oscar run vi: american splendor (shari springer berman and robert pulcini, 2003)
bruce in the RS500

nirvana

When punk arrived in the mid-70s, it seemed to mark an unequivocal line in the sand. Here, punk said, is where everything changes ... you can either go with us into the future, or you can listen to oldies the rest of your lives. Countless baby boomers did the latter, meanwhile buying lots of Tom Petty albums to prove they were still cool. The rest of us thought we were moving to the future; it took a few years to understand that punk wasn't the beginning of a new world but only the end of the old one. Only the bastardized form of punk, "new wave," made an impact on the charts ... bands like Talking Heads were revered, and artists like Elvis Costello began careers that refuse to go away, 25 years later.

That line in the sand was eventually drawn: it was rap music, and the hip-hop that subsequently emerged, which truly changed pop music into before-and-after, where "before" was rock and roll. Punk was influential, but it wasn't generally crucial in the marketplace, with the possible exception of later Clash. To be sure, some of the greatest rock and roll music of all time was 70s-based punk rock, but it's hard to argue that X-Ray Spex had as much cultural impact as Run-D.M.C..

Punk evolved into "alternative rock." Some great bands made some great records (I've always been partial to Husker Du, who managed to squeak into the Rolling Stone Top 500 at #495). "Alternative" might have been a problematic descriptor ... "indie" wasn't a lot better ... but as long as bands like the Huskers were avoiding the top of the charts like they had the plague, "alternative" was accurate enough.

And then came Nevermind. Nirvana's classic album rose to the top of the charts; in a great example of accidental symbolism, they pushed Michael Jackson from #1 in the process. There are as many explanations for the rise of Nevermind as there are people who bought the album (close to 8 million, I believe): the way charts were calculated changed to the advantage of indie rockers, the "better" sound provided by Nirvana's new "major" label made their music more accessible, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a great video, or the simplest explanation of all: Nevermind was one of the greatest albums ever made.

Whatever the explanation, with Nevermind punk finally became not just an artistic/cultural influence, but a serious force in the marketplace. This pissed off a lot of people, apparently including Kurt Cobain ... the snobbish insistence on the primacy of "indie" art over the mainstream has often been crushing to the work of the actual artists in question (of course, forcing mainstream values onto independent artists is at least as crushing, but indie conspiracy theorists tend to find the mainstream imposing on artists far more often than actually happens ... Nevermind is a better album than Bleach, just as Husker Du's major-label debut, Candy Apple Grey, was indistinguishable from Flip Your Wig except the indie release had crappier sound). In the case of Nirvana, this resulted in a followup album, In Utero, that was a horrified version of Nevermind, peppered with songs titles like "Dumb" and "Rape Me" and "All Apologies."

With the death of Kurt Cobain, Nevermind and pretty much the entire career of Nirvana becomes more metaphor than art. Which is unfortunate, for Nevermind remains one of the great albums, In Utero ain't far off, and the posthumous live releases Unplugged and From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah offer numerous pleasures. Because they broke on the charts, because they then "represented" alt/indie rock, because Kurt killed himself ... for all those reasons and more, people think of Nirvana as symbol. It would be a shame if the music became secondary.

Acclaimed Music, which collates critical opinion from a large variety of sources, lists Nevermind as the most-acclaimed album of the 1990s. No subsequent album has been as honored. In fact, Nevermind is #4 on the all-time Acclaimed Music list, behind the Beach Boys and two Beatle albums. That seems fair enough to me: it's a brilliant album, full of great songs and excellent playing, that is also a cultural milestone. The RS 500 list has Nevermind at #17, the first album from the 90s (and the only one for quite awhile), with In Utero at #439 and Unplugged a bit high at #311. I might personally opt for Sleater-Kinney (who don't show up at all on the RS500), but it's hard to argue with Nirvana and Nevermind as the best alternative rock has offered in the past couple of decades.

Comments

Steven Rubio

I posted this one over at Blogcritics.org, too, and as I type this, I've gotten a dozen comments. Some classic material here (scroll down past my post):

http://blogcritics.org/archives/2004/02/05/161923.php

A few examples:

"Ozzy has more cred than Nirvana. Hell, that fuck up from Shirley Temple's Pussy who fucked my ex-girlfriend has more cred."

"The problem was that none of these guys could play an instrument worth crap."

"Nirvana sucked, okay people? Get it through your heads."

"the whole Ramones/Nirvana took away all that was good and holy about music. They took the lead guitarist out of the band."

Charlie

Yes. Agreed. I vote for Slanted and Enchanted too!

punk sucks, indie sucks, nirvana sucks, you suck.
Husker Du though... does NOT suck. But you suck for listening to them because you suck.

anony

Nirvana are not punk..they never were

Kathryn

Nirvana were and still are the best band ever so stop knockin them cause they Rock just cause u faggots are jelous and cant handle anyone elses fame and talent get over yourselves and find somthing better to do with your time. and may i ask if you hate them so much why are u viewing a web page about them.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)