Friday, August 24, 2012

Nevermind: 20 Years On

Last week I was in a cab on Long Island headed to the airport to fly home from a business trip. I was tired and cranky and didn’t want to talk to the cabbie, so he turned up the tunes and we enjoyed the ride. New York radio stations are nuts because they will play classic 80s Squeeze back to back with throwaway 90s Green Day and abysmal 00s Creed, with the thought that it’s all rock n roll more or less. Sure it is.


Lithium, by Nirvana, came on (I didn’t even have to say “by Nirvana,” right?) and I enjoyed it as I always do/have. For those of you who have known me for most of the past 20 years – that is since Nirvana’s landmark, genre smashing, odds defying album, Nevermind, came out – you know that I’ve had a beef with Nirvana and Nevermind almost from the very beginning. And I’m not going to rehash that tired old rant because really, who ever cared? But even after I stopped really caring, I still dismissed Nirvana as “important” and certainly a massive part of my youth (culture), but ultimately whatever.

But honestly, if you strip away all the pretense and bitterness and “I’m too cool for that” angst and just put on the album and let it play…well, 18, 25 and 32 year old William, you’ve got yourself a stinkin’ great album and you know it’s true.

Yes, and today I’m admitting it.

When I was in that cab on Long Island, somewhere around Montauk, I decided I was going to break down and buy this album, and I knew just where to get it. And so yesterday when Karla and I were at Target getting a few items, I went straight for the (grossly depleted) CD section and snagged a copy on sale for $10.00. When I put it in the cart I said, “This is happening, but I’m not even going to be in the building when it does.”

I have to retain some semblance of self worth, right?

Now it’s not like I shunned Nevermind back in the day like I did Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. I’ve heard this album a gazillion times, especially my senior year in high school, mainly listening to my then girlfriend’s recorded copy on side A of a 90 minute cassette tape (with side B containing Mudhoney’s Super Fuzz Big Muff). And through college I heard it plenty because, you know, Kurt died and it was this big deal and there were “vigils” where folks would play it full blast in a dark room full of candles…I’m shaking my head even as I write this, but that really happened. Even after college I heard certain songs here and there, and they would evoke a feeling sometimes akin to annoyance and, as time progressed, sometimes nostalgia and then, when I truly began to get over myself, good old fashioned enjoyment.

So at this point, 20 odd years later, I figure what the hey, ya know? 

And giving this album a good and loud listen, on purpose, for the first time since my teens, the first thing I’m struck by is how frickin’ hard Dave Grohl is hitting those drums. I mean turn them down in the mix if you want to, Butch, but there’s no denying that he’s beating the foo out of the skins. And really, that’s what takes a batch of simple but cleverly written angst pop songs and propels them over the edge from something that is a worthy release within a certain strata to an uber juggernaut that is movement making and unites folks on a common level that rarely happens in popular culture. I mean seriously, who wasn’t “alternative” between 1992 and 1994? My mom, exactly.

Also, I had forgotten how good of a bassist Kirst Novoselic is. Sure, he keeps it “do-do-do” simple when it’s necessary, which is brilliant, but he can sway and groove when he needs to and it’s pretty dang great. Just check out Breed for proof positive of that.

And then of course there’s St. Kurt. Sigh… JT and I have often discussed where he/they would be had he not decided to join the 27 Club. Doubtlessly his death sealed Nirvana's longevity in the annals of rock history, and certainly launched Grohl into a career of head banging mediocrity, but would Nirvana still be around today? Would they be icons? Would they be respected has beens? No telling. But their three albums were essentially Kurt’s babies, his words and music, the despair of his life and what he saw in the world around him. He approached these emotions with humor and delivered them with savagery, and yet you could legitimately rock to it, could gleefully sing along to it and even though it was never intended to change the world, it’s easy to see how these 12 songs here on Nevermind were the key ingredient to spark a revolution in the early 90s…two years earlier, three years later, the impact probably wouldn’t have been much of anything, and perhaps another artist would have made the splash and perhaps hair metal and bad R&B would have dominated for a few years more. But there is no denying that with artists like Nickelback and Foo Figthers still pestering the airwaves, the post-grunge wave continues to be a tuff gnarl that's going to be there even though you’re trying to ignore it.

But at the end of the day, regardless of the aftermath, Nevermind is still just a great rock n roll album. From the opening chords of Smells Like Teen Spirit it’s an instant success, a thrilling listen and a statement to unexpected possibilities. And now I own it too. 

P.S. I'm not apologizing to either Jon(athan) Moore or John Goodfred for taking the piss out of Nirvana back in the day. So there. 

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