As announcements of the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind began to pop up — it was released on Sept. 24, 1991 — I remembered back to when I first heard the band's music.
I was heading into my senior year of high school when Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video was just starting to hit the airwaves in 1991. In those days, you always got your music through MTV first — they still played videos the majority of the time instead of constant repeats of orange-toned Jersey Shore personalities and pregnant teenagers.
I remember hearing the song and enjoying the video — images of cheerleaders with anarchy symbols on their tanktops and free-for-all mosh pits breaking out in a gymnasium — but also wondering what the hell Kurt Cobain was singing. Something about an albino mosquito and his libido…? I wasn’t quite sure, but I didn’t really care, either. For so many people, the song’s energy summed up the attitude of the time — a sense of rebellion was needed in music.
There were two strains of thought going through my head when I heard the song. The first was the idea that some new fantastic band was breaking new ground and going in a direction I’d never heard before. I was both fascinated and excited to hear more.
The second idea was that this was a one-hit wonder or simply the one softer song on a metal band’s heavy album. After all, in the video, they all had long hair, Dave Grohl was thrashing away on his drums — one could easily assume that things were going to get heavier on the album.
While Pearl Jam’s Ten had been released a month earlier, the sound was a bit more straightforward. Nirvana’s entry combined rock elements with something a bit more punk and metal while also stirring in some of the blues in combination with angst and unrest.
The following year, Stone Temple Pilots released its debut album Core and while it sounded like it could fit into the same grunge vein as Pearl Jam and Nirvana, there was still hesitation that it would slide into metal or another already familiar genre. After all, in the beginning of 1992, Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power was unleashed and while the softer “This Love” made it onto MTV, the rest of the album was a whole lot heavier.
It was an odd time to be witness to the musical landscape because something new and different was coming out all the time. None of it sounded familiar. Gone was the hair metal of the 1980s with bands like Poison, Motley Crue and Whitesnake unable to redefine themselves. Flannel walked the earth with pride, and not just on the backs of lumberjacks.
What’s interesting is that I feel like music has hit that place again. There hasn’t been one band to break out of the mold and launch an overwhelming movement. The landscape these days is filled with bands that mold and combine genres into something new… but much like The Beatles introduced rock, Nirvana launched grunge.
Who, or what, will be next?
You can hear a handful of local bands pay tribute to the music of the 1990s, including Nirvana, at a concert at the Chop Shop on Sept. 23.
Also, in celebration of the 20th anniversary, there will be Deluxe and Super Deluxe Editions of the album released on Sept. 27 featuring rare and previously unreleased performances. Configurations range from a 4-CD/1-DVD Super Deluxe Edition to a standard digital/CD remaster of the original album.