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The Only Alternative

April 20, 2013

I have mentioned on numerous occasions that this is not my first blog.  When I mention this, I usually am referring to my most recent foray into blogging on a fantasy sports website.  In truth, I have been blogging since long before there was a name for this thing we do on here.  My first blog launched in 1994 under the name “The Only Alternative.”

The idea of blogging in 1993 and 1994 was probably about as foreign to most of you as… well, frankly… the idea of the internet.  I was a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte at the time, and was studying computer science.  As such, I was familiar with the new and exciting world of interconnected collegiate and military computers known as the internet, and was even familiar with HTML in its infancy.

Well, okay… maybe not infancy.  It was a terrible toddler by the time I got a hold of HTML.  The language was developed officially in 1989, and the early web browsers were also HTML editors, allowing you to create web pages with relative ease (well, you know, “ease” in the way early versions of Windows allowed you to navigate DOS with “ease”).  Every student on campus, in fact, had server space allocated to them, with the ability to create personal web pages should they so choose.  The odd thing was, nobody used it.  Nobody, that is, except for a handful of computer science students (like myself).

Music, and My Love of It

At that time, I was passionate about music.  I was uniquely connected to a number of burgeoning music scenes.  I had been the lead singer of a band in high school.  I know, I know… it seems odd, considering my repeated admissions of nerdiness.  However, I loved music and, frankly, I was one hell of a singer (and did I mention how MODEST I am?).  I initially got the gig as the only kid they knew who could hit all the notes when they covered Guns ‘n’ Roses, and also didn’t struggle when they covered singers who… you know… had use of both testicles, like Queensryche.  My inclusion in the band didn’t last a very long time, though.  Around the time the band started to get noticed and my band mates became really REALLY serious was about the time I couldn’t wait to sabotage everything and get the hell out.  But that’s a story for another time.  The point was, I had met a number of local music enthusiasts during that era, and had maintained those connections for as long as I lived in Charlotte.

One friend left to go to school in Athens, Georgia, where he became an intern at a rather famous alternative station there.  The Athens music scene was exploding, with bands like the B52’s and REM leading the way.  I had another friend who went to school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where the music scene was also up-and-coming, led by such dissimilar acts as Superchunk, Southern Culture on the Skids, and the Ben Folds Five.  A third friend worked two jobs locally in Charlotte, one with a concert promotion company, and one with a local alternative station.  Through these connections, and knowing various musicians in the area, I had my finger squarely on the pulse of the alternative music scene.

Combining Interests

At the University, one of my first computer science classes introduced the MOSAIC web browser and HTML as a means of formatting webpages.  For the class, I was given several assignments to post on the server space allocated to me by the university.  So, my initial “blog” was written as a music review magazine, done as class assignments to show my grasp of HTML and how that forum could be used to connect to multiple documents on multiple servers.  Therefore, my early work spends a lot of time deferring to other sources online.

I still remember that the first page I posted was a review of Frank Black’s “Teenager of the Year” album (I was an ENORMOUS Pixies fan, and followed the fractured pieces of the band after it broke up).  That first article was entitled “Is ‘Teenager of the Year’ the Album of the Year?” and began as a glowing review of the aforementioned album, and ended in a rant about the failure of the Grammies to recognize alternative music artists.  In reality, I didn’t give a damn about the Grammies, but needed some way to transition into information I could actually link to.

My second article was another album review, this time of the Afghan Whigs “Gentlemen” album which had come out the previous year.  This was the first article to have graphic content, including a huge headline which I drew in a DOS based paint program.  This headline featured the words “The Only Alternative” for the first time, which became the name of my article.

In all, for that class, I posted 5 different album reviews as part of HTML class projects: the two already mentioned, one for a Superchunk album, one for a band by the name of Tsunami (which, coincidentally, contained the song “The Genius of Crack” which inspired my online name), and the last about the cumulative works of the band Joy Division.  The important thing to point out here is that the article was not part of a publication.  It was merely me, being myself in HTML format to pass a class.  Nothing more.

Where Did You Go?

The class ended, I moved on to more rigorous mathematics and programming languages, and forgot these articles even existed on the server.  That is, until I got my first piece of what can only be considered fan mail.

It had been a couple of months, when I got a message on the intra-university messaging system from someone I didn’t know.  It read something to the effect of, “Dude, where did you go?  I keep hoping you’ll do another album review for The Only Alternative, dude!”  I’m paraphrasing here… I don’t remember exactly what it said, but it more than likely contained the pronoun ‘dude’ since it was written in 1994.

This was weird.  You see, the server only contained a simple folder system, with space available to put whatever you wanted within it. So, to reach my silly articles, one would have to type in the full url of the university webpage, followed by a slash, followed by a series of numbers to denote the school I was in (computer science), followed by a slash, followed by my first two initials and my last name, followed by a slash, followed by the name of the first article.  I had interconnected the articles to one another, but the act of finding ONE of my articles was a labyrinth to begin with.  So it never occurred to me that anyone outside of my class would have seen it.  Apparently, though, someone had.

I responded with something like, “I wasn’t aware anyone was actually reading those… dude.  I was writing those for a class… dude.”

The reply came, “a friend of mine was in your class with you and showed them to me.  Now a lot of people all over campus read them.  I can’t wait to see what album you’ll review next!  I had never heard of half the bands you wrote about until you reviewed them, and now I’m a serious fan of all of them!”

So, What I’m Saying Is, I Pretty Much Invented Blogging

No… not really.  At that time, students everywhere were discovering that they were given space to fill by the universities they attended, and started just writing whatever came to mind.  Others took to posting regularly to USENET, or used forum style websites to post opinions and ideas.  But I DID have an alternative music review blog which developed a huge cult following while I was at the university.  Toward the end, I would get, on average, about 30 replies through the messaging system to each review.  And based on what people said around campus, loads of people read my reviews without ever messaging me about them.  I was semi-famous (at least, my first two initials and my last name were famous, as that was how every review was signed and I had no picture of myself online).

During my time there, I reviewed The Breeders, Nirvana (posthumously… a week after the death of Kurt shocked all of us),  a festival show of local bands in Boone, NC (which had an awesome local music scene in that era), the collective works of Bob Mould, and others I can no longer even remember.

My last article ever was a review of the college experience.  You see, the previous semester I had a Calculus II class, where I had aced every test but was given a B.  My lowest grade in the class had been a 96, but on the test where I earned that 96, the class average had been failing.  So the professor offered a re-test.  I TOLD (not asked) the professor that I would accept my grade of 96, as I had no intentions of taking a re-test for material I had clearly mastered.  I was TOLD (not politely informed), that the re-test was mandatory and that if I failed to take the test, a zero would be recorded as my grade on that test.  I refused to show, and got the zero.  From that point on I began fucking off school until it was clear I was going to be kicked out.

My final installment of The Only Alternative was a review of the entire college and campus life.  I talked about where you could find the best parties, and where to go in the area to hear the best music.  I wrote about which professors would inspire you, and which ones would bore you to death.  I wrote about when and  where you could park to avoid getting ticketed if you didn’t have a valid sticker.  Finally, I reviewed the best way to stay in college: don’t do what I had done.  Don’t allow your pride and stubbornness to stand between you and your degree.  And I bid everyone farewell.

It’s weird thinking about it now.  I am nearly twice the age I was then.  In the years since, I have watched blogging transform the way people write on the internet.  I have seen numerous bloggers springboard to a successful writing career.  These were ideas that never occurred to me back then.  If they had, maybe I would be a reporter for Rolling Stone or Spin or something now, instead of a dad who writes funny stories on the interwebs.  But, I’m okay with all that.  Because I also get to write whatever I want, whenever I want.  I have no deadlines, no editors, no bosses.  I’m still that kid at heart, writing whatever he feels passionate about.  And that works for me.

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9 Comments
  1. Wow, you were quite the early adopter, weren’t you! I had my first blog back in 2000 and I thought that was a long time ago, but 1993 definitely beats that!

    • 2000 was definitely in the infancy of blogging! When I was doing it, there really wasn’t a name for it, and no way to publish it where people could easily find your work. The late 1990’s is about the earliest time that blogging sites began to spring up, where bloggers could put their works in one place so people could actually read it.

      I never intended to be a blogger… or a reviewer of music. I found it strange, though, that once people outside my class were exposed to my reviews, they responded to them so favorably. I can’t tell you how many of the messages I received were along the lines of “I had never heard of so-and-so before, but thanks to you I now am obsessed with them!” It really felt great to be a part of that.

  2. I remember using html in high school… my mum was really into computers and computer programming so I was one of a few of my friends who HAD a computer in high school.

    • At first, HTML seemed stupid and pointless to me. What I could do with it was nothing when compared to what I could do with a “real” language, like Pascal or C++. But as I started to grasp the nature of the language, the ability to not only communicate, but to link to documents stored on different computers around the world, I started to see the allure of the internet.

      Also, way to go mum! (I’ve never used the word “mum” before… it made me giggle)

  3. Holy Shit! You had me at Queensryche. No wonder I was drawn to you. This is without a doubt one of THE best posts you have EVER written. Ever. Ever.Ever. And I am not saying this because you are my friend. But because you are far more superior than I am as a writer and storyteller. Are you hooked up with http://dadsroundtable.com/? I am sharing your shit. PS, I never learned HTML. I prefer blogging for dummies like me.

    • Hahah! Well, let me tell you, my ability to sound JUST like Geoff Tate was somewhat of a sticking point with me and the band. I didn’t want to copy his sound, but somehow couldn’t sing Queesnryche without it coming out like that. And then, we started writing our own stuff. UGH

      Anyway, no I had never heard of dadsroundtable.com before, but I’m checking it out right now! Looks interesting! And, thank you. You pimp me out better than I could ever pimp myself out. I… uh… MEANT that as a compliment. I’ll bet you look quite fetching in a pimp suit.

      • Lucy, thanks for being a connector. CrakGenius, I love your writing style. I’m happy you checked out DadsRT and I hope you consider signing up to be a contributor.

        James from Dads Round Table.

  4. flyingplatypi permalink

    Wow!! That’s quite the history!! And I thank you for pretty much inventing blogging. Because I like doing it. Also, you should put this in your blog title. So you get some credit for it… Then you should sue everyone..

    Hugs!

    Valerie

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  1. Blogging Lessons: Lesson 1 | CrakGenius

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