This is not an alternative rock collection. “Alternative” rock does not exist
. It is a myth on par with Elvis sightings
, quality airline food and stress-free relationships. No, what you’re listening to is simply nineteen songs. It is our belief, however, that these songs simultaneously create one beautiful clamor
and serve as a soundtrack
to this suspended moment in time. As an oft-labeled, seldom understood generation
, we have no better voice than a community of bands, many of whom you’ll find on this record. It is the bands making up No Alternative—along with dozens of others whether they’re reinvigorating rock and roll or helping to transcend musical and cultural boundaries—who have helped awaken the world to the fact that music not only has the power to speak to a generation but for a generation.
When first listening to this album it may not be immediately apparent how the poetry of one track corresponds with the nods to the past in the next or why one band’s whispers are intricately linked to another group’s screams. Closer inspection will reveal the common thread that binds them all together: integrity neatly nestled beneath one blanket statement. They do, however, share an emotional commitment and focus that rings true from this collection’s opening note to its final chord. What you are hearing is the sound of these groups putting their music where their mouths are—reaffirming their dedication not just to a musical culture but to a world community that has been devastated by AIDS. In the past, the groups before you were thrown together under the roof of “alternative” rock and then ghettoized somewhere left of the radio dial rendered immovable with rigor mortis. Today the dial has loosened. Don’t categorize. Just listen. This is the music of your life. This is not alternative rock. It’s No Alternative. It’s not us versus them. It’s just us. And this is the way we sound.
taken from the liner notes of the 1993 album No Alternative, a compilation of songs by Matthew Sweet, Buffalo Tom, Soul Asylum, Urge Overkill, American Music Club, Goo Goo Dolls, Pavement, Smashing Pumpkins, Bob Mould, Sarah McLachlan, Soundgarden, Straitjacket Fits, Barbara Manning, The Verlaines, Uncle Tupelo, Beastie Boys, the Breeders, and Patti Smith.
I remember first seeing this CD, with the its title stretched across the eyes of an elementary school photo of a girl missing her front tooth, on my friend Evonne’s CD stack in college. But I have never bought it. I recently borrowed it from a woman whose BMW got towed into our lot at work. Only now, after reading the rest of the liner notes (which I didn’t quote above), did I realize that this CD was made with intention of its proceeds to benefit AIDS research. If that hadn’t eventually been made apparent as the album’s point and purpose, I would have had a hard time swallowing the statements made above with complete ease.
When the alternative label for music became popular to my knowledge, I was just at the age where I was making music a way to express myself. I was just finding music that spoke to me. So it was easy for me to list alternative music as the label for my music, for the most part. Since the inception of the term’s popular use at that time, bands who get stuck with that label are less than enthusiastic about it, and with good reason, since most musicians worth their salt want to reach as broad of an audience as possible. I’m not sure if American audiences prefer labeling music this way more or less than others or if they are the only ones who do it at all, but they seem to lean on labels to guide them in their consumption of and reception to music. For a culture that pretty much got anything and everything from some other pre-existing culture, Americans may need categories for music more than others; it would make sense.
Most people, when asked what music they’re into, will reply that they like a little bit of everything, and I’d like to think that in 1993, they would say more or less the same thing. The term “alternative” was simply a new title that wore itself out, as others before it have before finding themselves so overlapping with other genres that labels rendered themselves a bit less necessary except to those who used them as a point of reference. I get annoyed with people who used multi-label conglomerates to define music almost as much as those who need more than 4 adjectives to order a cup of coffee. Maybe I’m just a bit too old school. Heh.