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"We want to sound slower and heavier than Black Sabbath. Turn the treble off on all the tracks." — Kurt Cobain



Listen to this album, and you'll start to question everything about the world you live in.


Radio Is A Sound Salvation

Jolie Holland Navigates Our 'Scary World'

Revisiting Let It Be

Music For The Turning Of The Leaves

The Triumph Of The Wrens

Terence Blanchard's Got What It Takes

Warren Zevon's Final Album

Grooving To The Stanley Jackson Trio

The Late Nite Mix

The New Buena Vista Social Club

The 'Masterpiece' That Is Astral Weeks

The Outsiders

Minutemen Live On!

The Rise & Fall Of Jefferson Airplane

Radiohead's 'Apocalypse Now'

Cyrus Chestnut Keeps The Home Fires Burning

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Perfect Album

Fear Of Jazz

We're Not On The Same Trip

Becoming An Artist

Jason Molina Wants To Make A Change

Chan Marshall Wants You To Be Free

The Elusive Jolie Holland

Nick Cave Steps Into The Light

Ry Cooder And Manuel Galban Imagine The Past

When Artists Find Their 'Voice'

The Sound Of The "New Rock Revolution"

Hanging With The Clash

When Music Is Just Entertainment

Goldberg's Fave Recordings Of 2002

What Frank Black And The Black Keys Have In Common

More Treasure From Dylan's Vaults

Out Of Time With Beth Gibbons

Eminem Revisited (Sort Of)

Finally Grokking Sigur Rós

Rhett Miller's Nervous Heart

The Downbeat Sound

Tom Petty Takes A Stand

How Does One Become A Rock Critic?

The Low-Key Sounds Of Beck And Sue Garner

Reconsidering Springsteen's 'The Rising'

The Mekons Are 'Out Of Our Heads'

Spoon's Experiments In Sound

Sleater-Kinney Search For 'Hope, Goodness And Faith'

peruse archival

the drama you've been craving

by Michael Goldberg

Tuesday September 4, 2001

Nirvana Still Entertain Us

Ten years on, we search interviews and books for clues to the mystery of music that once shook the world.

It's been 10 years since Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" turned the world upside down — at least for a while. Ten years.

We seem to like anniversaries. They're an excuse to look back. To feel nostalgic. To take another look. Or to re-evaluate.

A special section devoted to Nevermind appears in an issue of Rolling Stone with Britney Spears on the cover. It would, likely, make Kurt Cobain sick — not only to be in the Britney issue, but to have Nirvana's punk rock dissected. I think he'd be horrified to see his own band deified while many groups he championed, or was influenced by — The Melvins, Vaselines, The Raincoats — are all but unknown to most fans of rock, punk and grunge.

Still, Nirvana touched us. Nirvana connected with kids all over the world. And we can't help ourselves — we want to keep connecting.

"Slower And Heavier Than Black Sabbath"

We read interview after interview, trying to unravel the mystery of the music we love. Who was Kurt Cobain? What is that song about? How did it come to be? What was it like in the studio the day it was recorded? What did Kurt say? How did he feel?

The Britney issue of Rolling Stone includes interviews with former Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, as well as Nevermind producer Butch Vig. I think they're all proud of the album they made, and they should be. Ten years on, and when it's playing you could think that nothing else can touch it. That's not true, of course — I have piles of CDs that are as strong, in their own way, as Nevermind. But it doesn't matter. This isn't some contest. Nevermind is a great album; it contains amazing, breathtaking music. Nevermind changed people's lives. That's what matters.

The interviews are kinda interesting. I read 'em. I was looking for clues. Hmm. Novoselic remembers that in addition to listening to the Beatles, they had a tape with a Smithereens album on one side and a Celtic Frost album on the other. "That tape was always getting played, turned over and over again," he recalls. "I think back now and go, 'Yeah, maybe that was an influence.' " Grohl muses that one of the reasons he was brought in to be Nirvana's drummer (shortly before Nevermind was recorded) was because he could sing backup vocals. Butch Vig says Cobain was moody during the sessions. And that "one of the first things Kurt said was, 'We want to sound slower and heavier than Black Sabbath. Turn the treble off on all the tracks.' "

Solving The Mystery

None of this sheds any real light on the mystery of Nevermind or "Smells Like Teen Spirit." It's funny. Musicians often want to know what guitar a favorite musician used, which drum kit and vocal mic, as if by using the same equipment as the artists they idolize, they'll get closer to the source. I think our need to read books and articles about the artists we love comes from that same kind of desire (need?) to get close. And to understand.

If Kurt Cobain were alive today, though, I think he'd be no better than Grohl or Novoselic at decoding the magic they made. "We just wanted to pay tribute to something that helped us to feel as though we had crawled out of the dung heap of conformity," Cobain wrote in the liner notes to Incesticide.

I plan to read Charles Cross' new Kurt Cobain biography: "Heavier Than Heaven," but I don't expect to get any closer to understanding the music than I already am.

Come As You Are

In a way, the mystery is already revealed. The answers are there for the taking. We have taken them. I know I have, and I bet some of you have too.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" refutes the packaged life society wants to sell you. The sound makes me feel so alive. I hear in it: "Fuck the bullshit." I hear: "There are others who feel like you do." I hear: "You can make up your life as you go." I hear: "Punk does matter. Come as you are, not as they want you to be."

Listening to the music, I think: Why are we here? Is it simply to carry on the species? Is there any point to this? Is it really just about getting what you can for yourself, your family, your friends? Is it about making the world a better place? And why? For what? For who? Eventually — a hundred thousand years from now — this will all be gone. Will anything we've done matter?

"Here we are now, entertain us." Yeah, sure.

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