There Was No Alternative

Generation X, AIDS, and the Making of a Classic Nineties Record


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About the Book

Grunge. Flannel. Generation X. In 1993, Seattle was the capital of the world, Nirvana was king, and slackers were everywhere. When the Red Hot organization, a group of activists dedicated to raising money and awareness of AIDS, released their third compilation CD featuring the biggest bands of the era—Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys, The Breeders, Nirvana and more it quickly became the touchstone of a generation. Rolling Stone called No Alternative a “jaw-dropping compilation of musical gems.” This book takes a look back at what happened to the bands involved with No Alternative. It includes new interviews with the musicians and others behind the record, and chronicles the downfall of an industry, the taming of a devastating illness, and the arrival of another global pandemic. It’s about growing up, saying goodbye, and proving once more that you can’t go home again (even if that’s where you left all of your CDs).

About the Author(s)

Jeff Gomez has been writing about the worlds of Generation X and alternative music for over 25 years. He lives in Lafayette, California.

Bibliographic Details

Jeff Gomez
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 220
Bibliographic Info: 40 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8976-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4919-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1. That Was Then: Nirvana, AIDS, and the Rise of ACT UP 7
2. Trojan Horses: John Carlin, Leigh Blake, and the Birth of Red Hot 15
3. Opening Doors: Paul Heck, Chris Mundy, Jessica Kowal, and the AIDS Music Project 30
4. Money Changes Everything: Generation X and the Victory of Alternative Rock 43
5. Ready to Fly: AMP Joins Forces with Red Hot and Signs to Arista 54
6. Putting It Together: Naming, Sequencing, and Designing No Alternative 66
7. What Did You Expect? Matthew Sweet, Buffalo Tom, Soul Asylum, Urge Overkill, American Music Club 80
8. Tears of Respect: Goo Goo Dolls, Pavement, Smashing Pumpkins, Bob Mould 101
9. Renegade Good Intentions: Sarah McLachlan, Soundgarden, Straitjacket Fits, Barbara Manning, The Verlaines 120
10. We Must Say Goodbye: Uncle Tupelo, Beastie Boys, The Breeders, Patti Smith, Nirvana 140
11. Sex, AIDS, and Rock and Roll: The No Alternative MTV Special and Home Video 162
12. After the Glow: No Alternative Funds Get Distributed and Dark Was the Night Breathes New Life into Red Hot 178
13. This Is Now: Red Hot and No Alternative at Thirty 190
(Hidden Track) 198
Chapter Notes 203
Bibliography 207
Index 209

Book Reviews & Awards

• “The pivotal moment when alternative music became mainstream remains a subject of fascination. Jeff Gomez’s book offers a window into a moment when many artists on the cusp of that transition came together to raise money and awareness for AIDS. Insightful, meticulously researched and entertainingly assembled, this book will help many readers recapture the era and introduce it to many others.”—Kaya Oakes, author of Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture

• “Strongly reported and excellently written, [this book] is more than the story of a singularly important benefit album. At a time when other plagues loom large and memories are too short, Gomez charts how AIDS and the reluctance by those in power to help the afflicted shaped the attitude and music of a generation. It’s a tale that very much needed telling.”—Jim DeRogatis, author of Staring at Sound: The True Story of Oklahoma’s Fabulous Flaming Lips and Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic

• “With rigorous reporting and piercing cultural observations, Jeff Gomez zeroes in on a single album that came out in 1993—and winds up telling the story of a pivotal moment in time. It’s a moment that was marked by a devastating illness; it’s also a moment that we remember for its profusion of good, original music. From ACT UP to Uncle Tupelo, Gomez shows us how activism and creative expression converged to fight—and shine a light on—an expanding international tragedy. Put your Gen X stereotypes aside, because it turns out that the No Alternative album represented the very opposite of apathy. The album was the product of righteous love and grief; so is this book.”—Jeff Gordinier, author of X Saves the World and Hungry