Grunge

In light of recent nostalgia, it seems timely to review the astrological dynamics involved with the cultural zeitgeist of grunge music that developed between the mid 1980’s to early 1990’s.  As a music genre, Grunge combined characteristics of punk and hard rock and resonated most powerfully with Generation X because its gritty sound and lyrical content reflected the generation’s emotional, cathartic, angst-ridden and disenchanted nature.

Generation X

Most sources approximate that Generation X was born sometime between the early 1960’s to early 1980’s and while much has been written on the characteristics of this demographic, the following summation may be offered: everything is BS.  For this generation, the government is comprised of liars and narcissists, the economy is controlled by corporate plutocracies, and religions are institutions of arbitrary rules unable to enlighten the human condition.  Exacerbating these hard perspectives, many of this generation came from broken homes and lost families.[1]  With no stability and a general sense of being born into a decaying society, Generation X was unique in realizing early on that these societal dysfunctions were masked or overcompensated with advertising, pop-culture and consumerism.

Outer Planets

In evaluating generational archetypal characteristics, it is essential to focus on the positions of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto (table 1 below) as the slow movement of these outer planets result in characteristics attributable to large subsets of individuals born during the planet’s transit through the sign.

Table 1 – Generation X Outer Planet Sign Placements           

Time Frame Planet Sign Element
1961-1968 Uranus Virgo Earth
1961-1970 Neptune Scorpio Water
1961-1971 Pluto Virgo Earth
1969-1974 Uranus Libra Air
1971-1981 Neptune Sagittarius Fire
1972-1981 Pluto Libra Air
1975-1981 Uranus Scorpio Water

The sign placements within Virgo, Libra and Scorpio are striking because they reflect general qualities associated with Generation X: critical (Virgo), distrustful (Scorpio), cynical (Scorpio again) and concerned with relationships (Libra).[2]

The trend of earth-water elemental groupings reflects another set of traits attributable to Generation X: “…these people are motivated by feelings, fears, past conditioning, security needs, and other unconscious factors…there is often a vital lack of ideals, faith, and positive thinking…”.[3]  Also, with only one planet in fire these traits are magnified.  “A lack of fire usually manifests as a lack of spiritedness, a tendency not to trust life itself.  The joy of living is markedly absent, and the person is often devoid of faith and optimism.  Self-confidence may also be poor, and there is often a tendency towards despondency and lack of enthusiasm for meeting life’s demands.”[4]

Most significantly, Generation X’s preponderance of earth-water dynamics were exacerbated by the equally predominant earth-water emphasis in the early 90’s.[5]  These transits set the overall tone for the period.

Table 2 – Transiting positions within the Grunge era

Time Frame Planet Sign Element
1989-1997 Uranus Capricorn Earth
1985-1997 Neptune Capricorn Earth
1983-1995 Pluto Scorpio Water

Pluto in Scorpio

Pluto represents the archetypal process of transformation and rebirth.  Death is a logical extension of these archetypes, but can be as metaphoric or symbolic as it is literal.  Whether it is beliefs, ideals, trends, even ego or identity,[6] anything that has outlived its purpose can be subject to this process.  Confronting anything that has defined our existence can be deeply unsettling, so Pluto will sometimes strip away everything in order to get to the core of what is essential and true.  Survival within the new conditions mandates transformation, but experiencing this process can produce a darker tone or demeanor with potentially cathartic eruptions resulting from the confrontation.

Pluto’s archetypal function is colored by the quality of the sign it is transiting.  During the Grunge era, Pluto was passing through the sign of Scorpio, a quality most receptive to Pluto’s archetypal function: intense, penetrating, brooding, and of course, concerned with transformation.  As a result, its manifestation was less nuanced.  Pluto’s distinct expression in Scorpio gave Grunge its intensely emotional and cathartic tone that paralleled Generation X’s anger with the perception that their society no longer had any purpose.

Mythologically, Pluto is the ruler of the underworld so it also represents anything operating below the surface of mainstream visibility.  Grunge’s early development benefitted from the heavy promotion from an independent record label named Sub-Pop, which was short for Subterranean (Pluto) Pop.  Its founder, Bruce Pavitt explains, “I called it Subterranean Pop because my theory was that there was a tremendous amount of music happening in America that had the potential to be very popular.  But because the distribution channels and media channels were shut off, those acts had to work their way out of the ghetto.  So it was an underground culture that had the potential to be very popular.”[7]

Specifically, artists realized that music had to be transformed because it had lost its significance, but this had to be initiated from the underground because the mainstream was no longer relevant.  Typically, the significance of Pluto traveling through Scorpio would gain a high degree of emphasis, but it was overshadowed by the alignment between Uranus and Neptune.

Uranus – Neptune

Outer planet conjunctions are epochal and rare.  In the 21st century there were two: Uranus-Pluto in the 1960’s and Uranus-Neptune in the 1990’s.  For Generation X, the conjunction of Uranus-Neptune in Capricorn was significant because it forms natural aspects to a majority of the signs from Generation X’s outer planets: Virgo (trine), Libra (square) and Scorpio (sextile).

Neptune represents the archetypal functions of imagination, idealism, spirituality, belief, and illusion/delusion.  The sign of Capricorn represents qualities associated with achievement, goals, and rewards.[8]  Therefore, this placement explores the ideal of achievement.  If the ideal is debilitated,[9] then motivation is impacted, leaving an apathetic, disenchanted demeanor.

These Neptunian dynamics blended with and influenced Uranus’ archetypal functions of rebellion and revolution.  This alignment then activated Generation X’s natures of criticism, sarcastic cynicism, distrust of relationships and all forms of established institutions (familial, religious, governmental, financial).

It shouldn’t be ignored that the majority of transiting aspects were harmonious (trine, sextile)[10] and this ease of expression manifested in a parallel, but surprising, Neptunian archetypal development: music.  America is a country founded on the ideal of achievement so challenging this foundation borders on being sacrilegious.  But it was this rebellious impulse that helped Grunge rediscover the edge that had been missing from mainstream rock music.

Cobain and Nirvana

Kurt Cobain was the figurehead of Grunge movement and while his chart is well-traveled territory a few core observations are necessary:

Kurt Cobain2

The Uranus-Pluto conjunction at the apex of Cobain’s Kite configuration is also on his Ascendant.  As the first major outer planet conjunction in the 21st century, an alignment between Uranus-Pluto is the astrological signature for revolution.  It is interesting that a child born in the 1960’s would be responsible for the “revolution” experienced with the following major outer planetary conjunction in the 1990’s.  Because of its placement within Cobain’s chart, it represented how his revolutionary talent (Kite apex) would become the most immediately recognizable projection of himself (Ascendant).[11]

In addition, Cobain’s entire natal chart shares the same elemental trend with his generation’s outer planets, earth-water.  This is an important distinction because it shows how the overall generational demeanor would be attracted to Cobain’s personality.  He was a comprehensive microcosm of what the entire generation felt.

Despite a tendency to stereotype rock stars under the sign of Leo, it is interesting that a Piscean would be the icon of a generation.  But with Neptune in Capricorn as one of the main indicators, it is fitting that the figurehead be a Piscean, the sign ruled by Neptune.  Also, Cobain’s 6th house Sun in square aspect to Neptune is a chart signature for someone who doesn’t think too highly of their self, is introverted and insecure of their ego.  In some respects, Generation X viewed themselves as victims of a broken society so his low self-esteem, Piscean ego fit this martyr complex.

The Piscean theme extends to the naming of Cobain’s band[12] as well.  As a Hindu or Buddhist concept “Nirvana relates to religious enlightenment; it comes from the Sanskrit meaning ‘extinction, disappearance’ of the individual to the universal. Achieving nirvana is to make earthly feelings like suffering and desire disappear.”[13]  This resonates well because:

In Pisces, the subordination is not to a social group, but to the universe itself, and that which propels it.  Whatever one may feel about a God, there is something that makes the universe One.  The ego-born, developed, completed, and socialized through the other signs is now surrendered in Pisces to something higher.  Personal systems of reality, personal ideas of right and wrong, are now to be subordinated to What Is.  In the language of mysticism, Pisces symbolizes the surrender of the soul to God.[14]

We are an individual microcosm of universal archetypes, manifested through what we create.  Since art echoes this inner resonance, it is appropriate to review how Nirvana’s greatest album, Nevermind, was most responsible for popularizing Grunge music.

Nevermind

The chart below represents the date that Nevermind was released to the general public.[15]

Nevermind2

nevermindalbumcoverThe focal point of this chart is the t-square configuration involving the Moon, Mars, Uranus-Neptune and the North Node.  The Moon-Mars opposition at the base represents the frustration and anger that  influenced their punk rock sound, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that anger within this musical genre isn’t without precedent.  The Uranus-Neptune alignment at the configuration’s apex[16] represented the rebellious disillusionment that was the source of the anger driving the overall dynamics.  This archetype was reflected in the selection of the cynical, sarcastic album title, Nevermind, and the underwater (Neptune) imagery on the cover.  This image was a symbolic, if not literal, statement on the loss of innocence (Neptune) in face of materialism (Capricorn).[17]

Tragedy is often a great source of inspiration and Nirvana tapped into this with an artistic expression of the Uranus-Neptune archetype, but the involvement of the North Node provided a teleological attraction whose goal incorporated their archetypal characteristics.[18]  Many astrologers view the North Node as an indicator of “purpose” and no song served a stronger purpose than the Grunge anthem, Smells Like Teen Spirit.  This song was a testament to the perceived impossibility of maintaining an authentic sense of existence and identity amidst the pressure of a multitude of competing influences, culminating in a confusion resigned to defeat (“oh well, whatever, nevermind”) or “denial”.  The North Node’s focus on the future yields benefits through the attraction or approval of others and it was this resonance with Generation X that contributed to album’s widespread appeal, which in turn, served the larger purpose of sparking Grunge music.

The Uranus-Neptune alignment had a unique correlation with Cobain as well.  At the time of Nevermind’s release, this outer planet alignment was transiting through his 4th house.  Astrologer, Howard Sasportas offers a hauntingly accurate delineation of this transit:

At any time during the period when Neptune crosses the IC and journeys through the fourth house, we may experience phases of inner confusion.  We aren’t sure exactly who we are or what we are here for.  The fourth house is associated with our base of operations – on an external level it is our home, but psychologically it represents ‘where we are coming from’.  Neptune here can describe feelings of being lost, we don’t know where we are, and we don’t have a solid enough sense of ourselves on which to base an approach to life.[19]

Transiting Neptune’s nearly exact opposition to Cobain’s strong 10th house Moon[20] represented how these inner struggles would become the characteristics that propelled his career and reputation, but the opposition’s nature also reflected his disgust with this success and desire to hide (Neptune) from it.  Cobain hated being identified as the voice of his generation, but he didn’t really have a choice.  What he represented and created made him the living embodiment of archetypes whose time of manifestation had arrived.

Seattle

The following chart for Seattle represents its reincorporation[21] in 1869[22] and is set at noon since an exact time can’t be confirmed.

Seattle2

The Jupiter-Pluto conjunction appears to be the most relevant chart characteristic.  Typically, Jupiter-Pluto conjunctions are known for their intense faith in life and ability to transform situations into something beneficial.  “The Jupiter-Pluto person will often believe that anything is possible, that whatever is wanted in life is obtainable if only one can set one’s mind to it.”[23]  As a result, this archetypal combination has a reputation for big success, but with both planets retrograde the manifestation of their archetypal functions isn’t as straightforward as anticipated.  Retrograde status represents an internalization of the archetypal natures.  For better or worse, it denotes a scrutinization of the associated archetypes, resulting in a manifestation that could be identified as alternative.[24]

Seattle was the site for the Grunge explosion due to two major astrological events:  the Pluto opposition and Neptune square.  Outer planet aspects carry a high priority, but when they aspect themselves (i.e. Pluto opposition Pluto, Neptune square Neptune) the manifestation of the archetype is magnified.  Individually, either of these events are significant enough to define a period, but occurring consecutively so quickly is historic.

The Pluto opposition was waning at the time of Nevermind’s release, so it would have triggered Seattle’s Jupiter-Pluto conjunction a couple years prior.  It was during this timeframe that Sub Pop formed, Nirvana released their first album and the legendary Lame Fest concert occurred.  This timeframe represents a “gestation” period for Grunge music where the genre was forming its influences underground.

The Uranus-Neptune alignment in square aspect to Seattle’s Neptune was more significant because Neptune squares are notorious for corresponding with mid-life crises.  “During this period you are likely to intensely question your life, your goals and how far you have fulfilled those ideals…the function of this transit is to make you reevaluate who you are, which at the moment you do not know.”[25]

Due to Neptune’s slow movement, the mid-life, “opening” square occurs around 40 years of age, so most people will not experience the “closing” square that occurs 100 years from its initial position.  With Nevermind, Neptune had traveled about 270 degrees away from its original placement at Seattle’s inception.[26]  All squares contain an archetypal correlation with some type of “crisis”, but differ subtly according to when the square occurs within the 360 degree cycle.  For the closing quarter square “…the crisis now involves problems of consciousness…the element of conflict is strong, at least on the ideological level…we find that the breaking down of all idols and images likely then to occur tends to create physiological or social crises.”[27]

While the square aspect represents friction, the Uranus-Neptune alignment was also forming an easy trine to Seattle’s Jupiter-Pluto conjunction, representing of how this crisis transformed into something beneficial.  At a broad level, Seattle was ground zero for a music revolution that reflected the crisis of consciousness and review of societal dysfunctions echoed within the disillusioned characteristics occurring at a larger, generational level.  The unique combination of astrological archetypes was a perfect storm inferring that Grunge arose at exactly the right time and for the right reasons.  As a result, it served a purpose for a generation needing something to reflect and represent their condition.

End Notes

[1] The New York Times recently reported that the divorce rate peaked in the 1970’s.

[2] Also, the sign positions of the subset centralized within the 1960’s appears to contain the most authentic match to Generation X’s manifested characteristics, but the subset centralized within the 1970’s maintains that theme (Uranus in Scorpio) while also focusing on relationship concerns (Libra placements).

[3] Stephen Arroyo, Astrology, Psychology and the Four Elements, CRCS Publications, 1975, p.122.

[4] IBID, p.114.

[5] At its most literal, earth and water combine to make mud, a mixture that is dirty, or more aptly described, “grungy”.

[6] Because most of us suffer some degree of narcissism, Pluto frequently targets the ego as it is the biggest barrier to evolution.

[7] Mark Yarm, Everybody Loves Our Town, Three Rivers Press, 2011, p.97.

[8] Money, as a reflection of achievement, is a logical extension of these concerns.

[9] Some astrologers have hypothesized that Neptune is exalted in the sign of Cancer.  If accurate, then Capricorn would be the sign of its fall.  With any planet, a debilitated status results in a higher probability of exhibiting dysfunctional characteristics.  If nothing else, Capricorn is not a comfortable placement as Neptune’s archetype addresses that which is intangible and ephemeral, while Capricorn is concerned with reality, the here and now.  It could lend to a perspective that there is no reality past what is tangible.

[10] Harmonious aspects tend to assist the relationship of involved archetypes.

[11] The “loud-quiet” song structure dynamic popularized by Nirvana was a reflection of the opposition across Cobain’s Ascendant-Descendant axis.  The Uranus-Pluto conjunction at his Ascendant represented the hard rock he blasted forth most visibly, but was offset by the calm, sensitive, emotional Piscean stellium at the other end.  With oppositions, the individual struggles to find balance and, as a result, flips back and forth between either polarity.  This polarity manifested quite literally in Nirvana’s musical style.

[12] No chart is available for the inception of Nirvana.

[13] Vocabulary.com, “Nirvana – Dictionary Definition”. N.p., 2016. Web. 5 Jan. 2016.

[14] Robert Hand, Horoscope Symbols, Whitford Press, 1981, p.239.

[15] The houses and house placements will have no significance since a time can’t be confirmed.

[16] In any astrological configuration, planets positioned at the apex motivate the entire configuration.

[17] Michael Azerrad, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, Broadway Books, 1993, p.182.

[18] The nodal axis is a calculated point where the path of the Moon crosses the ecliptic.

[19] Howard Sasportas, The Gods of Change: Pain, Crisis and the Transits of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, Arkana, 1989, p.184.

[20] The Moon rules the sign Cancer.  As a result, it is considered a position of strength.  Strong planets have a higher probability of performing beneficially in regards to the affairs of any house in which it is placed.

[21] A reincorporation of a city or business can create a “new” chart for the entity.  While both charts can be relevant, I tend to side with the new chart as I have found this iteration to be the most sensitive.

[22] Lange, Greg, and Cassandra Tate. “Historylink.Org- The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History”. Historylink.org. N.p., 2015. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.

[23] Sue Tompkins, Aspects in Astrology, Destiny Books, 1989, p.236.

[24] With a city chart, these are fairly abstract concepts to digest, but researching these dynamics with Seattle’s history may be a worthwhile project.

[25] Robert Hand, Planets in Transit: Life Cycles for Living, Whitford Press, 1976, pgs. 462-463.

[26] Neptune’s journey at this timeframe represented its 2nd revolution from its starting position, but that has little impact of the archetypal manifestation within the closing or last quarter stage of the cycle.

[27] Dane Rudhyar, The Lunation Cycle: The Key to the Understanding of Personality, Aurora Press, 1967, pgs. 46-47.

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