At 21 years old, it’s easy to dismiss my input on the legacy of Nirvana because, well, I wasn’t there when it happened. However, I think this also qualifies me as the perfect person to attest to the influence and relevancy of the band that surpasses any claims of a “musical fad.”
I wasn’t introduced to Nirvana by Nevermind. Nor was I introduced to them by any sort of hype (surprisingly enough, being raised in Western Washington). It was on my 14th birthday that I picked up Nirvana’s self-titled Greatest Hits album. I’d seen it there several times and was intrigued by their name. I bought it on a whim. I know, it’s the lamest introduction ever.
There were a few things that initially stuck me with Nirvana. First of all, it saved me from the terrible early 2000s rap-rock of Linkin Park and Papa Roach that I was starting to get into. It was a new sound (new to me) unlike anything else I’d heard. Then there was the emotion. Being 14 years old, even if things are fine, you tend to feel like you suddenly have all this emotion that no one relates too. Hearing Kurt Cobain singing lines like “I’m so ugly, but that’s okay cause so are you” felt like confessions that you could never find the words for.
Around my junior or senior year of high school, I started fading away from Nirvana. I maintained a respect for them, but the less I listened to them I grew scared that if I went back I wouldn’t feel the same way.
Now its 20 years since Nevermind . The buzz of Nirvana in the air and the media lately has inspired me to look at that album again. No, the songs don’t feel the same that they did then, but I’m not the same person. I also don’t think I truly understood Cobain like I thought I did. He wasn’t dealing with high school crushes; he was talking about things that even now I cannot fully relate to.
I imagine maybe it’s a similar thing for those who were there for Nevermind’s release. So many people listened to that record and related to its gloom and doom. Cobain clearly had issues, but it seemed like he was speaking for an entire generation with the same issues. In hindsight, Cobain was in a different league of problems. Music history may see him as a martyr, but I feel like maybe the greatest tragedy is that we thought we understood him and didn’t do anything about it.
Nevermind stands as a testament of a musical movement, a breakthrough in emotional transparency in music, and a tragic story of a man who changed a genre and whose potential may never be fully known. In another 20 years I’m sure there will still be younger generations picking up Nirvana records and feeling comfort in the distortion of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or the self loathing of “Something in the Way.”