This time, I am listening to Nirvana’s Nevermind.
They say that familiarity breeds contempt. I don’t know if that is altogether true; I mean, I’m very familiar with my arms but as I stare down on them while typing this, I don’t harbor any ill will towards them.
Nirvana’s Nevermind album on the other hand (that is not an arm pun) is an album that I feel so irrationally sick of that I have to listen to the Devonshire Mixes from the bonus tracks of the anniversary edition right now, just to allow myself to hear the album at all.
With that in mind, Nevermind is a shining example of why I started my TGR series in the first place. When I listen to the album, I do not hear the same music coming off of the disc as a new listener would. I hear learning to play it on the drums, hearing it on ratty acoustic guitars at school, over the speakers while waiting for bands to come on stage, I see music videos and live versions and everything and anything but the actual album.
If I was pressed to choose a song that I hate, I’d probably think of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ because it is overplayed. I know that historically instrument shops had a ‘No Stairway To Heaven’ policy, but if I owned one it would be a ‘No Teen Spirit’ policy.
My instant reaction when ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ ever comes on under my jurisdiction is to skip it if its on a controllable audio system, change the channel if its on tv, or to roll my eyes and tune it out if its somewhere else unavoidable. Almost as if in some hipster way I have to prove to some higher authority that I am too cool to like such a popular track.
Maybe I could try and justify it by saying that I don’t feel comfortable having that song be used by the public as a dictionary definition of rock music, because that is my hobby and I feel so invested in it. That would be a lie though.
You could then argue that the real reason is probably because when I was young and therfor childish, it was cool to dislike popular things in an ass-backwards definition of cool. That would also be a lie however, as I identified that this was a stupid thing to do early on and tried to avoid it. I do have an ass-backwards taste according to a lot of people, but it isn’t being contrary, I do actually like the things I like and actually dislike what I dislike. At a push, my contrariness extends to an ‘I’ll judge for myself’ attitude, but not much further.
Regarding the violent reaction I feel towards Teen Spirit; the same thing can arguably be said about ‘In Bloom,’ ‘Come As You Are,’ ‘Polly,’ and ‘Litium.’ Increasingly, it can also be said for ‘Breed’ too as I have played in a total of five bands in the last decade that have covered that song in practice rooms.
So, with a total of six out of the album’s twelve songs giving me the physiological symptoms of extreme stress, this isn’t an album that I just stick on anymore. Which would seem crazy to someone who just got into Nirvana or rock music in general… “One of the biggest selling, most influential and most popular rock albums ever made gives you panic attacks? What is the matter with you?”
Listening to the album again (even in this alternative mix format) I realize that the roots of this contempt run deep, deeper than anything else in this series so far. I takes such a force of will to hear the music on the disc and not just a cloud of polluted mental energy that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to this album on a regular basis ever again.
But that being said I don’t hate the album, or even dislike it. The reason that I feel this way is all based on the fact that this was a damn good album. I mean, the whole world wouldn’t tell me it’s a classic all the time if it was bad, it wouldn’t be on TV and the radio all the time if it was bad, I wouldn’t have got it in the first place if it was bad… and my close personal friend in high school wouldn’t have played such a large contributing roll in my dislike for it by loving it too much if it was bad.
I remember a time when ‘Lithium’ was one of my favourite songs in the whole world, and if I hadn’t read a billion articles about Nirvana, watched too many sloppy punk-attitude live shows, and learned to play it on the drums, then it probably still would be.
I have actively avoided this album for about nine years, which is weird considering I only heard it for the first time two or three years before that. It doesn’t seem like a fair balance, but it is what happened.
With that nine-year quarantine this Re-Listening has actually been really enjoyable. I’ve had to skip ‘Polly’ because it was too overpoweringly tainted with memories, but otherwise I have strongly enjoyed every song. Even ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’
The thing is, when I actively concentrate on the music that is on the disc, it is a very enjoyable and well-crafted bunch of enjoyable songs. The memory I have of the album is as a sloppy collection of badly played, punk music that is deliberately raw. Maybe that is because of all the amateur cover versions I’ve heard, or maybe it is because of Nirvana’s punk influence and punk ethos in the live environment.
I never liked Punk, sometimes I’ve even actively disliked it. I don’t like the idea of being bad at your instrument, I don’t like the idea of leaving in loads of mistakes and I don’t like only allowing yourself to write short aggressive songs. I also don’t like the fact that so many punk bands stopped being punk despite how much of a virtue they claimed that punkness was.
I totally agree with Punks that raw intensity and passion are great, and that being pompous and overblown is bad and therefore its not as if I don’t understand it or something. I know why people like punk… but I don’t personally. You can be intense and honest enough for me while still being well produced and musically impressive.
The punk thing is an off-putting thought for me when Nirvana come to mind, but on this Relistening I discovered it didn’t really apply. Kurt talked in interviews about being a Punk band, and some of their stuff is raw, sloppy and deliberately badly played… but not Nevermind. I don’t know if it is just the Devonshire Mix version or something, but on this Relistening what I am hearing is a professional and radio friendly rock album; one that isn’t over-angsty, isn’t all that punky and basically doesn’t really contain the things that I think of when I ask myself why I don’t like Nirvana anymore.
I guess I do remember Kurt also said that Nevermind was a sell out and that it was too commercial and radio friendly. Now I understand why. ‘On A Plain’ for example is a big fun summertime song in all but the lyrics.
Overall; this is an album that I really enjoyed listening to today. Unfortunately I think that the negative feelings towards it got into my mind too deeply, before I was mature enough, and consequently it will be forever locked into my mental filing cabinet’s ‘avoid’ category. I’ll freely admit that it isn’t the album’s fault, this one is all me.