Lurie ends his book before alt rock’s apex year of 1994, which by virtually any definition was the decade’s best year for alternative music: Green Day’s Dookie, Weezer’s blue album, Offspring’s Smash, Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy, Nirvana’s unplugged album, Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, and a score of other now-classic albums. Could any of these bands have created those albums without R.E.M.? Could R.E.M. have created anything without Athens? Without Wuxtry records? Without Reed Hall, whose basement hosted legendary Athens parties? A healthy college town should always have an underground of sorts, a hotbed of as-yet unaccepted opinions, or what Lurie calls “cultural out-thereness.” But in a culture that encourages (demands?) acquiescence to mainstream norms at the possible cost of your livelihood, where is this underground? A culture of likes can never tolerate a subculture of rebellion.
If you like R.E.M., if you grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, if you miss the time when every young man in America pretended for a few years to be a skateboarder, then you will enjoy this book. But more importantly, if you care about a particular place’s ability to shape culture and people alike, then you should read it. Are our college towns still capable of producing such things? Or, as in so many realms of life, are we consigned to the reign of the newly dominant monoculture?
It’s a depressing thought. You might even say it’s the end of the world as we know it.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor