If you were a teenage obsessed with pop culture in the 90s, there are certain things you just remember. You remember numerous lines from numerous episodes of The Simpsons. You remember the first time you so South Park or a bootleg of the short film that inspired it. You remember the word Lollapollooza, seeing Titanic.
If you were also a huge fan of music, you remember the intro to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and how Nirvana entered the public consciousness like a bomb going off.
I’m going to be very upfront about the fact that for the most part, I am not a huge Nirvana fan. I really dig Nevermind but I kind of left the boat after that. At the time of its release, I HATED In Utero. I was in complete agreement with Nirvana’s record company, compared to Nevermind, this wasn’t good.
As an adult, I’ve had a chance to re-evaluate that take on In Utero, still not my favorite album by far but not bad by a long shot, just not my thing.
In a lot of ways, Nevermind wasn’t really my thing either. At the time of its release, I had already begun to discover alternative music on my own and I fell into the industrial rabbit hole that I’ve described before. But there was something about “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that really grabbed me and then “Come as You Are” just cemented it. But looking back on it, I’m more a fan of what Nevermind did for my generation of music fans, especially those of us who dug alternative rock.
Nevermind brought alternative to the masses. It brought it to the kids next door to me, the kids down the street, the kids in my French class.Overnight, fans of hair metal and pop music retreated or switched from Poison t-shirts to Nirvana t-shirts. Jane’s Addiction and Faith No More had fired warning shots off the bow of the popular metal ship but Nirvana was the cannonball that tore through the boat.
Now, obviously, I could go on and on about how Nirvana changed the musical landscape of the time and how important Nevermind is to music. Better music writers than I have already covered the crap out of that particular story. What I can do is tell you how Nevermind affected me personally.
The first thing it did was made it a lot easier to get the other alternative acts that I liked. Nevermind jump-started the alternative revolution for not only music fans but music stores. If you had already started trying out bands like Jesus and Mary Chain, Soundgarden or Red Hot Chilli Peppers, you were already on board but the problem was finding the albums or at least in small-town Ontario. My Sam the Record Man, HMV and Sunrise only had so much shelf space and while they were decent at providing music of all genres, understandably, the popular acts that sold well, got shelf space and albums that were questionable for sales at best like The Revolting Cocks’ Big Sexyland, did not get brought into the store. You would have to order them and often these albums would be “imports” which meant more expensive than a regular CD. The popularity of Nevermind had record stores stocking up on alternative bands and making it much easier to get a hold of new material.
This meant that seeing these bands also became easier. They would tour more places because more places wanted to see them. Some bands would be lucky enough to play in bigger venues earning them more money and allowing for more fans to see them.
Nevermind also made it okay to listen to alternative music as a teenager. The fact of the matter is, before Nevermind, a lot of what I listened to was considered weird by a good chunk of my classmates. It didn’t ostracize me but it was the third part in the weirdo trifecta of likes weird music, reads comic books, doesn’t give two craps about hockey. While this was also similar to my friends at the time, we were definitely in the minority, especially in the hockey department. I want to say at least half of the boys I grew up with played hockey. One guy even went on to win a Stanley Cup. He also happened to be a huge douche canoe who’s social group would occasionally throw witty insults at my groups of friends due to our musical interests. Guess who converted over to a Nirvana shirt when Nevermind hit? (And while I have not seen or spoken to this person in years, I can guarantee they own Nicklebacks greatest hits)
This didn’t make me cool by any means but it did mean I was definitely ahead of the curve on the music front and for that, I was rarely teased or made fun of afterward. The bullies just focused on the D&D playing instead.
Lastly, Nevermind taught other kids my age to try different music. Many, bought Nevermind and that was it or maybe got Nirvana Unplugged. But for a number of other people, it was the open door. “I like Nevermind, let’s see what else is out there.” I fell into more dark and angry music. Other friends traced the roots of alternative back further and fell for bands like the Velvet Underground. Nevermind set up the framework for my friends and me to explore different music and then share it with one another. I was one of the first of my friends to have Nevermind on CD and it quickly got passed around and then each of those people started digging their own musical paths.
For everything else that I like about Nirvana and Nevermind, these are the things that I think of as important.