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Ever Mind: Teenage Recollections of Nirvana's Nevermind

The iconic cover of the iconic record - Nevermind by Nirvana. The iconic cover of the iconic record - Nevermind by Nirvana.

On Sept 21, 1991, Nirvana released their seminal album, Nevermind. For the 20th Anniversary of this monumental recording, a deluxe reissue hits the streets, and a million and one media outlets take time to look back at what it meant, and what it still means. Rosebud Editor Joshua Glazer puts on his nostalgia goggles.

1975 was a good year to be born, if for no other reason than I turned 16 in 1991—or as Sonic Youth would call it, The Year Punk Broke. That classic concert film featured SY on a European tour with a still relatively unknown band named Nirvana, who spend most of the film horsing around backstage when not trying out new songs like a then unreleased "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to foreign audiences. The movie just got its first DVD release this summer, but not many people are talking about it. It's been overshadowed by the 20th anniversary release of Nirvana's zeitgeist-altering Nevermind, the record that broke punk to millions (and millions and millions) of fans worldwide.

We're all familiar with the story. Small band from Seattle equally obsessed with The Sex Pistols, Black Sabbath and The Beatles signs to a major label on the coattails of the newly monetized alternative scene—driven by bands such as Sonic Youth, The Replacement and Jane's Addiction. The first single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" perfectly captures a youth movement that is as yet untapped, launching the band to instant worldwide fame. The album, Nevermind, knocks Michael Jackson off the top of the pop charts, symbolically ending the '80s. Seattle "grunge" becomes the definitive look for a new generation. Three years later, Kurt Cobain kills himself, effectively ending the alternative movement (although it would still live as a marketing term for the next decade.)

I was almost 19 by then, in a college band that actually did a fairly decent cover of Nirvana's cover of the Vaseline's "Molly's Lips." We were supposed to play the song for the first time at a Michigan State basement party the night we heard of Cobain's death. Bummer.

But that summer I turned 16. Man—that was something.

Click to download the PDF of this article.Click to download the PDF of this article.

I actually discovered grunge in 1990. Already a regular reader of Spin Magazine—which covered bands like Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, and R.E.M. religiously—my friend and I decided to order catalogs from every independent record label in the back classified page. Just send a self-addressed stamped envelope, and 4-6 weeks later arrived a photocopied sheet of paper listing these small labels’ various releases, which you could then purchase via mail with check or money order.

One of the dozen or so catalogs we received was from a Seattle label called Sub Pop. One of their bands, Soundgarden, had already made some waves nationally, but we decided to test out another act, Mudhoney, who we were told by kids older than us was the definitive grunge act. The cassette was like nothing I had heard before—overdriven guitars piling on one another in a melee of energy that was less buzzsaw punk and more chainsaw power (appropriate given Seattle's lumberjack roots).

I soon discovered that I wasn't the only kid in my school listening to this noise. I would trade copies of my Mudhoney for Maxell cassettes of Screaming Trees, Operation Ivy and a tiny SF band called Green Day. I also owned a CD copy of Jane's Addiction Ritual de lo Habitual, which already had a hit single with "Been Caught Stealing." Someone even handed me a tape that compiled several 7-inch records by a band called Nirvana, who were the hot new Sub Pop group.

Cassettes would play an even more crucial role by summer of 1991, just a few months before Nevermind was released. A friend of a friend had a brother who knew a guy who worked at a music magazine who had received a promotional tape of the album. Soon a ninth or tenth generation copy found its way into my car stereo. A full decade before Napster would destroy the notion of a release date for an album, this was the first time I can remember possessing a record before it officially came out. The odd thing is, I didn't really care for the album, particularly its first song.

I don't remember when I started to like "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Probably around the same time the rest of the world did. I do recall moshing to the song covered by a friend's band at our high school talent show. Less thrilling was the day spent cutting class trying to find a way to go see Nirvana's sold-out show in Detroit, and that failed, attending a high school football game with a punk rock girl who might have kissed me had I just scored those golden tickets (probably not).

I also recall getting caught playing some vicious air guitar to the song in the back room of my after school job. It might have been embarrassing at the time, but looking back, I can't remember a more pure moment of adolescent angst and bliss. And I can't think of another moment in my lifetime when that combination seemed to infect the entire youth culture, en masse. I suspect I'll never experience anything like it again. But as a lifelong music lover, records like Nevermind are what keep me searching, even two decades later.

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Nirvana changed the whole game when this song hit the airwaves.
Last modified on Thursday, 19 July 2012 13:58

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