Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ at 25: A Millennial’s Take on the Era-Defining Album

"Discovering Nevermind anytime post­-1994, especially in the tumult of your own adolescence, feels a lot like being tossed a rope amid the waves, only to find that the liferaft has already drifted away."

By Olivia Isenhart 

Nirvana’s Nevermind, released on September 24, 1991, celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend. For a quarter of a century, it’s been one of the most revered albums among both music critics and fans. For many, the moments spent alone with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “In Bloom,” “Come As You Are,” and the songs to follow are sacred ones. To this day, Nevermind is a rite of passage in which, in your candlelit room with the door shut tight, somewhere between the aggressive riffs and thrashing drums, you no longer feel so alone and confused.

In a perfect world, I would have discovered Nevermind the way most of their fan base did. I would tell you about the moment I first got the cassette or CD, popped it into my car, figured out what the hell “teen spirit” was, and spent the rest of my formative years trying to get it out of my system. I’d talk about the guitars, and the drums, and oh my God, the vocals, and how good they all sounded to me for the very first time. I’d marvel at how a band could go from the combative wrath of “Breed” to the bruised meditations of “Something in the Way” within one album. Right about here, I’d start reminiscing on what a splash it made, and how it’s all my friends were talking about back in ‘91. But, truth be told, I’m closer in age to the baby on the cover.

That baby’s name is Spencer Elden, and he and I both missed out on the thrill of that scene, so rich with uncertainty and the promise of new bands, breaking down boundaries. His dad was working as a Hollywood special effects artist when he tossed him into the public pool for a few seconds, snapping a low­-cost cover shot for an up­-and­-coming Seattle band – “a friend­ helping ­a ­friend kind of thing,” as Spencer put it. Having become the unwitting, naked icon of one of the greatest rock albums of all time, he, perhaps unsurprisingly, developed a taste for Nirvana as a teen. But he never met the band in person. Kurt Cobain died in ‘94, when Spencer was just a toddler.  I was four months old.

Our generation grew up after the end of it all – the end of Kurt Cobain’s life, the end of Nirvana, the end of that entire scene. And believe me, that’s a tough pill to swallow. Discovering Nevermind anytime post­-1994, especially in the tumult of your own adolescence, feels a lot like being tossed a rope amid the waves, only to find that the liferaft has already drifted away. It’s a record with that kind of lasting influence; one that still feels like it can save you – or fight off whatever you need to be saved from in that moment. And it doesn’t matter when that moment is taking place. What matters is that the amazing rhythm section of Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic knew how to make your pulse race, and Kurt Cobain knew exactly how you felt when he sings about Sunday mornings, and enemies, and finding a way. That’s why kids like me, in any era, will still hold onto the rope with blisters.

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