In Pursuit of '90s Rock

Whatever decade you were a teenager, that’s the music most likely to touch your soul, the music that can penetrate straight to your heart.

I was a teen in the '90s.

Rock music in the nineties was moody and full of angst, like a dark cloud was hovering around the electric guitar and drums. Life was dark and flannel. Instead of dancing, we were moshing – literally running at each other and slamming our bodies against one another.

And the bands – Pearl Jam, Garbage, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana... You can hear the dark anger and irony in just the names of these bands. The music had angry screaming singers, dark gloomy sounds, and lyrics about depression and rage and bad love. It was a glorious time.

The author and her husband at a Green Day show in 2008. 

The author and her husband at a Green Day show in 2008. 

And then there was Green Day, one of the greatest things to come from the nineties. This young trio, with their bubblegum sweet spin on ‘80s punk sound, wearing guy-liner and black nail polish, could awaken an emotional charge in me within seconds. I saw them perform live for the first time when I was 17 years old. They were playing on a side stage at a festival in the Bay Area. Wearing a tank top, tiny shorts, and platform cork-soled sandals, I broke apart from my friends, pushed and fought through the mosh pit, until I was just two people away from the stage.

I could almost smell the sweat of Billie Joe Armstrong running across the stage in the summer heat. And at the end, he slammed his electric guitar against the stage until the neck broke and started to light the equipment on fire. On fire! A kind of primal scream emerged from my mouth. Fire and breaking stuff! Down with the Man!

Music has this way, like an invisible arm; it can reach right down through your throat and somehow take hold of your heart and your gut all at the same time. This has been true for people for all time. Music moves us. But the right music, well the right music can be truly transformational. It can call you to action, remind you what’s important, connect you to those around you and around the world. Prayer happens in song. There’s a reason for that. It’s meant to wake you up, to call you to action, to transform you. For me it’s nineties rock. Someone please convince Pearl Jam or Green Day to lead a Shabbat service. I’d buy a ticket to wherever in the world it was happening. You couldn’t keep me away.

Shouldn’t that be how Shabbat calls to all of us?


Anna Marx is Chief Strategy Officer of Jewish Learning Venture and Project Director of Shinui: The Network for Innovation in Part-Time Jewish Education. She now sits in the seats at Green Day concerts with the rest of the grown-ups.

This is one of a series of posts exploring the intersection of rock and spirituality, leading up to the release of In Pursuit, an album of original Jewish hard rock.  Sign up for the mailing list to learn more.