Posted by: markfender | October 29, 2013

Headphone Diaries – September 24th, 1991

You might have heard of this one.


I was walking down the hallway at school when a friend excitedly asked me if I had heard that new song “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I didn’t have MTV and the only radio station in the area that wasn’t country was Top 40, so I answered in the negative. He pressed a cassette single into my hand, which I dutifully listened to in my next class. It was pretty good. But what was strange about it was that the completely preppy girl who sat next to me saw what I was listening to and proclaimed that she loved that song. Three days later, another preppy girl showed up to school wearing combat boots. Soon, everyone was throwing off their Hypercolors and wearing flannel. Something was going on.

What was going on was, of course, Nirvana. They were certainly not the first grunge band but they were the first to bring the sound to middle America. Even the DJs at the Top 40 station had to eventually play “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” even if you could hear the loathing in their voices. And in that loathing, a generation heard their parents and rejected it. A generation tired of hearing about their parent’s accomplishments, tired of hearing about the Summer of Love, the Beatles, and living under a cloud of potential nuclear winter. Gen X, as they were dubbed, didn’t have the freedom of free love (Thanks for AIDS, Baby Boomers), or the rage required for punk. Instead, they just sulked sullenly in their rooms. Probably writing in their diaries. The sound that Nirvana introduced spoke to sullen teenage rebellion the way that nothing else had.

That all sounds a bit pretentious. But, to be fair, this is the band that based the lyrics to one of their songs after the novel Perfume. It was always gonna’ end up with a little pretentiousness.

I preferred In Utero to Nevermind. I thought the songwriting was better and the production was better. I like the big hits from Nevermind as much as the next person who owned a pair of Doc Martens, but I think I liked every track on In Utero whereas I was a bit hit-or-miss on Nevermind.

What else do you say about Nirvana that hasn’t been said before? For a good five years, they single-handedly changed the way everyone dressed. They made music mean something again, even if that meaning was “Why isn’t there any meaning?” They inflicted Courtney Love on the world. They produced two damn good albums. They freed us from insipid dance music for a time. They forged a whole new radio format. For awhile, they really, really mattered.

Has it aged well? The good thing about Nirvana being as big as they were was that sort of deserved it. Their musicianship in putting together such muddy, messy songs was unparalleled. So, as the quintessential example of the sound, they remain relevant.

Should this go on your iPod? It’s already on it, right? Right? Please?

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