This month in PopCulture25YL, we’re taking a look at the music, shows, video games, and whatever else we want from the month that was April of 1994.
VHS in the VCR
Space Ghost: Coast to Coast by Will Johnson
While the ability to time travel through physical space itself is still in the land of fantasy, we do have the ability to transport ourselves in the mind thanks to visual and aural stimuli. Thus, one of the greatest time travel mechanisms ever created is Cartoon Network’s Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. Premiering on April 15th, 1994, Space Ghost: Coast to Coast was the prototype for the revamped, adult-oriented cartoon revolution, like that of Adult Swim which would become commonplace within fifteen years.
I originally saw a clip of Space Ghost: Coast to Coast during an episode of E!’s Talk Soup, then hosted by Greg Kinnear, likely in ’94 or ’95. Taken at face value, the clip involved a Hanna-Barbera cartoon I sort of recognized named Space Ghost (designed by legend Alex Toth) sitting at a very cartoon desk talking to a television set suspended from the ceiling that had a real-life celebrity on it. I recall no details of the conversation they had but decided, at that moment, to find out who and what this madness was.
Much like the show’s confusing broadcast history–Space Ghost, as it will be dubbed from now on, was on television just as long as Cheers and M*A*S*H, if you can believe it, but not in consecutive years or even on the same channel–I didn’t get to truly absorb the show into my pop culture consciousness as much as I’d liked on a consistent basis as a middle-schooler. When I did catch it though, the surreal banter between once mortal enemies Space Ghost and insect-alien Zorak–now the Paul Shaffer/band leader of the talk show–accompanied by bizarrely edited interviews with ‘90s heavyweights like Raven Symone, Carrot Top, and Ashley Judd, made my head spin. And of course, the end credits, where the now-immortal “dial-up” sound was heard, advised of ways to communicate to the show via a spectacular invention called email.
It really wasn’t until my college days when the show was revamped for high-as-clouds weirdos like myself to enjoy while, well, high up in the clouds. Those later years of the show abandoned any attempt to be an actual talk show and had Space Ghost, Zorak, his program director Moltar (a containment suit wearing tough guy), occasional visitor Brak (a dog/tiger/weirdo with a high, screechy voice), and an assortment of many other former Space Ghost villains enter into the realm of the absurd. The interview “guests” were still there on that TV but ended up just kind of speaking on random topics while Space Ghost fought the general contractors at his house and Zorak peed in Moltar’s coffee, all while a bear with a shotgun was loose in the studio.
While Space Ghost’s absurdity has now become the norm on Adult Swim and other channels with adult-oriented cartoon entertainment, in 1994 during its premiere and more “serious” presentation–and in its revamped years in the early 2000s–Space Ghost was a truly revolutionary concept. And even though the early episodes contain virtually none of the brain-melting bizarreness of later seasons, the concept of using animation from the ‘60s with redubbed dialogue to conduct interviews with celebrities was so unique and weird that it actually gained cult appeal and bigger and bigger stars came on the show.
As a metal-head, I got to see Metallica on Space Ghost in 1996. As a “man” experiencing puberty, I got to see Elvira and every actress who played Catwoman on the ‘60s Batman series. I was introduced to Bob Odenkirk and David Cross! I got to see what, to me, was the most insane and ambitious crossover at the time: Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Joel Hodgson sleepily quipping at Zorak. And so many more.
The best way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this legendary show is to find those first episodes and let the time travel begin! How many times can you say you spent the afternoon indoors watching a superhero ghost talk to Bobcat Goldthwait about how pretty he is?
At the Comic Shop
by John Bernardy
Rick and Marlo get married in Incredible Hulk 418
Peter David, well into his 12-year run as writer of Incredible Hulk, had a solid soap opera going with the Hulk’s side characters. The biggest focus was the romance between Rick Jones and Marlo Chandler, who get married this issue in a story titled “We are Gathered Here”. Marlo’s new to the Marvel Universe, but Rick Jones was a sidekick to pretty much everyone from Captain America to Captain Marvel before being the Hulk’s current sidekick. Therefore we even have Kree and Skrulls in attendance. This was an EVENT.
And thanks to some patriarchy-entrenched views that haven’t aged well, Rick found part of Marlo’s past to be unforgivable so the wedding might not even be happening no matter what that classy Gary Frank cover suggested. Marlo accidentally promised her soul to Mephisto in a dream in order to fix the rift between her and Rick, so the ceremony went on. No harm no foul, right? Right, up until Mephisto tried to collect at the end. It took Silver Surfer and Hulk to fight off Mephisto but they got the job done. Let’s face it: the action itself isn’t as important as all the guest stars. It’s a fun read, you just have to remember it’s from 25 years ago.
Rake at the Gates of Hell–the last Ennis/Dillon Hellblazer story—begins in Hellblazer 78
Garth Ennis made his name with his first Hellblazer storyline, Dangerous Habits, by having the book’s main character–conniving magician John Constantine–force the First of The Fallen to save him from lung cancer by promising his soul to all three lords of Hell, thus arranging a war if he were to die. It was a brash move perfect for Constantine and soon to be trademark of Ennis as well.
I usually hate John Constantine as a character. He did okay for me when Alan Moore created him in Swamp Thing, but as a side character he had a job and role that worked. When Hellblazer debuted, he struck me as an immoral jerk who can barely be called an anti-hero. How someone like that could headline a book was beyond me. But Ennis came in and gave him charismatic friends beyond Chas to focus on. Character like Rick the Vic (an actual church’s vicar) who enjoyed Constantine’s charms yet acted like a real person rather than someone having the wool pulled over their eyes. People populating Ennis’ Hellblazer felt like real people and you could feel their complicated friendships. As Ennis proves in Hitman a number of years later, friendships are a particular strength of his, so I’m not surprised that I love his run of Hellblazer and no other.
Along the way, Ennis was paired with artist and his future Preacher co-creator Steve Dillon. Together they put Constantine through a number of paces as he’s always outrunning some terrible supernatural circumstances. And it ended here with a culmination of everything in Hellblazer, even the issues before Ennis began his run.
Astra, a girl Constantine doomed to Hell in the first issues of the book, tells the First of the Fallen how to get out of his stalemate with the other two lords. And Constantine’s soul can be his soon. You can’t make much higher stakes for a nicer guy. Constantine seems to be in genuine trouble this time, especially as his friends end up dying thanks to their association with the man of questionable moral rectitude. One by one, we get to see how they are killed, or thrown into race riots around London.
Everything is set to fail from page one, and the momentum builds as it goes. Even the angel Gabriel–whose heart Constantine has possession of as collateral–can’t stop The First as he continuously unravels all of Constantine’s safety nets.
And right when it looks worst, in comes Kit, everyone’s favorite of John’s girlfriends. Kit genuinely made Constantine strive to be a better person, and it even started working, but then like a sensible person she left town because she couldn’t deal with his immoral bullshit anymore. And she came back to get closure. While most of John’s friends are being taken away from him, Kit comes back to walk away on her own terms, which she does. After she’s gone too, he walks out into the aftermath of race riots, finds out another of his friends had been murdered, and that’s when the First walks up next to him. That’s the cliffhanger at the end of Part 5, setting up one hell of a conclusion.
The First begins their exchange in Part 6 by giving back John’s lung cancer. They share a ton of conversation I don’t want to get into here because I’d rather you read it to see how he gets out of this jam. John does get out of the jam. There’s over 200 more issues in the series. Constantine is–as everyone says at one time or another in the pages of Hellblazer– a right bastard; of course he gets out of a jam.And of course he owes something a favor. But damn if Rake at the Gates of Hell is not a classic Constantine story. I can’t think of many better exits from a book. Ennis and Dillon kicked the doors off the hinges so hard they took me with them when they left.
CDs On Rotation In Our 6-Disk
Rollins Band- Weight by Caemeron Crain
1994 was the year I started high school. One day, however long into the school year, a couple of upperclassmen I hoped to impress stopped me in the hall to ask me if I was wearing a Pearl Jam shirt because I liked the band, or just because I thought it looked cool. A very quick series of thoughts took hold: “Do they like Pearl Jam? Is it (still) cool to like Pearl Jam? Do I really like Pearl Jam still at this point?” etc.
The point of this little story is not about whether I handled the situation well (I did not), but about the normalcy of such a question in the mid-90s; the ethos of the times. The worst thing that a fan could be was a poseur—not a true fan, that is, but someone pretending to gain social capital—and the worst thing an artist could be was a sellout—not a true artist, but someone just in it for the money. (I knew a guy who refused to listen to any band on a major label, even).
A story about how we got to this point would most certainly involve Nirvana, but by the mid-90s this zeitgeist had fully taken hold. It was the heyday of when Alternative went mainstream. And Rollins Band’s Weight is quintessential in terms of that spirit of the time.
How else could one explain the success of “Liar,” which found itself in heavy rotation on MTV? Henry Rollins cannot sing (as he himself would admit), but that wasn’t what mattered. The vibe in the act lies in the notion of being authentic and speaking truth.
“Liar” approached this from the opposite side, taking up the perspective of someone who is not only untruthful, but likes it. The song ironically celebrates the power of the lie, but its purpose consists in lambasting the liars around us every day. It landed in relation to a widespread sentiment that it was time to break away from everything surface and deceptive. Thus it was that a song with semi-melodic spoken word verses and a screamed chorus came to be performed at the Grammys.
Weight was my entry point, but to say that I got into Henry Rollins would be an understatement. I bought The End of Silence, and managed to find a copy of Life Time at my local record store. I bought several of his books, read them, and got them signed when I met him after one of his spoken word performances. (I made him laugh, cherished the memory, and was stunned at how I towered over him—his stage presence is so huge; how could he be this short?) I watched movies because he was in them, even though he has never been a particularly good actor.
The thing about Rollins is that he never felt like some celebrity, so much as he felt like a friend. He opened up in his spoken word, in his books, and in his music in way that was the opposite of condescending. I think in a certain way he truly does not understand why we wanted to listen to him, read him, or see him in film—or why he ended up with a talk show on IFC.
Of course, he’s still with us, but less active. It feels like there will be no new music. And my fanship has waned over the years. And both of those things might stem from the same reason: the shift in the culture from the 90s to now.
To listen to Weight 25 years later is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the album is still solid; it rocks, flows, and coheres incredibly well, reminding me of what sometimes feels like the lost art of album making (if we think of an album as more than a collection of songs). And tracks like “Disconnect” land for me just as well now as they did back then—“All the things that they’re saying and doing when they pass me by just fills me up with noise; it overloads me. I wanna disconnect myself; pull my brain stem out and unplug myself—I want nothing right now!”
On the other hand, “Wrong Man” feels problematically like something Men’s Right Activists could make their anthem. Of course, the problem with #NotAllMen was never so much that it was wrong, but that it was the wrong kind of response. It misses the point. I’m not sure what Rollins was responding to 25 years ago when he sang, “I’m not all men; I’m just one man; I’m not that man”—perhaps it was a personal thing that happened?—but, regardless, I find the song to be somewhat difficult to listen to now, unless I ignore the lyrics, which would be a move that runs against everything Rollins Band stood for.
Perhaps this gets to the point, though. The 90s ethos of authenticity was tied up in a problematic notion of individuality; as though what matters is that I am properly authentic, or pure. That hasn’t gone away, but it has gotten more pernicious. At least, I think so.
I have come to think that the whole discourse of authenticity is bullshit. Or maybe it has just been co-opted? As the popularity of Nirvana led to the popularity of Bush, perhaps we have been overrun by a faux-authenticity in our political life. To what extent are those who lead us liars who like it and feel good?
Pulp- His ‘n’ Hers by Abbie Sears
Released on April 18th, 1994, His ‘n’ Hers was Pulp’s breakthrough album. Despite being the fourth studio album released by the band, His ‘n’ Hers gained Pulp the most well-deserved recognition, especially within the newfound ‘Britpop’ genre. The album placed Pulp high in the ranks of British music at the time amongst bands such as Oasis, Blur and Suede who came to be known as the most popular ‘Britpop’ bands from the 90’s.
His ‘n’ Hers reached #9 on the album charts in the UK, however the band unfortunately did not gain the recognition that some others did within the US. It’s an upsetting thought that songs such as “Babies” and “Do you remember the first time?” that create a sense of nostalgia and bring back memories of the 90’s for many Brits aren’t often known across the rest of the world.
Being born in 1999, I wasn’t around when the album gained its fame in the UK. But I still feel a special connection to the album as it was played to me by my father throughout my childhood, and I still listen to it on a weekly basis now 20 years after I was introduced to it. I listen to it with my family, and recommend it to everybody. This album to me is one that I will never grow tired of, one that I could play on repeat every day and still want to hear it again. Each song tells a story, even if that story is a little too British, or a little too ‘teenage drama’ sometimes.
The album creates an image in my mind of being a young adult of the ‘working class’ in 1994. Hanging around in Sheffield, with the clubbing, sex, and trying to have a good time whilst not having the money to do so. The lyrics of these songs delve into many aspects of fear, and wanting to find love whilst not wanting to commit, and the many clichés of relationships. A good example here are the lyrics to “Do you remember the first time?” in which Jarvis is talking to his lover about her boring relationship, and how even if it makes sense for them to be together, her and the singer have grown together and he doesn’t want her to go home to her generic relationship. The lyrics on this album are a major factor of its appeal. While a lot has changed since the 90’s, this culture is still widely relatable across the UK, I believe this carries on the legacy of Pulp to the younger generation as well as maintaining its relevance amongst those who were fans 25 years ago. The songs from His ‘n’ Hers are definitely catchy and combine rock and pop in an album that makes you never want to stop partying, and while we may never get to experience a second Pulp reunion, this album is something I think will continue to be a British classic for a long time.
The Offspring- Smash by Bryan O’Donnell
The Offspring exploded onto the US music scene after releasing their third album, Smash, on April 8, 1994. Along with Green Day’s Dookie, which was released earlier in the year, Smash really helped bring punk rock resonate with more mainstream music fans.
The album featured three hugely popular singles, “Gotta Get Away,” “Come Out and Play,” and “Self-Esteem.” The latter two songs, I will probably forever associate with my early middle school days. And while those singles are still enjoyable and even still heard occasionally on the radio, I find that the “non-hits” on Smash definitely hold up. “Nitro (Youth Energy),” “Genocide,” and “Something to Believe In” all bring back memories of rocking out to this album in my childhood bedroom. And then you have “It’ll Be a Long Time” and “Killboy Powerhead” providing a back-to-back punch in the face.
The penultimate song of the album, “Not the One,” has a particularly relatable significance to today’s chaotic landscape, as Dexter Holland sings “I’m not the one who made the world what it is today. I’m not the one who caused the problems started long ago. But now I deal with all the consequence that troubles our times. I carry on and never once have even questioned why.”
The album ends with the solid song “Smash,” which eventually leads to a hidden track — remember those? All in all, even 25 years later, Smash is an album with few weak spots. As I wondered all those years ago, I’m still trying to figure out the purpose of the spoken intro and outro portions. I had to chuckle when listening to this album on my smartphone today and the comforting voice in “Time to Relax” refers to “this compact disc playing on your home stereo.” How things have changed.
Still Doing It For the Kids: Hole’s Live Through This at 25 by Steve Wandling
Hole’s Live Through This may be the most appropriately titled record in rock history. The album’s initial release was April 12, 1994, one week to the day after band leader Courtney Love’s husband (and Nirvana frontman) Kurt Cobain committed suicide. The Nirvana front man and primary songwriter had been (begrudgingly) anointed as the voice of his generation. Even before his death, Love had faced her fair share of misdirected hate from angry Nirvana fans who felt ownership over their beloved Kurt. After his suicide, disgusting conspiracy theories almost immediately began to percolate and persist even to this day that Courtney Love orchestrated her late husband’s death. The couple’s daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, was less than two years old at the time of Kurt’s suicide, leaving Courtney Love a single parent in a whirlwind of tragedy. To add insult to injury, there were vicious rumors that Kurt himself, not Courtney or guitarist/songwriter Eric Erlandson wrote the entirety of the record. A little over three months later, tragedy would strike the Hole camp again. Bassist Kristen Pfaff was found dead of a heroin overdose on June 16, 1994 in her apartment. Now ask yourself, could you live through any of this…and then some?
Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson, drummer Patty Schemel, and new bassist Melissa Auf Der Mar surprisingly did just that. Live Through This went multiplatinum and was named Spin magazine’s “Album of the Year” in 1994. The album also contained three successful singles in “Doll Parts,” “Violet,” and “Miss World.” The band kicked off their world tour in the fall of ’94 at the Reading Festival in the UK and stayed on the road in support of the record all the way through September 1995. Along the way, they made stops at Lollapalooza (after pulling out the previous year due to Pfaff’s death), Saturday Night Live, the MTV Video Music Awards, and even recorded an Unplugged special broadcast on MTV. On the outside looking in, Hole was on top of the world. In many respects they were, but as BBC radio host John Peel once said concerning their live shows they were “constantly teetering on the edge of chaos.”
Live Through This is often forgotten as one of the greatest albums of the grunge era. Courtney Love’s on-stage and behind-the-scenes antics seem to have eclipsed what is truly a perfect record–co-written largely by her and Erlandson–that managed to find a delicate balance between punk and pop. Love had intentionally driven the band to a more radio friendly sound without losing any of the angst and vitriol behind the songs from their first record, Pretty On the Inside. The album, in a word, is ferocious. Courtney Love was pissed off, and for good reason. Opening track “Violet” chronicles a love affair gone sour and also touches on being sexually exploited. It comes off like a rallying cry for anyone that’s ever been fucked over and used by someone they love. Lead single “Miss World” is a painful cry of drug addiction and the narrator’s reflection of their own self image.
This theme of dealing with your own self-image, or lack thereof, runs throughout the entire record. The album takes deep stabs at isolation, drug addiction, female objectification and rape. The most open song on the album lyrically to me was always “Softer, Softest.” Courtney as the narrator sings about opening up and letting someone into your world only to have them trample all over it and make you feel less than human for your very own existence. How many times are we hurt by those we love in life only to constantly tell ourselves that it’s somehow our fault, and if only we could do better and be what people want us to be things would be better? If your life, dear reader, has been anything like mine…the answer is probably far too many times than you would care to admit. Every time I hear this song I can’t help but think of all the times I was bullied at school growing up and just thought if only I could be more like everyone around me, then I wouldn’t get my ass kicked all the time. It was never any one else’s fault. I was the one to blame. (“I’ve got a blister from touching everything I see”)
On “Plump,” she makes references to female’s constant need to feel attractive to men to a physically sickening point. “They say I’m plump, but I throw up all the time.” The album deals with uncomfortable topic after uncomfortable topic that many men would often rather just ignore. “Jennifer’s Body” tells a harrowing tale of the kidnapping and dismemberment of a woman that can also be interpreted as a woman’s body constantly being under assault by men in one way or another. Who can’t relate to “Doll Parts,” the album’s second single about the insecurities the narrator goes through in her head when simply meeting a new love interest, dissecting herself before society can do it for her. The haunting refrain of that song’s meaning became painfully clear to me when Courtney sings over and over that “someday, you will ache like I ache” later in life as I grappled with my own demons. In the end, we all lie in the bed that we make.
“Asking for It” may be the album’s finest and most shocking moment. Courtney Love once described an experience playing a show with Mudhoney wherein she stage-dived and was sexually assaulted by the audience. Her clothes were torn off; she was groped, called cunt. It inspired her to sit down and write this chilling tale of rape and the questions women will likely face. In the post #metoo era, the song resonates now more than ever. The lyrics “Was she asking for it? Did she ask you nice? Was she asking for it? Did she ask you twice?” are a pretty blatant reference to the fact that these questions seem to still be on the tip of every male’s (and some females) tongue when a woman has been sexually assaulted. It throws a middle finger and a warm bottle of piss in the face of the mere suggestion that a woman is ever asking to be assaulted for any reason whatsoever.
Courtney Love had no qualms about being a walking contradiction. She is, lest we forget, the leader of one of the fiercest (mostly) female driven punk/hard rock bands of all time who also needed to let the world know that “I am not a feminist” in her lyrics. Some would roll their eyes and call her a hypocrite. I would argue that she was bold enough to admit to herself what we all really are deep down, a complex mix of feelings and emotions that don’t always add up to a cohesive view. A couple songs on Live Through This, especially “Gutless” and “Rock Star” are in fact open indictments of the riot grrrl movement that was burgeoning at the time. Things got so heated between Love and the movement that she actually punched Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Hill backstage at Lollapalooza ’95. This isn’t one of Courtney’s finer moments I’ll admit, but the lyrics to “Rock Star” in regards to blind vapid scene followers and their bullshit may be.
By the end of the decade and only one more full-length later (1998’s dark California pop opus Celebrity Skin) Hole would implode under a haze of drug addictions and inner band turmoil. Drummer Patty Schemel, who overcame a serious addiction to methamphetamine, described her final days with the band as “the Courtney Love show.” She had a point. Courtney had also spiraled into drug problems of her own and her constant antics were overshadowing what had once been a powerful band. Hole officially disbanded in 2002 but had been dormant since playing their last show in July of 1999. The music of Live Through This and Hole however, who have sold more than 3 million copies of their records to date, lives on. I personally found the record as a young kid growing up in the coal fields of southern West Virginia. Courtney said in the Patty Schemel entered documentary Hit So Hard that women, homosexual men, and highly evolved straight men made up Hole’s core fan base. I’m proud to fall somewhere in between the gay and the highly evolved.
The songs on Live Through This carried this author through many dark times in my life to say the least… and helped me to stand up for myself, accept and own my faults, disregard my detractors, and definitely become a better songwriter. Hole, and by extent Courtney Love, gave me an outlet to deal with a lot of things I was going through as an insecure, isolated kid that was constantly kicked around and called hateful slurs like faggot. When I got older, I started bands of my own, toured, made records, etc. I also sadly fell into that old musician’s cliché of drug addiction. Kristen Pfaff’s story could have easily been my own, more or less. My addiction grew and grew until I was shooting heroin daily for nearly a decade. I was just lucky enough to make it out alive whereas Kristen, Kurt, and currently 40 of my own former friends, band-mates, and loved ones have died specifically to drug addiction. I somehow lived to talk about it when so many didn’t. Hole may be dead and gone, but their music never will. It finds and speaks wisdom to the misfits like me, to the ostracized, the outsider that people snicker about behind closed doors. And it proudly and defiantly tells those people to fuck off. Live through this you ask? I’m trying my fucking best.