I remember well the night I first heard Nirvana. I was sunk in wretched and ugly despondency, not wanting to talk to anyone and hating myself. I couldn’t discern or articulate my inner state, even to myself. There was no separating cause and effect. Then Kurt Cobain wove his uncanny spell. Suddenly I experienced my apathy, my sense of loneliness and alienation – even my depression itself – all these emotions as EMPOWERING.
Talk about waving your freak flag.
Nirvana’s success paved the road to recognition for a lot of other great underground bands like the Screaming Trees, the Meat Puppets, the Melvins; bands that provided a welcome alternative to the bland and condescending music that was being force-fed to the masses by the industry. The “grunge” movement of the early ’90’s was the closest my generation ever came to spiritual union. A community took root and grew, gathering misfits from every far-flung corner until it was massive enough to shake up the status-quo. This uprising snatched music from the hands of the corporate world and delivered it back to the people. It was fueled not only by hard work on the part of the bands, but also by word of mouth – and the invaluable support of independent labels, magazines and record stores.
The media generally didn’t know what to make of it. Record companies were rethinking their strategies and scrambling to hop on the bandwagon. Oftentimes they latched onto the surface trappings – unkempt long hair, flannel shirts and stage-diving – and missed the spirit of the happening entirely. There was no Institute of the Arts where one could go to learn how to translate the frustrations of the twenty-somethings into timeless music.
I miss the excitement of that time, the feeling that the ball was in our hands and we were finally going to see some movement and change.
There is an upheaval occuring now within the publishing industry that will make it possible for a similar grass-roots movement to flourish through the medium of books and literature. Frustrated by the major publishing houses and their worship of the bottom line – and the elitist milieu wherein a handful of people in New York deign to decide what the rest of us will read this year – ambitious authors are exploring alternatives like self- or print-on-demand publishing. They seek greater creative control (i.e., no editors or agents demanding drastic alterations to authors’ manuscripts based upon their knowledge of “what sells”), higher royalties, and the means to skirt around the powers that have hitherto been acting as the gatekeepers of the publishing world.
Getting hip to underground music required not only soul-searching and discrimination but also a fair amount of leg-work. The records were hard to find, and because they went largely ignored by radio and MTV one often didn’t know which ones were worth laying down one’s hard-earned money for. An independently-thinking fantasy enthusiast faces a similar dilemma today when searching for something other than Harry Potter or recycled Tolkien to read.
Here the internet proves a valuable resource. Discussion groups, forums and chat-rooms have created cyber-tribes that congregate around every conceivable subject and interest. Word of mouth travels fast these days – and between millions of people who’ve never even met. Amazon.com has turned readers into reviewers. Authors have their own websites where they post excerpts and sample chapters from their works. The internet is the ideal launching pad for the indie-book revolution, because it’s taken tools previously monopolized by corporate publishing and made them available to us common folks. Books that, once upon a time, would’ve been rejected because they didn’t fit into any cookie-cutter genres can now find a community to embrace them.
Ultimately, when we as authors take our creative destiny into our own hands we’re giving ourselves permission to BE OURSELVES – and allowing others a glimpse of our true nature.
A cultural climate where new ideas proliferate – and are exchanged – is an environment wherein the soul can expand and breathe. Art is meant to open the windows and air out the closets. It should not be bound, like Prometheus, to the rock of publisher shareholder interests, chain bookstore monopolies and Oprah’s selections of the month.
Seth Mullins is the author of “Song of an Untamed Land”, a novel of frontier drama, musical prohibition and the spiritual quest. To browse or download excerpts from his work, visit Seth at http://authorsden.com/sethtmullins.
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