Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Grunge Part II: Nirvana, Nevermind

I started my grunge series back in July, and Thanksgiving is here. What happened? Well, I transferred jobs in August, with seven weeks of training after that, and I am finally settled in. Unfortunately, the new location does not give me the opportunity to stream music at work, so things are still a little slow. Hopefully, I will be back to writing more soon.

Every couple of weeks or so some of the other dads in the neighborhood walked up the street with me to the local "Irish" pub for trivia night. Usually we made a respectable showing, taking 3rd or 4th place. Every once in a while we actually won. Each of us had our specialty: Mike listens to a lot of NPR while commuting, so he is the current events/"on this day in history" guy; Adam grew up and played sports in the area, so he is the local history and sports guy; I'm the random useless information guy with a specialty in music. My team gets angry at me if I miss a music question (which is really unfair considering the dude who runs the game is in his '60s with a focus on music from the '50s). 

All of this leads me to a conversation I had with a man, Andrew, who was sitting at the bar one night. He was waiting for a takeout order and joined our team while he was waiting. There was a music question of some sort and I complained that if they could just ask questions about Nirvana or some '90s alternative, I would be money. Although he claimed to like modern rock, he said he never really liked Nirvana. I stared at him, dumbfounded. He was probably about 25. Just a handful of years younger than I was, and when I was a kid, everyone liked Nirvana. But if you were 5 when Nevermind came out, you missed it.

In fact, at my age, the first Nirvana album I really fell in love with was In Utero. The lead singer of the band Against Me, Laura Jane Grace (formerly Tom Gabel) was quoted as saying "Nevermind is the best Nirvana album, hands down. Anyone who says it's In Utero is lying. They're just trying to look cool." I honestly put In Utero on to listen to much more than Nevermind. It's the first Nirvana album I listened to over and over. It was shocking to me to hear discordant songs like "Scentless Apprentice," "Milk It," and "Tourette's." The lyrics of "Rape Me" alone are worth the price of admission to a teenage kid just discovering grunge. 

A few years ago I put In Utero on in my shared office at work. After a few songs a guy at another desk looked over at me and asked "What the hell is this?" He was about 7 years older than me. Big into classic rock, big into arena rock, missed the grunge boat. And there you have it. The bookends on enjoying Nirvana.

Artist: Nirvana
Album: Nevermind
Recording #10ish

Nevermind was one of the first CDs I ever bought. Although I liked In Utero more, I actually thought I had to own Nevermind first because of all the radio hits. But I think that's another reason that I tend to pull up In Utero more often; a lot of those Nevermind songs have been driven into the ground. Still, the opening bass line riff of "Come As You Are," the classic reframing of the chords of Boston's "More Than a Feeling" to make one of the all time great riffs in "Smells Like Teen Spirit," the darkness of "Polly" still inform rock today. And if you get into some of those songs that didn't get much airplay, like "Lounge Act," there is still a lot to discover in this album. 

Maybe, though, this album is new to you. I wonder how it would sound to fresh ears, and if it will sound as dated as Mother Love Bone sounded to me. I can imagine "Teen Spirit" hitting the charts again today, because it still sounds fresh to my ears, but if you didn't catch it the first time around, maybe it's indistinguishable from all the rest of the '90s alt-rock. I'd love to hear what you think about this album and this band. Throw in your 2 cents in the comments section below or on Twitter or Facebook.

Read Tom Moon's entry here.

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