Every once in a while you should delve into something about which you know absolutely nothing. As long, that is, as it represents no danger to yourself or others. (I recommend against brain surgery and cliff diving, for instance.)
It is good to be reminded how little you know about some things. It keeps you humble, makes you appreciate the wisdom and experience of others and sometimes broadens your horizons. Whether writing about it is a good idea remains to be seen. Let's find out.
Because I was going to be in Denver for another event, my friend and former colleague Chase Squires invited me to accompany him and his wife, Saralee, to that city's Westwood Music Showcase in mid June, saying it would largely involve alternative music. I realized I had heard the term for years, but didn't really know what it meant.
I had heard of Nirvana because of the sad death of its lead singer, Kurt Cobain, in 1994, and I had heard of Jane's Addiction, but that probably doesn't count because it was due to their recording a version of the Grateful Dead classic, Ripple, on a tribute album released in 1991. (I liked the track, if that counts.)
I tried researching the subject and wound up more confused than ever. Alternative, some sources say, includes grunge (which I think requires wearing flannel shirts and being from Seattle), punk (shouting really angry lyrics), new wave (I am definitely old wave), hip-hop, indie (independently produced) and others.
Probably the best definition I found was "outside of the mainstream." Most of what I heard in Denver definitely met that definition.
I should note here that I only recall two previous encounters with alternative music: Once when I was forced to go to a Billy Idol concert, which I have, mercifully, forgotten. The other was hearing the Tampa group Giddy-Up Helicopter play at a fundraiser for a sick friend. I remember experiencing the music as a physical force emanating from the stage. It was like standing behind an airboat, but sounded much better. I liked it.
But for the most part, I am of that generation that considers Dylan going electric to be cutting-edge innovation.
And I am a folk fan. Music festivals for us involve trudging around wooded parks to gather in groups of 25 or 30 to swat deerflies and listen to someone pick an acoustic guitar and sing.
But I approached the event with an open mind and had a ball. There is a sense of spectacle in seeing 13,000 people crowded into Denver's Golden Triangle District and watching them flow from bar to theater to park, watching one band after another.
Squires, who is heavily into the Denver underground music scene, acted as my guide, and turned me on to two unforgettable bands.
Kinetix, a funk-pop-jazz group, formed as a way to blow off steam for students at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver, rapidly grew in local popularity and is now touring nationally. The band produces dynamic energetic rock and some pop music.
The other group, for me, embodying the word "alternative" is Wheelchair Sports Camp, a four-member hip-hop group fronted by a short person in a wheelchair who reportedly has the phrase "Crip Life" tattooed on her abdomen and raps — as far as I can tell — really well.
I have to note that in the entire day, neither I nor anyone with me saw anyone even approaching my advanced years. But I figure it is better to be the oldest person in a group of young people than to be the youngest person in a group of old people.
You just might learn something.
And, my guess is, you won't be nearly as bored.