Three Strange Years: Did Nirvana's Bomb Blast Kill School Of Fish?


Musically speaking, whenever somebody mentions the year 1991, what band do we all think of immediately?

Unless you had previously Van Gogh-ed your ears to an old flame, you know exactly where we were the first time you heard Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time. You might even still remember the store where you purchased Nevermind and, better yet, still chuckle at the clerk's expression as you hand them the album with the baby's dick on it.
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As I was paying for my copy, the clerk asked me, "What is this?"

I just nodded and said "You'll see, just wait a few days."



A week later, I pass the store again and this time Kurt, Dave and Kris are peering back at me from every display window in the store. Nirvana-mania hit like a tsunami, decimating everything in its path like King Kong with an itch he just couldn't reach.

While I wholeheartedly applaud anything or anyone capable of so thoroughly laying waste to a hair metal scene that was now little more than a cottage industry for Diane Warren, the truth of the matter is that there were already a number of noteworthy newcomers in this young musical decade called "The Nineties" that were putting a new spin on the tried-and-true "guitar-bass-drums" template.

One such band was the Posies, whose John Leckie-produced Dear 23 remains one of the most melodically sophisticated blasts to come out of Bellingham, Washington, though few outside the state felt the earth move as much as I did in my Fullerton Parkway garden apartment, go figure.



Ultimately, no mention of 1991 is truly complete without a hearty mention of School of Fish, whose magnificent first single "Three Strange Days" caught everybody's ear with its heady mix of swirling shoegaze guitars and classic American rock hooks.

It was the sort of song a label like Capitol Records could either promote the shit out of, watch it skyrocket up the charts, and then continue watching as the song's popularity hamstrings the band in question for the rest of their career (see Wheatus "Teenage Dirtbag") or you could just let good old-fashioned word-of-mouth do its thing and hope the band's next single builds on that momentum.

Capitol and the band opted for the latter route, but, in the time leading up to that fateful second single, Nirvana upended the proverbial Monopoly board and every band with a record deal was now scrambling to make sense of "the new normal".



No further commercial singles would be released from School of Fish's masterful debut effort and, by the time they returned with their second album, Human Cannonball, in 1993, it was painfully obvious that they, much like the Posies themselves, had made a conscious attempt to sound more like Nirvana, but the commercial payday never came.

While Felt would sign a solo deal with A&M and release the ambitious, yet underdeveloped, Inarticulate Nature Boy in 1996, and guitarist Michael Ward would join Jakob Dylan's Wallflowers, fans of School of Fish always hoped that Ward and Clayton-Felt could one day pick up where they'd left off in '91, but Felt's sudden passing from cancer in 2000 has left us with only this one shining moment in time.

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