Nineties nostalgia is real. Simply look at recent reunion tours by the Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block. Though it’s an odd sight to watch middle-aged men perform synchronized dances in matching yet individualized outfits, the phenomenon does makes sense. Who doesn't want to revisit the days of puppy love, times when lovesick kids could wile away their days asking who was hotter, Howie or Nick, or who whether Jordan or Joey had better moves on the dance floor? Boy bands of the '90s represent a simpler time for most aging Gen X'ers, an era before mortgages and backaches.
The nostalgia that allows Korn and Alice in Chains to continue to play mammoth venues such as Coral Sky Amphitheatre July 28 is a far different matter. Those old enough to have musical memories of the '90s will remember Korn and Alice in Chains to be from two different eras. Alice in Chains' heyday was in the early '90s, grouping the band with fellow Seattle grungers such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Korn, with their nu-metal sound, didn't make their imprint until the late '90s, aligning them more with aggressive, less sensitive groups like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park.
But enough time has passed that it now seems natural that the two bands are touring together — even if during their peak years the pairing would have seemed unthinkable. The '90s is distant enough that many people remember it as one era when bands had a fashion sense for shorts, flannels, and strangely groomed chin hairs and when music was tangible, not yet streaming, in cassette or compact disc form.
Oh, yeah — and it was angsty. Both Alice in Chains and Korn had fan bases that could be stereotyped as dark and broody. Kids wearing Alice in Chains or Korn shirts might seem a little unstable, might be whispered about as weird, intense, even dangerous. These were bands with choruses like "I'm the man in the box/Buried in my shit/Won't you come and save me?" and "All I want to do... (you are not my real mother)/Is kill you... (so I beat and stab and fuck her)."
These are songs of alienation and despair. It made sense for teens to pack arenas to hear these tunes back in the day. But why are these same fans, now in their 30s and 40s, wanting to relive these darkest of musical expressions?
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Sure, everything seems rosier in hindsight — even isolation. Feeling like you don't fit in with anything in this world except a fucked-up chorus and guitar riff might create a bond with the music that is unbreakable.
But, arguably, the real reason Alice in Chains and Korn fans have aged with these bands is that their songs represent a certain triumph. Adolescence can be a war zone of hopelessness and defeat. The songs that soundtracked those darkest times might now give listeners a warm, fuzzy feeling — because you made it out of that pitch-black hole.
To this day, when I hear the opening of Alice in Chains' "Would," I get an almost giddy feeling — and that's a song about a rock singer who overdosed on heroin, originally sung by Layne Staley, a rock singer who ten years later died from an overdose of heroin. But for fans like me, "Would" is not just a song — it's a time machine, taking us back to the headphones of a Walkman, where loud screams and droning guitars overwhelmed whatever tumult the rest of the world threw our way. It wasn't a happy place back then, but with the passage of time, we can an almost believe it was. Just as for some who frequent other oldies tours, the fact that the New Kids on the Bock never returned their love letters can now seem a pleasant memory.
Korn & Alice In Chains: With Underoath and Ho99o9. 6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 28, at Coral Sky Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansburys Way, West Palm Beach; 561-795-8883. Tickets cost $29.50 to $125 via livenation.com.