This year – 2011, if you forgot – marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind. As with all such moments, reissues, tributes, and all kinds of analysis and discussion will spring from the well. I don’t recall this much fuss when The White Album turned 20.
I am not here to fellate Kurt Cobain, Nirvana, or their legacy, nor am I here to kick them in the balls. Let me say for the record that I do like Nirvana. I was just never one of those kids who obsessed over them. I was almost 21 when the band released its second album, so I was very much aware of the state of music and the effect that Nirvana had – much more so than say when punk broke. (I was only six.) I don’t even own a copy of Nevermind. I never needed to. Almost every person I have lived with since the album dropped has owned a copy. I believed in 1991 and am still convinced that if it wasn’t Nirvana, it would have been the Pixies.
Yes, Nirvana was a good band, and there is no denying the impact the band had on the medium and the industry. Cobain’s principle strength was not in his guitar playing but his songwriting, exposing his soul to his audience in ways few rock stars (or any celebrity) would feel comfortable doing. His rawness and honesty were embraced by fans who in turn trusted him. Cobain’s celebrity, commercial success as an artist, and perhaps even a genuine likability enabled him to champion other artists, often lost to time, overlooked by the industry, or as with the Jesus Lizard or William Burroughs, perhaps just a bit too far off the familiar path. In my opinion, this is one of Cobain’s greatest contributions to music.