Let me start this by saying I am a fan of Nirvana, I enjoy their albums and regard them as one of the most important bands to exist in my lifetime. But that was not always the case. Nirvana blew up in the music scene at a time when I was too young to appreciate it, but old enough to endure the oversaturation of the group following Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994.
It is not really remembered these days, but from ’94 until about ’98, you couldn’t escape this band. My fellow classmates would sport T-shirts with Cobain’s mopey mug on them — people who half the time didn’t even listen to the band (they also did this with Biggie and Tupac). They were played ad nauseam on alternative radio. Go to MTV, and there the band was — “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was seemingly on a continuous loop — and the channel was already declaring the band as legends just months after Cobain’s death. And the kicker is just months prior to that, they were basically calling the band has-beens after the release of “In Utero” was met with mixed reviews. It was an early sign for me that MTV was garbage with their music views.
And being the contrarian I was during my teenage years, I was open with my disdain of the band — their music was overplayed, their fans were annoying and I thought Cobain thought too highly of himself when he was alive. Granted, looking back I was a smug little jerk with these views, but that’s just who I was. I’ve always found whatever is popular to be suspect, and to this day I find myself being still being overly critical of new popular music just because it is popular. But that is my cross to bear.
Not that I didn’t acknowledge their role in popular music. I knew even then that this band basically killed off hair metal in one fell, flannel-clad swoop and I appreciated that. I understood their importance, I just refused to enjoy their music because I — like many of my friends during this time — were burnt out on everything about this band.
But the wonderful thing about growing up is that you learn to let go of the petty things. For years I avoided Nirvana because these silly grievances listed above. I realized that I was denying myself something I found important in the music experience — giving new music a chance and allowing myself to be consumed by the new discoveries.
It was about 1999 that I really started enjoying their music. A friend had borrowed me their “Unplugged” album, and it blew me away. Each track was solid, raw and amazing. I would listen to it, from start to finish, on my bike trips to and from home to work and school. You could hear the pain in Cobain’s voice, a pain that was sincere and disturbing all at once.
So “Unplugged” was my entry into the music of Nirvana. The next logical step was going back and listening to “Nevermind.” At this time, it had been a solid three years or so since I had heard any of the music off this album — sans the inescapable “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” At the time, many of my hangups with the band had dissolved and I found myself really enjoying the album. It is still a bit too polished, but it has so many incredible songs: “Territorial Pissings,” “In Bloom,” “Stay Away,” “On A Plain” and “Something in the Way” are all incredible songs.
But I really fell in love with their debut album, “Bleach.” At the time, I was really finding my path with punk rock. The Clash, Misfits, Black Flag, The Replacements, Dead Kennedys and so on was what I was starting to listen to, and “Bleach” felt a natural fit with my tastes at the time. The album was so raw, loud, had a sense of humor and was relatable. “Negative Creep” remains one of my favorite songs of theirs from that album.
And then I sat down and gave “In Utero” a solid listen. Wow, that album blew me away the first time I listened to it on headphones. It combined the rage and punk of “Bleach” with the radio-friendly hits of “Nevermind.” I love it for its imperfections — it’s not slick, it is damn rough. It is probably the closest they came to making a perfect Nirvana album.
Over the years, I’ve read enough about the group and their history that I quickly learned that aspect of them I have no interest in. I’m interested in the music. I’m sure at some point I will see “Montage of Heck” — the Cobain documentary produced by his daughter — but I will not go out of my way to see it. Same with the soundtrack to the film, which is dubbed a “Kurt Cobain solo record.” This goes back to the oversaturation of the mid-90s of the band, along with the dirt and public feuds with the other two band members and Cobain’s widow
The Almighty Cthulhu Courtney Love. I already went through all that, and again, it was that stuff that was part of what turned me off of this band in the first place.
It is easy to dismiss a band because they are popular. I’m guilty of that. It took years for me to appreciate this band. But I am glad I did.