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Mike Hipple - Lived Through That: 90s Musicians Today

  by Anthony Dhanendran

published: 1 / 3 / 2022

Mike Hipple - Lived Through That: 90s Musicians Today


Anthony Dhanendran finds fascinating Mike Hipple's new book 'Lived Through That: 90s Musicians Today' in which he talks to and photographs an assortment of 90's indie musicians.

From this distance, it’s hard to imagine quite how different the world of music (and film, and computer games, and books, and art) was before the internet. While our current age permits us unlimited access to music from all over the world, democratising both access and genres, it also flattens context and removes local idiosyncrasy. There are still homegrown stars and homegrown scenes, whether you’re listening in Belfast, Buenos Aires or Bangkok, but everyone else can also hear what you’re listening to in those places, and “your” biggest artists might quickly become everyone’s biggest artists. It was not so in the 1990s, the subject of Mike Hipple’s new photobook, 'Lived Through That: 90s Musicians Today' (Girl Friday Books). It’s a delightful stroll down a sort of memory lane, but one that sees its participants – popular musicians of the 1990s – as they are today, and documents their memories as well as their likenesses. What’s fascinating, at least here on the other side of the Atlantic, is how different the line-up is from a similar book published from a British perspective. It’s a fascinating Rosetta Stone that translates for us who was popular then and what they think now, a parallel musical universe from the 90s in which I came of age, in which the undoubted biggest stories were the rebirth of indie as “Britpop” and the remarkable rise of the Black-influenced British scene in the forms of first hip-hop, then trip-hop, and then drum and bass. To be clear, this is not a complaint – far from it. The book is so much fun that it would be churlish to complain about it, but even then, the book is so interesting in the documenting of a scene that’s fundamentally alien to my own, and yet oddly familiar from the names who did break through on both sides of the pond. It starts – after a scintillating and thought-provoking foreword from former MTV VJ Dave Holmes – with Chris Ballew of The Presidents of the United States of America, who tells us about his nowadays career rocking, but softly, as children’s character Caspar Babypants. The band – to my memory a fairly dull one-note joke act – are brought to life by hearing Ballew’s thoughts about the time and about his current time (“When the Presidents hit it big in the ’90s, I immediately felt like it was all wrong, like I was wearing the wrong suit.”) While the interviews are fun, the photography is the real attention-grabber, right from Bellew’s brilliant portrait, ukulele in hand and mid-guffaw, a one-stringed guitar hanging behind him as if signifying… something. It’s hard not to be drawn in. Each interview is a prose piece, not just quotes, so we hear from Hipple as well, putting his own memories behind the artists’. There are lesser-known artists such as Sarah Shannon, as well as those who were briefly global megastars such as The Dandy Warhols, posing gamely in a photo booth: “Until the last few years, our life revolved around the band… we’ve given each other permission to have other priorities in life.” There are a couple of podcasts now that traffic in the (English, not American) football years of the 1990s, featuring interviews with footballers who were huge stars at the time, and have in some cases become big figures in the modern game and in others gone on to quiet retirements. Either way, it’s usually fascinating to hear what they have to say about their time at the top and what they think with 20-30 years’ perspective, and no obligation to soothe scars or pour oil on troubled waters. That feeling suffuses this book too: the musicians, with few exceptions, don’t owe anybody anything in the modern music industry and are free to talk freely. As one subject, Hilken Mancini, a Boston artist whose name wasn’t familiar to me, says: “That was a dream. I don’t make money from it like I used to. I don’t tour like I used to. And I also don’t find the need to express myself like that. I don’t write songs anymore. I make myself write songs. But, I’m fifty; it’s different.” And Iain Baker, of Wiltshire’s Jesus Jones, is sanguine about the band’s brief mayfly time as one of the biggest bands in the world, once 'Right Here, Right Now' had gone to number 2 in the Billboard charts toward the end of 1990: “I’d love to be able to say, well, we blew it. But a lot of things happened. We were very successful in 1991 and 1992, and grunge starts to happen. And, for us as a band, we’re focused on technology, and we use samplers, and we were very forward thinking. And when grunge came along, it was quite a reaction. I don’t say it was a negative thing, grunge, but it was an attempt to kind of say, well, we’re kind of getting back to reality.” Others are candid about what it means to be getting older as a musician. Scott McCaughey, who played with REM for a while, had a stroke while on tour in 2017 and while he still tours now, he says: “My body and brain are damaged, and it didn’t get back to 100 percent. I still have trouble with words and processing, watching movies. My guitar playing has gone downhill; my right hand doesn’t work as well.” McCaughey’s portrait in the book, a black-and-white on a verandah in a remarkable uniform, is a highlight. Likewise the striking colour photos of Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda, which give equal prominence to her plants, her instruments, her dog and herself, followed by a set of kinetic black-and-whites of her on her own. There’s a beautiful spread featuring Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne who, as the text described, died, shockingly, of Covid-19 very early on in the pandemic. It’s interesting to see who the big British artists are and how they see the 90s now. Apart from Jesus Jones’s Baker, there’s Danbert Nobacon of Chumbawamba who Hipple finds living in a small rural community in the western US (“Some of the music is still very English to me, I don’t know if I’ve blossomed now that I’ve been here for ten years or whatever.”), and Miki Berenyi of Lush who speaks movingly about Lush drummer Chris Acland’s 1996 suicide, which tore the band apart (“I tried seeking solace in my old life, but I’d go to a gig and get triggered. Chris’s absence was overwhelming.”), and about how hard it has been to create new music in the shadow of her own musical past. We reviewed the electronic version of this book, so we haven’t seen the full hardback, but it’s available from all good bookshops. Despite the sometimes difficult personal stories of its subjects, it’s a tremendously joyous and uplifting book thanks largely to the sparkling photography throughout, and punctuated by the fascinating reveries of the people who were there. Whether you were there or you weren’t, it’s worth a look.

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