that springs from pe0ple who rate Sergeant Pepper as the greatest album of all time and still take Rebel Without A Cause seriously, so beware. Of course, it’s a drag to see once-vital ﬁgureheads decline into contented middle age, adding to their modern art collections while their own art spirals into dismal irrelevance. But if there’s one tenet of pop culture that’s been leeched of all its glamour, it’s the ‘live fast, die young and have a good looking corpse’ ethic; the notion that the brightest stars must burn out the quickest and most catastrophically.
There isat least some justiﬁcation in getting all sociological about Nirvana and their unpredicted success. It’s vaguely interesting to have it pointed out that they all came from what are still called ‘broken homes’, that they grew up in Reagan’s recession-hit America, the first generation in a long while which could expect to be less prosperous than the one before. It’s signiﬁcant that they tapped into a mood, which translated into a market, that the record industry — while having some kind of vague understanding that it was there — hadn’t a clue how to channel. And it’s heartening to ﬁnd that there can be sea- changes in rock where marketing campaigns become irrelevant and the only strategy left is the old-fashioned one of pressing up as many copies as possible and shipping them out to the stores.
What was more important to me personally was that Nirvana’s success had the by-product of turning poodles into dinosaurs. There are few pleasures to compare with the image of permed, complacent Sunset Strip metal bands ﬁlling their Spandex breeks at the prospect of being consigned to Jurassic Park by a bunch of sloppy joes who never mastered the art of tucking their shirts in. The signing to major labels of Sonic Youth, Jane’s Addiction and Dinosaur Jr set the
‘He had to suppress a lot of his melodic tendencies to fit in with Sub Pop’s grunge ethic, but
the ingredients - (3‘ energy! melody! attitude! — were all there for a broadly appeal- ing style.’
ball rolling and when Never-mind really brought ‘Alternative’ into the mainstream . . . well, I mean, I don’t get off on Smashing Pumpkins, but if they’re keeping Poison and Motley Crue off the airwaves, more power to their plectra.
And when all the chatter about drugs and demographics has blown over, we’ll still be left with the fact that Nirvana are A Great Rock Band. Kurt started writing songs based on what he’d read about punk rock without actually having heard any. But like most American rock musicians he carried around the inﬂuence of Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin. AC/DC and Kiss. And The Beatles. He had to suppress a lot of his melodic tendencies to ﬁt in with Sub Pop’s grunge ethic. but the ingredients — energy! melody! attitude! — were all there for a broadly appealing style.
Too broad, as it turned out. Check out the splendid and prophetic ‘In Bloom’ from Never-mind: Kurt was lambasting an audience they hadn’t even built least not in any sizeable number) by that time: ‘He ’s the one who likes all our pretty songs/And he likes to sing along/And he likes to shoot his gun/But he knows not what it means ’.
Mainstream success didn’t so much beckon as Hoover them up. and they found themselves playing to audiences full of the jocks and rednecks who had given them (Kurt Cobain and Chris Novoselic at least; Dave Grohl grew up in Virginia) such grief in backwoods Aberdeen, Washington. Now they had to stand there and entertain these retards? These were the ones who liked Nirvana because they ‘rilly kick ass, man’ and were on MTV all the time, and whom the band reasoned should stick with Guns N’Roses who were their natural constituency.
Loud guitar band doesn’t automatically mean hetero-male-supremacist war chants. Multi- platintttn loud guitar band generally does. Nirvana are a progressive rock band in terms of their more enlightened attitudes towards homophobia. racism and sexism, and they’re courageous enough and ornery enough to do all they can to exclude those tendencies from their audience, whatever the cost to their own bank accounts. The sleevenotcs for Incesticide, the bootleg-beating ﬁller between Nevermind and In- Utero, told the homophobes, racists and sexists in the audience to ‘leave us the fuck alone’. The smacker Cobain planted on Novoselic’s lips on prime-time TV was a more graphic way of transmitting the same message.
ONE LITTLE detail that probably endeared me to Nirvana more than anything else came up in an interview they did with a British music paper on the Nevermind trek. Royally pissed-off with the redneck meatheads that were showing up at their shows. with the baked-bean-tin sound quality of the open-air gigs they were having to play and with the business of going through the motions of something that was supposed to be real, they moaned about how depressed they were by the whole experience.
But. the journalist asked, after several generations of superstars spouting forth on the pressures of fame in the press. hadn’t they expected all this? No, they answered blankly. They were never interested enough in those kind of people to read their interviews. Think about it. They played punk rock. Their whole existence was predicated on never having to face the travails of mass appeal. So here they were, with no compass to guide them. no model to follow, relying on themselves to muddle through the mass market with integrity intact. Then, last year, they released In Utero. It’s a punk rock record. It smokes. (Phew!) They made it. D
Nirvana are scheduled to play the SEC C on 28 March. A! press time the show was still on. C heck papers for any news of cancellations and ticket refunds.
12 The List I l-24 March 1994