The party itself was underwhelming—though perhaps, through the kaleidoscopic lenses of a 9-year-old, it had all the glitz and pizzazz of a Gatsby soiree. It was held at Our Place, a cramped, caliginous arcade in Westchester, New York; a child’s Shangri-La granting all comers two-to-three hours of unlimited, quarters-free access to its button-pushing armada of NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat, The Simpsons Arcade Game, X-Men, and countless other games.
It was November 1993. I’d recently moved from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the ‘burbs, and invited all the boys in my third grade class to the celebration. It seems strange now—how your childhood friends are chosen for you, and how early gatherings like these are divided by the sexes—but back then it was customary. And frankly, any respite from the drudgery of learning D’Nealian wouldn’t dare be questioned.
Following hours of intense gaming, the hats, the cake, and the candles, I had in my possession a plethora of gift cards, ranging from ten to twenty dollars in value. To a 9-year-old, this is the rough emotional equivalent to Damon Dash’s shoulder-shakin’, Cristal-spillin’ dance on the deck of a yacht in the “Big Pimpin’” video, or Diddy always.
Four of the gift cards were to Tower Records, the mecca of music for millennials. The Tower Records I frequented on Central Ave. in Yonkers had, in the immortal words of Stefon, everything—aisles of CDs, cassettes, poster racks, band tees, and even a Ticketmaster stall in the back. For a kid who spent hours parked in front of MTV marveling at music videos, and who once witnessed his parents argue over whether Dr. Dre’s The Chronic served as an appropriate soundtrack to our family’s Saturday morning breakfast, Tower was one of my favorite places.
But that came later. This was my first trip to Tower and, with my Dad/chauffeur in tow, I spent my gift cards on the following, based purely off the strength of their music videos: Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way (because dreads), Tupac’s Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… (because I had no idea what “I Get Around” meant, but dug the song), and the single to Blind Melon’s “No Rain” (because bumblebee girl). Last but not least was Stone Temple Pilots’ debut album Core. My Dad had been playing “Plush”—which would later go on to win a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance, and whose video earned them the MTV VMA for Best New Artist—around the house, but I wanted my own copy.
These were my very first CDs, and I cherished each and every one of them, spending hours locked in my bedroom listening to them from front-to-back on my miniature boombox. And no disrespect to Tupac, whose lyrics surely went over my head, but to a 9-year-old’s ears, Core was the best of the bunch. It sounded like the perfect fusion of Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, two bands I’d already admired (though my parents will tell you I loved Nirvana more, and back it with a story about how grumpy I was when “Jeremy” beat “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for Best Video of the Year at the ’93 MTV Video Music Awards earlier that same year).
“If you asked me who I truly believed were the great voices of our generation, I’d say it were he, Layne [Staley], and Kurt [Cobain],” Smashing Pumpkins singer Billy Corgan wrote of Weiland, branding him a “voice of our generation.”
And, with his fiery red mane, never-ending sideburns, goatee, and gravelly voice, Weiland was Layne Staley by way of Long Beach; a slightly sunnier, skater dude version of Alice in Chains’ iconic frontman, and thus more palatable to a young boy like me. Core was even released on the exact same day as Alice’s sophomore album, Dirt. But like Staley—and Cobain—that booming voice came drenched in agony and rebellion, communicating a desperate plea, condemnation, and call to arms at once. These tortured men were their tortured music.
Though the Biblical themes escaped me—the album’s title refers to the apple of Adam and Eve—it still seemed packed with hits. In addition to the nightmarish “Plush,” there was opener “Dead and Bloated,” with its soaring extended chorus; the guitar line to “Sex Type Thing”; the rollicking “Wicked Garden”; and perhaps his most Staley-ish effort to date, the sinful, meditative anthem “Creep.” I must’ve listened to Core at least a hundred times in ’93 alone.
As Weiland evolved—into a more flamboyant, Bowie-esque performer on Purple and Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop—I did, too. And around the time of Tiny Music, I abandoned grunge in favor of punk and rap. Occasionally, Weiland’s name would pop up in the news for a drug arrest or DUI, or in a new, leather-clad band that sounded as if it were desperately mining a buried sound (see: Velvet Revolver), but my interest had waned.
Strangely enough, on the very night of his death, I heard “Plush.” I was catching up with some friends at Pink’s, a dive bar in the East Village. And the venue, much to our collective surprise, was blasting exclusively ‘90s alternative rock, from Rage Against the Machine to Candlebox. Then those familiar chords came on, followed by that familiar croon. And I feel that time’s a wasted go. It was STP’s “Plush.” After a Proustian flash, I turned to my friends and yelled, “Oh man, I love this song!”
I always will.