Nevermind – 20 years later

As of today, Sept 24, it has been 20 years since Nirvana’s Nevermind was released. (I have this post set to be published at 3am EST – midnight in Seattle.) I was only 6 at the time the album came out, a month shy of 9 when Kurt Cobain killed himself (April ’94), so I missed out on the moment. Sort of. I may have been too young to realize the importance of the band, not to mention too young to yet have a distinct interest in music, but with all the interviews, writings, and, ultimately, songs, it would be impossible for anyone to not feel like they were right there when it was all happening.

My introduction to the band came via my brother. He was a fan from either just before Cobain’s death or just after. Either way, he would listen to his Nirvana albums constantly. I didn’t take to them right away, probably in part because of a traditional sibling rivalry (it must be bad if my brother likes it, right?), but then I saw a special on MTV. First they covered a little bit about the band, about Cobain, about his burn out. I was intrigued. Then they aired Nirvana: Unplugged in New York. I was absolutely blown away. I immediately “borrowed” my brother’s album of the show and listened to it again and again and again.

I didn’t know that a bunch of the songs were covers (like the one above by Meat Puppets), but that didn’t much matter. The performance is what counted to me. And it was an incredible one. From David Bowie covers to Lead Belly tunes to Nirvana originals, I couldn’t get enough. I searched listings and watched The Preview Channel constantly in hopes of seeing more Nirvana specials and repeats of performances. (This was before DVRs and, as far as my house went, Internet access.)

(If there is one video you watch from this post, make it the above. Pay close attention to the moment – and it is a moment – at 4:39.)

It wasn’t long before I started moving into the other Nirvana albums – especially Nevermind. Literally every song on that record is a gem – any one of those “Top 100” or whatheveyou lists of the best albums of the 90’s which does not place this at number 1 is invalid. Come As You Are, Lithium, Polly? The assemblage of songs Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl put together back in 1991 can’t be beat. Yeah, I love a lot of other albums – Revolver has one of the greatest string of three songs I’ve ever heard in Taxman, Eleanor Rigby, and I’m Only Sleeping (plus a lot of other great hits) – but the dozen songs on Nevermind will never be topped as far as I’m concerned. (I’ve never had the honor of hearing an original album featuring the hidden 13th song Endless Nameless.)

This was one of those life-changing bands. Cobain’s more liberal views, his detestation of macho bullshit, his love of art, it all influenced me. I grew a distinct feeling of empathy over the idea of rape, something from which I am otherwise relatively insulated. I came to realize there’s nothing wrong with being gay. I picked up the guitar when I entered high school. The course of my life has been shaped in large part by the fact that I started listening to Nirvana back in 1998. That satisfies me immensely.

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