There has been an avalanche of literature popping up about Nirvana in the last few days. It may have something to do with the fact that Geffen is raring to go with a 20th anniversary box-set of the era-defining (depending on whom you ask) Nevermind, which will cost a small fortune and probably only be afforded by the grunge fans who went on to become super rich (read: Jared Leto). It may be that it’s been a good five years since anyone went bananas over Nirvana and now that their sound is suddenly retro – everyone from Zeahorse through to Yuck are riding their buzz- it seems timely. Or maybe the dudes from Slate, The Guardian and every other site worth their salt just want to turn the clocks back to 1992 again. You can’t really blame them; it doesn’t look like any kind of revolution of that scale is going to be happening in a day and age where Pitbull is considered a legitimate pop artist and everyone else pretty much exists for the sole prospect of appearing as a guest on the latest Guetta album (how quickly does he churn those out, seriously?). I’m not going to bitch and moan about how much better it was back then because I was five and the only thing I was headbanging to was The Wiggles.
But goddamit I’ve watched enough video and read enough interviews to know that it was something important. Plus, our frequently esoteric guest blogger Daniel Grosz introduced me to them when I was in my first band with him at 13, and after that I never looked back. The beat from ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is still one of the first things I show to my new drum students. For me, at least six years out from when Nevermind actually dropped, the sound was one which I instantly fell in love with. While I wasn’t sold on Kurt, it was Grohl’s drumming and the ferociousness of the rhythm section in general which really shook my world. So funny, then, that today’s song is perhaps one of the more mellow songs the trio ever produced (with the exception of acoustic performances and songs from In Utero like ‘Dumb’), where the main focus is guitar and vocals. ‘Come As You Are’, however, was probably the one song on the record that really sold Cobain’s singing to me at the outset. Counterposed against the eerily effected, picked-rather-than-thrashed lead line, his sentiments cut straight through the hype and noise and get under anyone’s skin. I know fully grown adults who don’t know or care about anything else released in the ’90s who can still recite these lyrics from memory. It is that kind of song.
Two of these people are my Aunt and Uncle, who grew up on a diet of Joni Mitchell and Guns N’ Roses yet adore this song, so much so that they taught my twin cousins how to sing ‘And I swear that I/Don’t have a gun’ chorus when they were eight years old. Believe me it was quite a trip to be driving home from lunch on a family holiday and hearing them getting amongst it all, completely divorced from the song’s context and position in modern MTV fable. It’s times like that when I understand, despite the obvious commercial imperatives, why twenty years since Nevermind means so much to so many people. They all have moments like that, some of them more direct, other equally oblique, which forms part of their personal experience. That a ragtag group of men from Aberdeen could do that is really quite special, and while anniversaries are stupid, there’s probably not going to be anything from right now that we’ll be celebrating in 2031 unless Thom Yorke suddenly drops dead, so go with it, won’t you?
Nirvana – ‘Come As You Are’