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New Route - December 1991.
By Michael Deeds
"Iím constantly feeling guilty in ways, moans Kurt Cobain, vocalist/guitarist of Nirvana. "Our music, especially this album, is so slick-sounding. Itís not that Iím totally unsatisfied with the production, but it still makes me feel like Iíve probably offended my own beliefs as a self-proclaimed punk rocker. A few years ago, I would have hated our band, to tell you the truth."
Cobain, the heartbeat of perhaps the most realistic rock trio around, is a strange and complex individual struggling in an even more bizarre industry. At 25, his evolution as a musician, songwriter and contemplative human is crucial to his band. The cocoon that once was Nirvana, naive prodigy nursed at the helm of independent Sub Pop Records, has blossomed into Nirvana, veteran power pop magicians of David Geffen Company.
Nevermind, the bandís first major label release, is a blissful slap to the early 1990s, a reminder that rock and simplicity are destined to remain intertwined. In a music world of face-value funksters, cherry pie metalheads and college radio pomposity, Nirvana is, to say the least, a tad offbeat. Cobain, bassist Chris Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl stand alone in a barren musical wasteland, wondering where the hell everybody went.
Formed in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987, the band loped about the bar scene in nearby Tacoma before catching the ear of Sub Popís co-founder, Jonathan Poneman in Seattle. In 1989, Nirvana released its first LP, the thundering eight-track recording monster, Bleach. Packed with Cobainís silky growl and eclectic tinges from R.E.M. to skull punk, the album instantly catapulted Nirvana ahead of the Seattle horde clawing for international recognition. "Iíve always considered us a bar band," Cobain explains. "Now that weíre playing in front of a whole bunch of people, itís kind of a shock. I think there are a lot of expectations, as well as a lot of excitement amongst the label, our family, our friends, the garbage man and our pets and all the other members of than anything weíve ever written."
"But I think itís a bit exaggerated because weíre just a rock band. Weíve already gotten past all the goals that we had - if we had any in the first place. I mean, we just want people to enjoy our music. Itís gotten a bit out of hand as far as Iím concerned."
Unlike other retroactive sludge puppies trudging through the 1970s rock catalog, Nirvana plays tunes. Heat-seeking songs homing in on melody. The feedback howls, and the rhythm section literally rattles your innards into a nasty beef stew - but these guys are almost, well, pop.
"Anything that sticks in peopleís heads is a pop song," Cobain explains. "Itís usually really minimal and catchy. Thatís the only kind of music I can handle. Thatís the only kind of music I can really comprehend. All my favorite music is pop music. But I consider Black Sabbath pop music in a way, except for the drawn-out, masturbatory guitar solos."
"We love pop," roars Novoselic, who just stuck a Madonna album on the stereo. "We wouldnít be doing it if we were ashamed of it."
The bandís only - and not real - concern about Nevermind is the misconception that may occur around the underground music zone. The fury and power associated with Nirvanaís early work are lost on acoustic masterpieces like the anti-rape ballad "Polly" and ethereal "Something in the Way." But sledgehammer songs like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Territorial Pissings" unleash that punk frenzy filled with Cobainís angst-fueled energy, filtering every ounce of excruciating emotion from the listener.
"I think itís weird, but for some reason, people in the underground have denied pop for the last few years," Cobain muses. "I donít understand that at all, because the Ramones were pop. The Sex Pistols were pop. So were The Clash and a lot of other bands. Fucking Black Flag is pop in a way. Weíre not on a major and all of a sudden listening to Edie Brickell."
"Things change," Novoselic says. "Things have to develop and move on. Thatís what continental drift is about, right?"
"This is just something to do right now," Cobain adds. "The opportunity came and I just thought, ĎFuck it.í These are the songs weíre writing right now and I donít think the underground community would appreciate it that much. Throw it at a bunch of gullible 15-year-old kids who like Guns Ní Roses."
Shucks, Kurt. A bit sardonic? Cobain may be surprised at the response from the so-called "counterculture." Slick or not, Nevermind is a deep work that calls on the bandís basic set of rebellions, convoluted attitudes - all borne from a background of that punk stuff Cobain considers good music.
"There are a lot of kids out there who couldnít quite swallow Black Flag by listening to it for the first time, so youíve got to kind of ease them in," he says.
Nirvana: the boy scout band designed to help kids transcend to "better music?"
"It could be," Kurt snickers. "You pose as the enemy to infiltrate the mechanics of the empire."
Like it or not, the members of Nirvana have been shoved hard by DCC on their way to stardom. Already successful in Europe, the band has been touring the Unites States with bands like Urge Overkill and the Melvins. The fans are there, whether theyíre hair sprayiní mane-shakers, darkly clad college students or angry punks ready to kick Cobainís ass.
And Kurt just keeps rocking to and fro on that ego thing - is he king shit or dog shit?
"Iím swinging back and forth on my pendulum," Cobain explains. "Iím really tired of people telling me they like our music. I wish someone would come up to me and say we suck."
Thatís a tough request, considering the depth and diversity of Nevermind. Cobain, still the worldís finest screamer, conjures a sweet voice that nobody owning Bleach would have fathomed.
"Thankís a lot," Cobain coos. "Honey has lot to do with it. I gargle honey."
Yet, Nirvana-mania, however foreign or annoying to band members, must be accepted graciously. Compliments are honest, and the music is addictive.
The video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is probably prancing about MTV this minute. Itís all part of the big-biz game - Cobainís own tragic nirvana.