This month in PopCulture 25YL, we’re taking a look at the music, shows, video games, and whatever else we want from the month that was February of 1994.
VHS In the VCR
Quick Takes by John Bernardy
Knight Rider 2010 came and went this month as a single TV movie, proving it was a little too early to re-imagine the David Hasselhoff show from the 80s, especially when it didn’t even include him or KITT. Really, all it had was a talking car. Similarities ended there and it was not upgraded to a full series.
Saved By The Bell: The College Years ended this month as well, nearly ending our time with Zack and Slater and the original Baysiders (that’ll be Wedding In Vegas, later this year).
Happy Birthday, Starz
In 1994, we weren’t used to cable channel trees like Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Jr. etc. HBO was just HBO, Bravo was just Bravo, and Encore was just Encore. Until this month, when Encore expanded its tree into eight sister channels, one of which could be a pay channel that could show movies and compete with HBO and Showtime. Starz was this kind of a multiplex movie channel for years, and proved that channel trees could be a thing. It never had the reputation of HBO and Showtime though, until it started showing original programming such as Spartacus. Now, after years of trying to break through as a prestige network, it’s finally garnered its acclaim with Outlander, Ash vs. Evil Dead, and American Gods. What were Starz’s humble beginnings 25 years ago? Showing two two-year-old movies: Scent of a Woman, and Crying Game.
This month’s slate of X-Files Season 1 episodes include “Lazarus,” “Young at Heart,” and “E.B.E.”
“Lazarus” involved the spirit of a dead bank robber possessing a person and causing more crimes. “Young at Heart” involved a thief who’s able to reverse the aging process. Those episodes are competent monster of the week style episodes but the show’s bread and butter was on full display in “E.B.E.”, one of my favorites from this season.
“E.B.E.” not only introduced the Lone Gunmen, it was a cross country chase as Mulder and Scully tried to intercept a semi truck that was shipping a purported extraterrestrial biological entity across the country. Writers Glen Morgan and James Wong said the tone was inspired by All The President’s Men, and it’s a tense one for sure. The agents follow Deep Throat’s clues to a power plant that seems to have nefarious purposes, and they eventually find the creature’s holding cell but it turns out to be empty. The tension is incredibly high and the payoff is absolutely zilch, so in a way it’s a symbol of the show as a whole, but at the time—with promise of unexplored mythology to come—this one expanded the scope of what the show could be, and I was captured hook, line, and sinker. A big thumbs up for this one.
CDs On Rotation In Our 6-Disk
Quick Takes by John Bernardy
Fugees – Blunted on Reality: “Boof Bof” and “Vocab” are the standout tracks on this solid album. It’s not as tight as the Fugees’ next album, The Score, but Blunted on Reality has more moments of higher energy. Wyclef Jean, Pras Michel, and Lauryn Hill all rap like crazy on this one; it’s not just a Lauryn Hill singing showcase. There’s a more traditional propulsion of power to this album and I give a recommendation to listen all the way through. Solid stuff.
CAKE – Motorcade of Generosity: “Jolene” is a great cover and “Comanche” has solid charm but otherwise, Motorcade of Generosity is a debut album of a group that doesn’t quite have its sound together. Except for “Rock and Roll Lifestyle.” That song is undeniably Cake and undeniably a classic. If you’ve never heard it, stop and try it.
Reality Bites Soundtrack by Paul Billington
I remember the movie coming out, slap-bang in the middle of my stint working at the local multiplex cinema (a ‘McJob’ as Generation X author Douglas Coupland might have labelled it). The film was supposed to encapsulate what it meant to be in your 20’s at the beginning of the 1990’s, hence the slightly obvious poster of the 3 leads —Winona Ryder—my primary reason for watching—Ethan Hawke and Ben Stiller— with a variety of buzz words surrounded them, scrawled onto a wall; ‘trust’, ‘credit cards’, ‘love’, ‘relationships’, etc.
In some ways, the soundtrack that accompanied the movie was as self-consciously hip as the movie poster was aiming to be. A mixture of what was cool, kitsch and commercial, both in terms of so-bad-it’s-good, alongside popular artists of the day, the soundtrack was quite a hit, even if the movie itself didn’t take off at the box office as hoped.
If Generation X was indeed the target audience —of which I was firmly in the middle of at the time, my 20s—the soundtrack appealed in a broader sense. Whilst it had classics such as “My Sharona” —for me, even now, totally synonymous with the random dancing taking place mid-movie whilst the characters grab snacks at a store— and “Baby I love Your Way” ,played constantly in the foyer of our cinema for an absolute age, along with radio stations across the land, it also had new cult bands such as the Juliana Hatfield Three and Dinosaur Junior. Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” was the breakout tune for most though. With its confessional-style lyrics and lack of a traditional verse-chorus-verse, it broke a mould in a sense, especially on MTV where its straightforward, tell it like it is, Ethan Hawke-directed video had huge rotation. Add into the mix the likes of U2, Crowded House, Lenny Kravitz and Squeeze, it was a perfect recipe for an excellent blend of new, old, funky, and the unexpected. It’s certainly been a popular soundtrack in the years since, having had a 10th anniversary release a few years back featuring more songs from the movie including another of Troy’s (Ethan Hawke) throaty, bar fly tracks from his movie band “Hey, That’s My Bike”.
The movie may not have made a splash, but many look back at it fondly for capturing a moment in time, and therefore remaining ‘of its time’ forever as we will be covering it at 25YL soon. The soundtrack has stood the test of time in a way that the movie didn’t. Music can mean so many things to so many people. Older tracks can become new when used in a different context, just think of “Stuck in the middle with you” in Reservoir Dogs or the use of “Blue Velvet” for Blue Velvet. My own early 20s were dominated by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Beck, Alice in Chains, Paul Westerberg (formerly of the Replacements), REM, and Weezer. They are nowhere to be seen in Reality Bites, but it matters not. The soundtrack is still an eclectic mix of sounds that finds its way onto my car stereo more than I would care to admit.
Green Day – Dookie by Bryan O’Donnell
1994 was a monumental year for music. I plan on contributing to many of the PopCulture25YL columns to talk about the music from 25 years ago. I’m biased, probably, because 1994 hit directly in the time I was growing up and becoming obsessed with music, but I think the year was the best year of new music ever.
Green Day’s Dookie, the band’s third album, was released on February 1, 1994. At that time, I was in 6th grade, religiously listening to Metallica and Nirvana. I remember liking Dookie’s first single, “Longview,” well enough, but it wasn’t until later that year and into 1995 that I remember the album exploding.
Dookie was perhaps the most iconic album of my middle school years. Everyone had the Dookie T-shirt. I remember trying to out-cool everyone by buying a Kerplunk (the band’s second album) T-shirt, but it probably only hurt my popularity. It seemed like a new song from the album would be released as a single every week.
In addition to “Longview,” this album features songs you still hear on the radio on a regular basis (yes I still listen to the radio): “Basket Case,” “When I Come Around,” “Welcome to Paradise,” and “She.” It’s hard to believe all of those songs were on the same album.
Sitting down to write this piece and listening to Dookie after a long time away from it, I felt a wave of nostalgia kick in right from the get-go. The album starts with “Burnout,” a very angsty song that definitely spoke to me in my uncomfortable early-teen years: “I’m not growing up, I’m just burning out.” Two more non-hits follow — “Having a Blast” and “Chump” — and they are also excellent. Diving back in to some of these lesser-known songs was truly a pleasure.
With a lot of the music from this time centering around grunge, Green Day’s Dookie introduced people who listened to mainstream music to punk rock. It was an important album then, and it’s still an important (and very good) album today.
As someone who later got heavily into punk rock for a period of my life (constantly listening to the Clash, NOFX, Bad Religion, and many others), I’m not sure if I ever would have made that musical leap if it weren’t for Green Day releasing Dookie when they did.
Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain by Andrew Grevas
In February of 1994, Pavement’s second album, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was released. The album saw the band take a more accessible approach compared to their debut album, Slanted and Enchanted and while not an overwhelming success sales wise, critically was extremely well received. The band’s most recognizable song, “Cut Your Hair” was featured on this album as well as my all time favorite Pavement song, “Range Life”.
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain would be a template of sorts for what Indy rock would become after. In many ways straightforward rock n roll with original, unapologetic lyrics that by not trying to fit into any sub genre, wound up creating its own. Look no further than any major music publications “Best of the 90s” album list to see how highly regarded this record is today and look no further than future independent rock darlings like Spoon, The Arcade Fire and Death Cab for Cutie to see how profound this album and this band’s influence extended.
In a decade known for many things musically, ranging from grunge to the rise of rap to mainstream punk acts like Green Day, Pavement stands out. Putting on this record took me back to a time and a place when life felt a little more relaxed. The music felt less overproduced and more genuine. Going into a record store was still a thing. Maybe it’s because this is my generation but when I play a track like “Range Life” even today, twenty five years later, I still get those same feelings and if that’s not the sign of an all time classic album, I don’t know what is.
The Batting Cage
Michael Jordan picks up a bat by John Bernardy
Only Michael Jordon could completely switch sports on the fly. Sure, Bo Jackson played football and baseball at the pro levels, but he also played them throughout college. Jordan, the Chicago Bulls legend and soon-to-be Space Jam icon, signed a minor league baseball contract on February 7th of this year with the Chicago White Sox after not having played baseball in who knows how long. This just wasn’t done.
In October of 1993, he’d retired from basketball due to a “loss of desire to play the game.” He and the Chicago Bulls had just won three championships in a row, so you could say he was going out on top, but as a kid who lived in Chicagoland at the time it bent my mind. Why would our guy do that when he’s on such a roll? It was hard to imagine that burnout could effect that guy so much. Michael Jordan was drive. I was also a disaffected teenager at the time so I didn’t quite comprehend exactly how heavily his father’s murder the previous July could be weighing on him, but that was a huge factor in this career shift.
Jordan was extremely close to his father, and when he was a boy it was his father’s wish that Michael would be a baseball player. So he changed career paths to pursue his father’s dream for him, in part as a tribute. And as I said earlier, Jordan was drive. When people told him he couldn’t, he showed them he can. Because Jordan was so physically talented (not to mention marketable) he was able to change sports and make it immediately into the minor leagues with one of the other home teams, the White Sox.
While Jordan did not set the world on fire for his time with the Birmingham Barons and Scottsdale Scorpions—and he switched back to basketball within two years—it was quite a story to follow. And it was an added bonus that he went to the team my dad rooted for, rather than those loveable losers on the north side.
by John Bernardy
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 – Sega Genesis
As a Super NES kid I never played Sonic games but it seems based on the game’s short length it’s more famous for its behind the scenes stories rather than its game-play. The game should have been fantastic, but it was incredibly short. Its lack of levels were partly due to production issues, and partly do to needing to meet a deadline at all costs. Instead of putting out the be-all end-all Sonic game, the game was split in half and the second half came out months later (and still in 1994) as Sonic and Knuckles. Beyond that, Sonic 3 is most noteworthy for Michael Jackson having worked on the music for the game. Thanks to any number of reasons, Jackson’s name was not credited, but enough here-say and corroboration places him as part of the music making process.
Super Street Fighter II Turbo – Arcades
The quintessential fighter game showed up in arcades this month and it added super combos and air combos to the lexicon, as well as the character Akuma as a secret boss. This was the fifth game in the Street Fighter II subseries, and it pretty much perfected the fighter. It’s so solid that believe it or not it’s the oldest fighting game that still has an active competitive tournament scene throughout the world.
At the Comic Shop
Bone #12 by John Bernardy
Since it debuted in 1991, Jeff Smith’s Bone had become a giant phenomenon. This month’s issue was only the 12th issue in over two years, but it was a self-published book so it made sense it wouldn’t come out as fast as the big companies’ books. Another sign of a small operation: you couldn’t find issues of Bone for long. Each issue was up to 5th printings (or more) by this point. You could not get Bone comics in your hands easily.
What was so great about it? It was charming as Peanuts and high fantasy as Lord of the Rings (though at this point there were only inklings of its scope). This was classic cartoon fantasy of the highest order and writer/artist Jeff Smith did it his way the entire time. No compromises.
The main character, Phone Bone, and his brothers–who are trying to find their way home–look like cartoon beans. There’s a dragon who only Phone can see. There are endearing forest creatures. A girl named Thorn and her Grandma Ben. A great cow race. A scary creature known as the hooded one. And of course, rat creatures:
If you’ve never seen Bone before, you owe it to yourself to learn more. This series was amazing throughout and its charm is only surpassed by its quality.
Marvels by Will Johnson
All great long-running series, be it television, a novel series, or comics, try to find a way to reconnect with the tropes and expectations that define them. The best way to do that is to often disconnect from the primary source materials — the main characters, a comfortable, often-used setting, etc. — and show an outsider perspective. Sometimes reviewing a historic event (be it real or fictional) through a new set of eyes can re-emphasize the themes of the story, the intentions of the creators, or make a previously seen event carry a new resonance.
Marvels, the revolutionary series from Marvel Comics, culminating in its fourth and final issue in February of 1994, was specifically created to view the historic events of the Marvel Universe from a different perspective on a macro level: what do the common folk, the non-superpowered, do when confronted with superheroes and supervillains who enter their lives in mostly quick, violent bursts? But it is on the micro level — the reader as an active character; a subtle, if unnoticed approach — that Marvels reaffirms the themes and emotions that the comic juggernaut had been dealing with for decades.
Issue #4, titled “The Day She Died”, revisits, amongst other tales, the death of Gwen Stacy, one of the most impactful events for not only Spider-Man, a flagship Marvel property, but for comic book readers in general. I’m not sure who the quote is to be attributed to but the common axiom regarding Marvel comics is that “no one stays dead except Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy”. Though Gwen would be revisited and resurrected in different forms and tales later, the death of Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s first love, is basically permanent and added some intense drama to a universe where death is usually nothing but a temporary inconvenience.
Since the main protagonist of Marvels is “normal” human photographer Phil Sheldon, who has been following the seminal comings/goings of the heroes and villains of New York City for decades as an eye-witness (as depicted in Marvels #1-3), he has no connection to Spider-Man at all other than seeing him do things from afar, much like millions of others. As far as he is concerned, and as much as the public knows, Spider-Man is a rogue vigilante wanted for the murder of Gwen Stacy’s father.
Of course, one fateful night, Sheldon sees Spider-Man fighting the Green Goblin, who has captured Gwen. Goblin drops Stacy from a perilous height on the Brooklyn (or George Washington?!) bridge and Spider-Man, despite his best efforts, can’t save her. The public view of Stacy’s death is mixed as it is Spidey’s attempt to save her from a deadly fall using his webs that may have actually killed her (the infamous “snap” inserted into the comic, indicating a neck break from the whiplash of being pulled by the webbing, long a topic of contention amongst the comics community, is also revisited as a tall-tale within a tall-tale … the images show a “Snap” and Sheldon knows she is dead but never confirms how, leaving it a mystery for readers and the fictional characters). No matter how she died: shock, a neck snap, or something else, she is dead.
Marvels’ visual gimmick was for the reader to be just as confused as the people. The artwork, rendered beautifully by Alex Ross, was of a Norman Rockwell quality, showing everyday working stiffs in their blue-collar glory and then their awe at impossibly statuesque supermen and women who seem literally worlds apart. It is romanticism on top of romanticism but it still gets its main point across: these are not normal people or normal times and what (and who) we are seeing is a true “Marvel”.
Previous issues of Marvels covered the birth of the superhero and how it changed the way people view the planet itself (issue #1, “A Time of Marvels”), the view of the Other, in this case, mutants and the X-Men (issue #2, “Monsters”), and the expansion of the known universe with the visitation of the Silver Surfer and Galactus (issue #3, “Judgement Day”). But Issue #4 brought everything back to the human level as the concept of superheroes and city/planetoid battles have become commonplace for the public.
We see so much awe and wonder about the concept of being saved and rescued in the first three issues. The consequences tended to be on how the regular folks viewed people different from them and how safe they truly felt (or accepting how helpless and powerless they really were), but issue #4 shows the consequences of innocence entwined with the super and how sometimes the hero can’t come to rescue you. Issues #1-3 showed innocence being saved and went mostly quiet on the pretty obvious deaths that probably occurred in many cataclysmic moments (such as Sub Mariner’s tidal wave that literally enveloped the entire city, for example). Issue #4 goes right for the loss of that innocence by depicting death in a singular and haunting way.
Gwen Stacy meant a lot to the main character of Spider-Man as well as those in his inner circle. Not to mention us, the reader, as a viewer of the proceedings from a perch somewhere above: an omnipotent force who can see, but not interact, with the proceedings. Gwen Stacy herself probably meant nothing to almost everyone in New York when she died … but she became a symbol of the bad things that happen when we happen to play in a superhero world without choice.
The death of Gwen Stacy, as viewed through Marvels, re-told from a new perspective 21 years after it was initially published, not only told the story from a fresh angle, but it amplified the tragedy by giving it dimensions beyond those that move the plot. It affected the world now, not just a few characters, and became tragic all over again for a whole new age of readers.
If you haven’t given Marvels a look, I highly recommend it. It plays like a greatest hits of the Marvel universe from the ’30s to the ’70s but shows you how the average reader — the average human — would see it: in brief flashes and moments that, though only seconds in the making, reverberate through the rest of history.
Have any of your own memories from this month? Leave them in the comments or any of our social media locations below. We’d love to hear what 1994 meant to you, too!