There’s a saying that the best music ever made is whatever released around the time you were a senior in high school. I don’t completely believe that to be true, but I will die on the hill that the years roughly encompassing my high school career—I started in September 1991 and graduated in June 1995—includes some damn fine pop culture.
One of the problems, of course, is that, when you’re that age, you think of things in a school year. It’s hard to separate out what came out in fall or early winter of 1994, when I’m thinking about 1995. It is also true that music is cumulative. The music of one year carries into the next. And of course the shows on at the beginning of the TV season are still there at the end of the season, into the next year. I also moved in September and had considerably less access to pop culture in rural Washington State than I had had in LA. 1995 was, in a lot of ways, a defining year for me; that’s twice this year that we’ve had Years of the Month that shaped me and helped create the Gillian writing today.
Kurt was already dead—I’d actually been out to lunch with friends the day he died. It might’ve been spring break. My memories of the death of Selena are not as clear, but I’m quite certain I have friends—had more friends at the time—who can tell you exactly where they were that day. I suppose it makes it clear that music is not universal, though I promise you I remember being horrified that someone so young would be murdered in such a senseless way; she was just a handful of years older than we were, and that’s appalling.
In music, Dave Grohl moved out from Kurt’s shadow and started Foo Fighters. Ben Folds Five debuted. The Mortal Kombat theme from the movie was something I danced to every chance I got, which was a lot; it was everywhere. Oingo Boingo split up. Marilyn Manson debuted. Jagged Little Pill debuted, the first album I associate with college—the first time I heard “You Oughta Know” was crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge with my sister. And the 1996 Entertainment Weekly yearbook, which is in my son’s classroom library because someone donated it, said she wouldn’t last. Coolio and U2 were both doing pretty well on songs for soundtracks.
In television, we got the WB and UPN—yes, I watched the debut of UPN, which was the series premiere of Star Trek: Voyager. The OJ Simpson trial preempted Batman: The Animated Series and Animaniacs and I suppose also the soaps. Vegas bookies were actually taking odds on Who Shot Mr. Burns. “Smelly Cat’ debuted. NewsRadio was a mid-season replacement. VR.5 became the next show in Fox’s Friday Night Death Slot, followed later that year by Strange Luck. My So-Called Life ended and broke my heart. The History Channel debuted, at the time far more interested in World War II than ancient aliens.
We were all being introduced to Windows 95—by the late, lamented Matthew Perry, among others. I bought an omnibus of one of the Age of Apocalypse titles. My friends were deep into Magic the Gathering, which did not debut that year but was very new. Friends were starting to switch away from NES, too—and one of my friends spent that school year deeply into AOL. Presumably, he had mail.
I saw Batman Forever in the theatre twice and continue not to regret it; I own it on DVD. I also bought both the soundtrack and the score. Alumnus Of My High School John Singleton would come out with Higher Learning, which is . . . less acclaimed than his debut? Muriel’s Wedding was more a college thing for me, but Australian indie film would be a big thing for me in college. I saw Don Juan de Marco in the theatre alone with a straight female friend; we were the only non-couples there, and man is that movie effective on the big screen.
There were a lot of movies not aimed at me out that year. I still haven’t seen Pocahontas (you can, if you want to, pay me to on Patreon or Ko-fi!), because that’s where the history nerd overrides the Disney nerd; I watched Apollo 13 instead. It was the year of Clueless and my having to tell all my Port Angeles friends that the slang for the movie was mostly made up and of course I didn’t talk like that. Waterworld bombed. I saw To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar in the theatre twice, too. I’m not sure I saw Empire Records until later, but the soundtrack was everywhere.
Pop culture’s change was noteworthy with the release of Toy Story. My life’s change was noteworthy because I moved to a town with two movie theatres, both owned by the same guy. There was a petition to get him to book the Branagh Othello, apparently because of his problems with, sigh, miscegenation. Anyway, here’s “Wonderwall.”