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So You Think Nirvana Sucks…

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nirvanaPeople can say some pretty stupid things online. Maybe it’s the anonymity, maybe it’s just a spur-of-the-moment thought immortalized forever on a message board. Some of them are understandable, given circumstances. OK, your brain farted and spat out that retarded statement, and now you’re feeling better. Alright.

But sometimes, the things people say can cause great need for release of frustration. Some of them can make you want to steal a car and ram it into a shopping mall, or grab the next person to walk past you and shove his face into a tree trunk. For example, I’ve heard, more than once, someone who is supposedly into rock music say they hate Nirvana, and that Nirvana sucks. This is utterly berserk. Listen up, pinhead.

First of all, the words “hate” and “sucks” are oversimplified ways to express discontent with something. People use them when they don’t know how else to identify or explain what they don’t like about something. And don’t get me wrong, there is much not to like about Nirvana. (Big hint: It’s designed that way.) But to say Nirvana “sucks” and that you “hate” them is entirely missing the point, like saying “man, Casablanca is so damn sappy,” or “why does Van Gogh paint so many sunflowers?” Let me explain.

Why people don’t like Nirvana:

  • Kurt Cobain’s voice is so craggy
  • Kurt Cobain’s such a junkie
  • Their music is so basic and “raw”
  • (Or: their music is so candy-ass-pop)
  • Man, flannel is so “out”

Why they’re wrong:

1. Kurt Cobain isn’t Lady GaGa, and that’s the idea. Cobain was a real guy, with real emotions that came through in his music, exposing his audience to actual human feeling. Since that is the ultimate goal of music (not “to help you look cooler”), it’s a huge part of the appeal. And since he happened to be the tormented sort, his voice conveyed that, very effectively. In fact, he used his voice as a way of separating the fans who understood his music from the ones who were just coming to shows because it was cool – and the result was heartfelt songs that sometimes sounded quite ugly. Some people who claim to be into rock don’t like that, which is fine. In that case, you can go back to the cushy drivel you’re tricked into buying by fake guys who drive Land Rovers and have no reason whatsoever to actually feel the music they make. Your loss, smart guy.

2. Kurt Cobain was indeed a junkie. This wasn’t good for his health, but the ironic side of it was that his drug habits made his mind go places people don’t normally go, and his songwriting brought it back for everyone else to see. Because, as unfortunate as it is, junkies actually tend to write better songs. Doubt it? Go ahead and listen to “Come Together,” “Space Oddity” and “Something in the Way.” Now go listen to Jet. Or the Jonas Brothers.

3. Nirvana is indeed simple and raw. It was the ’90s, and simple and raw was a reaction to pompous and flamboyant (like Guns ‘n’ Roses). And since Nirvana was so raw, basic and new, everybody else did what they do with anything — they copied it and made it prettier. Hence Pearl Jam, Silverchair, Bush, Filter, and all the way up to the pretty-boy, fake “grunge” bands that are around now, like Seether and the screamier parts of Linkin Park. (Don’t even get me started on them.) (…Wait, I’ve already gone there.) Those bands took the same idea, made it cuter and more produced, and added stuff like extra testosterone, Abercrombie-Fitch fashion and hip-hop tendencies, so it could become much more popular. And it did. So, when you go back and hear the original version of all that pretty noise, on the surface it can be underwhelming — like how Joy Division’s version of “Dead Souls” isn’t quite as hard-ass as Nine Inch Nails’, or how Donnie Darko doesn’t have quite the same level of drama as its sequel, S. Darko. (If you haven’t seen the sequel, don’t bother.)

4. Nirvana preserved pop, despite everything aforementioned. This is probably the biggest reason they were successful, and probably one of the reasons Cobain hated his success. He was able to wrap his angst and rough-edged, emotional outbursts in a nice, listenable candy shell that made it extremely popular with his fans. He probably could have made it even more poppy, if he wanted to. (I’ve read that he’d even talked about adding orchestration to his next album.) The problem was, it tended to make people assume the band was candy all the way through. So the people who liked Lithium came to shows and were utterly perturbed by songs like Milk It.

5. Flannel. People in Seattle probably wore it because it’s cold there. And not that it was ever supposed to become the world’s coolest ‘90s skater trend, but for what it’s worth, it’s all over the place in vintage stores banking on a full-blown revival. Hey, you bought into the ‘80s revival, right? Nice ass-huggers you got there.

Addendum: I recently ran into another reason why some say Nirvana sucks, which is that they put an end to the hairband era. And the only appropriate response to this would be the same response I received the time I ordered two Irish car bombs at a trendy bar on Melrose: (hands splayed outward) “REALLY?” I’m done here.

Oh yeah, and you'll want to download my book.

Written by Peter Kimmich

August 19th, 2009 at 1:18 pm

28 Responses to 'So You Think Nirvana Sucks…'

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  1. […] This post was Twitted by Southern_Tracks […]

  2. I think you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head with this analysis.


    19 Aug 09 at 8:05 pm

  3. Interesting analysis. In my experience when seeing people’s music collections: Nirvana is always there! Dance, raver, indie kid or techno junkie, it doesn’t matter, I see Nirvana everywhere.

    I really like Cobain’s voice, it’s so natural. It isn’t like Audioslave or Radiohead where I find the voice way forced. (Although I do enjoy Audioslave)

    Will you make similar articles for Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, because I find it difficult to enjoy them.

    Have you heard Crash Palace Peter? They’re deliciously rare.


    20 Aug 09 at 5:05 pm

  4. i think the saddest thing, for me, is the realization about junkies and their song writing abilities. its a depressing thing to think, that most of my favorite songs were written by addicts.

    such a sad state of affairs.


    20 Aug 09 at 9:20 pm

  5. […] ♣ So You Think Nirvana Sucks…[Monitor Down] […]

  6. I would argue that Nirvana is one of the top 5 (definitely top 10) bands of ALL TIME.


    21 Aug 09 at 9:45 am

  7. Mr Kimmich, you read my mind. Only the other day my girlfriend and I were discussing this very band. We are actually both impartial to Nirvana. I own Nevermind exclusively, but even so, it’s hard for me to grasp onto the whole “NERVANNNA ROOLZ!” concept.

    I recognize their impact on music. I just don’t see what made people go crazy. I am about to admit something I have never heard anyone else admit to in my life:

    I have no idea what “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is about. I mean I read the lyrics, but I’ve never read a breakdown because I’m afraid it will taint my own opinion.

    Nirvana never bended my mind like it obviously has done with some. But you better damn well believe that if it came down to a choice between Nevermind or whatever Theory of a Dead Man just came out with, I would make the right choice.

    Just don’t tell my girlfriend that.

    P.S. I second the notion that it’s unfortunate that most great songs are products of spirit journeys.

    Metal Evangelist

    23 Aug 09 at 4:03 pm

  8. morgan

    27 Aug 09 at 9:48 am

  9. I thought Nirvana was definitely a revolution in music back then but now these days, they’re..well, actually they still are. lol. today’s music suck.
    Btw, i think the fact you need to be a junkie to make better music is a myth and if it does, what’s the outcome of it anyway? death by shotgun. Anyway, truth is, the fact that Nirvana became a household name just proved that they became mainstream which Kurt Kobain couldn’t take and ended his life, of course, that issue are among the rest of his other problems. In a way, he presented the depression of the human kind that nobody at that point really dared showed.


    9 Oct 09 at 12:42 am

  10. Amazing post.
    Number 5 made me laugh.


    10 Nov 09 at 11:03 am

  11. i must say, peter, i enjoy your articles.
    I agree with almost everything you say.
    but since u dont like system, you are my sworn enemy. GRRRR! DIE!
    I enjoy your articles a lot though, and ur appreciation for rock, and maybe even heavy metal!
    I guess we are sort of frienimies. (friend-enemies)

  12. Challenge accepted…. prepare to be friendenenemies for life, System-Liker. GRRRR…

    Peter Kimmich

    19 Nov 09 at 10:27 am

  13. haha lol
    btw, sry for earlier imature posts in the hated-genres article.
    lol, and i love the V impersonator joke, good one!
    Serj does look like him!

  14. Nirvana sucks!
    Their music is stolen and ripped off. I remember in 91′.. All of sudden everyone was playing this shit.. like it was the biggest thing ever and me and my metal head friends were laughing our heads off.

    Curt cobain’s vocals… ripped off Chronos from Venom

    Guitar sound… distortion stolen from death metal

    Every band that makes it is by no accident. To make it you have to sell out and Nirvana sold out.

    It’s all about radio play and nothing more. If a hundred people endorse a band and tell you it is cool, you are bound to be conditioned to believe it.


    26 Nov 09 at 4:22 pm

  15. Actually, Nirvana was more influenced by punk and bands like the Pixies than by anything death metal. And heavy distortion is all over the place in rock, so you can’t attribute it to metal anymore than you can say a singer’s scream is “stolen” from some other singer.

    True, every band you hear on the radio is there because a record exec put them there, and you don’t usually hear about any bands that haven’t “sold out” in some way or another. But that also goes for any metal bands you’ve heard other than the ones you know personally, and any albums you bought other than directly from band members. Getting hype isn’t the same as being talented, but it doesn’t negate it either.

    Peter Kimmich

    30 Nov 09 at 1:55 pm

  16. I think you just blew sdfsfd’s mind.

    Captain Morgan

    18 Dec 09 at 4:09 pm

  17. Mr.IMPROFANE(Post 4) : I CAN’T believe you find the voice in Audioslave ‘way forced’. There is BARELY a vocalist who can bring as much emotion to a song as Chris Cornell. Barely, or even attempt to sing a song like he does. Or for that matter, Thom Yorke. Maybe you should really listen to early Soundgarden. Hopefully, you’ll change your mind.

    Moving on, while I do agree that Nirvana are a good band, they are undeniably, a tad overrated. I’ve seen that when people are exposed to their music in the beginning, they already think of Nirvana as some sort of demigods, which just leads them blindly into becoming ‘fans’.

    And to the author, Pearl Jam didn’t ‘copy anything and make it prettier’. To my knowledge, most of Pearl Jam had been involved in the local music scene much before the band had been formed. Judging by this entry, I’m sure you’ve at least heard of Mother Love Bone. They are ‘raw’ too. I think Pearl Jam epitomises what Rock Music is all about, although all of their music cannot be classified as Grunge. The genre itself is quite diluted if I may say so.


    30 Jan 10 at 11:27 pm

  18. you think your smart, but your not to say hate or sucks is just used to define all aspects of what you don’t like about a certain thing, you know to shorting things up instead of explaining the reasons. That way we can avoid boring convos with people like you. If it went for nirvana we wouldn’t have puddle of mud or nickleback, so maybe they do suck


    23 Mar 10 at 7:58 pm

  19. All that agenda aside, don’t you think that “Smells like Teen Spirit” has it’s signiture riff ripped from Venom’s “Countess Bathory” Listen for yourself and be the judge.


    8 Apr 10 at 4:49 am

  20. smells like teen spirit is a gr8 song even if the riff is ripped from venom…

    i like nirvana

    10 May 10 at 6:22 am

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