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Sweatpants & Pop Culture | Six Swoon-Worthy Alt Rock Geeks from the 90s

By Heather Dyer

There was a period of time, back in the early 90s, after I took down my Tiger Beat posters of Duran Duran and before I bought my first flannel shirt, when I had what you might call a Geek Rock Phase. I trolled my local record store for obscure, nerdy artists who could speak to my heart, and whose names I could throw out in a conversation, knowing that hardly anyone would recognize them. God, I was so edgy. Wait, was I a HIPSTER? I’m not sure. I don’t think we had hipsters back then.

Most of these guys aren’t exactly obscure, but they sure did break the mold of the 80s mainstream glam rock. NONE of them are wearing spandex, for one thing. Let’s soak up all the geeky goodness, shall we?

1. Elvis Costello: We can’t have a list of geeks without Elvis, and he melted the hearts of bibliophiles everywhere with this sweet song. Telling a love story as if it’s a novel? Be still, my heart!

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2. They Might Be Giants: I can’t choose which of them is geekier or cuter, so I nominate both Johns (Flansburgh and Linnell)! Who can resist when they plead, “Say I’m the only bee in your bonnet?” I especially love that in recent years they’ve churned out top notch children’s albums like “Here Comes Science.”

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3. Matthew Sweet: Not geeky enough, you say? Really? This guy put himself in an anime video, more than once! I must have listened to his Girlfriend album one billion times, but I’d forgotten about this song over the years and now I’m playing it non-stop.

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4. Robert Smith, The Cure: Okay, I’m not sure how he rates on the traditional cuteness scale, but I’m smitten with the way he sings The Love Cats. And if you kiss him he will wear your smudged lipstick for the next 30 years.

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5. Glen Phillips, Toad the Wet Sprocket: I lived and breathed this band in college. I ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And then I went out to parties where people were playing Beastie Boys, because somebody had to fight for our right to party. Obviously.

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6. Michael Stipe, R.E.M.: I remember reading once that Michael Stipe declared that R.E.M. would never record a love song. They stuck to that pledge for the most part, channeling their immense talent into social issues. And then one day, fellow adorable geek Mike Mills came out from the background to sing the lead on one of the loveliest songs they ever recorded.

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Honorable mention: Rivers Cuomo – the obvious choice for a geek rock list, but Weezer was just getting started at this time and at least in the Midwest they weren’t getting airtime yet.

Did I leave anyone out? Who was your favorite alt rock geek in the early 90s?


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