What words are there left to say about Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’?
30 years on, it remains a beacon of alternative music. Music was creatively all-but-dead. Hair bands plagued the country both on TV and on the radio. There was a growing underground movement spearheaded by bands like The Cure and R.E.M., but the definitive big bang, the undeniable before & after, took place on September 24, 1991.
As Brian from the KQX Morning Crew explained, “Right around this time I was cranking “Poundcake from Van Halen’s 1991 CD For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge so loud the subwoofer was rattling the license plate off in the car I was riding in. And like many people at this time had no idea what was about to happen. What happened was I heard that sound. You know. The first notes off Kurt Cobain’s 1965 Fender Jaguar guitar. BAH-NAH-NAT. You know it. That one second changed everything. Just those first notes of Smells Like Teen Spirit took me into outer space, in my head. I remember thinking “I’ve never heard anything that sounds like this before”. As the song progressed it got so heavy, then soft. And trippy. And Kurt’s voice spoke RIGHT to me like one of my burn out friends. “Load up on guns. bring your friends. It’s fun to lose and to pretend”. I thought WHOAAAAA WHO IS THIS GUY?!! It felt so real. His voice was ratty. Like he’d been partying all night. I honestly didn’t want to like it. And I think it took 10 listens to convince myself that I actually liked it. Then I saw the video on MTV and that was like BAM. Forget about it. But I have to say once I got the CD, it was Breed that I’d crank in the car more. It set the tone for what was going to be the greatest decade of music”
I don’t need to explain how great the first half of the record is. Bands would kill for a song as good as Lithium. That’s merely a footnote on the path of destruction that is ‘Nevermind’. Teen Spirit, In Bloom, Come As You Are, Breed, and the aforementioned Lithium line the first half of the record, along with the downtrodden, emotionally crippling Polly. The second half is full of unfathomable deep cuts, songs that would’ve made great singles on any other record, like Drain You and Lounge Act.
By any metric, ‘Nevermind’ is one of the greatest records that has ever been pumped out of a studio. It’s as iconic, as influential, and as memorable as any aspiring rock star has dreamed of. It resonated with a young Ali, confined by the borders of Minnesota, who told me, “I had never heard anything like this before. It was one of the first albums that I listened to from front-to-back…I just couldn’t believe it.”
‘Nevermind’ is such a clear demarcation point in pop culture. It ushered in the irony – and agony – that filled the 1990’s. It’s a perfect record, and while we’re often filled with somberness in early April as we remember Kurt Cobain’s life, September should be a joyous celebration as we remember the impact that this record had.