Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


In the early 1990s, grunge music took the world by storm. But by the end of the decade, the scene had all but disappeared. In this blog post, we take a look at the rise and fall of grunge music through the eyes of those who were there.

What is grunge?

Grunge is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged during the mid-1980s in the American state of Washington, particularly in the Seattle area. Inspired by hard rock and heavy metal, grunge is characterized by heavy guitar riffs, distorted electric guitars, and a sound that is “dirty” and “raw”. grunge typically incorporates elements of punk rock and indie rock.

Grunge became commercially successful in the early 1990s, due in part to the popularity of Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991), Pearl Jam’s Ten (1991), and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger (1991). These and other bands achieved mainstream success through heavy rotation on MTV, Constant touring,and signing with major record labels. However, many grunge bands were uncomfortable with their success, and were increasingly critical of the music industry and society at large.

Grunge was commercially successful in the early 1990s but was largely supplanted by other genres (such as Britpop) by the end of the decade. Grunge bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Temple of the Dog have been credited for reviving interest in rock music in the 1990s.

The birth of grunge

Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music is a book by Greg Prato. The book was published by ReganBooks on October 1, 1996.

The book chronicles the history of the grunge music scene in Seattle, Washington. Prato interviewed over forty people who were involved in the grunge scene, including musicians, producers, managers, and journalists.

The book received positive reviews from critics. Allmusic wrote that “Grunge Is Dead is as close to an authoritative document on the rise and fall of grunge as anyone is likely to get.” The A.V. Club called it “one of the betteroral histories around.”

The rise of grunge

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new form of rock music emerged from the American Northwest that would come to be known as grunge. Grunge was characterized by its heavy guitar sound, apathetic lyrics, and disaffected youth. This new style of music quickly gained popularity, especially among young people in the Seattle area.

As grunge became more popular, several local Seattle bands began to gain national attention. These included Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. These bands would go on to have enormous success, both commercially and artistically. They would also help to make Seattle the center of the alternative rock scene in the early 1990s.

The success of these bands brought a great deal of attention to the Seattle music scene. This led to a boom in the local music industry, as new record labels and clubs sprang up to cater to the demand for grunge music. Unfortunately, this newfound success also led to problems within the grunge community. As the scene became more commercialized, many of the original members began to feel that it had lost its way.

In 1994, Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, committed suicide. This tragedy sent shockwaves through the music community and brought an end to the grunge era. While grunge is no longer as popular as it once was, its influence can still be felt in today’s rock music.

The fall of grunge

In the fall of 1991, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” turned the music world upside down. The song was an overnight success, and Nirvana became the figurehead of a new musical movement called “grunge.” Grunge was characterized by its raw, unpolished sound, and its lyrical focus on dark subject matter such as drug addiction and suicide.

The grunge scene exploded in the early 1990s, with Seattle-based bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden becoming global superstars. However, grunge’s popularity was short-lived; by the mid-1990s, the genre had fallen out of favor with the general public. In this article, we explore the rise and fall of grunge through the words of those who were there.

The legacy of grunge

When Kurt Cobain died by suicide in April 1994, grunge—the Seattle-based rock music genre he helped define—was thrust into the mainstream. With Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind having popularized the genre, and Cobain’s death cementing its status as a cultural force, grunge was no longer just something happening in the Pacific Northwest. It was a global phenomenon.

In the years that followed, grunge would have a profound impact on both the music industry and popular culture at large. The genre would come to be defined by its DIY ethos, its fashion sense (flannel shirts and ripped jeans), and of course, its sound (raw, unpolished guitars). But more than anything, grunge was about attitude—a sense of dissatisfaction with the world around us, and a refusal to conform to society’s expectations.

In the 25 years since Cobain’s death, grunge has become entrenched in the national consciousness as an emblem of ‘90s counterculture. And while the music itself has largely faded from the spotlight, its impact on both Seattle and the world at large can still be felt today.

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