I don’t especially like Nirvana. At some points in my life, I’ve down right hated them. In my experience they have often served as a trump card for someone who didn’t put much thought into their musical tastes. Everyone knows at least a couple of their songs and therefore they become an easy “in” for someone who actually has nothing to add to the conversation. Here’s a good story: One time on my radio (or college PA system) show, I made the comment “Nirvana sucks. Their records were nothing special.” Within in minutes I had a foaming frat boy type yelling at me through the booth window, not only about my opinion but about using the term “record” when everyone had CDs or MP3s. In reaction to this, I cut into the song and explained to him on air that “record” was a general term for any recording and that he must have mistaken it for “vinyl.” This was the only time in 3 years that anyone had aggressively reacted to anything I said, and boy did I make some inflammatory comments during my tenure.
At this point in my life, my opinion of Nirvana is simple. They made solid pop records and had the right people hear them at the right time. The argument oft used by Mtv and VH-1 that Nirvana tapped into some sort of social aggression that occurred at that time is clearly bullcorn (another 5 points for getting that reference) and if you listen to their albums you can clearly hear that they did nothing that hadn’t been done before (or better, for that matter).
Even though they are not the band they are frequently made out to be, Nirvana did do something very important. For years after their rise to the top, record labels searched for the “next Nirvana.” This means that tons great of bands got more promotion and better record deals than they would have in any other era. Some became huge (i.e. Pearl Jam, who I personally believe would be the bigger reference point had Cobain not decided to kill himself) and some simply got to play in front of larger crowds. In this point I take solace; Nirvana probably did more good than bad for popular music. Without Nirvana I doubt I ever would have heard Veruca Salt or Green Day (who may end up warranting an entry of their own) or even Alanis Morissette on the radio, and I can’t imagine how different my taste in music would be today.
This leads to my point and hopefully a new layer to the argument we have here. Though this may shock some of you, some people do listen to the radio to find new music. Unfortunately, record labels and the large media companies tend to stick with what “works”, meaning for the foreseeable future we will continue to get the half assed show tunes of Fall Out Boy, the unbearable yelling of Beyonce and the wannabe tough guy rock of Nickelback. However, Nirvana proved that if one intriguing artist with (and this is important) a different sound can sneak in, it can have a positive impact for years to come. I had actually hoped this would happen with Against Me!, but even they were castrated by their producers on their “Major Label Debut.” That said, I doubt any of us can predict the next truly break through artist. If MP3s don’t end up having an impact that completely changes the landscape, it is only a matter of time before we get our “next Nirvana”. Until that day, our musical journeys will continue without the help of large corporations.
Before I conclude, let me make a note. The Beatles also changed the landscape on their arrival and I was not ignoring them during this. The problem is that The Beatles have had such an expansive impact that it isn’t fair to expect that to ever happen again. As I said before, without complete restructuring of the music industry their WILL be a “next Nirvana”, but there probably will never be another band like The Beatles. God bless the internet, and long live rock and roll.
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