It's been coming on for a couple of years, inspired by conscience and the movies. You can only step around duvet-wrapped bodies in shop doorways for so long before feeling the need to make some sort of adjustment to yourself. Then what happens? Gus Van Sant makes Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho, a bunch of rock groups in the Pacific north-west find themselves in the charts, and suddenly heavy boots and thin flouncy skirts and thrift-store cardigans are the answer.
Seattle's role as the new Madchester is consecrated by another new film, Cameron Crowe's Singles, which opens in London this week. Crowe, who had a job as a star on Rolling Stone at the age of 16 in the early Seventies, is a whizz at catching America's teen spirit on the breeze: ten years ago, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was the first (and cleverest) of a new generation of high- school movies; at the end of the Eighties, Say Anything was the last - and sweetest. But Crowe had made the prescient move to Seattle in the middle of that decade, and was able to watch the thing we call grunge as it emerged from the local club scene. Singles is built in episodes, divided by captions like a Sixties nouvelle vague job, and has a fine young ensemble led by the
adventurous Matt Dillon as a brain-blasted rocker and the equally admirable Bridget Fonda as his girlfriend.
The soundtrack, of course, bulges with Seattle bands. Now Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Screaming Trees are where the Manchester bands were two years ago: in the charts, and not yet ejected from the hip parade.
Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, singing 'Masters of War' from memory rather than from the autocue, stole the show at the Dylan 30th anniversary bash in Madison Square Garden before Christmas, making his elders look, well, old. He seemed to be the only one who remembered that it was the 30th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis; all the rest were stuck in a more recent and less becoming past. And his jeans and sweatshirt looked a lot more apropos than the stadium-
stars' wardrobe selections.
Meanwhile, fashion people anxiously subject the defining term grunge to intense etymological analysis: grime, grease, garage, mange, dinge, the 'un' (but that's all) from punk. Most of all, perhaps, an intimate onomatopoeic relationship with the sound of a dirtied-up rhythm guitar, the basic noise of rock 'n' roll. A noise beyond noise for the look beyond looks.