Celebrate ‘Nevermind’

I’ve been inundated with promotional music for 20 years. It’s often played in the background as I try to multi-task. However, after I dropped Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind,’ into my CD player two decades ago, I just sat on my couch and stared at the speakers seconds into ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ I didn’t leave my seat until the album was finished.
A cynic would say that it had something to do with my youthful enthusiasm. I had just started writing about music professionally and there was some buzz behind the disc before it was released.
“You have to hear the new Nirvana disc,” Nitzer Ebb vocalist Douglas McCarthy said about his DGC labelmates. “It’s just amazing.”
But it wasn’t hype or being young and thrilled to receive free music. There was something very different about ‘Nevermind.’
Yes, the new disc was much glossier than ‘Bleach,’ Nirvana’s raw indie debut. But beneath ‘Nevermind’s sheen’ was brilliant, catchy, uncompromising alt-rock. Kurt Cobain’s songs were revelatory blasts sung in his voice, which was like sonic caramel. The group also added Dave Grohl, one of the greatest, most hard-hitting rock drummers of all time.
The day after receiving the ‘Nevermind’ advance, I called to be added to the list for Nirvana’s incendiary J.C. Dobbs show.
Something was clearly happening. Nirvana burst the stale hair-metal bubble. Their urgent songs were like a clarion call throughout the rock world. ‘Nevermind’ was the start of a tangible movement. Nirvana was my Beatles. The songs were exceptional and the world changed quickly, which when you look back, it was pretty remarkable considering there were no social networks back then. Nirvana paved the way for a new, exciting sound. Pop culture morphed. Suddenly leather was replaced by flannel. Made up faces were replaced by grungy mugs.
It sounds like we could use such a movement now. Before the next wave hits, immerse yourself in the 20th anniversary edition of ‘Nevermind,’ a four CD, one DVD set. The collection includes demos, producer Butch Vig’s original mix of the album and a Halloween show at Seattle’s Paramount Theater, a month after the album was released.
Nirvana’s run was remarkably short, due to Cobain’s 1994 suicide. However, the impact is undeniable. It all starts with the songs, which are well worth re-visiting.
The songs take you back to where you were during that period. I can’t help but recall writing a piece shortly after the release of ‘Nevermind’ that Nirvana, Kitchens of Distinction and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin would graduate from clubs to large theaters. Well, one out of three isn’t bad.
The songs aren’t as original as My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless,’ which also was released in 1991. Cobain always thought that ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was a ‘Pixies ripoff. I always thought the massive riff was an appropriation of Boston’s ‘More Than A Feeling.’
But that’s fine. Every great young band, including the Beatles took bits and pieces and made it their own.
‘Nevermind’ is loaded with visceral songs that changed the sonic landscape.  You can’t say that about many other albums in rock history.
The songs have a huge burn factor. After you play a Pavement song three times, you’re not going back to that cut for quite awhile. However, you can play Nirvana songs over and over again. Cobain had an incredible gift.  That’s obvious when listening to ‘Nevermind,’ It never gets tired.
My 12-year old daughter and 9 and 6-year old sons love ‘Nevermind.’ The kids, who are quite picky about their music, never want to advance Nirvana when it pops up on the car Ipod. Their music still resonates and that’s why it should be celebrated.

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