Monday, January 28, 2008

Tender Age In Bloom

Lately, and by lately I mean the past 10 years, there has been a bit of a backlash against Nirvana's Nervermind. When Triple J first started their infamous hottest 100 countdown it was an "of all time" countdown. Love will tear us apart - Joy Division was at #1 two years running - and understandably so. The song is nothing short of masterful. In 1991 - two things of consequence happened:

1 - Nirvana's Nevermind was released.
2 - ummmm... ???

Okay, perhaps a few other things happened but trust me these were the biggies. The next year, in the hottest 100 of all time Smells like Teen Spirit - Nirvana topped Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division to become the hottest song of all time - according to Triple J listeners. That's a pretty big deal, considering LWTUA had been around for a good 11 years and SLTS only for a few months. The next year the countdown became more localised - songs from one year only.

Nevermind was soon touted as a classic album. Various - hell pretty much ALL - music magazines around that time and beyond have put Nevermind at the top (or near enough) of their best ever rock albums lists. The backlash began a few years later when people started saying 'it's just another grunge album - I don't see what's so good about it'.

Okay, personally I think if you can't see what's so good about Nevermind then you might have other developmental problems too. Either you are stuck in the 60s or you listen exclusively to Celine Dion. The album is nothing short of a masterpiece. It's a package. You don't buy Nevermind listen only to Smells like Teen Spirit and then put it back on the shelf. This is an album you listen to the whole way through - on repeat - not just because you're a fan but because really it's that good. Relatively speaking, if you look at all the music made in the last 50 years there are really only a few hundred albums that you could truly say are worth listening to all the way through - repeatedly and without irony. This is one of them. Being popular, doesn't make it any less special.

My first memory of Nevermind was of my friend E telling me that her younger sister had left her Nevermind tape (yes tape) in full sunlight on a 40 degree day in the car and now it wouldn't play anymore. S was apparently driving the family nuts - E in particular. I hadn't heard the full album by this stage, only the big hits. I knew of Bleach which was mine by proxy, courtesy of the my local library's borrowing register - which I thought was okay, but only in parts. A few weeks later and because of that conversation I had with E I bought Nevermiind for myself and have never looked back.

I don't think I can accurately explain the excitement and vibe created by Nirvana back in the early 90s but I'll say that you could smell something different in the air. This was a new beginning for music fans. Until that stage music had been going the way of a pop wasteland extravaganza - not in a good way. The late 80s and early 90s mainstream was littered with Technotronic, Whitney Houston, Wilson Phillips and Roxette. Things were really bad. Nirvana's music was pop don't get me wrong but - it was also incredibly sincere. I remember being relieved to finally hear *real* instruments again - ones that weren't warped by overproduction like other bands around that time. I think it woke a lot of people in the music industry up and from then on music made a big shift for the better. It was an exciting time - literally the most defining musical moment of my lifetime thus far - and surely of a whole generation of musical artists.

Nirvana defines my first drunken moment, my first kiss (or rather my first drunken kiss, ha!), my obsession and my sadness. When Kurt died, it broke my heart. I know it sounds trite and melodramatic but that's just how it was. It was like that for a lot of people of my generation who had suffered their lives with a soundtrack of Nirvana songs too.

Sometimes I hear people say "I just don't see what's so good about Nirvana" or that old favourite "they're overrated" and I'm reminded about this quote from the movie Clueless:

TRAVIS: The way I feel about the Rolling Stones is the way my kids are going to feel about Nine Inch Nails, so I really shouldn't torment my Mom anymore, huh?

Exactly. Maybe everyone that comes after my generation (that is people who were 13-28 when Nevermind first came out) - yes all those little ones that were born post 1984 who I think of as still not quite out of their nappies and on solid foods yet don't get it because they simply weren't around for the music to have a real effect.. Maybe those kids will one day understand how important Nirvana was and just how utterly magnificent this album really is. How long does it take for perspective to turn an album into a classic anyway?

Then again, maybe I'm the one lacking perspective. Maybe I'm too young to really understand the artists that came before Nirvana, those big guns - like Pink Floyd - artists that I wasn't there to witness for myself either. I like to think I'm pretty well rounded though, and my MM choices have included a range of musical styles and eras. Then again, who knows? Maybe I've been charmed by Kurt's twisted pain, his quirky rock hero reluctance, his apt Neil Young quote; it's better to burn out than to fade away scrawled for the world to see in Who Magazine after his suicide. And I have to say yes, it's all part of it. Either way with my recommendation or not - this album may only be a blip on the musical radar relatively speaking but it was a blip that defined musical change. It was a great moment in music. You don't have to like it for that to be true, but I think you do have to respect it.

I guess you just had to be there.

Two from Nevermind

In Bloom - Nirvana

Lithium - Nirvana

And two from other albums....

Aneurysm - Nirvana

Heart Shaped Box - Nirvana

...and one random.

Marigold - Nirvana (which funnily enough, was all Dave Grohl - but I just adore this song)

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