paired
with guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s made for two of the most influential voices in harmonic history.
Then Pearl Jam’s first album Ten literally spun damn near every element of 1970s rock
music right on its goddamn head for an entire album of high energy and growling baritone
vocals that when sung softly were quite beautiful. So Impressed by what was going on, it
brought Neil Young out of a funk to publicly thank Kurt Cobain and Nirvana for reminding
us of what rock n roll was all about.
This also takes us into the realm of the beer world. It makes you realize that the lull
through the early nineties eventually saw the creative geniuses pop up on a national map like
whack-a-mole. There was no Seattle scene that people pointed towards nor flocked to like
Mecca. There wasn’t a wave that people rode that, as it gained momentum, picked up
everything from the ocean floor and brought it to shore. Oddly enough, while paralleling the
music scene, and paying tribute to it in their own right, it was a shared mindset of dislike and
distrust for being fed tasteless beer flavoured, well, beer. I guess it was more so a change in
the mindset of individuals who met more individuals that were also evolving. Rather than a
seemed spontaneity it really was an ideological shift that swept a nation like a breeze running
over a sea of grass. The graduates of the class of ’88 hung on while the likes of Stone,
Lagunitas, Founders, Bells, Dogfish Head, Weyerbacher and Flying Fish for us NJ/PA
residents (we were actually blessed with so much more), Schlafly, Harpoon, and so forth and
so on just kept popping up forcing everyone to pay attention to now and look back at what
had been happening over the previous ten years. There was also something to be said for
being independent. Breweries could only be birthed and continue to exist by their own source
and fanbase. That sort of independence can sustain a brewery locally and keep it going for
as long as the beer keeps people interested. Outside of the Grateful Dead, I know of few
musicians or bands who were able to defy the pressures of having to sign in order to gain a
somewhat steady income and a wide enough exposure to sustain their art. For a really good
idea to understand this scattershot development of breweries and the spread of a movement
I highly recommend checking out The Essential Reference of Domestic Brewers and
Their Bottled Brands as it will give you a great idea of the breadth and scope of the
scene by state to nation.
Nevermind was the emphatic statement that bored kids and adult thinkers alike needed.
For me, that album’s title could not have been more appropriate for the national climate in
general, not to mention music alone, and Nirvana spewed it right in everyone’s smug little
plastic faces. Both within and outside of Seattle that aforementioned class of ’88 musicians
not only flourished as a result of our minds being blown apart and ear drums shattered but as
the title wave swept the nation the great artists from all over were finally being ‘discovered,’
parents and conservatives everywhere were scared again. It was a relief to finally see
ingenuity being noticed. With the recent passing of Chris Cornell I am reminded of an historic
time of revival and that the depth of time carries more weight than that of its length. No matter
how long one lives, the demons always ride shotgun with the angels that set the controls for
the heart of the sun. Mr. Cornell may have been able to use music for some time to keep the
demons at bay. Maybe even use them to create music that kept him here for much longer
than even he may have expected. It is no more tragic to lose him now than it would have been
back then, we just got to hear and possibly feel his music for just a little longer. Ah, the
triumphs and tribulations that come with the frailty of the human spirit.
A BRIEF ASIDE/AFTERWORD
Nowhere in this piece have I mentioned the tons of problems that reared their heads
back on the artists who brazenly did what they saw fit and musically succeeded. This would
take more than just writing about the music that inspires and the industry it is wrapped in. It
would require a definitive sociological history of the Seattle area and its distinctness but also
the qualities it shared with much of the other nation’s cities and surrounding suburbs of the
time. It would require a far greater in depth look into our society than what I provided in the
intro. It would require history that digs into our politics on all levels and what happens when
work disappears in some areas and the influx or increase in drugs (i.e., heroin for Seattle)
and the associated plight among its residents who watch their futures disintegrate or pick up
and move with unprecedented profit motives. When you set the controls for the heart of the
sun we are reminded of Icarus in all its shapes, forms, and time.
For Andy Wood of Mother Love Bone, he would never get to push his band onward from their
first album as he died upon its release from a heroin over-dose. Oddly and harshly enough,
had it not been for that death and a vocalist out in Chicago answering an ad, Pearl Jam would
not have formed. Contingency is an interesting character in the play of life and the historic
narratives that attempt to explain it. Also, nowhere in this article did I make the tie-in of Elysian
Brewing putting out a pale ale called Loser with the label stating ‘corporate beer still sucks’
while donning a replica of the actual label for SubPop records (responsible for first signing
Nirvana and releasing their first album Bleach, reissuing and distributing Soundgarden’s first
album Ultramega OK, and finding and signing a slew of other Seattle bands that never quite
gained the recognition they ought to have from that wave). While the brewer and the pale ale
celebrate over 20 years of SubPop,
I will leave to the reader to research and decide for themselves how they feel about this in
light of their recent move to the AB family (hence the word ‘still’ in the label).
RESOURCES TO SIP A BEER TO WHILE INDULGING YOUR BRAIN
St. Thomas, Kurt and Troy Smith. 2004. Nirvana: The Chosen Rejects.
St. Martin’s Griffin. New York, NY
The Essential Reference of Domestic Brewers and Their Bottle Brands:
3rd Edition. 2007. MC Basset, LLC. Managing Members: Michael S. Kuderka
and Catherine A. Ench-Kuderka.
The Rough Guide to Pink Floyd: The Story, The Songs,The Sound. Rough Guides.
London, England Manning, Toby. 2006.
For your listening pleasure: Bill Hicks Dangerous and Bill Hicks Relentless
are really good, but you can pretty much find all of his work on-line these days
|Matt Martinkovic is not only a recognized beer authority but an agricultural
consultant on, of course, the growing of hops. His personal hop garden currently
features Magnum, Crystal, Cascade, Centennial,Mt. Hood, and Chinook hops..
|More From Matt:
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|Movement(s), Revival, and The Depth of Time
|To all my readers and friends many thanks for all your support.
Also special thanks to two great breweries and the many fine people associated with them:
Conclave Brewing and Kane Brewing.
Come back soon for more of my take on what's happening in the beer world with my
insights derived from many years in the industry. Cheers!