I promise I won’t get myself worked up into a rant-filled fever about this (though I have before), but I feel as though I’ve had to endure as many retrospectives on the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind in the last month as those related to 9/11. Needless to say, I find both to be less than amusing. Because here’s the thing: Nirvana wasn’t that good. To put it simply, Cobain dedicated his life to emulating his heroes The Melvins and Sonic Youth, and found accidental success in the following formula: cool underground music + arena rock production/hooks. That’s it. It’s the same thing U2 did with New Wave on Joshua Tree and Radiohead did with Britpop on The Bends (Note: I love Radiohead, but that’s because OK Computer and Kid A were masterpieces, not The Bends). Nirvana did nothing original, nor did they intend to, so there’s no need to rewrite history as if they did.
Secondly, Nirvana didn’t influence anybody. Any musician worth half his salt claims the influence of the titans of the 80s indie underground: Dinosaur Jr, Black Flag, Sonic Youth, The Melvins, The Minutemen, Mudhoney, and Husker Du. This is where alternative rock was born, and any claim that Nirvana had a role in any way similar to the aforementioned behemoths is akin to those who say the civil war was a battle over the concept of state’s rights (i.e. yeah, it/they were there, but that’s just an ignorant smokescreen). If anything, in this scenario, Nirvana plays the role of Antonio Salieri to the indie rock titan’s Mozart, except the fact that this gives Cobain and company way too much Machiavellian credit.