This is a blog about Nirvana.

In their history, Nirvana released three studio albums, two live albums, a rarities and singles album and a box set (not to mention the “greatest of the box set” release, and the cash cow greatest hits album).  Though it can be debated on what constitutes their having “formed,” (first practice, first show, first album?) most agree it was somewhere around 1987, and they came to a grinding halt seven years later in 1994.

A whole lot has been written about this band.  Despite their roots in especially simple, direct punk rock music and their often ignored evocation of years of pop music that came before them, Nirvana was the very definition of a zeitgeist, especially in the way that their status as such often exists outside any objective assessment of the work they produced.

They are a cultural lightning rod not because of the more salacious aspects of their existence, or even, necessarily, Cobain’s suicide (although this is often debated vis a vis the sheer stamina of the band’s legacy).  They’re cultural lightning rods because they represent what very few- and possibly zero- popular musicians have represented in the context of the medium.  They were, without debate, a lone band that single-handedly changed the cultural landscape, business, and perception of rock and roll music.  This does not imply that they did so without standing on the “shoulders of giants,” so to speak, or even that, in many cases, what came after was necessarily better than what was wiped out.  It is the singular and debate-free nature of the change and it’s face that sets them apart.

The Beatles are similar, although in a sense they didn’t change as much about popular music as they simply invented.  Eventually this was, like all great 20th century art, digested by a newer generation and spit back out in rebellion, reference, reconstruction.  Punk rock and hip hop took what came before it and, in a lot of ways, “cleansed” or re-imagined it.  Once fifteen years of rules for pop musicians had become established, they were there for breaking, and while it’s debatable which of the two was more strident in it’s rejection of what came before it, or which was more engaged with what it was seeking to reject, there is never a clear answer as to “who” started it.

Was it the Ramones?  The Stooges?  The Velvets?  The Sonics, The 13th Floor Elevators, MC5, Blue Cheer?  Was it Run DMC?  Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five?  Afrikaa Bambataa, the Sugarhill Gang, Chic or the Ohio Players?  It doesn’t matter- the medium was the message.

Nirvana, of course, wouldn’t have risen to the top were it not for the years of groundwork laid by REM, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, The Replacements, Jane’s Addiction, Dinosaur Jr, Pixies and countless others that hijacked college radio and effectively created an opportunity for the right band at the right instant to write the right song for the right demographic.  There’s something unique about that situation and while the debate as to the band’s actual output and the quality of their influence is a valid and interesting one, they will remain a Roman column of whatever house pop music resides in.

I would therefore like to take Nirvana, song-by-song, and look at what they all mean in the broader context of the band’s existence, and maybe a little cultural explication of what they all represent.

As I mentioned, a lot has been written about this band, and that will certainly not end here.  I would prefer this to be a discussion instead of a declaration, so the proverbial phonelines are open.


~ by Timothy Rogan on December 3, 2008.

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