Cover Story

The New Rock

The complete idiot's guide to the future of rock & roll, including Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Pearl Jam

We've seen the future of Rock & Roll and its name is no longer Bruce Springsteen. The band on stage at New York's Ritz sounds like an ailing vacuum cleaner riding roughshod over a madrigal choir. Looking like zombies with T-shirts, they play intently, barely acknowledging the slam dancers before them. The fans don't mind the neglect; they're too busy defying gravity. When they aren't crashing into each other, one or more of them will scramble onto the stage and hurl their bodies back into the crowd (called the moshpit). Unruffled by the chaos, the band—My Bloody Valentine, from London—doesn't flinch. Nonchalantly the musicians step out of the stage-divers' way as waves of high-intensity drone and retina-piercing white lights wash over the crowd.

If this sounds as if we've been invaded by the planet Zon-Dar, then you're entitled to an explanation. On the one hand, there exists a fossilizing corpse called classic rock—a four-decade-old mummy grown stale and tired, a once vibrant part of mainstream culture now reduced to background music for car commercials and Olympic events. On the other hand, there is a new life form, pegged ''alternative rock'' by the industry and the media. It is a ridiculously vague term, referring to everything from R.E.M.'s sweet jangle pop to Soundgarden's lumbering metal to EMF's jagged dance tunes. But the rubric is useful if only to identify a new, abrasive, and refreshing scene that has slapped pop music upside the head.

Alternative rock has been fermenting for a decade on independent record labels, on college campuses, and in clubs in the U.S. and Britain. And now, to the delight and horror of anyone who loves it, the genre has found itself dragged-kicking and screaming, like some of its best music-into the mainstream. It is now big business, symbolized by more than just the jaw- dropping quadruple-platinum success of Nirvana's Nevermind album. In a scenario that cannot help but bring a smile to the face of anyone who came of age to R.E.M. or Husker Du records, bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, and Temple of the Dog are leaving the likes of Wilson Phillips and ZZ Top in the Billboard dust. And record companies, confused but exploitive as ever, are scrambling to sign bands with long hair, sarcastic attitudes, thrift-shop clothing, and loud guitars.

Even Hollywood smells the potential of teen spirit. Imagine a major motion picture in which characters sport faded Mudhoney T-shirts, pull Replacements albums from their record collections, and go hear Alice in Chains, and you've scripted Singles, Cameron Crowe's look at love among the ruins in Seattle (due Sept. 18). Then there's the Lollapalooza '92 tour, a seven-band alternative- rock circus stuffed with the Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam. With nearly all of its 36 shows sold out, Lollapalooza '92 is-like its '91 predecessor-one of the summer's leading concert draws.

''Basically, kids got disenchanted with what they were being force-fed on radio,'' says Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis. ''And they were looking for something more sincere to help them get through that stage in their lives when they're searching for meaning and rebelling against the Establishment. Something more heartfelt, than, say, Def Leppard.'' Roll over, Beethoven, and tell Phil Collins the news.

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