Why Music Matters: 1993 – The year that I broke


I’m in the middle of putting together a load of writing about 1993. 1993 was quite a musical year— more about that in a moment— but it was also a year in which I grew up a lot. It was my first year of really drinking, first year of clubbing, and of falling into (and then out of) love. On lots of levels I fell apart, and then put myself back together again, but in quite a different form. Going on 30 years later, I’m trying to write about the ways music and memory intersect, by going back to that time.

Before I began working on this project, it was a year I thought of only as the time capsule from various more or less popular songs. I could mine these songs when I wanted to hear what that time meant, but they offered up everything there was to know about my 17 year old self in 3 minutes and 30 second segments, ready to be swallowed whole. Everything was on show, and the community of listeners I share them with would know just as much about that time, and my place in it, as I did.

I was wrong. The songs were a half-obscured frame around someone I once knew.

A specific young person— unlike any other. The set of writing I’m pulling together right now is the voice of that palpable person (a teenager, sure, but no less for that) brought back close to me so I can see his childishness, his isolation, his joy, his terror, his lust, his angst, and his persistent sense that music was all that should matter to him, or to anyone else.

A unique story, like anyone’s, and one that is full of energy for me.

So here are three of the musical currents that albums of 1993 defined for a part metaller, part grunge fan, part indie kid, part adult and part child.

A high point for US indie rock

In the summer of ‘93 there were a mass of American guitar band albums that were new to me. None hit me harder than Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream and The Breeders’ Last Splash.

The Pumpkins reinvented what was possible in the weight of a guitar sound: totally square, and so massive as to annihilate you as a listener. Breeders’ joyous delivery made even me try fumbling attempts to “dance” in nightclubs around Manchester. Most importantly, both let me redefine what “heavy” was, as not just a term reserved for death-metal heads.

A new musical vulnerability

I remember reading in the Melody Maker that Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow had once broken down when performing “Cliche”, from their ‘93 album Bubble and Scrape (which I discovered that year). It was the kind of thing my 17 year old self was in awe of.

I also heard Dinosaur Jr squeal the pitiful lyric “You’re not going to get me through this, are you?” (From Where’ve you been?) for the first time, and marveled at how someone could sound so weakly pained, and yet so violently loud too.

After years of angry metal music, both albums would transform the range of emotions I would allow myself to connect with, and so change my life.

Unexpected sounds from the UK

In a sea of US-based guitar bands cutting new ground, 1993 was the year of Pablo Honey (and “Creep”, which we’ve already discussed on PBs), which seemed so dynamically fresh to me, after the distortion drenched walls of grunge. Then, perhaps the longest term musical obsession of my life began, when I heard PJ Harvey’s single “Man-size” (from Rid of Me).

It was something my 17 year old self just couldn’t get my head around— wild, dangerous, sexy, threatening, and most of all completely novel. Perhaps the longest-term musical obsession of my life began here, leading me in new directions, and still driving my interest today.

It would be easy to argue that ‘93 was just another year, and that each one has its vital musical narrative. That’s true I suppose, but the sharpness of focus that comes with that time has stayed with me more strongly than any other. It was a year that I was broken down— musically, emotionally, philosophically even. For that I’ll always be grateful.

Words by Nick Parker.

To be honest, it’s exciting to think of how many other perspectives you might have on all these albums, and the rest, and of how many other full lives that mass of memories implies. I’d love to hear about some of them, if you’re willing to give me that window.

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