The Boys Are Back In Town
Alternative Press, October, 1993
PAGE: 2 | back

I can't figure out if it's a defense mechanism or what, but individually and collectively, Nirvana have all but divorced themselves from their "fame," at least on a personal level. It was not Nirvana who broke through two years ago, it was "Teen Spirit" and Nevermind. The fact that they got sucked into the maelstrom as people was simply an unavoidable side-effect. Without exception, they sincerely believe that the last two years of "alternative" history were a phenomenon which was waiting to happen, and Nirvana was simply the lucky first contender.

"We came along at a time of great change, politically and socially," Novoselic continues, a time when America as a whole was awkwardly shifting its feet, and contemplating the legacy of thirteen years of Republicanismmusical and political.

"Suddenly all the people who'd been waving yellow ribbons during the Gulf War were wondering what it was for, how things had changed because of it. And when they found they couldn't answer those questions, they got angry."

If you want to delve into it deeply, Nirvana was the herald which spelled a President's downfall, the symbol of a country collectively shrugging off an increasingly unpalatable past, and its vulgarly vacuous furniture (Clinton out-polled Bush, Nirvana out-sold Guns 'N Roses), and embracing a future it had once never considered.

A future, mind you, not the future. Already the signs of wholesale decay are returning, and while Cobain, Novoselic and Grohl agree that Nevermind did open doors for the country's indie underground, there was a point when they should have been closed again. "Bands who, previously, would have been considered heavy metal or soft rock or jazz or whatever, are being marketed as 'alternative' because that's what record companies believe they can sell," Novoselic complains, and considerably more good-naturedly than past comments would have you believe (Nirvana Slam jam!), he cites Pearl jam as one example.

"They're a great hard-rock band, but to pretend they're something else, to call them 'alternative,' is ridiculous." Ordinarily, he continues, bands like Nirvana and Pearl jam would have no more in common than the New York Dolls and the Doobie Brothers did twenty years back. Today, they're in direct competition, and that's not only musically outrageous, it's morally wrong as well. If Pearl jam are alternative, what does that make Aerosmith? And where does that leave Stone Temple Pilots?

"A friend had a Stone Temple Pilots t-shirt made up," Groh] irreverently interrupts. "He found a picture of their singer, in another band years ago, with a Flock of Seagulls haircut. And on the back, he printed a quote from their press bin about how the members met at a Black Flag gig."

He roars, and I venture a theory of my own, that the hapless San Diegoians are actually a Pearl jam parody band: Stone Gossard, Temple of the Dog, they've covered all bases. If only I could figure out the Pilots...

Novoselic pounces. "Jet City, of course!" Seattle is the home of Boeing.

It was this basic dilemma, the common sense (but less commonly utilized) ability to differentiate between marketing slogans and musical slogging, Cobain explains, which lay behind many of Nirvana's less "diplomatic" remarks of a couple of years back-particularly those about Pearl jam. Though he still insists that Vedder and Co. "could never write a song like 'Territorial Pissings'" (Cobain's own proudest achievement), he also acknowledges that they probably wouldn't want to, either.

The story of Nirvana's initial breakthrough, how "Teen Spirit" was intoxicating MTV before the band's label, DGC, had even opened the promotional budget box, is one of rock's hoariest legends. It was as if (and sales figures back me up) the gods suddenly decided Nirvana would break the sound barrier, and there was nothing we mere mortals could do to stop them.


With no prompting, Nevermind received unanimously good reviews-and by "prompting," I don't mean record company pressure and free vacations and blank checks; I mean peer pressure, the sassy street sense that convinces the world that this band will make it, regardless of whether they actually sell any records. In September, 1991, Nirvana was just another local cult, the latest alternative morsel to drop down Geffen's gullet. By October, they were U2 and Springsteen, Presley and the Pistols, rolled into one snarling bundle.

Cobain had even stopped dreaming about supporting Sonic Youth on tour, and was worrying about the day they would have to support him. Geffen have already hinted at the possibility, and so far Cobain has resisted. But for how long can he keep it up? "It's not that I'm scared they'll blow us off stage, because I know they probably will. It's the fact that without Sonic Youth's example, there'd probably be no Nirvana." It's like the "alternative" labeling; some things are simply morally wrong.

"A lot of people," Grohl remarks with just a hint of bitterness, "look at us and wonder what we're complaining about. 'Money, fame, groupies, the world at your feet ... I wouldn't have any problems with that.' What they don't understand, what they'll never understand unless it happens to them, is the way it changed everything overnight.

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