(Written previous but delayed for reasons even rock couldn't solve)
April 5, 10 years ago, a generation was brought to its knees. At least that's what I had been told repeatedly by the media at the time, though I myself felt no such wobble in the joints. How strange indeed to be lectured that a seminal event was taking place around me, and not only was I not connected with the shockwave but I had the very palpable feeling that those in the media foisting these emotions on me were in fact full of crap.
Curt Cobain, volatile lead singer of Nirvana and questionable bride selector killed himself on this date and I was repeatedly told to care.
But I couldn't. Self-destruction has never been something I have been inclined to sactify into martyrdom. When someone is standing on the accelerator on a dead-end street all you can do is pull the kids in to safety and not look at the explosion. This mourning-cum-apathy within me has nothing to do with my opinion of the band.
My introduction to the magic of the album "Nevermind" predated that of most people. At the time I was in a house with 4 other guys, the cheap rent tempering the fact that most of us couldn't stand each other. One roommate was a notable jackass but he was something of an alt-music savant who always kept us in good music and on the cutting edge. He often managed to bring home a disc that later would end up exploding on one scale or another. We all had fallen for "Nevermind" long months before a note ever appeared on radio. In fact, when "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was only becoming referred to as an Anthem we had in fact become tired of the album. We all gravitated to that disc, stealing it out of each other's players or blasting it in the house at any and all hours. It never occurred to us that it would become the musical mushroom cloud of the decade, although it should have tipped us off that 5 guys with differing tastes all loved the same album. (A similar event took place with "gish", as I had that entire album memorized before Smashing Pumpkins became an MTV Cribs name.)
Nirvana's mega-popularity was difficult for the masses to quantify, hence the term grunge was created, although its definition came to mean any band from Seattle or which adorned itself in tattered flannel fashions. They did not fit into the pigeon-hole of "Punk", largely due to the fact that punk was a Ramones-fueled English rebellion against the musical establishment of disco and the like. As much as I enjoyed Nirvana's stuff I had a hard time elevating their work in terms of importance with the likes of The Sex Pistols or The Clash--for one thing they were too damned melodic. Look at the effects. Those bands inspired countless acts in their wake, leading to numerous offshoots such as new wave, progressive, industrial, and others. Nirvanas's legacy instead is a wave of bands immitating them, and as a result the alt-rock scene has become a homogenized, and now marginalized, musical niche buried by hip-hop and teen queens.
It is doubtful we will ever see a poetic union like Joe Strummer performing on the "Sid and Nancy" soundtrack involving a Cobain feature, should it dare be made. It has to be saddening however to think that Strummer's recent passing, as well as those of Joey and Dee Dee Ramone, failed to provoke the kind of outpouring Cobain's demise invoked. Our local rock station played nothing but Nirvana for entire day. I remember news shots from Seattle on the day Cobain threw his mortal coil down the toilet, with the crowds gathering, and wondered how much of that was heartfelt and how much was a desire to be on the scene and possibly be seen on MTV News. And I think I know why I harbor such dubious emotions.
To get a true handle on the way this revolution was compromised you should see the documentary "Hype!" which covers the popularity of the grunge scene from the vantage of Seattle. More than a catalogue of events from the Pacific Northwest music system it is an indictment of the media treatment of what was taking place in that area.
Right around the time "Nevermind" was cresting its popularity I read an article in SPIN magazine where the writer was on tour with the band as they blazed through Europe. On the tour bus the writer heard curious music being played and asked the frontman about it. Curt waxed poetic, saying lauditory things about the band they were listening to and explaining how they listen to their albums all the time. That band that held such sway with the "Voice of a Generation"? It was ABBA. Freaking ABBA! I don't know about the rest of you, but I myself expect a little more from my figurehead than kicking back and listening to Swedish club icons. C'mon--how can this guy lay claim as the vox populi of Gen-X when a major influence on himself was the Nordic yelpers of "Fernando" infamy.