“No Alternative,” a novel by William Dickerson
The first time I picked up a guitar and decided to learn how to play, it was the day I learned Kurt Cobain had committed suicide. He killed himself on April 5th, 1994, but the world didn’t hear the report of one of the most famous shotgun blasts in history until three days later on April 8th.
I was 15 years old and there was something inside me, I think, that wanted to pick up where Kurt left off, learn all of his songs and keep his music alive. There was this ironic sense of community in the early 90’s: every kid felt alienated, but we were alienated together, and the music that filled the air between us was the invisible glue that connected us all. There was no doubt that the music we listened to back then had an edge, a genuine angst that defined the genre that we, for better or worse, know as “grunge.” In the years following Cobain’s suicide, many music critics have observed that the lyrics to virtually every song on Nirvana’s final studio album, “In Utero,” read like little suicide notes. Hindsight is 20/20, I suppose.
Suicide is one of the few taboo subjects left in our modern society. I have been influenced, artistically, by many who have succumbed to it. I have had people close to me try it as well; some were more successful in the task than others. Everyone knows someone who has, or knows someone who knows someone who has, but most of these “someones” do not dare talk about it. I wrote “No Alternative” because I wanted to talk about it.
Life itself is never more “on the razor’s edge” than when you are a teenager. Hormones are raging like a whitewater river and the seemingly benign act of asking someone to the prom is transformed into a life or death kind of situation. Everything is heightened. In the early 90’s even the music was heightened, which is why I decided to set “No Alternative” within this backdrop. Personally, I feel lucky to have been an impressionable teenager at that time. I absorbed the moment like a sponge – especially the music part of it – and I have always wanted to write a story that took place smack in the middle of it.
Although his intentions are genuine, the character of Thomas Harrison capitalizes on the “alternative music” trend that’s hotter than molten lava. By trying to recreate the grunge music of the time, he ends up becoming consumed by the trend. He becomes a functioning part of it. On the flipside, Thomas’s sister, Bridget, rejects mainstream alternative music as the commercialized pap she thinks it is, and finds expression in emerging gangsta’ rap. Some may argue that gangsta’ rap was itself a kind of punk rock movement that materialized at the very same time that grunge was taking over the world. Ice-T, KRS-ONE, NWA and Public Enemy paved the way for rappers like TuPac and The Notorious BIG, who eventually exploded into the mainstream.
Bridget is a white, preppy girl from the suburbs. By embracing gangsta’ rap – a genre of hip-hop that was rather alien to kids in suburbs like Westchester, New York – she is unabashedly more punk rock than her peers. She is actively going against the grain; she is doing what is anti-establishment. Bridget’s been on anti-depressants for years – she is used to doing what she’s told by her doctors, overbearing parents, and friends. Consequently, she finds an escape in gangsta’ rap, which is something unlike anyone around her is familiar with. It’s her opportunity to be herself. That’s why she becomes a rapper, and literally changes her persona, taking the persona of someone else...the persona of “Bri Da B.”
I was drawn to the dramatic contrast of these two siblings, who are both pursuing radically different forms of musical expression. While they’re foils to each other, essentially, they are also two sides of the same coin. They’re brother and sister; they’re stitched from the same fabric. It fascinates me that these two characters, who are so close to each other physiologically, are practically strangers to each other in everyday life. It’s assumed you know your family, but really, so many times we don’t – and there comes a moment in people’s lives when that introduction of who we really are must be proactively made by one person to another.
And that’s the most human of moments…when we drop our “illusions” and dare to be ourselves, no matter what those respective selves are.