Monitor Down

The music blog that doesn’t want to hear itself

So You Think Nirvana Sucks…

with 17 comments

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.) 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. 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. Hey, at least they bothered.

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.

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17 Responses

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

    Twitted by Southern_Tracks

    August 19, 2009 at 4:17 pm

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


    August 19, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    • Why thank you.

      Peter Kimmich

      August 20, 2009 at 7:53 am

  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.


    August 20, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    • Although you must be right on that: people who like Nirvana like them because they do ‘preserve pop’ and are catchy.


      August 20, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    • Good idea, articles about what is likeable about so-and-so band. Though usually it’s impossible to change people’s musical opinions, because most people have made up their minds. (This entire rant is more about letting off steam than anything else.)

      I might write something like this about Radiohead (though less vehement, because I can more easily see why people don’t like them). I’m not such a huge fan of NIN, either, even though I know their stuff is good as far as music goes.

      Crash Palace … I’ll look into them, thanks.

      Peter Kimmich

      August 21, 2009 at 11:47 am

      • i’ll write one on NIN if you like. see what you think.


        August 26, 2009 at 8:58 am

      • @ Morgan: awesome.

        Peter Kimmich

        August 26, 2009 at 4:04 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.


    August 20, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    • Yeah, especially knowing that some of those people are capable of such amazing material, except that they’re wasted all the time. Think of the songs Cobain thought up, or wrote, that he never played because he was too out of it. Then there’s Pete Doherty .. that guy’s music would be spectacular, if he was sober enough to sing and play it properly. Dammit.

      Peter Kimmich

      August 21, 2009 at 11:49 am

  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.


    August 21, 2009 at 9:45 am

    • …and as such, very susceptible to attack, I suppose. Still no excuse.

      Peter Kimmich

      August 21, 2009 at 11:50 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

    August 23, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    • Wow, good turnaround on that. Sweet post, I completely agree with your analysis.

      Peter Kimmich

      August 27, 2009 at 12:24 pm

  8. 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.


    October 9, 2009 at 12:42 am

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