Nirvana: the last great invention of rock 'n' roll?
Twenty years ago this month, a new sound blasted the cobwebs out of every radio station in America: Nirvana's 'Nevermind,' becoming the defining record for Generation X.
Story from Studio 360. Listen to audio above for full report.
Nirvana's "Nevermind" was angry and bracingly cynical -- the album featured a naked baby swimming toward a dollar bill dangling on a fish hook, and it went #1 in the blink of an eye.
In the words of Joshua Clover, a University of California at Davis professor who writes about music, "You take a guy who can write strangely articulate surrealist lyrics and screams in key and plays a guitar that sounds like it was strung with piano wire, and it’s either going to be an absolute disaster or the most fantastic thing that you’d ever heard."
It was the latter.
"Nevermind" pushed Michael Jackson off the top spot on the charts and pulled mainstream rock deep into alternative territory. It became the defining record for members of Generation X (who got their name that same year), and the grunge uniform of flannel shirts was ubiquitous from dorm rooms to runways.
But "Nevermind" didn't signal a comeback for rock music as America's most important cultural export. Quite the opposite.
"If rock is the last great invention of industrial era in the United States," Clover suggests, "Nirvana is the last great invention of rock 'n' roll. So we can see it as really the final flower of that era of American power."
PRI's Peabody Award-winning "Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen" from WNYC is public radio's smart and surprising guide to what's happening in pop culture and the arts. Each week, Kurt Andersen introduces you to the people who are creating and shaping our culture. Life is busy -- so let "Studio 360" steer you to the must-see movie this weekend, the next book for your nightstand, or the song that will change your life.