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Bad 90's Rock March Madness

The Premise

If you were a teenager in the 90's, I am going to tell you something that will shock and disturb you.

If you were not a teenager in the 90's, you already know this, but stay with me.

The 1990's were rock's worst decade. The absolute nadir of the sixty-year history of rock and roll, including the current decade in which rock has joined jazz as a largely dead genre drawing old people to listen to even older performers.  And yet even this sad current state of affairs is preferable to the 90's, when a number of factors came together to produce a decade that is an embarrassment to rock and roll. 

Why is this? Why did this decade cough up bad band after bad band? Why did its awfulness infect bands that had been good in the 80's? 

My theory is that when the mainstream finally conquered punk in this country, it just opened the floodgates for the boring, mediocre, 2nd-raters to take over.  Because with few exceptions, being boring and mediocre is the way to sell a lot of product. You have to inspire people who don't buy a lot of music to buy your music, which means sanding off the hard edges and burying all the interesting parts.

Of course, there had always been boring rock. But 90's boring rock is even worse than earlier boring rock. I believe this is because of the pseudo-punk aesthetic that infected corporate rock. So while earlier boring rock--let's take Foghat's "Slow Ride," for example, but we could just as easily go with Foreigner's "Hot Blooded" or, like, any Loverboy song--was at least celebratory in nature, praising rock's holy trinity of sex, partying, and rock, 90's boring rock, aiming at faux authenticity, did away with fun and swagger and celebration and left us with the dogs beginning to smell her.

And yet because there are such a large number of people who were teens in the 1990's, the myth persists, at least among them, that the 90's were a great musical decade. 

Stuff and nonsense.  That is why I have created this bracket: so that those of us whose adolescence came either before or after the 1990's can at last have our say and crown the worst rock act of the worst decade of rock.

The Methodology

I toyed with a 64-act bracket, but I ultimately decided that this was going to force me to include a lot of bad acts, but ones that weren't bad in a specifically 90's kind of way.  So the jam bands are out because no one who is not currently high will argue that any of them are any good. The annoying singer-songwriters are out, because they are squarely in the tradition of annoying singer-songwriters that dates back to the first generation of Dylan imitators. Also, history has largely forgotten them. (Let us take a moment to pity Tori Amos, once a big star, now not even first on the list of annoying red-haired musicians associated with Neil Gaiman.)

I've chosen acts that achieved some level of popularity in the 90's and that are, for better or worse, associated with the 90's.  So Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, both of whom were good in the 80's, are included here because they rose to megastardom (and fell to shittiness) in the 90's. I toyed with the idea of including Aerosmith, since Get a Grip is one of the worst rock albums ever, but they did release Pump in the 90's, and that's hilariously horny, so they're out. 

I have not chosen one-hit acts that are easy to shit on because nobody liked them all that much even then. So your Eve 6, your Seven Mary Three, your Three Doors Down, and the rest of the one-hit wonders of the 90's are not included. They've been punished enough.

I have included many sacred cow acts here. This is not simply to troll 90's kids, although that is fun. I genuinely believe these bands are terrible, and I will be happy to explain my choice in the comments if you wish to question me. (Remember though: this is a safe space, which means I brook no dissent from my views. Just kidding. But I will delete you if you're abusive but not funny. Abusive and funny is fine. Encouraged, even.)


The Bracket

Screenshot 2016-03-28 at 7.04.00 PM

(Sorry it's a little hard to read. The "fillable PDF" kept saving as a blank, so I had to do a screenshot.  So yes, I am old.)

If you prefer it in non-graphic form:

  1. Nirvana vs. Rage Against the Machine
  2. Pearl Jam vs. Sublime
  3. Bush vs. Third Eye Blind
  4. Red Hot Chili Peppers vs. Weezer
  5. Hole vs. The Black Crowes
  6. Radiohead vs. Foo Fighters
  7. Primus vs. Blues Traveler
  8. Alice in Chains vs. Metallica
  9. The Wallflowers vs. Garbage
  10. Dave Matthews Band vs. Barenaked Ladies
  11. Liz Phair vs. Smashing Pumpkins
  12. Oasis vs. Toad the Wet Sprocket
  13. 311 vs. Live
  14. Stone Temple Pilots vs. Blink-182
  15. Jane's Addiction vs. Tool
  16. Green Day vs. The Offspring

How to Vote

You may vote in one of two ways: through the comments here (please just include the number of the matchup and your winner.) I will put up a new post with the first round winners filled in on March 30, 2016, and you can vote on 2nd round winners there.

I will also be posting all the matchups as Twitter polls. You can just head over to https://twitter.com/bhalpin and cast your vote there. Twitter polls stay open for 24 hours, and I'll start posting tonight.

Against Grit

If you spend any time in educational circles at all, you will hear something about "grit." 

If you want a lot of information about what "grit" is, you can google it, especially in conjunction with its foremost proponent, Angela Duckworth. She has a TED talk about it because of course she does.

But maybe you don't want to do the research. In which case, I'll break it down for you:  "grit" means perseverance. It's your ability to stay focused and work hard toward a goal and keep going rather than giving up in spite of obstacles.  

Seems like something nobody could possibly object to. In fact, it's in huge vogue in education right now. You can't make a rubric without somebody wanting to throw grit on it. Especially when you are working with disadvantaged students.

Because "grit," it turns out, is a handy way to blame people in bad circumstances for their fate.  

This plays right into the myth that the United States is a meritocracy, which people cling to stubbornly in spite of the evidence. So if you're poor, it's not because the deck is stacked against you. It's not because of the fact that even the low-achieving, incurious children of the rich clog up the top rungs of the career and educational ladder. Nope--it's your own fault because you're lazy and you give up too easily!

This, of course, is why the big money forces of education reform love grit. 

Indeed, when I worked in a charter school, we subscribed to this idea even though Angela Duckworth hadn't given it a name yet.  We used to start with 70 9th graders and end with 30 12th graders. And when a kid left, we would shake our heads and bemoan the fact that they'd given up, that they just didn't want it bad enough.  (We didn't examine our own pedagogy or disciplinary practices because it was obviously the students' fault for giving up. No excuses!)

Even as I write this, people are wringing their hands, wondering how they can teach grit. Because that will solve poverty. People are giving demerits to students for their failure to show grit. Because showing grit is the only way Those People will ever succeed. 

Grit is all about blaming people for their own circumstances and denying the role of luck, race, and money in people's success. But there are two other problems. One, as Alfie Kohn points out, is that measuring students' grit based on what they are or aren't persevering at in school ignores the question of whether that particular thing is worth persevering at.  It allows educators to not examine their own practice and just blame the kids. 

But there's another problem that I haven't seen a lot of people writing about (though someone probably has): grading someone else's grit is incredibly presumptuous.

I worked for seven years with a post-secondary student population who by and large had not done well in high school. And I did a personal essay assignment with them. And many of them would choose to write about something horrible they had been through. Reading these essays would wreck me every time.  And it's what really turned me against "grit." Because you never know what kinds of horrors people have seen and endured. And how much grit it takes them to just get out of bed in the morning. 

Many, many students wrote of sexual abuse they had endured as children, and the shame they felt and how it had broken their ability to trust anyone, how they could never feel safe. Many students wrote of the trauma of witnessing or experiencing violence. Students had been shot or stabbed or watched a loved one gunned down in the street.

And you're going to presume to judge the grit of someone who's been through that kind of experience? 

How dare you? 

It's arrogance of the highest caliber to think you can put someone's character traits on a rubric and give them a score based on what you know of them.  And we put poor kids through this all the time.  Can you imagine how this must feel? What must it be like to summon the effort to leave the house after you were abducted off the street and tortured for three days and then have someone tell you you're not showing enough grit? Does anyone on earth deserve this kind of humiliation? Does anyone on earth have the right to judge anyone like this?

Grit is not a helpful concept. It's not innovative. It is, in its current application, sickening and shameful.


Revealed: The Right Thing To Say

Talking to a dear friend who got life-changing bad news the other day, and she was complaining about all the stupid things people say when they learn that something terrible has happened to you.  Having had some terrible things happen to me, I knew exactly what she was talking about: people don't seem to know what to say, so they say something stupid and offensive.

So as a public service, I am going to reveal what you should say when someone tells you that something incredibly terrible has happened.

"I'm sorry."  You can add "so" in the middle if you like. You could also tell the person that you love them.

That's it, folks!  

Now you may be thinking, "But Brendan! My friend has cancer! (or whatever terrible thing just happened) Those words are completely inadequate!"

Yep. Because that's the thing. Life-changing bad news is too big for words. Words can't help.  You can't be the one to make the person feel better because nobody can make the person feel better. Whether you're acting out of compassion because a person you care about is hurting and you want the hurt to stop, or narcissism because you want to be the one who utters the magic words that help, just stop it.

Because while your words can't possibly make the person feel better, they can actually make them feel worse. 

So that's it: "I'm sorry."  Try it next time someone tells you something terrible. And never  say you don't know what to say again.