NOSTALGIA: When Nirvana were basically the biggest band on the planet

JOANNE SAVAGE remembers the liberation of the grunge era when a generation of disaffected youth found their voice, and messy hair and ripped jeans were totally in vogue

Friday, 3rd December 2021, 5:08 pm
Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain who became something of a saviour for a disaffected generation before his death by suicide in 1994
Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain who became something of a saviour for a disaffected generation before his death by suicide in 1994

In the early to mid 1990s, Nirvana were the biggest band on the planet, Kurt Cobain was basically God and grunge was the ultimate in cool.

Following on from ultra-macho, big hair, often misogynistic, fist-bumping mainstream rock, and hyper sanitised corporate pop, suddenly a generation of the disaffected had found a new prophet with an angelic visage, messy blonde curtains, slightly mildewed cardigans and ripped jeans who sang about heart-shaped boxes, teen spirit, Leonard Cohen afterworlds in which one could sleep eternally, and more specifically that it was OK to eat fish because they don’t have any feelings.

Kurt Cobain, joined by Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, were the reluctant poster boys of a sort of supercharged post-punk revival that was wholly anti-corporate America, faux smiles, conformity, rampant capitalist acquisition and being unashamed to be a bit of a negative creep. Nirvana did things that were highly anarchic like appearing on Top of the Pops and refusing to mime along to the requisite selected song obediently. Kurt trashed the stages, was manfully unafraid to sing about vulnerability, sorrow, depression and feeling wholly outside the main drag.

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For me at 14, Nirvana’s seminal Nevermind album was the soundtrack to an angst ridden existence wherein defiance of adults and especially teachers seemed apt, and it was suddenly cool to be so uncool that you in fact became immensely cool.

The grunge era was a seminal moment in musical history and suddenly everyone wanted to be grunge-y, and I used to play that world-changing album on loop until I new every single word, and each guitar riff seemed to speak to my very soul.

The tragedy for Kurt Cobain was that while being avowedly alternative, his outsider-style music became massively mainstream, as so many who did not feel on board with orthodoxy felt they had found the anthems that summed up their profound sense of alienation.

And so alienation became a new orthodoxy.

Kurt’s fame became meteoric and his life ended tragically by suicide in 1994 when he was at the very zenith of his rock god status.

Obviously, for those of us who loved Nirvana and the grunge era, the music, lyrics, the ripped jeans, the bedhead hair and attitude remain current, but I do wish more contemporary artists retained Kurt’s defiantly punk spirit and contempt for soulless corporate rock.

Bring back grunge I say, and long live the legacy of the inimitable Kurt Cobain.