Saturday, July 29, 2006

Smells like teen spirit

I feel like I missed a major milestone in music. I don't know if I was on my mission, or just not around when Nirvana came out and in particular when Smells like teen spirit came out. I have heard Gabby (and Josh and Jared) say the same kinds of things about when this song came out for a while and I was listening to All songs considered, and a featured band was talking about their favorite or most influencial song, and Smells like Teen Spirit was one of the songs. What did it for me was that the reasoning was basically identical to Gabby's.

Gabby has been saying this for years, and the featured band said it too: Once the song came out and the video first played, everything was different. This was unlike anything else before, and everything would be different after; it was as if all the rules for music were now changed.

It wasn't some obscure artist who was awesome and the few who knew about her shared knowing nods.

I never saw the video for "Hey Ya", but I saw a performance on one of the late shows and felt like this was totally fresh and original, felt like it challenged music, I haven't heard anything that was that big and that original since, and it swept the nation. Was that what Smells like teen spirit was like? Or was Hey Ya too fun?

Still love both songs. Can my experience with Hey Ya compensate for missing Smells like teen spirit? Or is it not a fair comparison? Other songs up for consideration?


  1. I feel like Norah Jones has done similar things. When I heard her stuff it was as though music would be saved. There is was a lot of junk out there and she changed the standard for good music.

    Also, this is gonna sound dumb but Eminem's song "slim shady" got the same reaction from me. There was something about it that was just good.

    I was probably too young to really get what Nirvana was doing. At the time I really liked the Fumbling Planets.

  2. I would have felt that way about Norah Jones, too, if I had not heard Mazzy Star prior.

  3. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” wasn’t great just because it was a new sound. The entire experience has to be put in context.

    In 1991 music was pretty lame. It had been over a decade of heavy metal big hair bands, Poison, Skid Row, Def Leppard Everything was so old that any new band looked like a parody of the previous band. Guns and Roses came out "Appetite for Destruction" in 1987 and gave us hope, but by 1991 "Use your Illusion" 1 and 2 came out and we realized that GnR was a promise unkept.

    REM came out with “Out of Time” and U2 produced “Auchtung Baby” two good albums, but they were nothing new. They both could have been created 5 years earlier by those same bands.

    I bought Public Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet" and De La Soul's "De La Soul is Dead". To me it seemed like rock was dead. Rap was the only thing new, a sentiment I think reflected on REM rapper KRS-1’s “Radio Song”, the first song on “Out of Time”.

    “What are you saying
    What are you playing
    Who are you obeying
    Day out day in?
    Baby, baby, baby, baby
    That stuff is driving me crazy
    DJs communicate to the masses
    Sex and violent classes
    Now our children grow up prisoners
    All their lives radio listeners”

    I was up in Salt Lake the summer of 91 and Kerry Sherman asked me if I wanted to go see a band called Nirvana playing at a small club downtown ( I think it was that place that was an old converted church). I had never heard of them so I told him no. I remember talking to him the next day and I could tell I had missed out on something good. It might have been because it had been so long since anyone had talked that excitedly about music, but I remember him describing the concert and it sounded like something new.

    A month later I was watching MTV in the afternoon and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on. At first I wasn’t sure what was going on. Usually when you see something new, you try and understand it by comparing it to something you are familiar with, “This Sci-fi movie is like Star Wars, but with worse effects, etc”. But with Nirvana it was hard. Kurt Cobain looked kind of like Axl Rose but where Axl was always wearing cool leather and scarves and crap, Nirvana looked like they were wearing clothes they had found at the bottom of their closet that morning. They sounded closer to classic rock than anything that had been on the radio in the previous ten years. More than it being a great song, the style and video were just exactly what everyone was looking for at that time. It was sort of a big F.O. to the tyrannical rule of Hessian overproduced glam rock that had so cruelly dominated us all through high school. The kids remain in the bleachers for so long, but the cheerleaders aren’t entertaining us any longer. It was perfect, perfect. We don’t want sexy women in tank tops on the hood of your car, we see past your stage explosions and back flips. We want substance. Here we are now entertain us.

    The song and video changed everything. It took about 30 seconds for every hair band to run for cover, I think Def Leppard even cut their hair and tried to be grunge. A thousand Nirvana copy cats came out, some good(Pearl Jam) and a lot bad. Even good bands acknowledged that things had changed. I think this is why U2 came out with an electronica album.

    I don’t think it has been repeated since. Oukast is good and they are different, but they have not had the cultural influence that Nirvana had. I think to find a parallel you have to go back to the Beatles or Buddy Holly.


  4. I don't have a great interest in music. I never have.

    I lived in Seattle when Kurt Cobain killed himself. The city stopped. ALL the radio stations (rock, pop, even political TALK radio covered the story the WHOLE day. I couldn't figure out what was going on and what the big deal was.

    I remember calling Steve at work so he could fill me in. I was trying to expain, "some rocker killed himself but he must be somebodys kid or something because they are making a huge deal about it. Who is this guy? What is going on...?"

  5. Josh, Thanks for the explanation. That really was great. Nirvana makes more sense to me now.

  6. I really like Nirvana's music. Still not positive on why exactly, but nonetheless, I listen to them all the time.

    Sorry for not having another way to give this url to you, & I'll post normal music vlogs when I can access them on a different computer: