I’ve always had a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards Nirvana.
My parents were in their 40s when they had my brother and I. They were children of the second world war rather than baby boomers and came from fairly conservative stock – as such they viewed the popular music of the latter half of the 20th century with disdain and did their best to inoculate this view into us. As a result my childhood was marked with a stubborn refusal to entertain the idea that that horrible “rock and roll” music that got played on the radio could be anything but degenerate trash, a view that persisted until I started to develop a personality of my own around the age of 11, a point at which I would reluctantly concede that Livin’ on a Prayer was quite catchy and maybe some other rock music might be OK in limited quantities.
In my teenaged years this prejudice evolved into a kind of carefully maintained contrarian elitism. If a new band came along I would be willing to give them a chance, but if the great mass of unwashed plebs (ie: everyone except myself and my close associates) were crazy about them they were clearly populist garbage not worth considering. Nirvana’s Nevermind arrived right in the middle of this phase and its sudden, massive popularity led to my declaring the band emblematic of the worst excesses of youth culture and an anathema to all right listening folk. I regarded Kurt Cobain as a talentless hack distracting attention away from more worthy musical acts such at the KLF and Dire Straits, and refused to even listen to his works.
By the time Kurt did himself in, the year after my high school graduation, my attitude had mellowed a bit, but not enough to have any sympathy for the hordes of my peers who fell into various states of hysterical grief. I thought it unfortunate in a general sense that he’d taken such a step, but really didn’t care either way. Kurt Cobain dead meant as little to me as Kurt Cobain alive, and I regarded the crowds of mourners with the kind of disdain we reserve today for Beliebers and Directioners.
Over the next decade my attitude towards the music of Nirvana softened while at the same time my attitude towards the ongoing apotheosis of the band hardened. Being told that Kurt Cobain was the voice of my generation, and Smells Like Teen Spirit was the anthem of my youth would drive me towards a state of apoplexy. I’d go out of my way to point out that there were plenty of us who couldn’t stand Nirvana and thought that Kurt was a dickhead – a dickhead who came out with a few decent tunes, sure, but still a dickhead rather than the tragic hero everyone was making him out to be. It was about this time that I discovered the Pixies, and I reframed my criticism of Cobain into classing him as a sad, Black Francis wannabe – someone who could ape some of the sound and style of Doolittle while missing the weirdness and bizarre sense of humour that gave the Pixies their edge.
In the years since I’ve mostly made my peace with Nirvana and Kurt Cobain. As you get older you realise that what other people think about you and your ‘generation’ matter less than what you think about yourself and your place in the march of history. If someone looks at my birthdate and decides I must have spent my teenage years wearing plaid flannel and wishing I lived in Seattle, well good luck to them. Nirvana had some great songs and Kurt Cobain was a gifted, but troubled soul who didn’t get the help he needed. I don’t even mind Smells Like Teen Spirit any more, although it remains without any special meaning or significance to me. Which I guess is why I can enjoy madness like this so much, when many other people my age would regard it as absolute blasphemy 🙂
The more you listen to this insane mashup, the better it works, although even on my first listen there were bits that I found absolutely sublime – the descending chords during “oh no, I know a dirty word” for instance, and the “hello” chant after each verse. The smoky images of moshing teenagers somehow really seem to suit the epic 80’s buildup at the start and the Europe guitarists at 0:55 seem to have internalised the old axiom that when playing rock your guitar is every bit as much a weapon as an AK-47 or M16.
Well I’m all pooped out after all that reminiscing, and still need to include another music video, so – apropos of nothing – here’s Laimutis Purvinis.
One thought on “Musical Monday – Final Thoughts of Latvia”
Rock on, Denys. Rock on.