American Icons: Nirvana's Nevermind
Friday, September 16, 2011
This is the last great invention of rock and roll.
Twenty years ago this month, a new sound blasted the cobwebs out of every radio station in America. It 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 and roll. So we can see it as really the final flower of that era of American power.”
As part of our series on American Icons, Studio 360’s Trey Kay investigates why Nevermind was never forgotten.
What other work of art from the 1990s do you consider an American Icon? Tell us in a comment below.
Video: "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
Smells Like Teen SpiritArtist: NirvanaAlbum: NevermindLabel: Geffen Records
LithiumArtist: NirvanaAlbum: NevermindLabel: Geffen Records
In BloomArtist: NevermindAlbum: NirvanaLabel: Geffen Records
How to Survive in South CentralArtist: Ice CubeAlbum: Death CertificateLabel: Priority Records
My GenerationArtist: The WhoAlbum: My GenerationLabel: MCA
Sweet EmotionArtist: AerosmithAlbum: Toy In the AtticLabel: Sony Legacy
No. 13 BabyArtist: The PixiesAlbum: DoolittleLabel: Elektra/Wea
On a PlainArtist: NirvanaAlbum: NevermindLabel: Geffen Records
BreedArtist: NirvanaAlbum: NevermindLabel: Geffen Records
Stay AwayArtist: NirvanaAlbum: Nevermind