Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind (Kurt Cobain Reconsidered)

I was twelve years old when Nirvana’s landmark record Nevermind came out in September of 1991 and supposedly changed the American cultural landscape forever. I was the perfect age to be radically influenced by the onset of the whole grunge thing. Before I got a hold of Nevermind, my favorite records were R.E.M’s Out of Time and De La Soul’s De La Soul is Dead, both of which had come out a few months earlier that year. I also really, really loved Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (you know…the red album), and U2’s The Joshua Tree. These were some of the earliest CDs I ever owned, and reflecting on this now, it seems odd that my favorite albums could also be brand new, contemporary.

I mention a few of the CDs I owned because I think I’m a relatively typical audiophile of the age group I’m discussing here (roughly, persons born between 1975-1981, although these dates, as I write them, seem awfully silly and arbitrary). I had already outgrown dumb hair metal and had begun to realize that most of the hip-hop I was listening to was not nearly as offensive as I thought it should be. I wanted something new and different and weird, and by the beginning of the seventh grade I’d already begun to scour Rolling Stone, which still had a modicum of cultural relevance in the early nineties. I was also cherry-picking from cool movie soundtracks, and to this day I know that the soundtrack to the oh-so-forgettable 1990 film Pump Up the Volume (Christian Slater as pirate DJ leads a minor youth rebellion) had as much to do with the forging of my musical taste as any other source: this is where I was exposed to two of the bands that would help forge my musical taste for the next decade, Pixies and The Sonic Youth. So, like many other young audiophiles, by the end of 1991–around the time “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was blowing up–I was already moving away from “mainstream” music as quickly as I knew how. Only Nirvana became the new mainstream, grunge became a fashion status, and, feeling like a cultural movement that I was barely even tangentially a part of had been commodified and commercialized, I had rejected the whole thing by the time I had gotten to high school in 1993. This meant rejecting wholesale a number of albums I had loved throughout middle school.

The same month Nevermind came out, so did the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, spawning the massive hit “Under the Bridge.” Pearl Jam’s debut Ten came out a month before Nevermind, but really didn’t pick up steam until mid ’92–grunge was in full effect by then; it too produced a mega-hit with “Jeremy.” U2’s Achtung Baby dropped in November–at this point they seemed like the elder statesmen of what was now so brashly defined as “alternative” music (“Alternative to what?” we wondered). “One” was a smash hit. The aforementioned R.E.M. album Out of Time became the year’s critical favorite, with “Losing My Religion” as one of the most unexpected number-ones of 1991. By the end of 1992, U2 and R.E.M. were “the most important bands in the world,” according to every music and entertainment magazine, and Nirvana was getting major credit for initiating a cultural revolution. I loved all of these albums dearly, and, as I mentioned above, denied all of them just a few short years later in favor of a new wave of independent label music–bands like Pavement, Superchunk, and the Archers of Loaf–bands that probably would never have achieved such successful careers without the aforementioned mega-hits that prompted the shift in cultural zeitgeist.

I present all of this evidence merely to point out that the success of these bands–contrasted with the other crap that was happening at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s, like White Snake and The New Kids on the Block and Warrant and Nelson and C + C Music Factory–points to something larger than the force of Nevermind alone. (It’s worth pointing out here that Guns N’ Roses released Use Your Illusion I & II a week before Nevermind; these albums had a number of hits including the monster-success of “November Rain,” and, in retrospect, I believe, for all their cock-rockery, are more akin to the albums indicative of paradigm shift I described above than to the hair metal schlock they’re often identified with). Nevermind is often credited with spearheading a musical/cultural “revolution”; this “revolution” in music was already well underway though.

To be sure, Nevermind is a great album, but its cultural cache has more to do with the figure of Kurt Cobain than its relevance and popularity at the time (to see how the myth of Nevermind has grown, simply look at Rolling Stone‘s successive reviews of the album, from 1991, 1992, and 2004, respectively: the magazine gives the album three out of five stars, then four, before finally awarding it five stars thirteen years after the fact). Millions of kids saw Cobain wear Daniel Johnston t-shirts, reference the Melvins, and admit that his songs were really just crude Pixies ripoffs. Cobain, in short, exposed millions of regular kids to an angrier, rougher youth culture, a truly underground music that could react to the failed youth culture of the (now old) boomer generation of the 1960s, which had been forcing an illusory idealization of that decade down our throats forever. Ironically, it was this same boomer generation that greedily milked grunge for all it was worth, commodifying youth culture again into a twisted joke, a stupid lunch box, an action figure, a t-shirt at the mall. No wonder Cobain offed himself.

So why write about this now? It’s been 20 years, and there hasn’t been a record like Nevermind or mega-hits as salient, and dare I suggest meaningful, as “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Losing My Religion,” “Under the Bridge,” “One,” or “Jeremy” for quite sometime. The success in the mid-nineties of bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden–bands that I didn’t hate but made fun of–seems strange now. Even the music of those elegant bachelors, the Stone Temple Pilots–grunge 2.0–seems oddly strong when held up against the watered-down drivel that passes for contemporary hard rock. Youth music today is archly, ironically aware of its own cultural position and its own performativity in a marketplace. I’m sickened by even thinking of the toothless fourth generation emo-or-whatever-you-wanna-call-it derived from Green Day (another band I didn’t hate but but made fun of) that passes for “pop-punk.” In all its silly winking at the audience, its safe-as-milk non-personality, much of this music represents the ultimate commodifiaction and commercialization of “punk”–the aesthetic that Nevermind helped to re-ignite. (In another genre, hip-hop, after 30 years of existence, has claimed its right–with a sharp vengeance–to be as stupid as any other form of music. Don’t get me started). The irony Cobain and others explored was never a smart-assed irony that coyly winked at the audience, inviting them to laugh along with whatever cultural references were being rehashed; Cobain’s irony was mean and angry–it was a critique of American hegemonic mall culture. Current youth music, rock, emo, whatever it is, is simply a celebration of greedy materialism hiding under the thinnest ironic sheen.

And here’s what I think is the saddest part: I don’t think there can be another Nevermind. To be sure, there will always be fantastic, landmark, music-changing records–I have no doubt about that (see: 1997’s OK Computer f’r’instance). But a record that channels a truly punk aesthetic into mainstream American consciousness is simply not going to happen again. For over fifteen years, critics (and executives) have been looking to award “next big thing” status to just about anyone (do you remember when the Chemical Brothers were supposed to be the “next big thing”? You don’t?). The internet has changed the old model. In the past, records like Nevermind propagated a “trickle-down” effect, if you will–kids in the heartland see Cobain give the Raincoats props, buy Raincoats’ records, get into X-Ray Spex, get into Black Flag, get into Pavement, whatever. In contrast, the internet provides a diffusion model of immediately accessible cultural immersion. Anyone with a DSL connection and a few hours to kill on Allmusic can access indie culture. And that’s a good thing. But still: I’ll get nostalgic here: in the old days, we used to write to the labels and get catalogs and order music via snail mail. We used to buy albums on pure faith that they were good. You couldn’t just click on an mp3 (or steal entire albums on p2p networks or over torrents). But I’m not railing against the internet. I think it’s great that a kid in Montana can become thoroughly exposed to Drag City records or the works of Big Black in just a week. But that will never translate into a wide-scale youth culture shift. Instead, we’ll continue to have what we have now: lots of really, really shitty music on radio and TV. And this is our culture.

There won’t be another Beatles or another Sex Pistols–there won’t be another group that challenges our collective cultural sensibility to make a large jump. There won’t even be an Elvis or a Madonna, a performer that challenges our ethics and morality. Instead, we will continue to have watered-down crap on mainstream media, as well as plenty of choices for those who take the time to look. But those choices will be marginalized, kept on the sidelines out of mainstream American-consciousness, and what we’ll lose is an opportunity to progress and enrich the entirety of our culture. Who knows though–I could be wrong; perhaps I’m just old and out of touch. Perhaps a wholly new and dynamic artist or group will come out that will capture the anti-establishment roots of rock and roll and inspirit a new and dramatically different course in contemporary youth culture. But I don’t see it happening again. I hope I’m wrong.

[Editorial note: We ran a slightly different (but pretty much the same) version of this post in April of 2008]

124 thoughts on “Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind (Kurt Cobain Reconsidered)”

  1. Excellent piece. I was thirteen when Nevermind came out and I have to say the album had a huge impact on me. I was a classic misfit, living in an alcoholic home and could not connect with my peers. I loathed my small New Hampshire town and ended up leaving when I was seventeen. Nirvana, particularly Kurt Cobain resonated with me. I remember feeling transformed by their music and moved by it. The early 1990s was a great time in this country for music. Mainstream music today is banal,over synthesized garbage. I cannot imagine what Kurt would think of the music scene right now. I have pretty much always listened to lesser known musicians such as Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, C.W. Stoneking, Social Distortion and so on. Everything you wrote about music then and now pretty much sums up how I feel. Thank you.

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    1. I agree and pretty much have the same sentiments. I was 12 when Cobain died, but had already caught on to the Nirvana sound from seeing the “In Bloom” video on MTV – you know, when they actually played music videos. Despite my love for the “greats” from the late 60’s/early 70’s, the music of Nirvana, particularly Nevermind, is timeless – even if over-commercialized for what it was. Hard to believe that it’s been so many years already. I have an affinity for the ’88-’95 era of music… some good stuff back there.

      Thank you for writing this.

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    2. I love the bands you mentioned, particularly Tom Waits (especially “Bottom of the World”). I haven’t heard of C.W. Stoneking, but will now investigate. also, I agree with you. although I don’t think too much came out of the’90s.

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  2. Interesting. There seems to be a collective sense of Nirvana introspection going on in the blogosphere right now — considering another Freshly Pressed entry featured Nevermind as well. Coincidence? Hmmm…

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    1. Hi, CM’sW,

      When I was younger I was a big fan of 10,000 Maniacs. I drew a cray pas portrait of Natalie Merchant for art class in the 7th grade (I also did one for Kim Deal from Pixies). I kinda sorta wanted Natalie Merchant to be my mom, or at least my babysitter. I thought she carved out a nice niche career after the Maniacs broke up.

      My parents owned Chapman’s first record on vinyl; I still have it.

      I don’t really know anything about Johnny Lang—I remember when he first started making records, he was like a young hotshot or whatever, but I don’t know if I’ve ever really listened to his music.

      Thanks for the comment.

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  3. We can’t be challenged (ethics or morality) due to nothing being taboo. When a culture has no ethics or morality….it’s hard to challenge. We have gone the way of Rome. When you reveal all….then nothing is interesting.
    I remember when Nevermind was released. Still one of the greatest LPs ever. Great article. And I have to agree….mainstream is mostly crap. But there is good music out there….you just have to dig or go local. Congrats on FP.

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    1. That’s an interesting point. When I read that line about challenging morality, I wondered how one would challenge ethics in this country/culture at this time. I suppose it would be refreshing to see a generation of young people making it a part of their cultural identity to hold the door for one another or just be hilariously courteous to everyone around them…I imagine that would be more of a challenge to the de facto way of doing things than this neon color, high-waisted pants bullshit.

      Integrity…it’s kind of punk rock at this point, no?

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    2. Interesting thought about Rome and maybe the boredom of hedonism. I tend to disagree, though. I don’t think we’re in an amoral society. And I think that, now, there are more freedoms, less repression. I wouldn’t want to live in ’50s mentality, McCarthyism, strict gender roles, censorship, blacklisting, nuclear family and white picket fence… and I still think there is plenty out there to challenge, to be challenged by, to reconsider, to rebel against, to try and reform. for starters, health care, poverty, unemployment, corporations and monopolies, bail-outs, sub prime loans, civil rights, LGBT rights, Patriot Act, infotainment and the commercialization of the news, Iraq, Terrorism, whether or not the US is being imperialistic?, the impact of technology, outsourcing…. I think there’s things out there to challenge.

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  4. Congrats on the FP. Nevermind was one of the best musical efforts on the pretty much vacuous ’90s. This comes from a guy who grew up in the glorious days of ’70s and 80s rock. And the music now? Ugh, forget it. That’s why my 16 year old daughter loves Nirvana, U2, Beatles, Coldplay, etc. She can’t find anything new that’s any good…

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  5. “Grunge” was just retro music. There was nothing new about it. You could have just bought some used vinyl records and heard the same thing created decades earlier….The only thing alternative about U2 and R.E.M. was it was adult contemporary music being bought by kids….I haven’t listened to the whole Nevermind album since 1991. But I do listen to other albums from that year, such as Cypress Hills debut and Slayer’s Seasons in the Abyss.

    We could still have another Beatles. I always wonder if someone like Justin Beiber will go on to do it. After all, the Beatles were really just a boy band….The internet did change the creation of music but for some reasons you didn’t touch on. Thanks to the internet, access to music is too easy. Before the internet, artists were compelled to create something they didn’t have. If you desired music you made it yourself. If the weak radio station was playing too much Areosmith you had an urge to make some hardcore. If you got bored of listening to Blizzard of Oz for the hundreth time because that’s one of the few tapes you owned, you learned the guitar to make your own distortion. The lack of technology also increased a musicians status. It was something to have your own multi-track recording studio or a sampler. Access to technology limited your competition. You knew putting labor into music could bring riches(which todays file sharing has ruined). Kids today have it all on their laptop. Everybody is a star. Sometimes too much of something devalues it.

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  6. Great work, enjoyable read. I experienced a difference era of the cannibalistic music industry growing up but thanks to my son, born in ’81, I evolved musically and witnessed the cultural shifts you describe so well. After high school he went on to spend 15 years leading a moderately successful post punk screamo band and trying to avoid the meatgrinder of the major labels…witnessing his experiences radically changed my understanding of the industry.
    I look forward to checking out the rest of your work. Thanks

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  7. I hope you are wrong but fear you are right. Bands I went to see in college shouldn’t be “edgy” and “underground”, though they are touted as such. I am 46 years old. Stuff I listened to in college SHOULD be “oldies”.

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  8. I have to agree with you on many points. I do, however, hold out hope for the future of music. Maybe we just haven’t seen it yet but I truly believe that there can be something wonderful and music changing come out of the human race. As much as I love Pearl Jam and they ARE one of my very favorite bands ever…Nevermind challenged what I knew about music and what could be good and what was good and prepared me for rest that were to follow in the grunge movement. Kurt was a genius. He was one of a kind and he is greatly missed….but I do not think that he will be the last to greatly change music.

    Love and light,

    Lucky Star
    http://www.victimnomore.wordpress.com

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  9. I always thought Nirvana was a bit overrated. Mostly because if Cobain was still alive today, Nirvana would have faded into the background and wouldn’t be held in such high regard. But you are right that there will never be another Beatles. I have to believe though that music will always grow and get a new landscape. Unfortunately, the 90’s made addicts of girls 10-16 and so we will always have Justin Bieber’s and Solena Gomez’s and ridiculous pop anthems. But I hear musical masterpieces like Bon Iver and The Antlers and still think that artful music can be made. With enough emotion and care, great albums and engaging bands can emerge. Yes, the music industry took a hit with the internet because these days it is so easy to put crap out with free websites like YouTube and the like. Anybody can put out horrible sounding drivel. But that same type of convenient access has helped Radiohead put out good albums for a low cost to consumers. So the blade cuts both ways. In the end though, I think music will be fine. Even if we have to sort through a tower of cheesy pop tunes to find that one masterpiece, it’ll be worth it. This is a very thought provoking post, thank you. Congrats on making Freshly Pressed. :-)

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  10. I couldn’t have put it better myself Biblioklept. I must have nodded agreement through the entire post.

    I live in hope that things will change but can’t help feeling that the worlds’ large record labels have inadvertently destroyed that spark of creativity that the industry once held.

    Here’s to the independent record label and the artists they carry – keeping the “art” in “artist”.

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  11. This is a great post, however, I don’t think all’s lost – you just have to cast a wider net. Since the early 90s, people have widened their musical tastes. This past August I was at Lollapalooza (I posted on it on my blog – http://www.foodandwinehedonist.com) and I was very encouraged by what I saw. There were kids who were absolutely fanatical about ALL different types of music – hip hop, electronic, guitar-driven rock, alt-country. Look at what Kanye West did to rap – he took it from gangsta and sex-driven themes to introspection and vulnerability. All with complex production values. Next thing you know, there’s a whole new crop of artists like that. Not saying he’s the next thing, but changes come in different forms. I also would argue that Lady Gaga’s doing a lot to challenge morality/ethics in the mode of Elvis and Madonna. ONE FINAL NOTE – I was really disappointed with David Grohl. They sounded great, but he went on this big rant on how rock needs to be all about guitars and lambasted any new developments in music. Basically, he became an old fogie rockist. Very sad.

    The Hedonist
    http://www.foodandwinehedonist.com

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  12. Excellent post. I am a Nirvana fan and a huge Dave Grohl fan, but always wondered if Nevermind was truly as revolutionary as pop culture dictates it is. I was only 7 when it was released and was much too young to understand what was going on at the time. I enjoyed reading the perspective of someone who can remember what the music scene was like back then. I hold out hope that another revolution in music is going to occur. We are long overdue for one.

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  13. 4 years ago I would have held up the White Stripes and said look here. Someone that is similar and calls out the stooges and the gories and flat duo jets and 63 comeback Honestly, I think the shelf life has shortened dramatically for a movement. blame it on the a d d of internet culture gimme gimme gimme and then ok done with that….

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  14. Thanks for your insight. I plan to write my insight about Nevermind sometime soon. That was weird that ever since Nevermind, you had a whole group of all these performers who wanted to make artists of themselves and remind people it’s all about the music. As true as that is, we shouldn’t forget about this mammoth unconquerable beast called ‘showbiz’ that has been famous for making musical performers, both serious and gimmicky, into being only as good as their last record. That was the problem: despite all this purism, the machine was too big and then teenpop got its revenge years later.

    Nowadays people want to like what they want to. They don’t want to be ashamed to like a gimmick or intimidated when they ignore an artist. Some nowadays would dismiss Cobain and the whole Seattle music scene of the 90’s as ’emos’ who wallow in self-pity. Interesting nowadays.

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  15. i must say that i feel most of the true artists…the ones that draw venues of maybe a couple hundred, the poets, the creatives…i think they prefer to remain where they are. just outside of the lime light. now, becoming a superstar almost comes with more baggage than it’s worth. you hear about bands that get so big, so fast, and they resent the fame. and it seems to me that once that unmanageable fame creeps in, the creativity gets sucked out. some stay true to themselves, but very few. i could be wrong, but my heart still belongs to the underground music.
    http://www.icouldntmakethisshitup.wordpress.com

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  16. i like what The Fugitives are doing (a local Vancouver band), but would not presume to say what their relevance is to the music scene as i am no music expert. I feel it is real and authentic and not recycled commercial filler. They’ll probly never make it big though and don;t even get the attention they deserve in canada. There is a very rich singer/song writer scene in Canada though.

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  17. I agree. It is very hard to have a “big thing’ when everything is accessible. I was discussing that the other day with my husband when we were in a store (not about music in particular, but about everything) Anything you want is out there, somewhere, and all socially acceptable. if you want to dress like a vampire and carry a Britney Spears lunch box not only can someone in nowhere iowa get those items (Amazon, ebay, etc etc) but they can do it with marginal acceptance. I grew up in no where iowa and (born in 79) and we couldn’t get anything. Style was whatever wal-mart carried or – if you were really lucky – what you got at the mall on your once a year trip to Omaha. While this ability to get anything at any time, anywhere is fantastic, by the same token i can’t help but feel that it also takes something away. i waited four weeks for Soul Asylum’s Let Your Dim Light Shine to arrive via good old snail mail, and when it got there I was probably the happiest kid in town for days. now it would be the simple click click on amazon (itunes etc) and I’d have it instantly and, if they didn’t have it (ala most Finnish music for some bizarre reason) there’s always a youtube playlist or slacker radio.

    As to Nirvana themselves I kind of turned away from them because they were too “big”. Everyone liked them – or was supposed to. truthfully at my school everyone liked Garth Broooks and there were only a tiny handful of us who listened to things not country. By the time I was 12 (1992) they were already huge and, though they were catchy, I never purchased one of their albums.

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  18. We were the same age when Nevermind came out (and I can’t believe it’s been 20 years). I had never really been into music like that before (as a 10 yr. old girl, I like NKOTB, Debbie Gibson, etc). but when I heard Nirvana, I don’t know – something about it really hooked me. There will never be another Nirvana nor should there be. And thankfully we can always listen to the music and discover new things about it.

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  19. Very nice article and opinion. I am still hopeful for the future of music though. Sure, things are stagnant now: that just means the air is more ripe for change. Most generations grow up and just want some culture to call their own, something different than ‘mom and dad’s music’. So if music seems bland and meaningless now, that just gives the next wave all the more reason to move away from it.
    http://spannsounds.wordpress.com/

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  20. Nevermind was one of the most impactful and decidedly groundbreaking albums of my generation. As for Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden, I also made fun of those bands back in the day…still kind of do.

    Excellent post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

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  21. Rock n Roll will never be as young and fresh as it was in the 60’s or even the 90’s but that doesnt mean it’s dead. There is still lots of relevant music out there you just have to dig harder to find it. Don’t forget that the radio isn’t the only source for expnading your exposure to good music. Pandora is a god send. The music industry has changed drastically in the last twenty years but that doesnt mean it’s all bad.

    PS The Sex Pistols are one of the most over-rated punk bands in the world, if you want to cite groundbreaking punk start with The Clash. ;)

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    1. If he were around today, I honestly don’t think he’d be making music. Maybe he’d aspire to be a poet or an author, but he choose to off himself instead. People like Kurt don’t last long unless they can find something new to be passionate about. He lost that passion and he couldn’t live with that.

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  22. I agree with this entry and have thought the same thing for a long time.

    What does an artist have to do nowadays to really get attention as a the flagship band of a new “movement”? Has it already happened? How can you be original in a time where everything has seemingly been done before? Maybe we are asking too much of our music. Maybe this question is as tired as the music industry.

    There are still plenty of purists out there that are creating good music. Is it original? Maybe not. Does that matter? Probably not.

    Find the music that speaks to you, and that sounds good, and enjoy. Who buys lunch boxes anyway. Listen to the music that
    create a “movement” within yourself.

    There is tons of crap out there, it just takes a little bit more homework to find quality music. If you want quality, don’t look to the top. Start at the bottom, where the hungry, heart broken, struggling, drug addled, INTERESTING people are.

    Unfortunately it seems like once musicians start getting paid exorbitant amounts of money, their raw emotion flies out the window. And how could it not?

    This just helps the argument that our “entertainers” and “athletes” get paid too much money.

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  23. I was in my early 20’s when Nevermind came out. I liked it, but I was sort of a jazzbo/folkie at the time, so I didn’t pay much attention. It has had staying power, though. I’m a teacher now, and a lot of high school students are into it, along with other cool things like Hendrix, etc.

    You were lucky when you came of age. When I was 12, my favorite bands were Styx and REO Speedwagon. I honestly didn’t know any better, and there wasn’t much better to choose from. Not that I was aware of, anyway.

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  24. Outstanding article. I completely agree that mainstream rock is nothing more than watered down, recycled and reused musical ideas with no substance. Will there be another Nirvana or band that impacts culture in a lasting and meaningful way? I hope so. But you’re right, probably not. The music business has changed so much. We used to only have access to a small amount of music, where today we have at our finger tips, access to everything from major label artists to some kid in his basement making music on the other side of the planet. I don’t think we’ll ever see a band impact culture like we had in the past.

    I do think Nevermind is one of the greatest records of all time, but I do think that Kurt has become a legend and is bigger than the band. Even Dave Grohl admits that it was just a band and a song like “Smells like Teen Spirit” is just a song, and definitely not one of the greatest singles of all time, not even the greatest Nirvana single.

    Thankfully, there are still great bands coming out, and if you look hard enough, you’ll find brilliance (ie. The Kills).

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  25. Hey guys, my name is Julio and I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I have a radio show with a friend of mine, called “JuanaJuanita”, and last week we had a special episode on Nevermind. I agree with you as far as I’m capable of, because I was just 3 years old when the album came out. I suggest that you hear a programme aired by the BBC 6music last thursday, “Here we are now, entertain us: 20 years of Nevermind”. It’s pretty good, Dave Grohl and Chris Novoselic talk about it, as well as Butch Vig and lots of people.
    Well, if you wanna hear the show (it’s in spanish, sorry about that! lol) it’s juanajuanita.wordpress.com
    Cheers!

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  26. I am guessing that the reason that the album was awarded three stars in the beginning was that because the sound was not familiar. People, whether we admit it or not, like repetition and some predictability with a little bit of a different twist. It stimulates some kind of recognition in our brains and also makes us feel “smart” because we figured out aspects of the hook before we actually heard it. Almost all previous generations in the US were told that either they should consume or COULD consume again, so this may have been the first time people heard expression of the hypocrisy of the economic and social order they were living under. Even the 1960s and 70s were really just more intellectualized ways to express greed or vanity. For those who did not want to participate fully in the 1990s, there also emerged the Babyface, Madonna “Take a Bow” ballad sound.

    The next substantial wave will just be people making their own music or going back to very small pub scenes and experiencing music outside of the mainstream vortex that is now being used to shape public opinion, or remove it.

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  27. I was a bit older than you at the release of Nevermind (junior in high school) but I too felt the sudden resonance with an anti-establishment energy. For those of us embroiled in the “grungy” zeitgeist of the time it was never truly about the quality of the music itself (although we definitely appreciated musicality) but about the oppression of that drowning teen spirit (cheesy pun completely intentional).

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  28. Lilith,

    I agree with what you said about digging for good music. There are many talented musicians out there that belong to obscure labels or who play in their garages and local bars. Mainstream music in general is pretty shallow but there are exceptions. As much as I love The Clash I have to say I believe the Sex Pistols are a much more important band that has received less recognition than The Clash. If only Malcolm McClaren had not been such an opportunist and Sid Vicious such a mess they may have gone on to do some really great work. They have been extremely influential for dozens of bands and remain, in my opinion to be one of the best punk bands of the 1970s. :)

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  29. Excellent post. I don’t necessarily think there SHOULD be another Nevermind… That is a very Baby Boomer mindset. One must not destroy what currently exists in order to create something new and better. I think that is what Indie is doing, or more appropriately, has been doing. I think Indie is the true path that good music/rock and roll has taken. It is the real path, and everything else is a derivation of some kind. I’d say that the derivation began in the 70’s or whenever counterculture rock started to become the norm, (Late 60’s maybe?). Modern Rock (Nickelback, Emo stuff, anything on the radio really) is an illusion and is everything that real rock and roll is fighting against. Slightly underground stuff is and always has been the true voice of Rock and Roll. At one time that was the only rock and roll, but not any more. I’d like to argue and say like a few others have that Arcade Fire/Wilco/Radiohead have made game changing albums, but they haven’t like Nevermind did, and I don’t really even like that album much. What modern indie is doing is quite subversive, but it is subtle. It doesn’t need to bring ruin. Sometimes I wish it did… I’d love to see the day when a new Ryan Adams or M.I.A album tops the charts, ousting Justin Bieber and ‘Lil Autotune, but at the same time, I enjoy that many people “don’t get it.”

    Thanks. Again, well done!

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  30. I don’t entirely agree. I think the relationship our generation had with Nirvana is necessarily different from the one generations after us have and have had with other bands although the impact may have been comparable. This is hard to acknowledge or admit or even understand because we can look back at Nirvana now and still see Cobain’s genius as valid, and so we have this credible nostalgia that ultimately disconnects us from seeing how bands now might be contributing equally to teenagers now. Just as you posted this about Nirvana, ten years from now someone might question if there can ever be another Lady Gaga, employing the same rhetoric used by someone who asked the same question in reference to Madonna 7 years ago…and so forth. The world is not static. We know this and each artistic contribution is made by someone who is harnessing their immediate context. Nirvana was born of a specific and finite context and consequentially there could not be a Nirvana now since their musical and cultural contribution was a result of their environment. To associate Cobain with his time does not limit his genius to it.

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    1. @ zblit I think the author of this article is talking about original genius, not a good imitation (ie Madonna vs. Lady Gaga).

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  31. I think Kurt was the first guy I was ever interested I was around 13 or so. I remember my friends being enthralled with NKOTB, but I never got it. This made me consider whether or not I was gay. Then again they didn’t get it when I shly admitted to them that I thought he was hot. They saw him as this gritty, dirty, lunatic with dirty, gritty voice. I found the very same thing to be what interestred me. He was real, he didn’t try to pull one over on you, he didn’t mess with or tease you, or give you a line. He was intense, and although my friends didn’t want to admit it, he had crazy talent.

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  32. Cobain was a poet, like Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan and George Harrison. We needed Nirvana to wash the taste of 80’s music from our mouths, and wake up my generation to music with meaning and soul. Thank you for your piece, bravo.

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  33. I don’t know–I hate to become one of those oldsters who rail against “music these days”. I am the same age as the writer, and I certainly agree that Nirvana changed the cultural landscape in a profound and positive way–that said, I also feel that there’s some amazing musicians out there today (Teagan and Sara and Amanda Palmer are among my current favorites). Sure, most of the good stuff isn’t getting mainstream exposure. But when did most of the good stuff get lots of mainstream love? I think part of what it means to be a real fan of music is to have to search it out. And that, to teens and old, wizened audiophiles is part of the appeal: to rebel by going against what everyone else likes by finding the obscure or at least semi-obscure. And I love that it’s as easy as getting on my computer to find any band I want.

    In any case, this article gave me lots to think about. I appreciate the well-crafted writing.

    And on a side note: Pixies “Dolittle World Tour” anybody? I’ve got my tickets!

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  34. Awesome post! I agree that there probably will never be another album like “Nevermind” that really connects with a generation. With the internet I don’t think it is possible for an album to change music the way “Nevermind” did. Which it too bad because the music of today is horrible.

    Really awesome post and congrats on Freshly Pressed!

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  35. I’m not a mainstream anything when it comes to music. I grew up loving Guns N Roses, Metallica, Beastie Boys, Run DMC, LL Cool J and the likes. There was a Grunge phase, a gangster phase, a rocker phase and a Trance phase. However, through all of it, one of my utmost favorite groups was always Nirvana. You are completely right! There will never be another Nirvana. There will never be another phase like that of the Grunge and what came out of that. That was, in my belief, the last of the uncontrolled society. Back then where A.D.D./A.D.H.D. was rarely diagnosis and people who ranted and raved about the injustices of the world were not made to see a psychiatrist. The rioters and the protesters were still active. The last time there was a protest, the quickly controlled it and brought it down.

    However, just because we will probably never see a time like that again, doesn’t mean, by any means, we should ever forget it. Thank you for the post and the memories!

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  36. I don’t think all the music is shitty, I got really into the Civil Wars by hearing them randomly playing when I woke up at 4 am. Which is insane. I like that I’m able to find new music easier. And hopefully If i can ever find an English speaking person that is in to Neophyte or Tha Playah I can shoot the shit about how awesome these groups are and what else I might like easily.

    Also I think this way I don’t ever have to know who Ke$ha is (I didn’t even know who she was till I saw that song on the simpsons) And I don’t ever have to because I can listen to awesome music produced by awesome musicians that live in the Netherlands whenever I want, however, I want.

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  37. I would agree with Utopiahead – there is plenty of excellent music available these days ,it just requires a little effort to find it. Of course we liked Nirvana, David Geffen knew that we would like Nirvana, so he hired Butch Vig to produce the album and then he put it on regular rotation on all the radio stations of America – if we turned on the tv , there was the video. Ever hear of Jack Endino ? Didn’t think so. Big labels had a way of cramming music down our throats whether we liked it or not; it just so happened that they got it right for once because Nirvana perfectly expressed the angst that we were all feeling at the time. I listen to Nirvana now and it seems boring.. yup , boring and repetitive. Times change, music changes. Goodbye and good riddance to all the record labels (who always ripped off the artists) and hello to those that are doing everything on their laptop and selling it themselves on the internet. Take a look at “Occupy Wall Street” people are pissed -they want change- I bet there is a NIrvana like single that comes out in 3 years ; i just hope it involves more than 3 chords.

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  38. I’m not a music snob in the sense that I listen to what I like, even if it hits the mainstream, but I have to agree that Nirvana’s been placed on a pedastool. Mostly because of Kurt Cobain. The band wasn’t bad, but Kurt’s persona and tragic end immortally ingrained their image to legendary status.

    Music’s definitely hit a shallow rut throughout the past decade. A large portion of music today, especially mainstream music, has seen a severe decline in quality and talent. However, there are still musicians out there who have a gift, a talent, and a sound worth rocking our socks off.

    I think we’ll see another turning point in music, a genre, a trend, an evolution that will have us screaming for more. That’s the evolution of music. The inevitable tide that will sweep nations when it hits.

    Sometimes we just have to be patient.

    Erm… really patient.

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  39. A few months back I blogged about some of the first albums I bought. I wish any of them had been as cool as Nevermind.

    I was was 14 when it came out and to this day it plays like the soundtrack to my freshman year of high school. I’ve been listening to it a lot lately. It still holds up even after all these years.

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  40. Wonderful post and how time flies since Nevermind got released. I wasn’t even 8 years old when it came out but I can recall my former schoolmates in primary school who have older siblings, teenaged aunts/uncles or cousins that listened to Nirvana.

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  41. I agree that there will never be another paradigm-shifting band, because our culture is too compartmentalized to be shifted. There will never be another Michael Jackson, never another act that EVERYONE knows so well whether they like it or not. Instead we have a collection of subcultures, but those subcultures are big enough to allow truly innovative and talented acts to thrive. The “mainstream” is perhaps the largest subculture, definitely the land of the lowest common denominator. “American Idol” is the worst thing to happen to music ever.

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  42. Excellently phrased! Not just because I like your style and it makes for an easy read, but also because I couldn’t agree more with the what you are saying. I’m a ’81 generation myself – born and raised in Germany. Nevermind was the first album I owned and I played it over and over and over again. What you describe was the sound-track to my coming of age. Thanks for taking me back oh and congrats on making f.p.

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  43. Behind all the arguments and points to be made for Nirvana’s cultural impact on the music scene lies one unpopular and unavoidable truth. The only true success of the entire Nirvana experiment was the success itself. In my younger days, like many of the other readers gathered here, I too had to search out music to satisfy my tastes. I traveled miles to hit up used and independent record (and cassette) stores. I made friends leaving for summer break promise they would bring back a mix tape from their cousin’s house across the country, or across the pond. No hang out session at a friends house was complete without ripping through their music collection, looking for anything I knew and everything I didn’t. I wired my roof with yards of antennae and tinfoil just to pick up the 30 minutes of alternative programming from the closest college radio station. I was desperate to hear anything that wasn’t part of the mind numbing landscape of popular music. But the first time I ever heard Nirvana? 95.5 Hot Hits FM. To disregard that as irrelevant is near impossible when considering all the corporate decisions made and chances taken to get that music on the radio. Someone was paying attention to all the dollars we spent on alternative music and it’s attendant scene. Record labels and A&R reps needed hits long before Nirvana changed drummers and Butch Vig jumped on board. Music was stagnant, someone had to DO something, and thus the commercialization of a sub genre that had been around for years. The major contribution Nirvana made to the scene was social acceptance. The not-so-minor contribution they made was a new business model for the industry. To think otherwise is to assume the Next Big Thing to be the same as the Next New Sound. No one can deny the band was talented, but it doesn’t take a professor of punk to know that the sound wasn’t anything new. When I see all the references to Madonna and Lady Gaga, I have to wonder if Nirvana really changed music at all, or if the label just wants a bump in their back catalog sales. There are dozens of Kurt’s, Thurston’s and Perry’s out there. They’ve always been there, even if the names and chords change from generation to generation. Some of us will always know where to find them.

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  44. I think there will never be another Nevermind or another beatles because there are too many for one to be a stand out. There are some amazing bands and more emerging and technology has given that chance. There are more people making music and paying tribute to musicians of old then there ever has been and what they are making is just as good. But because there is such a high quantity, none stand out as being a cut above the rest like the beatles did. There isn’t much that can shock a generation these days because really most of it has been done. There is not really such a thing as an orignal thought, its how you reshape it that makes a truely great artist. Its the same with books, there are only a handful of different stories to be written yet you still have JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyers, George RR Martin and others with books that capture so many, enough to be made into films and tv series. Its not what you are doing because it probably has been done before, its how you do it. I believe that there are plenty out there doing it right. They just are in the wrong time in music history to have the same effect.

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  45. This is pretty interesting. I really discovered Nevermind and Nirvana in high school. I missed the train when Curt was alive but that didn’t stop me from having a large Nirvana phase when I was in high school.
    I think some of the points you made were pretty interesting but I found the piece rather lacking in evidence. You say there can’t be another Nevermind album, but why? Because the internet has made so much accessible? If that’s your argument I would really like to hear more, why do you think that?

    I think truly understanding what the internet is doing to culture, not only in the U.S. but all over the world is an impossible thing to comprehend. Am I skeptical that a album like Nevermind can be made again. Absolutely, I completely agree with you on that, but I do know where to point my finger.
    Any thoughts?
    cheers.

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  46. Great post. Main stream music is crap. There are times I can’t tell you who is who on the radio because they all sound the same. Songs nowadays have no depth. No one did angst better than Cobain.

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  47. Nirvana was cool. I was a freshman in college when these bands were on the cusp of being big, so we all saw them live in small venues before the trend went nuts. AIC, Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, SweetWater, Pearl Jam… all played medium-sized venues in the northwest at the time. Chicago, we saw Smashing Pumpkins. Omaha had Ritual Device and later 311.

    Then the “trend” happened and all of those bands blew up. The idea of “Alternative” came from college radio. The music being played on college radio stations at the time was a counter to the slick-production of hair-metal and soft-rock, mall pop that was happening on mainstream radio. It wasn’t long after grunge that the college radio theme made it’s way to mainstream radio. This lasted from 1993 – 1997 until most of those “edgy” radio stations changed format with the times in concert with the grunge trend.

    Looking back, I don’t see a whole lot unique about any of the grunge bands. They were rock bands with a late 60’s twist. I enjoyed their music and was a grunge fan, but it was no more than a 36 month fad.

    More interesting is the huge electronic and European influence on popular music today in the US. Bands like White Lies and Muse…

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  48. I learned about American music culture much later than most people as I was a 9-year-old Israeli-born Canadian immigrant during the rise of the Seattle grunge scene. I was more into my dad’s oldies records, Beatles, Elvis and the like… But a few years later, Nirvana has become my favorite band and still is to this day. But instead of following the musical trend that commercial record labels and commercial radio and MTV bullshit that strive to brainwash the masses and keep them going to Wal-Mart like the consumerist sheep they are, I went the opposite way. Nirvana, as you mentioned correctly, introduced me to underground culture I would not have found out about otherwise. It was through them that I found out about Riot Grrrl music which made become the feminist I am today. Five years ago, I returned to my native land, and stopped listening to commercial radio altoghether. Back in Canada, I listened to underground radio stations, university stations, feminist/queer radio shows, etc. But they don’t have that in Israel, so the only way I get exposed to the underground today is through the internet. Also, record stores here rarely have any underground material, and second-hand CD stores are hard to find. This is why the internet helps me a lot. I am still a CD/cassette tapes lover, and anytime I stream a song that tickles my fancy, I order the record on eBay.
    But my love for the underground does not mean I’ll stop appreciating the true talent that some famous singers have/had to offer. So Nirvana is still at the top of my list :-)

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  49. This feels a little late in the game with all the attention you’re getting for being freshly pressed. I had a similar take. I didn’t go as nihilist as you did, but I totally relate. Good read. I may have to add you to my Google Reader.

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  50. Lovely post, I unfortunately was only 6 years old in 1991- although I can recall the great music of the 90’s quite well. I agree with “leading light” above. Musicians fail to stand out these days. I believe a great artist is one of two things- 1) a TRUE Entertainer like Elvis, Michael Jackson or Madonna, or 2) a real talent (for lyrics/ singing ability/ creating atmosphere), like Kurt Cobain, Aaliyah and Selena. People like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are manufactured garbage, on a lower scale than a VH1 one hit wonder and will not be remembered as top artists 20 years from now even by their most adoring fans. People who never liked Nirvana still respect their talent.
    As far as a return to good music goes- it’s possible. However, we need to first stop supporting the trash.

    I started a 90’s music channel, with the intention to help save good music and encourage real artists, I would appreciate any support: http://www.youtube.com/user/Tonisso90sfresh?feature=mhee

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  51. As a teenager at the time all to conscious of being bracketed into a movement, I avoided all thing Nirvana which is a great shame as the music was good. Bit I could never forgive grunge for opening the door to everyone my age in relative affluence being on a down.

    Here’s my take on it. http://normanmonkey.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/nevermind-the-horlicks/

    “The point being made by Cobain was the horror of conformity and commoditisation, not to put anyone on a pedestal or adulate them. As is inevitably the case, the fans took the point and missed it by a country mile, by imitating and idolising him in another form of conformity. He responded to this by killing himself. Although having Courtney Love as a wife would test even the strongest willed man”.

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  52. I enjoyed your post very much. Our experiences and tastes are nearly identical. I bought Pearl Jam’s “Ten,” RHCP’s “Blood Sugar Sex Magic” and “Nevermind” immediately after they were released. Music was my religion then — my identity — and I wore it like a badge of honor. I feel fortunate to have been a young, music-loving teen at a time when pop music was switching gears so dramatically. However, I agree with Lilith’s earlier post in that exciting, seminal and passionate music can still be found aplenty and that we are fortunate to have technology that allows anyone to share their art with the world, free of charge. We don’t have to rely on record labels, retail chain stores or even live music venues to find something that inspires us. I wish I had more time to seek it out. In that respect, teens today can’t even begin to realize how good they have it.

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  53. Thanks so much to all the thoughtful comments. I’m overwhelmed. I generally try to respond to respond to every comment on Biblioklept, but I don’t know if I can do that this time!

    To address some of the comments, though: I am in no way arguing that “new music sucks” or that there isn’t any good new music; nor was I trying to argue that Nevermind was the pinnacle of music.

    I was trying to say something like: “Nevermind, because of the intersection of technology and media during the time it was released, might be the last record with a punk/DIY spirit, to genuinely influence mainstream American culture. I could be wrong though.”

    For the record, I think there are plenty of great bands out there now.

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  54. I couldn’t agree more with this. Unfortunately, by the time I was old enough to grasp music, The Spice Girls, The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Nysnyc, etc. were the groups to listen to. And although the tunes they produced were catchy, they were nonetheless falling into the category of generic and simple. It is a hard truth to realize there will never be another band like The Beatles of Pistols again, but maybe that is what makes those artists so incredibly embedded in our inspiration, or perhaps it mystifies them even more. With that said, the only thing we can hope for is an artist to turn this generation around. We all surely need a musical movement to wake us up…

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  55. If there will never again be another Nevermind, it’s only because the Internet has killed the album format and changed what music means to us culturally. The mainstream is always full of garbage music, but every once in a while, something good like Nirvana (or R.E.M., or Arcade Fire, or De La Soul) breaks through. But come on, man, there is a ton of fantastic music being made right now. It’s just a lot harder now to go to a store and buy it or see the videos on TV. The commodification of music into individual digital files has diluted its impact, maybe, but not its quality.

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  56. Bravo.. Yet I agree with the posters who stated that there will be a “Nevermind” type change to music. There has to be. Are we destine to listen to the “Sad Bastard” tones of Staind? Let’s hope not. The state of music, or to clarify, alt. rock, alternative are rather dismal these days. We can’t be excited because the previous record sounds exactly like the new record from most, if not al,l current bands. We should praise Kurt Cobain in retrospect just for the fact that his band killed the likes of Great White, Warrant and Loverboy. But again, I was listening to R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs well before the new grunge scene appeared.
    But none the less, Excellent writing…

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  57. I think you’re spot on. I love Nirvana. I’ve read all there is to be read on Kurt. I follow everyone else’s careers. On that note, not even Kris and Dave could recreate the masterpiece that is “Nevermind”. I’ve been struggling to find music even remotely like it, and, as you said, often settle with STP or Pearl Jam (no offense to them). I’m young, I was only three when it was released, but I was lucky enough to have parents with a phenomenal taste in music and cared enough to expose me at a young age. I truly enjoyed this article. Kudos.

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    1. Kid. Singular. And if she had not killed him or had him killed he would have still been alive to take care of Francis and continue to bless us with his musical genius. It is a shame that mental illness gets treated so poorly. Kurt had serious mental issues that he was trying to deal with but it was all too much for him to deal with it alone. Everyone around him had a hand in pushing him outside of himself and he was doing the best he could to deal with it.

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  58. I loved this piece.

    We all feel a weird sense of nostalgia about the changing music industry, but as a young person who came late to the Nirvana game and way after Nevermind (I was born in 1989) I don’t see the inability of punk and underground artists to pass into the mainstream as a bad thing anymore. I see it as a glorious re-shaping of a tired and loveless industry. Just look at the slow-burn cult success of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea – if that fantastic record had been a mainstream success (unlikely!) it would never have retained it’s integrity all these years and I don’t think it would have had the increased sales revenue year after year like it has had anyway. And look at Amanda Palmer and her amazing non-mainstream, but still seriously impressive success.

    I always, even now, get annoyed by the industry and it’s tacky glorification of crap artists and it’s blatant dismissal of fantastic musicians and I can’t count the number of times I’ve uttered the words, ‘They don’t get anywhere near the publicity they deserve.’ But I’m starting to see that looking at it that way is looking at it from the wrong perspective. As much as I’ll miss the days when fantastic artists unaffected by ‘what sells’ hit the big time, I’m more excited to see how the internet is totally re-creating the music scene. A scene where artists can sell their own music directly, without a middle man, fund their own shows and make their own videos (thanks, YouTube) and I don’t think it’ll be long before we wonder why we ever liked big name artists when we live in a world with a music scene so huge and diverse that it reflects as many people as listen to it.

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  59. It is because of the crap on the radio now (about which you are totally correct) that I have returned to my own roots and am exploring older music to find new inspiration. I don’t get into Gaga but I do like Pink. Gaga is too commercialized for my liking while Pink does whatever the hell she wants.

    Then you have bands still around like the Goo Goo Dolls. I give John Rzeznik credit–he knows how to write lyrics in such a way that he twists the mind and makes one think if they listen hard enough. I think if you want a refresher course on the GGD’s punk days, just pull out a copy of their first release and listen to “Don’t Beat My Ass with a Baseball Bat!” I laugh whenever I hear it. Thank God they grew up.

    There aren’t many bands around from that decade that are still working because they are all becoming whiners now…I can’t deal with Stain’d. In fact, I can’t deal with a lot of today’s acts…They are too commercial AND they whine too much. Stain’d is a good example.

    I think it was sad that nobody mentioned Alanis Morrissette. That woman still delivers a punch when she writes a lyric. She and Kurt Cobain (in a strange sense) are two sides of a coin–only she embodied female angst in the 1990’s.

    However, I wish Cobain hadn’t offed himself. He had much more left to give, I think. Too many damned people are joining that forever 27 shit right now. I miss Sublime too.

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  60. One of the best articles I’ve ever read.
    When I think of Nirvana I remember all those days 4 years back when I was just discovering music for what it was. I never really got a chance to see Led Zeppelin release an album and Kurt Cobain died before I was 4 years old.
    Music, good music, came to me by mistake. I heard “Smells like teen spirit” in some shitty American Pie type movie and Nirvana led me to discover what music really is. Now I owe Kurt Cobain more than just my teen angst.

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  61. Punk was cool BECAUSE aunt Betty and little sally couldn’t access it culturally. Once something goes mainstream its meaning changes. Poor Kurt wanted to be as popular as the Melvins and respected by the thin strand of artists he admired.

    Plus Dave Grohl sucks.

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  62. Thank you, Kurt Cobain for what you once did. Genius. Nirvana is not art! Nirvana is sociology and anti -politics. K.C. is one of the greatest minds world have ever known.

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  63. Fact of the matter is, the albums you mentioned were still relevant in the form of fixed media; I bought “Nevermind” on cd, and I bought “Out of Time” on cassette. From record stores.
    FM radio was still relevant then as well. The internet was in its infancy.
    Technology has leveled the playing field to the point that we each have our personal & individual Rock Stars.
    It is now an endless musical revolution!

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  64. We’re close in age and this post is excellent; I wish I knew how to say things like this. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and feel so lucky to have witnessed it the way I did.

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  65. Sadly, this music glorifies the corrupt state of man.

    I strongly recommend you look at this publication for it will open your eyes:

    http://rejoicebeloved.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/god-or-gaga/

    Do not be deceived or get caught up in this sad state of human existence. It is true, music has an impact and it resonates, it transforms and moves people.

    I am sure that if I were to ask anyone out there if they wanted someone to tell them the truth or a lie, they would pick truth over lies anytime, right? You will be changed, transformed and moved when you open your eyes to the truth:

    http://rejoicebeloved.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/the-enemy/

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  66. The Brit Pop explosion of the mid 90’s is often overlooked by UK music mags in favour of recalling a hedonistic view of how Nirvana single-handedly changed music forever. While I have no doubt that Brit Pop had little cultural relevance across the pond it was huge in the UK and I would argue that it was a much bigger monster than Grunge. Oasis were of course the nasty Northern poster boys while Blur were the Southern Nancy’s for the college boys. Brit pop and the dance/rave music definitely defines 1990’s Britain and moved the UK subculture along into the mainstream in the same way that Grunge did stateside. Still in those days I was more of an general Alternative kid, into anything that wasn’t mainstream pop. The Nevermind album was played to death in my bedroom and definitely had a profound influence on my music making. Although I welcome the ease at which you can find new music on the WWW, I also mourn the loss of those hours spent flicking through albums in the local independent music store before ordering some bizarre cd none of my mates had heard of and waiting 5 weeks for it to be imported from the States. Halcyon days.

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  67. Great post. I’ll have to look up some of those bands you’ve referenced (most I’m well-acquainted with, but not The Raincoats, for one). Sadly, I agree with you. First, to be a successful band, back in the day you went on the road, you recorded your own music , maybe even printed your own vinyl. You wrote ‘zines and made your own T-shirts. There was a lot of legwork and, well, actual work. Today, all someone has to do is post on YouTube for their 15 seconds of fame… But that’s beside the point. I think part of the reason there’s no decent viable counterculture today is because of the rampant commercialization and selling-out, part, maybe, because of the lack of old-school DIY, and part, as you very well put it, this homogenizing of society. I think that maybe people are simultaneously too connected and too distant, maybe too isolated to form some kind of distinct counterculture? There is also the question of what to do next. There’s been dissonance, modal, punk, grunge, metal, disco, funk, dub, hip hop, rap, techno, minimalism, atonal, 12-tone, outsider music, folk, blues, prog, cross-genre, retro, ethnic/world music and fusion, multimedia, and outright noise. what can follow after every rule has been broken, every style has been re-examined or copied? I don’t know.

    I also think that the current generation must lack creativity and spirit. would rather lamely rehash something than invent. Maybe people get bored too easily. Maybe, ultimately, the youth these days don’t care. To write angry rebellious songs, from Bob Dylan to X, you have to care. You have to be pissed off about inequality, racism, sexism, gender roles, corrupt politicians, pollution (Against All Authority even railed against strontium), poverty…. you don’t have to take a grandiose political cause, but could rail against your own personal suffering and angst. I wouldn’t say that the youth of today are all sheltered and well fed and well-accepted. There’s plenty today (as always) to be mad about. So my conclusion is that the kids of America don’t care. Of course, there probably is a lot of decent underground rock out there, gone unheard (even with the internet) unless you live in Chicago or Portland or etc.

    I wouldn’t say that I’ve abandoned hope completely for new compelling bands. I have two recommendations: Muse and Gossip. ingenuity, creativity, not mainstream. two very different, very good, bands. However, in practice, I turn away from “modern” rock. To me it seems like everything has generally sucked since Nirvana. So I find my gems by looking into the past, discovering (first time for me) obscure or not-so-obscure bands, mostly from the ’60s and ’70s. I’m not a baby boomer, but I appear to have this faulty sense of nostalgia for a time I never did actually live in. at least the music was better then.

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  68. I really appreciate you posting this…it really brought me back.

    I come from a culture that didn’t relate to what much of pop and rock were offering us throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me, and certainly who were seemed to feel like me. My hair doesn’t respond to hair spray, and tight leather pants were never going to be my look. Motley Crüe and others that you mentioned were more spectacles that I could watch, but not really connect to.

    What stood out to me about Nirvana when I first saw “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was that they had soul. For real…soul. Dave Grohl was pumping out eclectic rhythms that pulled from multiple genres, including Hip-Hop(“Scentless Apprentice” or think of what “Smells Like Teen Spirit” would sound like if slowed down a bit.). It was their heart that was on those tracks, and that is what I feel that we are so desperately trying to find again.

    I do feel that we have many revolutions to come, but the form in which they are transmitted and received will certainly be different. I do, though, think that we will have to give musicians a little time to get over the vast sea of technological tools that they have been inundated(and arguably enamored) with to get back to the real work of writing about what’s truly important to them…hopefully it can transmit to us all without them being coached into what can be a “hit”…

    I’ve heard some…but precious few bands touch me in similar ways, but nothing will replace the impact that Kurt, Dave and Krist had on this young brown boy…

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  69. Even though this a few days late, I’d like to say this is an interesting post on the 20th anniversary of Nevermind and the other “major” albums of 1991 and enjoyed your take on growing up with the release of what is considered a seminal album of modern rock. I do agree with the idea of Nirvana kicking down the door for bands (because the records labels did not see much profit in what was considered “college rock” even at the release of Nevermind) as well as being one of the more vocal bands in regards to their musical tastes and influences. And while I can certainly see why someone who grew up with the release of albums like Nevermind, Use Your Illusion I & II, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, etc might see the downward spiral of modern music (particularly rock), I do not eally see this as the case: great bands and great albums DO exist and can be found–if you look (one commenter mentioned Arcade Fire’s “Suburbs” and another cited the Gossip and I will go ahead and plug Portugal the Man). But it doesn’t have to be recorded in 2011 to be new and relevant, does it? If someone hears a great record they’d never heard before it will become relevant to them solely because it IS a great sounding record and they will believe in it, political and socio-cultural messages aside.

    And who’s to say that any DIY, work-for-it-to-become-big processes, can’t ever happen again? The internet gives us infinite possibilites and maybe that “Eureka!” moment just hasn’t happened yet. Even then, who’s to say a ‘zine couldn’t work today? I’m sure there are people in the world who appreciate the tangible things. After all, people still buy vinyl and cds just to have liner notes and hold the disc in their hands. How can one define “creative” or “edgy” or “punk” anyway? Is it anything anathematic to the “moral majority” and the mass media or is it anything that can cite the Velvet Underground as an influence? Or is it as simple as doing what you like and not caring what others say? Nirvana, if anything, shows us this. Sure we all know about the influences from the Pixies, Flipper, and Bad Brains, but Cobain was also a fan of the Beatles and R.E.M. And maybe that’s the real legacy of Nirvana and Nevermind in particular: that anyone can take what they love and transform it into something else, that maybe seems new, but really isn’t that different at all.

    And what makes Nevermind stand apart from the likes of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Ten, Metallica, and Use Your Illusion I & II (all albums I like by the way) is the combination of raw intensity and absolute care (or maybe love?) the album carries from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” all the way through “Endless, Nameless.” It is definitely true that Cobain’s death adds to the legacy of Nirvana (and by default Nevermind) and not always in a positive way, however, I think this will eventually fade–not completely, but enough to not overshadow the craftsmanship of Nevermind. As the commenter above noted, Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl gave themselves to the world with Nevermind, and it’s that intensity rather than any particular generational nostalgia that keeps Nevermind and Nirvana alive and well.

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