Alternative, the Little Anti-Genre That Could, has finally found a place, thanks to the Internet.

Editor’s note:?Pop Culture will soon return with new material. This column originally was published on Sept. 5, 2009.

Alternative, the Little Anti-Genre That Could, has finally found a place, thanks to the Internet.

The cross-pollination of pop music is firmly entrenched. If Gregor Mendel had been born 150 years later, he would have formed a record company.

On Amazon.com, Alternative factors into several categories: country, country-rock, dance, hip-hop, Latin, metal and pop-rock. There’s even an “adult alternative,” which used to mean “refusal to grow up.”

Barnes and Noble boasts about 1,000 music categories (you can’t make this stuff up). A few styles overlap into more than one list:  “alternative country” appears in both “Alternative” and “Country.” It’s like the yellow-green/green-yellow distinction in a 64-crayon Crayola set: It seems like the same color, but which one you choose depends on whether you prefer yellow to green or vice-versa.

The use of “alternative” mixed with another genre has validated it as a niche after a largely niche-less existence. Alternative came into common use sometime in the mid-‘80s, mainly so record store owners could figure out where to file the R.E.M. albums. Almost overnight, the term became less about the music and more about what the music “represented.” It became more important what it was “Not” than what it “Was” (strangely, Was/Not Was was not considered alternative, although it probably would be today).

Eventually, alternative was a cheap way to refer to music that was good but not yet as popular as stuff listened to by people you didn’t want to hang out with. It came to mean “not metal” or “not Starship.” After grunge hit it big, Alternative became “modern rock,” and by 1994 segued into “Backlash Rock,” (not an official Amazon genre). By 1996, alternative purists began to label it “indie,” which is sort of like legally changing your last name because you’re embarrassed that your son used to be a backup quarterback in the CFL but quit that job to become an assistant manager at Staples.

The Indie designation had already been around for years by that point. It was short for “independent,” which in turn was an abbreviated way of saying “artist signed to an independent label.”

Strangely, when you look at the Internet, Indie has no subgenres. It is the mule of music classification.

Ultimately, I envision a new hybrid: Alternative Indie, which combines an undefinable genre with a misleading one. What would it sound like? A donkey singing about genetics using a crayon as a microphone.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Contact Dennis Volkert at volkert@sturgisjournal.com.