Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nevermind; 20 years later

The media loves a good trend. And the mass public loves to be fed the latest trend. Right now, the cool thing to do is celebrate the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's groundbreaking Nevermind album.

I noticed a couple weeks ago that there was a story about Nirvana. I read it and enjoyed it. Then I found another. I read it. Then another. Then another. Then another. Sensing a pattern?

The odd thing to me here is that I'm not rediscovering Nirvana in all of this twentieth-anniversary hoopla. Nevermind and Nirvana itself is a regular part of my music shuffle that I listen to. Last year I did a list of the Top 50 songs in my iTunes playlist. Of the thousands of songs on my computer, 5 of the Top 50 spots were occupied by Nirvana.

Wearing a Nirvana shirt, eating ice cream
I guess the problem I have with this nostalgia kick is the history re-creation that is going to accompany it. All these music journalists are going to pretend like Nirvana was the greatest band of all time, and all these tweens and posers are going to lap it up like they've always believed it as well.

I remember the Guns N' Roses revival from 2009 and all the swirl around that. I was in CVS and saw a Rolling Stone magazine with the headline "Appetite Turns 20!" referring to their debut album Appetite for Destruction. I went through a summer of listening to how they were one of the greatest bands of all time. Then that fad passed. Now nobody sings their praises and we've instead switched our focus to grunge.

Is Nirvana a great band? Yes. They were good at being loud and "grunge-y" and their later work showed that they were talented at being something other than that. And, of course, Dave Grohl has been one of the most consistently impressive artists of the last 20 years.

But a lot of their success had to do with them being in the right place at the right time. Nevermind wasn't even their first album. They had already released an album to minimal success. Had they released Nevermind at the height of hair metal in the mid-80s, I don't think we would be talking about how revolutionary Nirvana was. Hair metal was on the decline, both the music and the over-the-top image. We needed something more stripped down, both musically and image-wise. A guitar, a bass and drums. Loud. No makeup, no spandex. T-shirts and jeans. Occasional flannel shirt.

I've written before about how I didn't really like Nirvana that much until I was in high school. Nevermind came out when I was 5. The only thing I liked at that age was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As I got older, I learned who they were and kind of liked them, but not too much.

I remember in the fourth grade seeing the cover of the Weird Al cassette that was a parody of the Nevermind cover. I had no idea what it was supposed to be spoofing and was confused by it. The first time I can recall hearing a Nirvana song was a year later in the fifth grade when my friend Joe called me to tell me he realized that the wrestler Diamond Dallas Page's theme song was an instrumental version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I later read in Chris Jericho's book that this was a theme of sorts in WCW, as he debuted with a Journey knockoff that he hated and later got a Pearl Jam ripoff that he enjoyed.

I don't care much for their most-famous song, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," but I liked some of their other hits like "Heart Shaped Box" and most of their Unplugged album. I started getting into Nirvana when their Greatest Hits album and previously-unreleased "You Know You're Right" were released. Sidenote: the first album review I ever wrote was about Nirvana's Greatest Hits album for my high school newspaper in the eleventh grade.

Hearing that album got me into some of their songs I hadn't heard. That led me to check out their albums and I've come to enjoy the body of Nirvana's work. There are some songs I really like, some I kind of like, and some I really don't care much for. But, by and large, I enjoy Nirvana.

I'm glad that this 20th anniversary celebration of sorts will possibly help people listen to Nirvana who otherwise wouldn't. But, I don't know if that is true. I figure it will be more like people writing that Nirvana was amazing and people reading it and agreeing with it, without really knowing or caring if that fact is true.

What is good is subjective. Decide for yourself if Nevermind was one of the greatest albums of all time and Nirvana was one of the greatest bands ever.

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