Writing for Salon in 2017, Annie Zaleski postulated: Why 1987 remains the most important moment in alternative rock And in 2016, writing for The A.V. Club, Sean O'Neal argued that: In 1996, alternative rock died a messy, forgettable death We tend to form our taste in music during our adolescent years which for many members of my generation coincided with the late 80's and early 90's, at least in part. That could make me an unreliable narrator to write about this topic, being that I'm "too close" to the subject. However, being young, wide-eyed and observant during those years positioned me to be a spectator of a great renaissance in consequential guitar based music — perhaps the last one. What was so special about this era, in my estimation, is that it was completely organic. Meaning, it was born out of a desire for something different from what the mainstream had to offer. Rock music in the 80s was a little sexist, a lot trashy and wrapped in leather pants. It didn't feel authentic; it felt like a cliché. THE REVOLUTION WAS TELEVISED By 1987, MTV had become the pre-eminent taste maker for youth culture. If you didn't have a video, you simply didn't stand a chance at breaking through. Luckily, with 24 hours to fill and another 24 hours with the still unpacking VH1, there was plenty of airtime to devote to music off the beaten path. As Annie Zaleski wrote in her Salon article a couple of years ago, MTV was devoting full hour long blocks to "120 Minutes" and "The Cutting Edge". The underground had been percolating since the early 1980s after the original punk movement ebbed. But there hadn't been an outlet for those artists to be heard unless you lived in a college town or a major metropolitan city. What shows like "120 Minutes" and stations like VH1 did was expose the other 90% of America to a non-mainstream oeuvre. Where else could you see The Replacements sitting on a couch, eating a sandwich and smoking cigarettes like you did with the video for"Alex Chilton". Or a beautiful young pseudo-popstress like Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs) bopping to "Like the Weather". Songs like those were not being played on the radio; certainly not in the city I lived in (Memphis). But with MTV, it didn't matter because it democratized what you could be exposed to in a given day. The major labels were of course still pumping out their major label product but minors and indies (Sire, DGC, 4AD and Matador, to name a several) were given access to the party, finally. These labels gave a much needed home to bands that were bubbling under the mainstream radar. A myriad of bands rose to prominence in this era: R.E.M., The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cure, Pixies, Sonic Youth among many others. THE YEAR "ALTERNATIVE" BROKE While doing press for his documentary "1991: THE YEAR PUNK BROKE", David Markey said: "In addition to all of the things we were seeing on this tour (Sonic Youth '91 tour), from television to fashion magazines, we just saw that punk rock was finally being digested at large". Prior to 1991, the door was still on the hinges (so to speak) and the Billboard charts hadn't yet begun to feel the influx of underground artists bubbling to the top. There was a palpable appetite though, among my age cohort to consume music that wasn't force fed to us. Some liked Guns N' Roses and Metallica just fine but there was a sense from others (like myself) that there was something more "genuine" around the corner if we just peaked. The MTV program "Dial MTV" was a fun afternoon excursion for those of us that came home from high school and had zilch to do. There was a noticeable sea change that occurred in the latter months of 1991. The emphasis on Mainstream fare gave way to something else; that something else was called "Alternative". And while I've never been fully comfortable even saying the word because it sounds like something a guy in a suit come up with, it did adequately coral all of the disparate styles of music: Post Punk, Shoegaze, Dream Pop, etc. By the first week of January, 1992 Nirvana's "Nevermind" had knocked Michael Jackson's "Dangerous" off the top of the Billboard Albums charts. KEEP IT LIKE A SECRET Everything in motion eventually comes to a rest. Music, not unlike visual art, has movements. The "Alternative" movement whimpered to a conclusion in 1996 as Sean O'Neal wrote in his A.V. Club article. As the major labels had discovered, there was no "next Nirvana" coming after the hammer blow that was Kurt Cobain's suicide. All of the effort that has been spent on fostering the underground and bringing it to the mainstream was reallocated to other areas. MTV began airing "Amp" which was a show centered around the burgeoning "Electronica" music craze. I'm sure programmers were desperate to catch the next wave before it hit. And it was clear that "Alternative" wave had receded. What was once a threat to kick in the front door crash the party quietly slipped out the back entrance and made it's way to the where it currently resides: Parts Unknown. With all movements, be they in music or visual arts, the torch is carried forward by successive adherents to the basic tenets of said movement. Indie Rock of the early 2000s to today continues to bring occasional ear worms and for the nostalgic idealists among us, that'll have to be "good enough". POSTSCRIPT As of 2019, Billboard still has an 'Alternative Songs' chart. Although, what gets played on 'Alternative Stations' can raise many eyebrows as it bares little resemblance to what came before and sounds suspiciously like slightly evolved Top 40 music. Pitchfork wrote about the evolution of the 'Alternative' movement a couple of years ago in their excellent Radio-Friendly Unit Shifters essay. So, what's the point of all of this? Gen X nostalgia, I suppose; and also, curiosity. Curiosity about if lines of demarcation can really be drawn with a genre of music that never wished to be defined in the first place? Do you start with Proto-Punk/Punk/New Wave? Was The Velvet Underground the first "Alternative" band? Or did the distillation not really happen until MTV coalesced around a format with the aforementioned shows like "The Cutting Edge" and "120 Minutes". Discuss, please.