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“If I Could Have Just One Pure Thought on ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’”


ARE YOU GONNA LISTEN TO NIRVANA OR NOT? Ok, I guess it doesn’t matter THAT much, but for some reason it’s really pi**ing me off that this guy at work the other night put on Nirvana, their desultory, left-brain-compiled and thoroughly uninspiring “best-of” from 2002, notable perhaps solely for its inclusion of the excellent previously unreleased track “You Know You’re Right.” And ok, I guess that stark, bare, black cover with this silver writing is pretty cool and yeah I guess calling your best-of a “self-titled” is kinda, sorta, uh, bit**in’.

But this band’s albums are way too solid to be dabbling around in this “greatest hits” crap. They’re like Talking Heads – More Songs about Buildings and Food was impeccable funk-pop, Fear of Music was similar but swampier and more textural, Remain in Light was their verbose Afrobeat masterpiece and Speaking in Tongues was sweaty radio perfection, wall to wall.

But the other night, for some reason “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the first song I heard off Nirvana at work – it must have been on shuffle or whatever. And also, for some reason, something in my brain just CLICKED [1] and I knew, FINALLY, that I was going to hear “Smells Like Teen Spirit” objectively, something I hadn’t thought possible before.

Now, obviously it wasn’t like hearing it upon its initial release because at this point I’ve lived through bands like Foo Fighters and Filter which in late 1991 would have equally been embraced as sonically and stylistically vanguard, with their voluminous guitar roars and expedited, almost brusque way of courting the concept of the pop structure. But for some reason I just HEARD “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the first time, having previously thought it a little better than Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time” and containing not quite the power and vitality of Blur’s “Bugman,” but then, what does?

It was brutish, to be honest. It was dumb music. This isn’t Frank Zappa here, people. Where did all the musical BARRIERS go? This is really dumb, repetitive music. Hey, my head’s nodding along. Wow, this guy is really pi**ed off. Well, the murder and AIDS rates in 1990 are higher than they’ve ever been. Music with an affable disposition wouldn’t really be appropriate, now would it? This guitar solo is really Pixies, if I’ve heard the Pixies.

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[1] I have a really weird thing about grunge where my big sister liked it but when I was nine and it was just getting big it just seemed like a lot of dumb, loud guitar fuzz, at that time me lacking the sort of desperate rage requisite for understanding music (this writer in no way lacking said ornery disposition this current day).

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