When I was in fourth grade I wasn’t very aware of the world around me. I didn’t know much about cliques but they existed. I didn’t really know anything about the world around me. I watched television a lot and listened to the music my parents listened to. But I remember being at the store with my mom and seeing a Rolling Stone magazine with Kurt Cobain in it and thinking “hey this guy looks cool.” I didn’t know who he was, what he did or his place in the world. Some time later I recognized the same man playing in a band during a commercial on television. Through some unplanned investigation I came to the conclusion that this man was the lead singer of the band Nirvana, and I needed to hear them. That day finally came on a ride home from school with my father, when a local rock station played “Come As You Are.” I remember thinking “ok sweet, I heard a Nirvana song” and it was a huge moment.
I eventually became aware of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and like any impressionable young chap it rocked my world. I obsessed over the song and finally coaxed my mother into buying me “Nevermind” on cassette tape. The rest was history. This month marks the 20th anniversary of this monumental album, and a way to celebrate its history is to talk about the band that created it. Here’s my contribution to preserving musical history, here’s a compilation of thoughts on Nirvana:
“I used to hate Nirvana. Probably because it reminded me of all the music that killed punk. As I grow older I don’t really care anymore and realize that they have a few great songs, I’m not too into their noisy shit but the ‘hits’ are pretty cool for the most part. ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’ is fun, ‘Come As You Are’ has just the right amount of apathy. ‘Heart Shaped Box is awesome.’ Kurt Cobain was alright I guess but the guy didn’t really say anything new and shot himself. Probably the best thing that could have happened for the band’s career.” – Will Allard of Xerxes.
“I started listening to Nirvana when I was about ten or eleven, around the same time I started playing guitar. Alot of people will tell you ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is the one of the first songs they learned how to play, and this was the case for me as well. It’s a fairly simple song, but when you’re on the third or fourth week of playing, it can help you feel like a real badass to jam it out. I watched an interveiw with Nirvana once, and they said from the early days their sound was always taking their favorite parts of bands like Black Sabbath and mixing it with what they liked of The Beatles, ie, taking really heavy songs and still making them catchy and rememberable. I loved them for that and still do, and I have remembered that when writing with my own band. The fact that you can be unique but still make music people like and will remember is a wonderful lesson, and i’m thankful everyday my sister had the cassette copy of ‘Nevermind’ in her room.” – Matt “Black Iowa” Mabrey of Canyons and Drought Years.
“I first heard Nirvana in the mid 90s. I was hanging out in my friend Forrest’s basement and we were listening to his dad’s CDs. ‘Nevermind’ was one of them. I remember being totally blown away by how gross and loud everything sounded. The first time I heard ‘In Utero’ I thought my stereo was broken, but it turns out it just sounded that awesome. I also played drums for a band that ripped them off, that was fun.” – Ben Sears of Black God, Prideswallower and Mountain Asleep.
“Kids still want to cover ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ every year. Pretty amazing considering it was twenty years ago.” – Erin Leigh Burke-Moran of Caspian.
“I recall a girl I had a crush on trying to teach me the guitar line to ‘Come As You Are,’ and failing so miserably at learning it that it became immediately clear that I had ruined any chance of us ever rolling around in the grass at recess together like I had pictured. That bummed me out so I stopped listening to them for a while after that. I remember a friend of mine asking me if I wanted to go see some ‘cool band’ from ‘California’ named Nirvana down at a local YMCA. This YMCA was in Ipswich, Massachusetts, a town of no more than 20,000 people, more than 3,000 miles of course from their actual home of Seattle, Washington. I stayed home that night and didn’t think much of it. Perhaps the first time I remember really experiencing the raw power of their music though happened on my first overseas trip to France as a young kid some time in the early 90s. I was on an exchange trip with a French kid named Peter and his family. I remember going to a public swimming pool in his town on a classic hot and sticky summer afternoon, at which ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was blasting on someone’s boombox as women were sitting around tanning themselves topless. Of course, sitting around topless at a public swimming pool in France is customary, but to a sheltered American 12-year-old during his first cross-cultural experience, it was about as jarring as moments come. That sort of primitive sexual experience combined with the brash and aggressive tone of the song arguably crated my first true punk-r0ck moment, and to this day it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I hear that tune or hear the name Nirvana.” – Philip Jamieson of Caspian.
“I’m always changing what my favorite record by Nirvana is. In middle school it was ‘Bleach,’ high school it was ‘In Utero’ and now after much denial it’s ‘Nevermind’ (it pained me to admit to myself that the most popular record is my current favorite). How many other records can you think of where every single song was a hit, or the drums were panned to audience perspective. I hate that about ‘Nevermind,’ yet embrace it since it’s one of the best sounding records ever. When I was first starting to play guitar I thought I had to be a shredder in order to be ‘good.’ Nirvana changed my outlook on this completely. Although the music isn’t super technical, every member’s part compliments one another’s. Dave Grohl is always relentless with solid, heavy hitting drum parts. He is the master of ‘drum riffs.’ So many of his drum parts are instantly recognizable. In an age of Pro Tools and putting drums to the grid, such a truly solid, interesting drummer is a rare sight. Krist Novoselic is hands down one of my favorite bassists. As a kid I actually paid more attention to the bass lines of this band rather than the guitar. Dave and Kris always had a solid groove behind Kurt. Not to mention, Krist always had an awesome bass sound on every record. Kurt’s guitar parts are noisy, a little sloppy, fuzzy and yet controlled. He is the master of using feedback in a controlled and musical way. Just because he didn’t always have crazy chord progressions or cleanly played leads, doesn’t hinder the music at all. Not only is having a guitar lead/solo that just follows the vocal melody genius, so was his absolutely appropriate guitar playing. The music sounds as if it’s about to fall apart at any moment, whether it’s his mumbled vocals, or fuzzed out guitar, yet it all just barely stays together beautifully. I have bonded over Nirvana with almost every single one of my best friends at some point or another. No matter what other bands we may or may not like, there has always been that one common love. Nirvana is responsible for me really getting into music and leading me into whatever my life is – to disappointing my family by having ripped clothes and long hair, paying to see some pissed guy scream into a mic for 20 minutes, getting paid to record pissed bands and hating school. Just realizing I’m currently living my 14-year-old self’s dream and not complaining.” – Chris Teti of Silver Bullet Studios, The World is a Beautiful Place & I am no Longer Afraid to Die and My Heart To Joy.
“I had bought ‘Nevermind’ the day it came out and had waited til bedtime to fall asleep on the record. Trying to achieve shut eye for the better part of the first half of the album, I was amazed at the abrassive pop music that was filling the dark and otherwise dead room. ‘Breed’ in particular attracted my attention as its massive chorus and intense vocals. I cant really remember when I lost consciousness but I was abruptly taken from my snoring by the crazy piece of work that is ‘Endless Nameless’. Frightened and confused, it took me at least 20 seconds to realise what was going on and to this day I still feel weird when Is hear this masterpiece of a recording.” – Wooden Carpet of Carpet, Les Bois Francs and L’Oeil du Tigre.
“I have a tricky relationship with Nirvana. When ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ hit, I hated it. You could not escape that song. They even played it on the local rap radio station. I can trace my skepticism of hyped bands back to Nirvana. In fact, I can trace a lot of things back to Nirvana. Nirvana eventually became the first band that I ‘gave in to’ and grew to love. Nirvana made me think three-piece bands were cool. Nirvana started an obsession with reading music and guitar magazines. I had always like music, but Nirvana made me become obsessed with it. And Nirvana eventually became the first band that I got-over. These days I don’t hate Nirvana, but I don’t think I will ever care to listen to them ever again. They were lumped in with a few other bands that I liked before I discovered a certain British punk band (even though they had crashed and burned years before Nirvana) and made everything that I had heard prior to them, Nirvana included, seem silly. Having said that, I can still trace my discovery of this band back to Nirvana, and while I don’t have much of an interest in listening to them (Nirvana) ever again, I can’t deny the legacy that they left behind or their impact on my own musical path.” – Nathan Latona of Tera Melos.
“It isn’t something I’m proud of, but I was born a contrarian and have spent a large portion of my adult life battling those tendencies. I was not cool nor old enough to have gotten into Nirvana from their humble beginnings. Then the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video hit, complete with its Weird Al parody and they seemed like the biggest band on the planet. So, I did what I do with every ‘biggest band on the planet’ for as long as I can remember.. I was indifferent (at best). Looking back now with a more sophisticated view of the music AND industry, it really depresses me that I didn’t embrace a band that made so many ugly sounding records, that made so many decisions that I’m sure made managers, agents, record execs contemplate what was eventual Kurt’s fate (poor choice of words or poor taste, you judge). There will never be a band like that, that reaches that level of success ever again. They still aren’t as good as the Melvins but I’d argue that Kurt’s death was also the nail in the coffin for all pop music that was more art than product.” – Merrick Jarmulowicz of the Kenmore Agency.