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20 Musicians Discuss Nirvana's Nevermind

September 22, 2011  |  8:45am
20 Musicians Discuss Nirvana's <i>Nevermind</i>
11. Dave Feddock
CHAPPO
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What age did you first discover Nevermind?
14 years old.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
I still think of Nevermind as a yardstick for what a really great album should be. Each song is a masterpiece unto itself but the album never sounds like a greatest hits compilation. It ebbs and flows through various moods and levels of intensity while maintaining a super high level of focus.

12. Van Pierszalowski
WATERS
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What age did you first discover Nevermind?
Age 9, rediscovered at Age 16.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
Nevermind was one of my very first CDs. I can still picture it in my little CD binder, along with Green Day’s Dookie, Weezer’s Blue Album, and some CD-Rs of Rancid and those Punk-O-Rama compilations. When I first got it, though, at age 9, it sort of faded into the background for me. I don’t think I really “got” it yet. I was attracted more to the brattiness of Billy Joe and Co. at that time, and couldn’t relate as well to to the intense emotional output of Nevermind. Later, when I was in high school, my pack of three friends and I all of a sudden became obsessed with Nirvana. I’m from a very small, and kind of cowboy-vibe town, so it wasn’t the most popular obsession, but that probably why we were so devoted. We started a band called Samsara (which is a pretty damn embarrassing play on the word “nirvana”), and watched the VHS of Live! Tonight! Sold Out! so much we wore it out completely. Nevermind was the album we’d always go back and forth on. We would love it, then hate it for a while, then love it again. But by the time we graduated, we had declared it, once and for all, The Greatest Album Of All Time. Throughout high school, though, it was the record that made me realize I HAD to play music. Thanks to that record, there was no other option.

13. David McMillin
Fort Frances
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What age did you first discover Nevermind?
The ripe age of seven.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
I guess I discovered Nevermind twice.

My first experience with the record was in the second grade. My mom was a teacher at the community college in-town, and each day after school, I had to take the bus to wait for her to finish her class and take me home. I sat in the cafeteria which was always set on MTV, and at the time, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was in regular rotation. But, being far away from knowing anything about being a teenager, I didn’t get it at all. I remember wondering why those cheerleaders were a part of this loud rock song.

Fast-forward six years later, and a friend introduced me to the band’s Unplugged session via a VHS recording he had in his basement. I still wasn’t really familiar with the band, but there is one gripping moment in the video that plunged me head-first into Nirvana world, and it’s always stuck with me.

Just after Kurt shrieks the last “shiver” of their cover of Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”, his blue eyes burst wide open in this chilling split-second stare, and his lungs let out a sigh of desperation. It’s a very special glimpse into how Kurt really felt. There are all kinds of reports from the period shortly before his death of whether or not he was happy, but the performance of that song shows that his genius and the massive commercial success of the album had paired together to form a weight that the man simply would never be able to carry.

After watching the Unplugged session, I religiously studied Nevermind. Toward the end of high school, I got to perform “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on stage at this big show that included a ton of students singing songs from around the musical spectrum – everything from Motown-era stuff to Nirvana. I remember dissecting the words again and again. What did it mean? What was the significance of a mosquito? How did the lights being off make everything safer?

My attempts at attaching the meaning to it never mattered. I remember just aiming to recreate Kurt’s growl, which made understanding the words a challenge anyway. It was a huge moment for me – I was 17. There were at least 1,000 people in the crowd, and I was nervous as hell. And then, I got on stage and the meaning came to life for me – the angst, the frustration, the meaninglessness of the pressures to adhere to some kind of societal norm. That song that I had seen in that cafeteria years ago that I didn’t understand had finally come to life for me.

Like many songwriters and performers, Nevermind’s personal and musical impact came years after Kurt died for me, but it’s one that I am constantly reminded of – the ability to communicate feelings and thoughts through sometimes indiscernible words and the energy to transform a three-piece into a deafening roar are two of the reasons that I will always turn to this record and other Nirvana records for inspiration.

14. Trevor Shelley-de Brauw
Pelican
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What age did you first discover Nevermind?
I was 13 years old watching MTV after school. I remember quite clearly seeing the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” when it came out – it really resonated with me how their sound cut through all the other crap on the network at that time – they even made Guns N’ Roses (my favorite band at the time) sound tepid by comparison.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
It’s really difficult to quantify. I quickly transitioned from being a Nirvana fan to being too punk to listen to grunge because it was “commercial”. Interestingly, what was key to that transition was the issue of Rolling Stone with Nirvana on the cover. There was a full page Fugazi live review in there that REALLY captured my imagination and before long I was stocking up on all their records, Minor Threat, other Dischord acts, etc. Those records jumpstarted my punk career, giving my horrendous guitar playing an outlet in the form of the multitude of punk bands I would go on to form during high school. It’s easy to imagine that without Nirvana acting as my personal gatekeeper to punk that I might have lost interest in playing guitar since I had no natural talent; perhaps I would not have gone on to throw away my college education making a psuedo-career out of my semi-professional band. All pure conjecture, of course.

15. Marissa Nadler
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What age did you first discover Nevermind?
I was 10 when it came out. My older brother had the cassette tape and I loved it. The raw sounds was a rush of adrenaline through the saccharine bullshit that was on the radio at the time. (and unfortunately still is) Just to paint the picture, although “rape me” is off In Utero, not Nevermind, I recall one of the first times I slow danced with a boy to be at a Bar Mitzvah was to this song. Nevertheless, Nevermind really connected with me. It’s sense of melody is stunning. The cover art and accompanying videos. It was the golden age of MTV and that generation finally had a hero. The imagery on the record is amazing. It’s a perfect record.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
It felt like my generation finally had it’s own music, and “Come As You Are” as the anthem (or “Smells Like Teen Spirit”). I grew up prior to that listening to the classic rock of my parents. With grunge, and more specifically, Nevermind, a generation was defined. My favorite songs off the record are “On A Plain” and “Something In The Way”. I love the MTV unplugged live versions of these songs as well, when they cover The Meat Puppets. I also discovered Leonard Cohen through the song “Pennyroyal Tea,” again not off Nevermind. Kurt Cobain committed suicide on my birthday when I was 12. It was something I will never forget and really affected me.

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