Merchant of grunge: having fun with parliamentary papers online

This week, Librarian Antony Ramm gives one of the Library’s online resources a go…

Have you ever wondered if the word “grunge” has been spoken in the Houses of Parliament?

Well, this Librarian did – and decided to find out. (Coincidentally in the same week as the 29th-anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death).

So…what tools do Leeds Libraries offer to try and find an answer to something as random as this? Well, one tool in particular: FREE access to Parliamentary and Official Documents Online.

That website can be accessed – for FREE! – by all Leeds Libraries members, by clicking the link about halfway down on our Online Resources page (you will get asked to enter your library card number, if you’re not accessing in a Library or Hub site). The site is described there as being:

 A searchable archive of Parliament and Official documents. You can view material from the Westminster Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly, Welsh Parliament (Senedd), and non-Parliamentary material. Whether you want to look at an Act and its amendments or track a Bill at Hansard stage, the Public Information Online website provides easy to use, unlimited access to official publications.

Perfect for my search then! This is the page you get when you first open the database (which the description above probably doesn’t quite stress enough is an historical archive, as much as it is a record of present-day government publications and doings) – from there you can either perform a basic keyword search, or select Advanced Search to narrow the tools down to particular time periods or categories.

I wasn’t too fussed with any of that on this occasion – I just wanted to try my searches, and see what results (if any!) came back. So I keyed in “grunge” as my first attempt and…I got some results! Incredible – I was very excited at this stage.

I discounted the more modern (2022) results for a “Grunge Rock Charity Night” (how lamestain!) and went hunting for more interesting references, particularly anything recorded in Hansard (the official record of what has been said in Parliament) during the 1990s.

And that’s where I found that, on March 23 1995, one MP spoke in a House of Commons debate of hearing “recently about the [death] of Kurt Cobain and one or two other music leaders of this generation” (it’s not clear who else was being spoken about there – Kristen Pfaff? Bob Stinson? Eazy-E?), to be answered by a rival MP with the comment “Before the hon. Gentleman gets too much into the hit parade and grunge…”

There was also a rather bizarre exchange on February 1 1993 when one M.P. accused another of being “the merchant of grunge,” only to be met over a week later (during a session of a Grand Committee) by the accused M.P. with –

I think he intended to insult me. I suspect, from the way that he vigorously nodded his head, that that is true. I was not offended, but merely baffled…[H]e obviously does not know what grunge is. The editor of Q magazine, which is the bible of youth culture, defined grunge as ‘a lifestyle which is popular, fashionable, melodious and accessible’.

(I’m actually not at all sure that is really a good definition of the word – I much prefer Sub Pop’s description of Green River’s 1987 EP Dry as a Bone :”gritty vocals, roaring Marshall amps, ultra-loose GRUNGE that destroyed the morals of a generation.” Imagine that being said in the Houses of Parliament)

We also find, on March 22 1994, at a meeting of one Standing Committee, a description of how

There has been a huge rise in the counterfeiting of goods particularly high-quality goods such as perfume, after shave and custom design clothing. I believe that the style of clothes is called grunge and it is what all our children want us to buy them…

So there you have it: ‘grunge’ has been used (several times, in fact), and so has Kurt Cobain. I also found references to Courtney Love, Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth and “one or two other music leaders” of that same generation.

No doubt others can find more obscure and random references to whatever comes to mind! It’s a fun activity, a quick and accessible way straight into what would otherwise be a rather dry, dull, imposing set of materials. I’d definitely recommend giving it a go…let us know if you find anything weird & wonderful in the comments below!

*The earliest reference to ‘grunge’ in the search results on Parliamentary and Official Documents Online is actually from 1939 – sadly, that appears to be a transcription error rather than a genuine use of the term.

The picture accompanying this article was taken from the Library’s copy of the absolutely fantastic collection of 1980s and 1990s Leeds ‘zine Ablaze! The copyright remains with the photographer and author.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Robert Thomas says:

    Sorry. I think you have got away from excellent work you have produced over the months.
    Features on Leeds Jewish history and good research work on back to back housing etc etc etc.
    No thanks.

    1. Hi there,

      Thank you for the feedback and for your interest in the Secret Library blog. We do try to publish a range of different types of articles that explore all aspects of stock and resources in our specialist, reference and research departments at the Central Library – so not just local history, but also art, music and general information services. This article was a light-hearted attempt to show readers how they could use one of our information resources to find quirky pieces of parliamentary history for themselves; we do have some more in-depth local history-related articles coming up in the next few weeks, however, so keep a lookout for those if that is more in line with your interests. Thanks again for reading and engaging – we really appreciate it!

      Best wishes,
      Librarian, Local and Family History department at Leeds Central Library

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