The Best American Band: Experiencing Nirvana

Nirvana

Nirvana

I lost touch with current music in about 1987 and stayed out of touch until 1994 or so. We had moved back to Columbus, Richard and Russell were infants, then toddlers, then little kids, we didn’t have a lot of money to devote to CDs or concerts, and life just seemed too crowded to pay much attention to the latest trends. I listened to NPR while commuting and, when I listened to music, I listened to “classic rock.” It was not until shortly after Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994 that my friend Dr. Science ripped me for living in the past and encouraged me to reconnect with new music. I grudgingly had to admit that he was right, so I started listening to CD-101 and buying CDs — one of the first of which was Nevermind by Nirvana. That one, exceptional album was enough to reignite my interest in current music.

There’s lots to like about Nirvana’s music. For one thing, it is about as stripped down as you can get — lead guitar, bass, drums, vocals — and it produces great power rock. In my view, Nirvana’s best songs have tremendous musical “hooks” that make the music impossible to resist, like the meandering intro to All Apologies, or the quiet, minimalist beginning of Something in the Way. Then, you had Cobain’s extraordinary, raspy, emotionally charged vocals singing lyrics that were different from the standard fare — sometimes troubled, often amusing, and almost always thought-provoking. You’d listen to a song like Heart Shaped Box and wonder what the hell those lyrics really meant. Many of their songs left me, at least, with lingering questions at the same time I was enjoying the beat.

The faithful Ipod includes 19 Nirvana songs. My favorites are Heart Shaped Box, Rape Me, All Apologies, Mr. Moustache, Lake of Fire, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Lithium, On a Plain, and Something in the Way, and Smells Like Teen Spirit is one of those rare songs that has become a bit of an anthem of a time and place. Nirvana wasn’t around very long, but it had a big, and I think continuing, impact.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

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