But who would accuse the favored bands of the last quarter-century of being truly innovative, of carving out new, uncharted territory? Most of them seem as artificial and intentionally mainstream as The Monkees. Does Maroon 5 even play their own instruments? And as much as I adore the Black Keys, a band that in its early years perfectly represented the frustrated, post-industrial tenor of Rust Belt Ohio, they are at their best when retreading, or modifying and improving, paths made by earlier blues rock musicians many years before. And they are self-aware and self-deprecating enough to make light of their wealth and mainstream fame.
But Creed, like many of the other post-grunge poser bands of the late 1990s—Nickelback, Puddle of Mudd, Staind—were simply jejune copycats of perhaps the last legitimately novel rock movement, the authentically counter-cultural grunge bands of the late 1980s and early 1990s, most of whom hailed from the Pacific Northwest.
If I were feeling like an ornery li’l cuss, I might argue that “the last legitimately novel rock movement” was actually the rap-metal hybrid generally known as nü-metal. In the late-80s and early-90s, there were a few cross-genre collaborations, like Run-DMC and Aerosmith, Anthrax and Public Enemy, and the Judgment Night soundtrack. Rage Against the Machine was probably the first band to make it big by combining elements of rap and rock, and given that they were basically Noam Chomsky’s politics set to music, they were widely acclaimed by music journalists. The same could not be said, to put it mildly, for those who followed in their wake around the turn of the century. Bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Hed PE were seen as the worst of both worlds. I have my theories about why this was so, but regardless, allowing that the whole debate over “originality” in such a mongrel beast as popular music is a fool’s errand to begin with, I think it’s still fair to say that the nü-metal bands were, if not original, certainly no less derivative than the punk/metal/alternative hybrid that we call grunge music. The fact that one style is glorified while the other is vilified tells you more about the agenda of the music journalists themselves, who often seem to suffer from sociology-envy, much to the detriment of their craft.
Which brings me to my real point, which is that Chalk is doing the same thing. He feels nostalgic for grunge music, and he wants to arrange a shotgun wedding between it and his national conservative/populist politics somehow. Grunge is vital because he sees it as a musical expression of the abandoned white working-class. If only they hadn’t been so hostile to organized religion, he sighs. Well, yes, that, combined with their predictable left-wing politics, is what makes this an exercise in fantastical narrative-crafting. Grunge was inextricably part of that first wave of political correctness in the early-90s and music journalism was right there with it. Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder were just as insufferably snobbish and full of themselves as their descendants are today.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Only aspiring commissars want or expect their favorite artists to reflect their own opinions back to them. Most of us have long since made our peace with the fact that the majority of the people whom we pay to entertain us are abject morons. (I made the mistake years ago of reading Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge, and my respect for the artists still hasn’t entirely recovered.) We wince when they share their vapid opinions on world events, and then get back to the important business of enjoying their acting, athleticism, or songwriting. It’s only when journalists in search of a narrative show up that we get these exercises in Procrustean plastic surgery. It’s fine, even laudatory, that Chalk loves grunge despite its inherent antipathy to his political ideology. The heart wants what it wants, and all that. That’s where it should end, though. Don’t try to reconcile the two and diminish them both in the process.