These days, ’90s nostalgia is all the rage. It makes sense, really: In this fast-paced, invasive world utterly devoid of mystery, who can blame folks for seeking some small refuge in an era when the Internet was slow, cellular phones (as they were called at the time) weren’t a necessity, gas was cheap, and Jonathan Silverman could star in a primetime network sitcom? It’s only natural to find people geeking out over the forthcoming Jurassic Park sequel, popping in cassettes, buying Surge, and donning garish, high-waisted acid-washed jeans without a shred of irony.
This Saturday, the spirit of the ’90s will be thriving in town, as the Milwaukee Bucks celebrate “’90s Night” with reduced-price tickets, throwback uniforms, and a halftime performance by Naughty By Nature. As the notable rap act performs on the court, nearby 42 Lounge will ring in its “90’s Nostalgia Party” with period-specific costumes, music, and more. Though the 1990s will be especially present in Milwaukee this weekend, the city quietly honors the decade in a series of ways every day. Before you hunt for your old Starter jacket, Budweiser frogs T-shirt, and Marlboro Miles-purchased windpants for this weekend’s festivities, check out nine ways the ’90s still live on in Milwaukee today.
1. Dustin Diamond is still in the news
Former Saved By The Bell lifer Dustin Diamond has made plenty of puzzling career choices over the years—a tell-all book, a show-all sex tape, singlehandedly inventing artificial intelligence with Kevin the Robot—but perhaps the strangest is relocating to Port Washington, Wisconsin. Diamond’s loss of fancier digs is our “gain,” however, since his name constantly comes up in local media these days. Sure, allegedly stabbing some dude at a bar (and allegedly threatening to stab another dude at a bar after said dude refused Diamond’s demand to get “iced”) has a lot to do with that coverage, but the fact remains that Diamond hasn’t enjoyed this kind of attention—albeit unwanted attention—since Screech tore Zack’s shirt after Zack made out with Lisa Turtle.
2. BoDeans are winning awards
BoDeans haven’t had a true commercial “hit” since “Closer To Free,” off 1993’s Go Slow Down, which actually didn’t even crack Billboard’s top 125. Don’t tell that to Shepherd Express readers, though. Despite the fact there hasn’t been a new BoDeans studio album since 2012, and the barren husk of the granddad band has never matched the semi-success of the Party Of Five theme song, the publication named them “Best Milwaukee Rock Band” less than half a year ago. Apparently, a new BoDeans record is due out next month, making them a shoe-in for ShepEx’s 2036 “Best Milwaukee Rock Band” plaque. Congrats, guys.
3. The Milwaukee Brewers aren’t contenders
Unless you’re exceptionally high on Adam Lind or you think that Ryan Braun’s offseason thumb surgery is worth, like, 18 WAR or something, it’s hard to be overly optimistic about the Milwaukee Brewers. Dealing Yovani Gallardo for too little, and relying on Mike Fiers (who pitched well, albeit in 71 innings, last season), along with the team’s weak minor league system’s default top pitching prospect “two-pitch” Jimmy Nelson to serve as the numbers four and five starters, respectively, isn’t exactly promising. Meanwhile, the Cardinals, Pirates, and even the Cubs improved this offseason. We love the Brew Crew through and through, but 2015 seems to have all the distinctly ’90s era ingredients of essentially meaningless Milwaukee baseball. So enjoy some two-fisted slobbers in the half-empty bleacher seats and enjoy the hunt for, if a miracle ensues, the second Wild Card slot. Maybe.
4. The Avalon is back
Originally built in the late 1920s, the iconic Avalon Theater was southeast Milwaukee’s go-to cinema until its closed in 2000. Technically, 1999 was The Avalon’s last full year of existence, at least until the legendary Kinnickinnic site underwent a multi-million dollar renovation and resumed screening (under new ownership, of course) last December. Nowadays, Avalon is a two-screen spectacle in revitalized Bay View and surely a source of déjà vu for lifelong residents.
5. It’s all right! It’s okay! Mark Borchardt is still at it!
Chris Smith and Sarah Price’s award-winning documentary American Movie was released way back in 1999, but the film’s main subject, Mark Borchardt, is still kicking around town. Lately, Borchardt has been directing music videos for bands like the Tapebenders, pitching in on Frankie Latina’s upcoming schlock opus, and even seeing his familiar visage plastered on a T-shirt. It’s not superstardom, but it’s a long way from prank calling Morocco at two in the morning, man.
6. Journal Sentinel might be bringing back the Green Sheet
The beloved Green Sheet was a staple of the old Milwaukee Journal, providing comics, puzzles, and lighthearted features to readers for over 80 years. But in 1994, a year before the Journal merged with the Milwaukee Sentinel, the popular insert was put out to pasture, leaving some readers feeling “blue.” But now, according to a recent column from JS editor George Stanley (and a blog post from former JS film critic Duane Dudek), the insert may be in line for an X-Files/Twin Peaks-esque reboot. Hopefully, one day soon, readers will be able to read Cathy the way God intended: on green newspaper.
7. Local music is more ’90s than it was in the actual ’90s
The days of bands looking to the sounds of the ’70s and ’80s for inspiration are long gone. The ’90s rule the music nostalgia roost these days—which only makes sense, since most young musicians were likely born in that decade. Locally, two of the most ’90s-rific groups (and two of the city’s best groups) are Dogs In Ecstasy and SIN BAD. One listen to the Dogs’ Rentals-channeling alt-rock or SIN BAD’s grungy pop-rock will have you traveling back to Saturday mornings spent eating Addams Family cereal while watching Darkwing Duck in your Captain Planet PJs.
8. Latrell Sprewell is locally relevant
Way back in 1992, a Milwaukee-born basketball standout by the name of Latrell Sprewell was selected 24th overall in the NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. Though playing in Oakland, the city had a vested interest in what the eventual four-time All-Star was doing in his lengthy—and, yes, at times tumultuous—pro career. These days, Milwaukee’s focus has turned to what Spree has done. After his career ended, the NBA vet returned to his hometown. Here, he was hit with lawsuits, allegedly burned through his career earnings, had his yacht called “Milwaukee’s Best” (which he ran ashore and refused to remove) repossessed when he failed to make payments, dodged mortgage payments, and was arrested on New Year’s Eve in 2012 for playing music too loud at his east side home.
[Update (6/25/19): Recently, a reader who is close to Sprewell sent along an encouraging update on the former NBA star. We’re happy to hear that he’s far less of a fixture in Milwaukee these days, as he’s taking strides to improve his life and he’s presently working with the New York Knicks.]
9. The Leonard Bearstein Orchestra is still a thing
Thought vaguely creepy animatronic animals stiffly moving in time to prerecorded music died with the ubiquity of Chuck E. Cheese’s? Think again, because the Grand Avenue Mall (another holdover from decades gone by, come to think of it) has been hosting the Leonard Bearstein Orchestra every holiday season since 1997. Will Bearstein and his band avoid the chopping block when the mall undergoes a revamp under its new owner? If they don’t, the ’90s are officially dead to us.