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 June of 1994.
VHS In The VCR
OJ’s white Bronco was all over the news this month, but for our PopCulture25YL purposes, we’re going to step right around that whole thing.
It’s also noteworthy that the FX network debuted and DirecTV began its service this month, but really, when it comes right down to it there’s only one thing on television worth writing about:
Hulk Hogan signs with WCW by Andrew Grevas
Hulk Hogan was synonymous with the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) the same way Babe Ruth was with the Yankees. Imagine the Babe in a Chicago White Sox jersey. You can’t do it, can you? That’s how professional wrestling fans felt about Hogan leaving the WWF.
The Hulkster had been caught right in the middle of the steroid scandal of the early ’90s, and his stock had taken a hit but he was still the biggest name in the industry. Most people expected Hogan to make more movies and come back to WWF, but as tensions rose between him and WWF owner Vince McMahon, Hogan made a jump that would shake the industry to its core. WCW had primarily been known as a regional promotion, touring and marketed towards Southern wrestling fans for their entire existence. A young, upstart executive named Eric Bischoff wanted to change that reputation and his secret weapon was opening Ted Turner’s checking account and signing the most popular wrestler in the world.
Hogan joined WCW with all the fanfare that would be expected for a signing of that magnitude. Along with Hogan came celebrity friends such as Mr. T, Shaq and George Foreman for cameos and many other popular wrestlers that had competed in the WWF in years past. Hogan changed the face of WCW and it’s identity, making them seen in a different light by the wrestling industry. It would take about two years for WCW to become a threat to WWF business-wise, but to nobody’s surprise, Hogan was a major part of that as well. We’ll save that story for a future edition of this column dear readers, but Hogan’s arrival to World Championship Wrestling was the beginning of the biggest boom the industry would ever see.
At the Comic Shop
by Steve Wandling
Green Lantern #54
Oh boy. Comic books can often be a voice for female empowerment. So many female characters and creators in the comic book industry inspire young girls and women everywhere to chase their dreams in whatever pursuit they go after in life. Some creative decisions don’t do that at all, However, and as much as it would be easy to paint over the ugly moments in the past, it’s better to hold them up and say “yeah…this is what you don’t do. This is how you don’t write female characters.” One of the most egregious moments in comic history is “celebrating” a milestone, and although it’s quite inexcusable, perhaps we can learn from the moment.
It’s the 25th anniversary of Green Lantern #54, aka “the fridging of Alexandra DeWitt.” I say that as opposed to “the fridging of Green Lantern’s girlfriend” or “Kyle Rainer’s girlfriend” because taking her name away only highlights the problem. Alex DeWitt was introduced in Green Lantern #48 as Kyle’s girlfriend. She was a photographer and journalist. She was a smart and capable woman…so let’s have her strangled and thrown in the fridge for no reason other than to satisfy the Green Lantern’s motivations. Holy shit, right? Yeah. It was gross.
This sadly hasn’t gone away either. Everyone that saw Deadpool 2 can attest to that. Vanessa (Moreen Baccarin) is murdered at the beginning of the film simply to have Wade/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) something to go through to “grow” as a character. It totally ruined the film for me and I thought it was legitimately a joke. In Green Lantern, Kyle was a piece of shit to Alexandra from the get-go. He acted like an immature dick and always blew off his work responsibilities, but she helped him out anyway, against her own better inner voices; and really, she did for good reason. I’m sure if Alex would have known where hanging out with dudes like Kyle Rainer would have gotten her, she just would have stayed home and read a book. Then maybe she wouldn’t have been needlessly butchered.
It didn’t stop there though. Alex just kept getting shit on by Green Lantern. Just instance after instance of using her ghost as some sort of plot mechanism. Hal Jordan even offered to resurrect Alex at one point, and Kyle thinks about Hals’ offer…and decides it’s best to leave that girl in the fridge. Kyle Rainer is such a standup guy. He’s basically the Ted Kennedy of superheroes.
This phenomenon of killing off superhero love interests to further the story arc of the male was coined “Woman in Refrigerator Syndrome” by comic writer Gail Simone. It’s just another example of the rampant sexism that ran wild through the comic book industry in the 90s. I’m even shocked when I go back and look at the way women were drawn when I was a kid. It’s beyond ridiculous to think any woman could look that way. The industry has come a long way since Green Lantern #54, but truth be told there’s still a hell of a long way to go. It seems like in every facet of the entertainment industry for every two steps toward equality taken; there’s another one taken back.
Aquaman has come a long way from Entourage punchline to top 25 grossing film adaptation on the big screen. The 90s was a wild time in comics history. It was a time of over-the-top attempts at reinvention. The King of the Seven Seas was no different. Peter David’s run, beginning 25 years ago, completely reinvented everything about the Atlantean superhero. A longtime DC Comics’ stable and JLA member, Arthur Curry/Aquaman made his first appearance all the way back in More Fun Comics #73 (1941). Along the way, in large part thanks to the Super Friends portrayal of Arthur in the 70s, Aquaman became the punchline of the comic world. Peter David sought to fix all that.
David seemed like a natural fit to take over writing duties for Aquaman, as he had already written the back story of Atlantis itself in the 7-issue series The Atlantis Chronicles (1990). That story ended with Aquaman’s birth. Aquaman: Time and Tide, a 4-issue tie-in brought David back to the world of the Atlantean, telling a story of Arthur learning about his own people’s history by reading The Atlantis Chronicles. DC Comics fans still remember that series as one of the best series in the history of the character.
With the stage set, Peter David officially took over with Aquaman #1 in June of 94. It was clear from the start that this wasn’t your grandparents Arthur Curry. Readers couldn’t help but notice that the squeaky clean-cut Curry was all but unrecognizable in Peter David’s new run. Aquaman spun out of the events of Time and Tide. Aquaman’s physical appearance and attitude is radically altered. After he learns about his history, he disappears for a bit. When he re-emerges, Aquaman for the first time since his inception no longer sported the short, clean-cut All-American look, but had long hair and a beard. The thing that fans will always most remember about Peter David’s run is Aquaman’s harpoon hand.
In a creative decision that seemed pulled straight from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1980), the villain Charybdis tried to get Arthur to show him how he communicates with the sea. It’s a classic Bond villain scenario, with Aquaman’s hand ending up in a piranha-infested pool for refusing to spill his guts. After the Monarch of Atlantis lost his hand, it’s safe to say that he went bat shit for a little bit. Peter David had Aquaman attaching a harpoon spearhead to his arm in place of his missing hand.
Looking back at some of the stylistic choices and storylines from the Peter David Aquaman run, a lot of it hasn’t aged as well as it could have. That doesn’t matter though. Peter David had a task set out before him that he accomplished starting 25 years ago this month. He took a once respected comic character that had become a punchline and threw in everything but the kitchen sink in an attempt to make people take Aquaman seriously again. Results may have varied, but David still gets an A for effort. His Aquaman run was the longest running in the history of the franchise and paved the way for Geoff Johns’ character-defining arc in 2011.
CDs On Rotation In Our 6-Disk
Beck- One Foot In The Grave by Steve Wandling
In 1994, Beck released one of the biggest records of the year. Mellow Gold spawned the juggernaut single “Loser.” Accompanied by a hit video on MTV, “Loser” peaked at number 10 on the Billboard charts in the United States. It was the first Beck single to do so. Mellow Gold was a genre-blending masterpiece that broke all the rules but had instant pop accessibility. It eventually went platinum, selling well over 1.2 million albums in the United States. That wasn’t the only album that Beck released in 1994, however. Before mainlining his sound for more radio-friendly ears on Mellow Gold, Beck had made a string of Lo-fi folk freak records like the record Golden Feelings and the single “MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack.” The early Beck records fit somewhere on your record collection between Butthole Surfers and Bob Dylan. Recorded before Mellow Gold, One Foot in the Grave wasn’t released until after that album’s smash success. Many listeners of the hip hop-meet-slacker-folk singer may have been confused by One Foot in The Grave, but longtime fans knew what was up. This was the end of an era.
One Foot in The Grave sounds like it was recorded in the basement of a flop house. Released by K Records, it has almost no pop accessibility or anything that could be put on the radio. There was no “Loser” to be found here. No, those Beck fans would have to wait two more years until the pop masterpiece Odelay! to dive back into that side of the songwriter. What the album may have lacked in accessibility, however, it made up for in sheer brilliance. Beck would never be so wide woolly and free again. He would never sound so shitty, scared, and punk again. It was the end of the beginning. One Foot in The Grave had an alt-country feel to a lot of the songs like “I Feel Lonesome” that had a simplistic yet brilliant feeling that stuck with you like a hangover or a comedown after a long bender. The whole album felt like an epiphany-filled drug trip. Immediately following “I Feel Lonesome” it’s back up to the Lo-fi garage rock of “Burnt Orange Peel.”
Beck’s songwriting always had that sardonic dry wit. It’s not better displayed on any other album except Golden Feelings. This record sounds like the narrator had been up on meth for days. The songs didn’t make any sense yet had at the same time seemed to hold all the answers to the universe. Or it could have just been the drugs. But the whole record seems to be about chasing some sort of feeling, briefly having jubilant moments of being lost and one with the universe, or bemoaning those moments passing (more of the latter). One Foot in the Grave is a Lo-fi masterpiece. Each song evokes a different emotion when you let it seep in. “See Water” feels like a ship lost out at sea or a junkie narrating his high. The music feels as light as air. It’s beautiful.
Immediately from that emotion the terror sets in. It’s right back to that same place of fear and loathing as Beck wrestles with the universe. One Foot in the Grave marked the last time Beck was ever an underground artist. “Ziplock Bag” sounds like Robert Johnson on bath salts and cigarettes. The album had a very communal aspect to it as well. A lot of the recording had members of Built to Spill, The Presidents of the United States of America, and others. Beck covered the Carter Family even. Beck took his sound and honed in, and the world followed suit. In the decades to follow he’s won multiple Grammys and made just about every type of music imaginable. It’s fun to remember when he was just a young alien screaming to a bunch of weirdos in his Lo-fi era which ended 25 years ago with One Foot In The Grave. Go check it out and remember where one of your favorite artists was when he was young, confused, and stoned.
Stone Temple Pilots- Purple by Laura Stewart
Kurt Cobain shot himself on April 5, 1994. Many say that this was the day Grunge began to die, and I would probably agree. But it was Stone Temple Pilots’ Purple that delivered the final blow, and you know what? It wasn’t a bad thing—as much as I loved it. When STP released their dark, edgy debut, Core, in 1992, the lyrical themes of abuse, injustice, and sexual objectification went entirely over my sweet, little 13-year-old head. Two years later, my world was a much darker place, and the pain in Scott Weiland’s words all made perfect sense now.
The single “Big Empty” first showed up on The Crow soundtrack in May ’94, with STP’s second album, Purple, arriving in stores a few weeks later, on 7th June. By the time the album’s second single – the swirling, grinding “Vasoline” – rolled out the following week, I was sold. While that first chunky, dirty riff of opener “Meat Plow” had me hooked in an instant, heavy hitters like “Lounge Fly”, “Unglued”, and “Army Ants” kept me on my toes. The acoustic “Pretty Penny” served as a beautiful breather between the hard-rocking yet romantic, “Still Remains”, and heroin love letter “Silvergun Superman”. I will never forget how gutted I felt when I first heard the final track, “Kitchenware & Candybars”, a song about a heartbreaking experience with abortion. Then, of course, there was a secret track! Any album worth its metal had to have one back in the ’90s. Weiland, like Mike Patton parodying Frank Sinatra, croons about his ‘Second Album”, and even for a joke song, it’s really good.
STP had always been given flack for not hailing from Seattle. They were Californian, but while there is no doubt whatsoever that each of the songs on Purple could have been written by one of the Seattle Grunge bands—Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam’s sound clearly influencing the style—STP did bring their own swagger of blues, psychedelia, and country to this album, with touches of Jane’s Addiction and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers bringing home that Sunshine State feel. Yet, it’s the many borrowed sounds that makes this album truly brilliant—every song is catchy, well produced, Weiland’s voice is incredibly beautiful, and the lyrics are both melancholy and uplifting at times.
As great as Purple is on its own, its accessibility would push what the mainstream thought was Grunge even deeper into pop culture than ever before. By September 17, 1994, “Interstate Love Song” and “Vasoline” would reach the Number One and Number Two positions on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, and hold these positions for two weeks straight. At the time, rock fans were desperately trying to fill the hole left by Kurt, and radio stations were all too happy to oblige. And yet, though a pop veneer veils its music, Purple’s lyrics are still dripping with legitimate pain in a way that post-grunge bands could only dream of. Rather than trying to sound tormented, Weiland heads in the opposite direction with a softer, sweeter tone.
Purple wasn’t just a Grunge album; Purple offered something else, something new. It ended the genre and opened a gateway into a corridor of rock that many teenage music lovers didn’t yet know existed, and I, for one, am very thankful for that.