Happy Anniversary, Nirvana's Nevermind
This past Friday, a significant musical anniversary came and went with barely a peep. It was only 19 years to the day the last album to cause a legitimate sea change in popular music - both the industry and the art - was released. Rocks Off knows that was a few days ago, but hey, we had a busy weekend. A very busy weekend.
True, 19 is an odd anniversary to celebrate. Rocks Off just figured we'd get a head start on all the generational hand-wringing that's going to happen on the 20th almost exactly a year from now. And there's going to be a lot.
On September 24, 1991, DGC records released Nirvana's Nevermind, which didn't exactly set the world on fire at first. The album debuted at No. 144 on the Billboard 200, although it did top the magazine's Heatseekers chart its first week. We all know what happened a few months after that: Nevermind booted Michael Jackson's Dangerous from the No. 1 spot in January 1992, "alternative" culture hit the mainstream, a song named after a deodorant became an anthem for millions of disaffected, disinterested youth, Things Were Never The Same Again, yada yada yada.
Rocks Off polled some of our regulars for their thoughts on Nevermind almost 20 years after Nirvana made it safe to go to work or school with holes in your jeans and without washing your hair. Those were the days...
Chris Gray: The first time I remember becoming aware of Nirvana was seeing them on Saturday Night Live in January 1992. I remember liking "Smells Like Teen Spirit," more for the melody than the feedback, but it was when they wrecked the stage after playing "Territorial Pissing" that really impressed me.
I was a junior in high school, and that spring my family hosted an exchange student from Germany. I think he brought the CD with him and I dubbed it onto cassette, or else I eventually bought it at one of the two (two!) record stores in Baybrook Mall. KLOL also started playing "Teen Spirit" and "Come As You Are," so by that summer I was well on my way to becoming a fan. But it took a while.
Although I was already a fan of poppier alternative acts like Depeche Mode and New Order, Nirvana was my first real exposure to anything touched by punk rock, and I liked it a lot. Ever the classic-rock loyalist, though, Pearl Jam was my favorite out of Seattle's Class of '92 at first. But Nevermind got more and more play in my car's cassette player, the Black Crowes and John Mellencamp less and less, and by the time In Utero came out in fall 1993, I was a UT freshman and squarely in the Nirvana camp.
To this day I still kick myself for staying in Austin to study for a piano test instead of driving to Houston to see the band at the AstroArena in December 1993 with the Breeders and Shonen Knife. Especially since I dropped that class not long after, and Kurt wasn't around much longer after that.
In Utero is still my favorite Nirvana album, and honestly, until I saw the anniversary of Nevermind's release was coming up I hadn't given the band a whole lot of thought for a long, long time. Because they are both bluesier, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden have long since replaced both Nirvana and Pearl Jam as my favorite grunge groups.
Although if we're talking about blues - and unless I'm raging drunk, in which case it will always be Soundgarden's "Outshined" - I still think the single best song any Seattle band recorded during those years is Nirvana's cover of Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" (or "In the Pines") on MTV Unplugged In New York. Chills, I tell you.
Afghan Whigs aside (blues again), I think I was already disgusted with what U.S. alternative rock had become by about 1995, by which time I had moved on to Britpop via Oasis' Definitely Maybe and then discovered alternative country thanks to a little band called Wilco. Too young for Tupelo, this one.
But I put on Nevermind for the first time in what must be years earlier this afternoon, and damned if "Breed" didn't blow me away all over again. I was one of those typical suburban kids who never quite listened to music the same way again thanks to this album. There were a lot of us.
John Seaborn Gray: I was 13 when someone gave me a Nirvana tape. It was fall of 1992, the year most everybody was into them, and although I'd liked what I heard on the radio, I hadn't yet become a big fan. A girl in my art class had just bought their CD and no longer needed the tape, so she gave it to me.
I took it home, listened to it, and loved it. My infatuation with alternative rock had already started to bloom, and I could tell immediately that they were right up my alley. For a kid just discovering punk, grunge and indie rock, they were a godsend, being equal parts of each. Those drums. I will never forget the way the drums sounded on Nevermind.
To this day I don't know how Butch Vig and Dave Grohl managed to make those drums sound so monstrous and huge, but, having already decided to be a drummer, I now knew the sound I wanted to emulate. Not the note-perfect studio sound of most of the metal drummers of the day, and not the plastic drum-machine snap of pop music. I wanted my drums loud, deep, messy and real like Grohl's.
The next year, I fell even harder for In Utero, but Nevermind is where I discovered that, yes, sometimes it's okay to like what everyone else likes, because every once in a while there's a damn good reason they do so.
Craig Hlavaty: I'm sick of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and after 19 years it sounds like any other classic-rock song to me. But history has shown it to be monolithic in the sense that it was the Neil Armstrong of Nevermind, the first song to touch the face of God.
My favorite song on the album, though, is "Drain You" and has been since I heard the live version on band's concert album From The Muddy Banks of The Wishkah. But when I am feeling moody and sullen, I lunge for "Something In the Way" every time.
The second-best part about Nevermind for me, aside from the songs, is that it made In Utero possible.