“Nirvana Was a Pop Band. Stop Calling Them ‘Punk.’”

It seems like every year, there’s a whole new rash of simpletons mesmerized by the shiny object known as Nirvana’s music, them thereupon proceeding to act like they’re the only ones who truly “get” the band, and obsess over the infallible messiah known as Kurt Cobain and every available online picture of him. This is ironic, of course, particularly seeing as Kurt Cobain was pretty much an a**hole, verbally berating and disrespecting both Axl Rose and the entire band Pearl Jam, each of which had been nothing but jovial to him, and throwing his life away in a torrent of destructive, degenerate heroin usage. 

Cobain especially starts to look like a buffoon when he criticizes Pearl Jam for being “a real commercial rock band,” when his own band was lodged on a major record label, Geffen, and obviously had a big studio budget for Nevermind, their major label debut, which was produced by the famous sound man Butch Vig, who also worked on Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. Everything about Nirvana’s techniques, production and packaging were every bit as “pop” as Motley Crue and Guns ’n Roses. In fact, the band never even produced their own albums. The songs on Nevermind are not short, like punk rock songs, and they have stalwart verse/chorus structures, belikening them more to, say, the Fine Young Cannibals, than Bad Brains or Minor Threat. They should, of course, be commended for peppering in the element of loud guitar, apparently appealing to some pervasive scourge of frustration active across the populace, what with their bulbous record sales. 

Now, obviously, “grunge” would be an operative term applicable here, but I’m writing this in part to touch on how taboo this term seemed to be amongst many rock historians. Let’s face it: they’re snobs. They can’t handle the fact that 100 million people around the world also like the band that they like and so they force this unorthodox opinion into existence, refusing the ubiquitous term “grunge” for “punk,” a concept that flies relatively under the radar. This is troubling, of course, as these obviously aren’t bands with a low budget or a “DIY” (do it yourself), but rather privy to an essentially endless studio budget, and redolent of huge concerts at arenas and stadiums. Grunge is pop music played on loud guitars, basically. None of these bands produced their own albums. There is no genre. The whole point of “punk” was to make rock music loud and simple again, and grunge is certainly loud, relatively, but nowhere near as simple, what with Pearl Jam’s five-man lineup (you’d be hard-pressed to find a punk band in history with five members) and call-and-response rhythm-and-lead-guitar parts. And, of course, the common heroin habit prevalent in these types doesn’t exactly cater to a small budget and modest, frugal means, to name a couple of more punk tenets. With its five-minute length and sarcastic lyrics, in contrast to the anarchic earnestness of the Sex Pistols and the boyish guilelessness of The Ramones, Nirvana truly ushered in a great new day in mainstream rock. Let’s recognize it for what it is and stop trying to belittle the band’s sense of song structure and charisma as a rudimentary, primitive trend in rock. 


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