Wednesday, September 28, 2016

1991 - Nevermind

After a blight in 1990, 1991 was once again rich in its offerings; oh, not 1970s rich, but rich nonetheless: Pearl Jam's Ten, My Bloody Valentine, REM's Out of Time, Achtung, Baby and Blood Sugar Sex Magic. 1990 had killed off the 80s and that poppy sensibility didn't survive (only the heavyweights like DM and The Cure made it through to the other side). And while Behaviour may have been the death knell for the 80s, Nirvana's Nevermind was the perfect start to the 90s (and yes, once again, the 90s officially began in 1991 - look it up).

There's not one of us who saw the video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and didn't say, "What the fuck?" In the 80s, alternative music had basically three mediums to which fans could turn - college radio, underground music clubs, and word of mouth. MTV was preoccupied with spinning mousse-addled metal bands and lighter fare, and alternative music was relegated to its midnight program, 120 Minutes, that is, until Nirvana just couldn't be ignored. The 90s began with a scream - while musical, visual and social orders shifted overnight - with the worldwide exposure of "Teen Spirit." Lyricist/ vocalist/ guitarist, Kurt Cobain, proved he could represent his generation's mood as deftly as Brian Wilson had tapped into his own ("In My Room" comes to mind). "Here we are, now, entertain us," Cobain wryly challenged, on behalf of all disaffected youth, and the media scrambled to make sense of it all (and then to capitalize on terms like grunge, slacker, and Gen X). Nevermind ranks among the most powerful, harrowing and compelling rock recordings ever made. Cobain explores frustration, boredom, and narcissism in gallows humor fashion. The bass lines of Chris Novoselic provide real time counterpoint to the guitar and vocals, and the ramrod, powerhouse drumming of Dave Grohl is tightly controlled, every kick, slam and roll adding a third voice to the mix.  

Of course the naysayers (among them mostly Pixies fans) will contend that, like Zeppelin, Nirvana never had an idea that someone else hadn't already thought of (you know, like The Pixies). Crazy that so much credit is afforded Kurt Cobain when he was so obviously a Beatles fan, and a Germs fan and a Velvet Underground fan (you get the point). Reality: calling Nirvana a rip-off of The Pixies is like calling Coca Cola a rip-off of water. 

Nevermind is unflinching in its depiction of pain, alienation and misanthropy. The human race sucks (maybe you've noticed); the end result may or may not have been that Kurt Cobain killed himself to get away from this fucked up world of ours, unable to skip along and merely have a good time on his own terms. Some of us found a way to cope, to let it go, to take it all less seriously, and without a nameless horse – Kurt, the party was at my house, you shoulda just come over. We were playing Nevermind;  ferocious and feral, it was just what the times deserved.