Mike Flaherty
March 19, 1993 AT 05:00 AM EST

In which we ask the musical question: What’s up with all the dirt? A recent perusal of the pop scene revealed a proliferation of monikers paying homage to terra firma: not only in band names (Quicksand, the Sand Rubies, Giant Sand, and Dirt Fishermen) but also album titles (Sonic Youth’s Dirty and Alice in Chains’ Dirt). Not to mention the teen boy magazine Dirt.

Semiotically, the trend serves many of rock’s philosophical purposes. Evoking the word dirt (and embracing it) constitutes a sort of rebellion: It opposes all things clean and pleasant. Dirt is literally underfoot, and is antithetical to the celestial, the transcendent. It’s low-life, kind of punk, gritty. Sand, on the other hand, juxtaposes vernacular slumming with an evocation of the ethereal, amorphous, unmeasurable, and stoic; it slips through your hands. Maybe these semiotic phenomena together represent the emergence of the desert as existential motif. A subconscious answer to thinning ozone and melting polar ice caps.

Then again, it’s probably just a dumb coincidence signifying absolutely nothing.

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