Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nirvana joins the world of (commercially successful) legends of music. It’s obviously just symbolic and doesn’t really mean anything, but it’s a nice validation from millions of fans. Arguably the most influential rock band of the 1990’s Nirvana were inducted after 20 years on their first attempt. If you look past all the bullshit, it’s an incredible accomplishment for a little rock band from Aberdeen, Washington.
I moved to Seattle from Norway in 1990, just as Nirvana were breaking.
Living in Norway, I was into records by the likes of Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest and the Beastie Boys. When I started to listen to 90.3 KCMU (what later became KEXP) out of my suburban bedroom I was introduced to a whole other world of music. I promptly gave away(!) all my hip hop and became a slave to grunge and punk rock. I still wake up in cold sweats from that nightmare….giving away Public Enemy 7”, Eric B & Rakim 12” etc. I still regret it to this day. I digress…
Fast forward to September 11 1992, my very first proper rock show at the Seattle Center Coliseum at 15 years of age. We had seats and people were doing drugs all around us, something I remember was pretty “scary” at the time. “The Seattle scene” was already old news, at least for the OG’s. I was a few years too young to catch Mother Love Bone, or Mudhoney at The Crocodile or at The Offramp at the time for example. (It’s 21 to get into bars in Washington, although there are some all ages shows, the real scene was a few years off for me.) The lineup this evening were local hero’s Fitz of Depression, followed by Helmet and then Nirvana. I remember being blown away by all three bands at the time, but Nirvana stuck with me, just like it did for the other thousands of fans at the gig. They tore up the stage after playing “Territorial Pissings” at the end, destroying all their gear; something they quickly became famous for.
I saw Nirvana once more at the same place with Chokebore and The Butthole Surfers on January 7, 1994… which I think was the second to last gig they ever did in Seattle and in The United States. I remember Nirvana sitting by the side of the stage in makeup before the show. I don’t think anyone noticed it. In what I think was clown makeup, while joking and chatting. It being the pre cellphone age, sadly I don’t have a photo to prove it. This time we were in the moshpit. I brought my little brother at 15 who fondly remembers crowdsurfing, getting kicked in the face and getting his glasses knocked off. He still thinks it was the best show of his life.
By this period, we were well versed in the local scene going to as many shows as my friends and I could afford. Every summer we would drive into Seattle to go to the free Pain in the Grass concert series, all ages shows at RKCNDY, the Bumbershoot Festival, etc. With a limited budget, I got to feed my obsession over everything “grunge”. Tad, Mudhoney, The Melvins, Screaming Trees, and lesser known bands like Gruntruck, Steel Wool, plus bands like Karp coming up from Olympia Washington and L7 from California. It was a good scene…romanticized of course, but it was a great time to be a young music fan in Seattle. You were either into the Beatles or The Rolling Stones back in the day, so it was either Pearl Jam or Nirvana then. Probably the only “Seattle band” from that time I haven’t seen is Pearl Jam.
I bought my cd of Nevermind…in an elongated cardboard box…and yes, I bought it at the mall.
From Nirvana I discovered the likes of Sonic Youth, Fear, The Stooges, Fugazi, Led Belly, The Velvet Underground and countless others. Nirvana (and KCMU) became my springboard to rock.
I always liked Krist Novoselic best…at least looking back at it now. He seemed like a humble and sympathetic guy, not really into being a rock star, but just going with the flow. Dave Grohl (who lived a few blocks away from me at one point and he and Krist would buy pizza at my friends Little Caesars take out place) took up a lot of space behind the drums and obviously continued on being a rock star after Nirvana. Kurt evidently could not cope with the life of rockstardom. Krist has had the toughest time healing from the experience. Even at the induction at the rock and roll hall of fame, he thanked his best friend Kurt.
I remember seeing Krist, Pat and Dave on stage together at a Foo Fighters gig in 1997 where the audience were chanting for a Nirvana song during the encore. From what I saw it seemed everyone was onboard except for Krist; the mike standing alone in the light waiting for someone who wasn’t there anymore. Instead someone, (I can’t remember who) ran from backstage and sang a version of “Communication Breakdown” and “Purple Rain” to end the gig.
After Kurt’s death, my friends went to the vigil in downtown Seattle; I watched it on TV instead. The Seattle center area was filled with 4-5000 mourning fans. The music community was in shock. It wasn’t the first musician who fell during those years, and sadly it wasn’t the last either.
So what’s the point of writing about Nirvana? Everything (and probably too much) has been said about Nirvana over the last 20+ years.
It’s nostalgia listening to these old songs, but damn it, they are still good. You can’t say that about a lot of artists. I guess it’s a sign of immortality in the rock world. Quality music, not just for that generation, but also for the generations that follow. Just look at the resurgence of the “grunge” sound now. A ton of (lesser) bands performing the “fresh” sound for millions of youths that think the sound is original…of course there’s nothing wrong with that, but the influence is definitely there…. The old jaded generation hears it for sure.
In some ways I am glad Nirvana didn’t last forever. It was a tragic unfortunate end of course, but who knows; maybe they would be playing casino shows, cruise ships, doing reality TV and god knows what else if they were still around. Maybe they would have found the lord or Scientology. (I sincerely doubt it) Maybe they would be like The Rolling Stones still earning millions of dollars, while on total autopilot, or maybe they would have continued to make groundbreaking records still today. They never really had the time to get bloated and complacent. Most likely they would have broken up like most bands do. Still, we will never know. As Kurt wrote “it’s better to burn out than to fade away”. There is something to be said for that, and in some sense it’s true (just look at the latest Black Flag “reunion”). I obviously mean that concerning a career in music, not ending a life. What a total waste.
If Kurt was still around, I’d like to think he would be doing solo acoustic shows, playing folk, blues and country songs now. The Foo Fighters were probably bound to happen anyhow. Krist has continued playing in lesser known bands, but focused more on politics, which seemed like a natural way for him to go anyway.
We don’t need the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to tell us that Nirvana were an important band in the 90’s, perhaps the most important rock band of that decade. Still, it’s nice that they are remembered. Reminiscing the days of the past and in my case, my youth is a bittersweet thing. Seeing the band onstage with Joan Jett and Kim Gordon fronting the band put a smile on my face, not that it was all that great, but it was a nice moment. It was fitting that they chose (mostly) great women in rock to front Nirvana. Let’s hope they end it here. No need for a tour (with Chris Cornell singing…oh the horror), there is nothing left to prove to anyone, let alone, themselves. Yet, “someone” will still try to milk it for all the money it’s worth until the end of time.