Ranking HBO’s TV show rankings

Usually, I have a few ideas floating around of what I might want to dig into for “next week’s newsletter.” For example, there was a meme on Twitter recently involving the best TV series finale of all time. This is a topic I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about, so I’ll likely get into it here sometime (Berlin Files TV fanatics, let your hearts be warmed!).

And then sometimes I see a headline like this and I know there is going to be some deep level nerding happening in the near-term: “Every HBO Show, Ranked.”

What follows are selections from the 74 ranked HBO shows from the list with some of my own thoughts on the show, where it was ranked by Vulture, and then my own take on where it should be ranked in my not so humble opinion.

74. 1st & Ten — I get that this show is ranked dead last, but it does hold a tiny but special place in my childhood, “sneaking” HBO to watch this absolutely ridiculous T&A-fest and cheesy sports comedy. And by ridiculous, I mean that it’s ridiculous even by 1980s standards. The fact that O.J. Simpson plays a major character alone dooms this thing for all posterity.
72. Dream On — Another show that I spent many hours of my adolescence getting my eyes in front of. My re-rank: high 50s.
70. The Brink — Spot on ranking. This show should be amazing — a political satire starring Tim Robbins and Jack “Jaybles” Black — but it’s not. It’s unwatchable.
69. Entourage — A big loud boo for this low of a ranking. I’m pretty annoyed with how much flak Entourage gets for not having enough “depth” overall, frankly. Is it a fantasy for guys? Kinda… but it’s also consistently funny (particularly the first several seasons) and the characters are great. I’d have it in the 30s at least.
67. Vinyl — Another boo and hiss. I’m in the minority here, but I thought the single season of this show was fantastic. I’m a sucker for New York stories, stories about music and music culture, and anything Scorsese-related, so it maybe it was custom made for me. The show’s worth a higher ranking for Ray Romano alone (who is amazing in this and, more recently, Get Shorty the TV show). I’d rank Vinyl in the 30s as well.
66. The Newsroom — Overall, this show was a noble failure and often a snoozer. Pretty solid ranking, but having all of the Chris Lilly shows (Summer Heights High, et al) one rank higher — and higher than anything else, really — is a tragedy for all lists ever created.
59. Lucky Louie — This one isn’t O.J.-level problematic but it’s problematic for some obvious reasons but also because this is a pretty unusual show, a comedy so grounded that it sometimes feels like a searing drama (and for the next step in this direction, see CK’s later effort, Horace and Pete, a web series that’s as black as night, tone-wise). All of that being said, it’s an interesting experiment, and I’d put it in the 40s.
58. Camping — Another show that I find nearly unwatchable. This is high 60s territory for me.
56. Family Tree — Oh man, I found the single season of this Chris O’Dowd-fronted show (also wonderful in the aforementioned Get Shorty) to be absolutely delightful, a surprisingly funny and charming gem. Was very sad that it didn’t get picked up. Ranking: 20s.
53. Crashing — It’s tragic that this show and Family Tree landed in the 50s. I love everything about this Pete Holmes show. If you don’t know who Pete Holmes is, stop reading this and go watch Crashing immediately. Ranking: 20s.
51. How to Make It in America — this was not a great show, but it was a good show and did what it did really well. Ranking: 30s.
46. The High Life, 47. K Street 45. The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency 44. Doll & Em — If you’re wondering, I’m at least somewhat familiar with a scary number of shows on this list (read = all of the original television series that HBO has produced, ever) but these three are examples of shows that I have not seen. So bake that into the margin of error in terms of my re-rankings if you like.
43. Togetherness — This is a perfect show. For me, anyway. It’s a tremendously well executed dramedy, which is so so hard to pull off. A lot of it is in the writing, but really it’s the cast: Mark Duplass (it’s a classic Duplass brothers project, with brother Jay behind the camera), Melanie Lynskey, Amanda Peet (in her best performance that I’ve seen), and Steve Zissis, a guy I wish I could be friends with in real life. Ranking: single digits.
42. Tenacious D — Am I a card-carrying worshipper of the D? Yes, I am. Pairing this show and Togetherness at #43 and #42 should lead to the writer of this list needing to have to face off against the devil in a rock off challenge. Ranking: 20s.
37. Carnivale — This is a strange show that’s occasionally transporting. I’d probably go low 30s.
35. Luck – Even with the David Milch pedigree and star power of Dustin Hoffman, I really didn’t like this drama about the horse racing life. Ranking: 50s.
30. Big Love — Looking back, I can’t believe I spent five seasons watching this drama about polygamist Mormons in Utah. Not that it was a bad show… but it wasn’t that good, either. Ranking: 40s.
29. John From Cincinnati — This is a super bizarre show (another from Milch), cancelled after a season, that might have been profound but I didn’t get it at all. Ranking: 60s.
28. Bored to Death — I love how well the quirky vibe of this show was nailed episode after episode. Love everything about the cast as well: Jason Schwartzman (in my favorite role of his), Ted Danson, and Zack Galifanakis are perfect together. Ranking: I’d bump this up to high teens.
26. Girls — This is one where I don’t envy the list makers who had to rank this one “for real.” There’s a lot that I really like and admire about this show — including Lena Dunham’s all around bravery both in front of and behind the camera. It’s also a show with lots of problems, and one that at times wasn’t particularly entertaining (though I watched all the way through pretty eagerly, to be fair). Ranking: probably about right.
23. Westworld — Just… no. Ranking: way lower.
19. Rome — The worst thing about this show is that it was cancelled after two seasons. Ranking: pretty spot on!
16. Succession — Pretty darned bold to rank it this high after only one season is in the books (Season 2 coming this summer!) but I have so much love in my heart for this wildly funny black comedy-meets-family drama that I’m very okay with this ranking. I think.
15. Boardwalk Empire — Another exceptionally tough one to rank. It’s very prestige-y and features an amazing cast, production design, and some incredibly dramatic moments… but it also got very draggy and drowsy at times. And as much as I love Steve Buscemi, I’m not sure if he was the right actor to carry this show. Ranking: mid-20s.
13. Barry — As with Succession, some recency bias is showing here… but it’s warranted. This show is flat out brilliant. I’m actually going to show my own recency bias and bump it into the Top 10.
8. Game of Thrones — There was a time not too long ago when I mused about GoT moving into my personal Top 5 Hall of Fame. The final season has prevented that from coming to fruition. Still, Game of Thrones is an amazing achievement in countless ways. Ranking: bump it down a few notches.
6. Sex in the City — I like this show very much and recognize it’s relative place in TV history and all but… come on, let’s not get crazy here. Ranking: mid-teens.
4. The Larry Sanders Show — It’s fantastic and innovative. Just not #4 good. Ranking: high single digits.
3. The Wire and 2. Deadwood — Totally fine, but just need to flip these two around.
1. The Sopranos — Anything else here would be ridiculous.

So this forces the issue for what’s my Top 10 HBO shows of all time, right? Okay, here you go:

10. Game of Thrones 
9. The Larry Sanders Show
8. The Deuce 
7. Barry
6. Six Feet Under
5. Curb Your Enthusiasm 
4. Togetherness
3. Deadwood
2. The Wire
1. The Sopranos

Hit me back and tell me where I’m wrong, and what your Top 10 is.

Also: speaking of Deadwood, the decade-in-waiting sequel movie was released this weekend on HBO, and quoting myself from Twitter:

  • #DeadwoodTheMovie is good. It’s better than good, it’s a return to form. It’s great. Everything we could have hoped for. Almost worth the wait. Man, it’s always so much fun to be delighted and surprised and floored all over again by a story expertly told.

This post originally appeared in The Berlin Files e-mail newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

In defense of ska music

Huge news from Bill de Blasio this week. The New York City mayor and 843rd declared candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination “loves ska.”  So while he’s likely not to be the nominee, we can all feel well assured that he is special.

I wasn’t surprised to see some snickering and derision about de Blasio entering the 2020 fray (people… don’t like him very much) but I was surprised to see some anti-ska sentiment tossed in when this mini-moment (mini-meme?) went down.

For example, Brian Koppelman, co-creator of Billions and a really thoughtful and interesting guy (his podcast, The Moment, is great), surprised me by proclaiming the following:

  • I love ska is bro talk for “i don’t really like or understand music very much.”

I was a little miffed when I read this, and started to think about why I love ska so much myself, and why ska sometimes gets a really unfair wrap.

A little background. Ska can mean all kinds of things, which can lead to some confusion. The style dates way back to the Jamaica of the 1960s, capturing a mix of “Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues.”  Most Americans likely associate ska with “thrid-wave” ska and particularly the stuff that came out when ska became kind of trendy for a little while in the mid-’90s. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones appeared in the movie Clueless at the peak of this period, for example. Reel Big Fish capture the moment nicely too with a song that ironically/not ironically became a hit, called “Sell Out.”

The signature sound of ska is the “ska upstroke“:

  • Most ska music is played in 4/4 time, and a big part of getting the ska groove right is playing on the off- beats – this creates that bouncing rhythm that ska is famous for. This rhythmic pattern is also known as the ska upstroke.

A lot of times you get horns with ska music, but not always. The ska upstroke works really well with all kinds of styles, and typically upbeat or aggressive music ranging from jazz to rock to punk to hardcore. I’ve always loved its energy and ebullient spirit when applied correctly. While the Pixies are credited with bringing a signature quiet-loud-quiet sound to alternative rock, the Bosstones brought a fabulous hardcore-grooving ska sound, particularly on their early records (tons of examples right from the jump on their debut LP, Devil’s Night Out).

I came up with a ska starter kit, and admittedly went a little nutso with it, but why not?

  • “54-46 Was My Number” – Toots and the Maytals
  • “Too Much Too Young” – The Specials
  • “Skankin’ to the Beat” – Fishbone
  • “Rudie Can’t Fail” – The Clash
  • “Recimination(s)” – The Toasters
  • “Draw Your Breaks” – Scotty
  • “William Shatner” – Scofflaws
  • “Sound System” – Operation Ivy
  • “Drunks and Children” – Mighty Mighty Bosstones
  • “Got the Time?” – Perfect Thyroid
  • “Super Rad” – Aquabats
  • “On Mercury” – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • “Walking Contradiction” – Voodoo Glow Skulls
  • “Pyramid Scheme” – Mad Caddies
  • “Keasby Nights” – Streetlight Manifesto
  • “How’s My Driving, Doug Hastings?” – Less Than Jake
  • “I Wanna Riot” – Rancid
  • “Dry Spell” – Pepper
  • “Tight” – Murphy’s Law

I think ska gets a bad wrap because being “into ska” became associated with being a poseur during its brief trendy phase. In theory, such a person wasn’t really into a highly expansive style that covers laid back Jamaican ska to the brilliant ska punk of the Flatliners to the eclectic innovation of a Perfect Thyroid (an incredible band that I had the privilege of seeing many times during my college years).  And I guess the stereotype would enjoy talking about being “into ska” while really just enjoying wearing a pork pie hat and skinny tie or something.

I think the first time I heard anything related to ska was by way of a show I saw in Albany, New York in late 1992 or early 1993. The lineup was pretty incredible, including such acts as Cracker and They Might Be Giants. The headliner was the Bosstones themselves, and at that time in my life it was the loudest and hardest rocking band I had ever seen live. I’ve seen them many times subsequently, and they are always insanely good (Live From the Middle East is one of my favorite live albums of all time).

That spring, another live show forever altered my outlook on music. This time it was in Ithaca, New York at a small venue called The Nines. The Skaoovee Tour featured three legendary ska bands: Scofflaws (from my homeland of Long Island, New York), The Pietasters, and The Toasters. Those experiences, coupled with my friend Dave Birnbaum later turning me onto bands such as Voodoo Glow Skulls and Sublime, made me a card carrying member of the “I’m into ska” club.

Anyway, if you have never sampled ska or haven’t given it a listen in a while, check out The Specials, technically a “second wave” ska band. Their self-titled album, which you can listen to in full on the YouTube, kicks off with something of a ska anthem, “A Message To You Rudy.” The album in full holds up incredibly and may well be your gateway drug into sounds further afield.

So if that makes me a “ska bro,” then fine. There are worse things!

This post originally appeared in The Berlin Files e-mail newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

Band of Brothers re-watch: you should do this

Every year or two I feel compelled to re-watch Band of Brothers, the HBO miniseries that first aired in 2001, and I am always rewarded for it. It’s flat out amazing, a stunning achievement in so many ways.

The true story, based on the book of the same name, by Stephen E. Ambrose, follows a parachute infantry company (E or “Easy” Company from the 506th Regiment of the famous 101st Airborne) over the course of two years of training for what was then a new element of the military, and then a full year of combat, from D-Day (June 6th, 1944) and across France, through the “low countries” and the harrowing and brutal Battle of the Bulge, and finally into Germany itself through to V-E Day and the end of the Second World War.

The cast and scope of the show is incredible, but if you had to choose a main character it would be Dick Winters, portrayed by Damian Lewis. The heroism and leadership of the real life Winters is nearly larger than life, and Lewis plays the role with an understated dignity and grit that does honor to the man (the real life version of whom you meet along with other surviving alumni of E Company in interviews during each episode). Lewis is best known nowadays for his roles on Billions and Homeland and he’s always great, but Band of Brothers is by far my favorite role of his.

With all the deserved hoopla over Game of Thrones, it’s fascinating to go back and watch an HBO show that’s approaching 20 years old and see how well the battle sequences hold up. For example, “Carentan,” the third episode, which focuses on the tenuous post-D-Day advance of the allies past Normandy beachheads, showcases battle sequences that easily rival the brilliant Saving Private Ryan. It also portrays utilizes the medium and its 10-hour running time to showcase quiet moments and character moments amid the chaos of war. And it also delivers moments of tremendous suspense and shocking surprises.

And Band of Brothers does a great job too of focusing on one or just a few characters within an episode to showcase the different kinds of individuals who made up a company (and an army) that helped to win the war. “Carentan” spends a lot of time with Private Albert Blithe (played by Marc Warren) for example, a young soldier clearly suffering from PTSD (a term that didn’t exist 75 years ago). It’s painful to watch Blithe struggling to fight and help his comrades while being debilitated by his condition.

And then we get doses of wartime philosophy, such as from Lt. Ronald Speirs (Matthew Settle), who notes:

  • It’s all just a game, all of it… It’s simple: Just do what you have to do. We’re all scared. You hid in that ditch because you think there’s still hope. But, Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier’s supposed to function. Without mercy, without compassion, without remorse. All war depends upon it.

On a final Band of Brothers note, special shout out to Ron Livingston, who portrays Lewis Nixon, an intelligence officer and comrade to Winters. Livingston, likely best known for the 1999 comedy classic Office Space, is one of my favorite actors from the time I first caught him in Swingers (a movie I’m sure I’ll do a deep dive on at some point). In Band of Brothers he shows off a darker side, playing a competent military officer for whom the war takes a psychological toll.

This post originally appeared in The Berlin Files e-mail newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

The Game of Thrones podcast geek pyramid

This edition of On Media is about Game of Thrones-related podcast content specifically.

Even if you’re not a fan of the HBO show turned cultural phenomenon, you’re probably aware that we’re now in the final stretch of episodes — in fact, the series finale will debut on May 19th.

And if you are a fan as I am, you’re probably binge reading and listening to as much GoT stuff as you can because, you know, it’s cool and all. And it’s probably one of the very last true “water cooler shows” that we’re going to see for a long, long time.

With that in mind, here’s a quick and handy guide to finding the right “level” of GoT podcasting content, based on your level of geekery with relation to the show. All of these podcasts are part of The Ringer network, which produces a remarkable array of shows, of which I’ll have to get into more fully in another edition.

Apex-of-the Geeky-Pyramid Level: Binge Mode 
Hosted by “Mother of Dragons” Mallory Rubin and “Grand Maester” Jason Concepcion, these two are my pop culture geek spirit guides. In each episode, they go deep for around two hours, parsing through the episode, how it relates to the series as a whole, the books (which themselves are quite dense and include a Silmarillon-like backstory and history), and fan and media expectations.

They’re also scholars of the art of fantasy storytelling and don’t hold back at all when and where they feel that the show comes up short. For example, there’s a lot of focus of late on how Game of Thrones may or may not pay enough attention to the core fantasy and magical underpinnings of the story.

They are also freaking hilarious. If you love Game of Thrones and a sigil for House Geek lurks in your soul, check out Binge Mode.

And if you’re a Harry Potter fan, there’s an oceanic archive of stuff that Binge Mode has produced as well that you’ll want to check out.

Mid-level Geekery: The Watch 
Overall, The Watch is my favorite pop culture podcast. Usually, it’s pretty TV-centric but will also do some film and music stuff. Lately, there has been a Game of Thrones-centered episode each week that’s really fun as well. Hosted by Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald, this podcast has a great adoration for Game of Thrones while making sure to note its successes and failings with expert analysis.

Low-level Geekery: The Bill Simmons Podcast 
This is predominantly a sports podcast, so don’t be fooled, please (though Simmons will interview non-sports figures semi-regularly as well). That said, they’ve been doing a very funny segment called “Throne Game” at the end of episodes of late, in which Simmons and his guests (typically Ryen Russillo or Joe House) run through the most recent episode for 5-10 minutes from an extremely casual fan’s standpoint. This yields ridiculously funny bits such as how the dragons should wear gender neutral-colored collars to tell one another apart, and how Bronn and The Hound’s PER (= Player Efficiency Rating, a sports analytics term) is extremely high.

I’ll be sad when GoT is over, but as the Drowned God would say, “What is dead may never die.”

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

RZA and Wu-Tang Clan (again and again and again)

RZA is one of the more fascinating figures in American culture. Rapper and member of the iconic hip hop collective known as the Wu-Tang Clan, actor, author, and filmmaker, his most impressive work of all may be as a record producer.

And on top of all that, he’s just a really interesting dude. Check out the way he answers a pretty broad question in an interview (“What are the most important rules that you live by?”) with passionate specificity:

  • The most important rule is just keeping it 100 percent with myself, preparing myself for what’s in front of me and making sure that I complete my goals. First you set your goal, right? Identify what it is, envision it and then I prepare. If my goal was simply to climb a tree, I’m gonna study a tree-climbing book, understand the tools and equipment that I need to do it, understand that if I gotta go up, you know, that may be easy. But what about coming back down, right?

If you’re ever of a mind, sample a book called The Tao of Wu (by “The RZA”), which digs into his personal philosophy, a combination of deep humanism and compassion matched with an aggressive attitude and hustler’s spirit that came out of his growing up in the projects in Staten Island, New York (neighborhoods that would later get mythologized by the Wu-Tang Clan as the “slums of Shaolin”).

If you’re down for a mixture of Buddhist philosophy and spiritualism, hardcore underground hip hop influence, and samurai culture, you’re just starting to get an inkling of what RZA brings to the table.

And then he shows up for character arcs on shows like Californication and you’re like, what?

RZA and Wu-Tang are back in the news recently on a number of fronts. They were given a street sign and honored with a Wu-Tang Clan Day in Staten Islandfor one, and later this year there will be “a 10-part scripted series co-written by RZA detailing the clan’s history and formation” that will be released on Hulu.

And if that’s not enough, Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, a four-hour documentary miniseries now available on Showtime, is here to remind us of even more of the RZA and Wu-Tang legacy.  For example, there’s the part where the large and rambunctious Wu-Tang crew were given the ability to go off and do solo projects while still maintaining allegiance to the Wu-Tang collective. Method Man recalls:

  • We had labels that would usually be competing against each other actually working with each other, for our cause. Insane. Unheard of. RZA had the plan, but who knew? And, uh, I guess I got lucky. I guess we all did.

This move set the table for hip hop masterpieces such as GZA’s (not to be confused with RZA) Liquid Swords

If you’re into hip hop music at all and you haven’t given it a listen in some time, get your ears in front of Wu-Tang’s debut album from 1993, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)right now. It’s a shockingly good album and still sounds fresh and rambunctious as ever. It’s somehow raw, rocking, groovy, jarring, and ear pleasing all at the same time, the lyrics at turns unsettling and hilarious, weird and weirdly profound. And if you had to pick an album that was The Most NYC Album Ever, you could do worse than this one.

When I was discussing Wu-Tang with my man Dave recently, he also advised including the greatness that is Wu-Tang Forever.

I must also include this work of pure ebullient genius, a Wu-Tang vs. The Beatles mash-up, called Enter the Magical Mystery Chambers.  I don’t know how this masterwork entered our plane of existence, but I think it’s best to not question such things.

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

Re-visiting The Doors movie

I find myself revisiting some of the more important or influential pop culture artifacts from my youth-type days of late. I’m re-reading Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, for example, the still astoundingly good first chapter of The Dark Tower epic.

I re-watched the Oliver Stone-directed The Doors recently as well. I saw the movie in the theater when it came out in 1991, and I was at just the right age for that movie — and more importantly for me at the time, the music — to punch me in the metaphorical gut. The music has stayed with me over the years (even though my wife has forever maintained that the talent of Jim Morrison is akin to the character Michael Bolton’s take on the real life Michael Bolton in Office Space), but I had not re-visited the movie since at least the late 1990s.

It holds up in many ways — it’s visually striking and screams 1960s stylized excess and “loving your neighbor until it hurts.” And the music concert scenes are great, fronted by Val Kilmer’s scary good performance as the Lizard King himself. But as with many biopics, it falls apart mid-way through and gets dull and dreary as Morrison descends into addiction and is a non-stop a-hole to everyone around him.

As is my wont, I then went down the YouTube rabbit hole a bit, landing on an early 1990s Ray Manzarak interview in which he pans the movie and the portrayal of Morrison, saying that the singer was a genuinely nice and non-abusive guy, with the caveat that he did have his demons. Manzarark then pitched a documentary that he had just put out at the time, called The Soft Parade (which is also the name of a really good if pretty long song off a Doors album of the same name). The documentary is very under produced by modern standards, but as Manzarak notes it does show a different side to the band, both offstage and on versus the general persona and image that the Stone movie in part helped to impart as the singer and band’s legacy.

I’m lucky enough to have seen Manzarak perform live twice, and once with fellow Doors alums John Densmore and Robby Krieger. That latter performance was an anniversary show at West Hollywood’s famous Whiskey a Go Go, the venue where The Doors honed their craft before launching into super stardom. Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction fame stood in as the band’s front man. It was a pretty wild night. Slash from Guns n’ Roses walked right by me at one point, and then I got to speak with Manzarak very briefly. It was very much a “don’t meet your idols” moment, the story of which I’ll hold for another installment.

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

On the 50 greatest grunge albums and the “Seattle scene”

I know what you’re thinking. “Eric, please give us more of your thoughts on music dating back to the late ’80s and early ’90s. We need yet more of your wisdom here.”

Okay, okay, I hear you!

I’ve spent a few weeks slowly making my way through Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Grunge AlbumsI won’t go deep level nerd out and re-rank fest as I’ve done with things like Nirvana’s 102 songs recently, but just wanted to note that it’s fun to look back and see the diversity of sounds and styles that roughly make up what would come to be known as to  the “grunge” music style. Shout out here to Mad Season, featuring “Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin and bassist John Baker Saunders,” for showing off the jazzy side(!) of grunge, and quite well at that.

It seems like by today’s standards, grunge is a little bit of a catch all term, a way to describe a culture of a quarter century ago that comprised music of course, but also a certain now dated Gen X-y slacker/ironic attitude and even “grunge fashion.”

Browsing through and listening to songs from many of the albums on the list, I was particularly struck by some things I hadn’t heard in a long time, such as Seattle’s The Gits and 7 Year Bitch. Both sound incredible.

Even though I live in Seattle these days, the “Seattle scene” was a mysterious and exotic thing to me, growing up on the east coast. Ironically, it was not until I was living in England with my good friend Nirav after graduating from college that I “discovered” a bunch of bands, ranging from the aforementioned to Tad, The U-Men, Green River, and a particular favorite, Fastbacks (who I finally got to catch live last year, right in my neighborhood of West Seattle).

The reason? A documentary that documented the exploitation of the Seattle scene, called Hype!. One of us had picked up an alternative music magazine (Kerrang!) sometime in the rainy early winter of 1996, and noticed that there was a contest to attend the premiere of the documentary. As a gas, we decided to enter the contest (note: this was pre-Internet access in our world, and pubs close weirdly early in the UK), and as fate would have it, we won. What’s hilarious to me now is that we had a notion that this would be a star-studded red carpet event in London, with perhaps the likes of Dave Grohl or Courtney Love in attendance. Instead, it was a bunch of scruffy folks like us, along with some people who worked for the magazine.

Anyway, the point being that the soundtrack to Hype! was a gateway drug to what was a relatively new world to me at the time. As much as we talk about the backlash against technology and the Internet these days, it’s important sometimes to take a step back to recognize that we’re all forever a few clicks away from an ocean filled with endless hidden treasures in its depths.

Finally: I may or may not have compiled a Spotify playlist (called The Grunge Years, a name I stole from a compilation album I owned back in the day) comprising 1,158 songs while going through this list.

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.