Frank Micelotta, Getty It was 19 years ago today that Nirvana singer Kurt…
- Posted on Apr 1st 2011 5:00PM by James Sullivan
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When the New York Times asked a reporter to get to the bottom of a suddenly ubiquitous musical style and anti-fashion statement called grunge, the paper of record found itself looking like a bunch of lamestains. That was the term for an "uncool person" invented on the spot by Megan Jasper, a Sub Pop Records employee who'd grown tired of the breathless "next big thing" coverage that was piling on the Seattle music scene.
The reporter took Jasper's instant "lexicon" seriously, and the Times's subsequent article, "Grunge: A Success Story," featured a glossary of "grunge-speak" that had more holes than a Kurt Cobain cardigan. In Jasper's devilish imagination, a "cob nobbler" was, like "lamestain," another name for loser.
Some of the phrases sounded suspiciously close to the truth -- a Seattle bummer, for instance, was a "harsh realm" and boots were "kickers."
But others were just plain silly. To stay home on the weekend was to be "bound-and-hagged," Jasper claimed, and the scene's signature ripped jeans were known as "wack slacks." If you were hanging out, you were "swingin' on the flippity-flop."
To make matters worse, when Thomas Frank of the Baffler showed how the paper was duped, the Times accused him of being the perpetrator of the hoax and demanded he apologize. Instead, he wrote, "When the Newspaper of Record goes searching for the Next Big Thing and the Next Big Thing piddles on its leg, we think that's funny."
Not everyone interviewed for the story was having a laugh. Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman acknowledged that the term "grunge" itself was not supposed to be definitive when the label first used it. "It could have been sludge, grime, crud, any word like that," he said.
But Poneman also dropped a few good-sized hints that the idea of a grunge "movement" was more a product of the media than the musicians themselves. "The whole thing is a fabricated movement," he said, "and always has been."