I came across this article tonight and I thought it very interesting. For those of you who don’t feel like clicking it or taking the three minutes to read it, let me paraphrase for you lazy SOB’s: on the 15th anniversary of “Nevermind’s” release, the author isn’t a huge fan of Nirvana and claims that their music has not stood the test of time as well as the Soundgardens, Pearl Jams and Smashing Pumpkins of the world have. Ouch.
So, two things hit me here:
1. “Nevermind” is fifteen years old now? SHIT!
2. There are so many weaknesses in this guy’s writing that it’s silly.
First things first – we must all realize that this lad’s opinion is purely subjective. He’s absolutely entitled to it, of course, but to say that Soundgarden’s horrible “SuperUnknown” and Blind Melon’s big hit “No Rain” are better constructed and more indicitive of the time is, well, a mysterious thing to claim. I could, of course, question his taste, but that’s way too easy. I don’t think many people share his opinion and let’s just leave it at that.
The article spurred some additional thoughts and I think the more interesting topic of discussion here is what might have happened had Cobain not killed himself. There cannot be any shred of doubt that their star would have waned. It happens to them all. My thoughts are that it would have happened more quickly for Nirvana than some of the other major hitmakers over the years. Why? Well, you can’t really argue that grunge is timeless, can you? Even before Cobain passed, there was a sense that its trajectory was moving south. I mean, Candlebox? Hello? Either way, it’s a moot point – the genre died with its unwilling patriarch.
In my mind, Cobain undoubtedly would have agreed about grunge’s downfall. Cobain more or less admitted this himself in the terrific liner notes to Incesticide when he said “I’ll be the first to admit that we’re the 90’s version of Cheap Trick or The Knack but the last to admit that it hasn’t been rewarding.” (sidenote: you should really read those liner notes, by the way, if only for the interesting words he writes on Courtney Love, which confirm that while Cobain may very well have been the voice of the slacker generation, he had very bad taste in women. Those words about her ring…..strange)
The Cheap Trick comparison Cobain makes is an interesting one when you think about it – and it’s right on. Cheap Trick had a string of major hits in the late 1970s and then as quickly as it exploded, it fizzled. And much like Nirvana, those early Cheap Trick records easily support the fact that they were an absolute powerhouse of a band. Hooks up the ass and the talent to back it up. You laugh, probably, but next time you see me, ask me to play “Lovin’ Money,” “Auf Wiedersehen” or “Downed” for you. Seriously. You won’t laugh anymore. If Nirvana had continued the way Cheap Trick did, people today would probably feel the same way about Nirvana that they do about Cheap Trick. Sad, but true.
So we can speculate until the cows come home, but I would have bet anything that Nirvana might have had one more album in them before Cobain ended it. Grohl, grossly underrated, would have gone onto the same career he has now and Novaselic wouldn’t have done anything differently – he’s at home with his feet up, logging into to his bank account and shaking his head in utter disbelief.
What of Cobain then? What if the bullet missed? An album with Stipe? What else? We can only guess. My sense is that he would have had the brains to end Nirvana soon after 1994 and his talent was such that he would have evolved. It really would have been terribly interesting, because I think he would have branched off into some captivating stuff. Alas, his brains took a different and more disgusting route.
I’m pretty confident that he wouldn’t have befriended pro baseball GM’s and drank wine on stage during his shows. I know that had he soldiered on in music, he wouldn’t be held up to the altar he sits on today. Nothing glorifies talent or legend than dying at your arguable peak. I have little doubt Cobain would still be revered, but in the way that someone like Dave Matthews is revered. Oh, that hurts me to say. But you should ask Robin Zander. He’d take that.
For the record, I think Nirvana’s music stands the test of time – barely. There aren’t many others from that era whose music does. Then again, music that stands the test of time is long gone anyway. The game has changed.