Despite the lyrics of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Kurt Cobain was far from stupid. Even so, he probably didn’t know that the music Nirvana created on Nevermind — released 30 years ago on Sept. 24, 1991 — would be so contagious that it would infect not just Gen X, but continue to make its presence felt amongst their children, Gen Z.
With guitars returning to radio and the resurgence of pop-punk (which Nevermind helped set the stage for), Nirvana’s second album and commercial breakthrough feels every bit as relevant now as it did when it changed the direction of ’90s rock. Kurt’s fearless individualism was ahead of its time. He was the cool kid who accepted you when the future Trump voters of America called you horrible names and shunned you. He gave you strength by letting you into his world, guiding you to the underground music acts he followed, like Frightwig, The Melvins, The Vaselines, MDC, Daniel Johnston, The Raincoats and Wipers.
In 2021, Nirvana’s influence has woven itself into the American mainstream in all the right ways, with young artists like Willow Smith name dropping Kurt in their songs and Post Malone delivering a memorable Nirvana tribute show in the thick of the pandemic lockdown.
As a lyricist, Cobain had no scruples in expressing his honest feelings in his songs. His words about the human condition, isolation, acceptance, mental health and addiction remain strong touchstones of solace and insight that seem to resonate even more so with the children of Gen X than the Xers themselves. If only Kurt had lived long enough to see how much of a difference he made in the lives of people not even born when Nevermind was released, there’s no doubt he would have been glowing with pride. But Jesus wanted him for a sunbeam instead.
In honor of Nevermind‘s 30th anniversary, we spoke with a wide swath of modern artists who were only babies or not yet born yet when Nirvana changed the course of rock n’ roll on Sept. 24, 1991. So long as the youth remain restless, Kurt’s spirit will never burn out or fade away.
“Growing up, there were few albums I found as viscerally impactful as Nevermind. Kurt’s vocals alone sent shivers down my spine and Krist’s bass combined with Dave’s ferocity was all the energy I aspired to have on an instrument. While ‘Something in the Way’ remains my favorite song, the whole album front to back is an unskippable work. It is also impossible not to mention Butch Vig, without whom the album would simply not be the masterwork that it is.” – FINNEAS
“I remember discovering Nirvana when I was a teen through their MTV Unplugged performance… sadly it wasn’t on MTV but rather the YouTube era of music discovery. The band was gone by then, but from the moment I first stumbled upon it, their music spoke to me. The additional vulnerability of the acoustic setting made it even more relatable. I think as a teen Nirvana had most of the things I was looking for in a band to fall in love with, songwriting that was both beautiful and dark performed by a lead singer who was easy to fall in love with.
“In an interesting twist, later in my life, I learned that long before I had ever heard of the band there was a time Dave Grohl had appeared on KROQ in L.A. to play some of his favorite songs for the station and went on to play a song I wrote with my dad [Ralph Covert]. It is called ‘Happy Lemons’ and we wrote the song when I was six or seven years old and not surprisingly it was my first release…. I remember telling my dad about ‘this band Nirvana I discovered’ and he showed me the video clip of Dave Grohl talking about our song and how much he loved it. It was a very cool moment in my life.
“It’s wild to think this is the 30-year anniversary of Nevermind. I don’t think modern music would be the same without its cultural influence.” – Fiona Grey
“My earliest memory of real, raw, honest lyrics relating to mental health was Nevermind. Kurt reminds us humans that no matter how famous or successful you are, depression and mental health isn’t willing to take a backseat. Kurt’s lyrics inspired me to go deeper in my own musical journey with sharing my struggles with mental health. This record is a moment in time that will live on forever. Every generation will be able to gain something from this piece of work for eternity – a once in a universe’s time kind of art.” – Elohim
“For a lot of people my age Guitar Hero and Rock Band were our first introduction to rock music, at least for kids that look like me. I’ll never forget going over to my friend’s house to play Rock Band and hearing the riff from ‘In Bloom’ come blaring out of the TV as I attempted to sing along as the words came across the screen. Before the song finished I knew I had to hear it again. I went back over to my friend every weekend for the rest year just to hear that song. I didn’t even know it was Nirvana until two years later when I saw the video for ‘In Bloom’ before school on MTV. As soon as I got home from school that day I downloaded Nevermind and never looked back. It completely changed my outlook on what I could do with my life. As an album it manages to be relatable and extremely pop, yet so singular. As an artist and songwriter myself these are things I strive for in my songs. I mean who wouldn’t wanna have their own Nevermind moment?” – Aramis Johnson, Enumclaw
“When we were in the eighth grade, loving Nirvana was the outcast’s rite of passage – if you smoked weed, pretended like you smoked cigarettes, and listened to Nirvana, you were immediately cool. For the both of us, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment when we discovered Nirvana.” – Momma
“Around thirteen, I started collecting vinyl. At that point, the majority of my stack was made up of selected hand-me-downs from my Aunt Marilyn’s collection, alongside my personal copies of Lou Reed’s ‘The Bed’ and Pixies’ Surfer Rosa. My mom is famously a huge appreciator of music, but there was word of mouth in my family that she had banned my older siblings from listening to Nirvana by the mid-’90s. Nevertheless, I came home from my first independent trip to the record store with a hefty haul of vinyl, including Nirvana’s Nevermind. I hid the album behind others in my room so as to not make it the centerpiece, and I would secretly listen to it through headphones on the floor. Each track delivered me a different emotion–some of which I didn’t even know my apathetic teenage self could relate to. I felt invigorated, I felt lonely, I felt heard. It wasn’t until I considered myself more of a songwriter that I realized how this album taught me about the power of words and melody in conjunction. Nevermind relays a personal experience with universal electricity, yet maintains a sense of irony that is intended for those who pay attention enough to be clued in on the joke.” – Etta Friedman, Momma
“In my early teen years, Nirvana was just always there. I knew the songs, I knew the lyrics, and I thought I knew Kurt Cobain in a past life (of course I did, we’re both Pisces). However, there was a period last summer where Nirvana felt particularly important. I had just gone through a nasty breakup, and I needed something to fixate on. Then the YouTube algorithm handed me Nirvana Live at the Paramount, and I started to really pay attention.
“We went down the rabbit hole – we watched Montage of Heck every day for a week straight, we’d put on live performances while we cooked breakfast, and we’d put on Nevermind every single time we got in the car. It became our default, and our comfort. When we started brainstorming what the theme of our next album was gonna be, all we could think about was Nirvana. Why can’t we play to thousands of adoring fans? Why can’t we write the most influential song of the decade? If we were alive in 1991, would we be famous rock stars? We started writing songs about these fantasies of bringing guitar music back into the mainstream. It became our purpose. At first it started as a joke, then quickly became our mission statement as a band. What’s so special about Nevermind is that it always has something to offer. Whether it’s giving our eighth-grade selves some sort of rebellious street cred, helping Allegra get over a breakup, or becoming the blueprint for how to write the perfect rock album, Nevermind will always be screaming – PAY ATTENTION.” – Allegra Weingarten, Momma
“One of the things I love most about Kurt was his ability to convey emotion. Especially because when I first started doing music, I was playing acoustic guitar and singing folk stuff. I would sing about the same things I sing about now, but it was more chill and I wrote these calm songs about immigrants. But it wasn’t until this last election where I was pissed and I needed to channel it through punk. And what I love about Kurt is that he was popping onto this shit back then, because he was a tender dude. He seemed like a person who was really compassionate but also kind of disturbed in his spirit. He both admired and was disgusted by people, and that’s really how I feel as well. I feel like Kurt could have been one of my friends. I could see him as this tender, grungy ass f–ker in an oversized sweater, chain smoking and being a smart ass. He was someone who cared about the world and was navigating what that means. Man, Kurt would have definitely been in my homies circle, I feel.” – Sheikh QADR, The Muslims
“There’s so much that you could say about Kurt Cobain but I think the thing that really inspires me, especially being born after 1991, is how Kurt was so anti-establishment. He really influenced a lot of movements happening even right now still, and I feel like everything that he stood for in politics, sex, marriage, fashion, anything that he did is clearly painted now in our generation.“ – ericdoa
“Nevermind has been with me ever since I was a kid, because it was such a big album. I was in middle school when I started getting into a lot of really heavy music, and I found that album and began listening to it nonstop for like a long time. I really like emo music and I like heavy guitars and distortion, and a lot of screaming. Nevermind gave me all of it. I also think Kurt’s honesty is very shocking, in a way. He was talking about sadness in such an honest almost graphic way that was very scary. Just putting yourself out there like that is really terrifying. Even now with my own lyrics, we just live in a way more open society, so it’s easier for me to talk about that stuff. But there’s a bravery in how Kurt wrote that was very inspiring to me when I first started writing music. I can’t believe how candid he was about all the dark stuff that he was experiencing back when there was no real precedent for that.” — Olivia O., Lowertown
“The special thing about Nevermind for me when I first discovered it was like, usually when your parents show you something you don’t love it immediately. Like it was a long period of time where The Beatles were super lame to me, because it was my parents’ music. But Nevermind was the one record that I heard from my parents that was on something different. It was such an insane listen, and it grabbed me immediately. What I really love is how well documented Nirvana is, and there’s so much to learn about them. The popularity of it is something I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to understand, because of how accepted such honesty in songwriting is now. But even now, the popularity of it makes it seem like it’s okay to be thinking things like that. It’s okay to deal with your feelings like that.” — Avsha The Awesome, Lowertown
“I would’ve loved to hear Kurt Cobain make a country record. In their cover of Lead Belly’s ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night,’ you could totally hear how easily Kurt could have gone in a more country direction. I’m not trying to take anything away from the other band members, but he was really Nirvana. And while I’ve always been familiar with Nirvana my whole life, honestly up until this year I hadn’t been properly introduced to any of their albums. Obviously I’ve heard their big hits like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and all that. But my husband was the one who suggested I go deeper into their catalog, because he knows how much I love sad songs and dark songs. So I began listening to Nevermind, in particular. My favorite song is ‘Lithium.’ I love the chord structure, which is simple but also unusual at the same time. It has some of my favorite lyrics, too. I love the line, ‘I’m so ugly, that’s okay so are you.’ And also the line that goes, ‘I’m so lonely, that’s okay I shaved my head.’ I went through a phase about eight years ago. I was in a dark place, and I actually did shave my head. But it was this really freeing experience, so that line in particular I could literally relate to it.” — Dori Freeman
“Nirvana is the epitome of an artist’s artist, a good ole fashioned showcase of not giving a shit about what anybody else thinks about them; a band with a 0% bullshit tolerance, and a true brilliance that has and will keep getting better with time. They are going to be a household name for many generations due to their authenticity, insanely honest and crazy creative/unique songs, and innate ability to make people from all walks of life feel included from the get-go. In this age of social media, the truth along with levels of genuine authenticity have become less and less with every day. Everybody is so caught up in what others think or what their reputation looks like, that they put on a facade to make sure they are ‘checking off’ all the boxes. Nirvana never did this once. My favorite and most inspiring moment in Nirvana history was the Top of the Pops show when they were told to lip sync and the guys did quite the opposite. Top of the Pops should’ve totally seen Nirvana’s reaction coming, but hey I’m not complaining. That moment when Dave Grohl is playing the cymbals in the verse and when Kurt is sluggishly singing an octave below the melody (not to mention eating the microphone while not even playing guitar) showed the entire world that they were not about to be fake or cave into the media pressures. Nirvana has many stunning moments like this one, and that’s exactly why they continue to influence and make such a huge impact on artists today.” – Beau Bailey, The Revelries
“When I was a young kid in the ’90s, Nirvana was ubiquitous. The band’s music, videos, merch, posters were everywhere. I knew about Nirvana before I knew that I knew about Nirvana. I remember the video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ playing on VH1 and that iconic high school gym scene. When I was in middle school I played in the battle of the bands and one of the songs we did was ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ this was my first band, my first show ever and we won the battle of the bands. So from that moment Nevermind held a really close place in my heart and I still revisit the album every couple of years and obsess over it.
“I felt a really close kinship to Kurt and his writing and his journaling. I have always kept journals and sketchbooks since I was like eight or nine and the way his lyrics spoke about his personal life in such a jarring and honest way was really eye-opening to me. I didn’t have a great relationship with my dad when I was a teenager, we were always arguing and by this point I’d started listening to the other Nirvana records like In Utero and there is a lyric from ‘Serve the Servants,’ ‘I tried hard to have a father but instead I had a dad,’ and this line HIT for me. It was like, ‘holy shit, this dude knows exactly how to say how I’m feeling in a matter of two lines’ and I think that totally changed how I approached song writing and listening to lyrics. Listening to Kurt’s lyrics feels like you’re inside his head for that moment, and not only that but he’s inside yours.” – Misha Lindes, SadGirl
“I discovered Nirvana through my dad when I was a kid and I remember the first time I listened to Nevermind haha. Of course I wasn’t a teenager in 1991 listening to it for the first time but even being a young kid hearing it in 2005 was life changing. I had never heard anything like that before. I had only heard what was on the radio when my mom drove the car or whatever music was playing around my house. I think that was the first moment I had as a kid where I decided I wanted to fully curate my own music taste and only start listening to things that had similar energies / made me feel the same way. I’m sure in a weird butterfly effect kinda way. I wouldn’t be an artist today on a major label or really doing anything if I didn’t have that introduction to Nirvana which then led me everywhere else from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Rage Against The Machine and everything else I got my hands into as a young dreamer. It started my journey into trying to learn everything I could about music and bands and study them like they were my Bible.” – Jawny
“It’s hard to say exactly when I was introduced to Nirvana. I feel like they were always a part of my life. Even from a very young age, songs from Nevermind and Kurt’s lyrics floated around in my head. I love Kurt, but as far as his lyrics go I feel like no line in particular really encapsulates the pain and anguish that man experienced on an emotional, physical, or mental level better than him screaming ‘I have never failed to feel pain’ over and over in the chorus of ‘You Know You’re Right.’ It’s pretty baffling, and it pulls you right into the song. For me personally, I listened to Nirvana on repeat for a fair amount of my life. I’m positive that a lot of the lyrics and song structures the band used rubbed off on my writing directly and subconsciously. I often find myself asking ‘What would Kurt find cool?’ That’s my standard of good.” – Cole Gallagher
“My first experience with Nirvana was listening to their MTV Unplugged album when I was really little. My mom had it on vinyl and it was really scratched and f–ked up and we used to sit in the living room and listen to it all day. It wasn’t until later in high school though, that I really sat down and did a deep dive into all of their albums. Nevermind was one of those ones that really inspired me in the way I write music. Every time I listen to it, it blows my mind that someone can be so brutally honest, finding the core of an emotion with their lyrics, and still write hit after hit.” – Arrow de Wilde, Starcrawler
“When I first heard about Nirvana, I was a skeptic because the name seemed overhyped. Boy was I wrong. My high school friend, Johnny put me on to ‘In Bloom’ and I immediately fell in love with the energy, mixed raw vocals, accompanied by dope chord choices. There was nothing to compare it to. They set the standard for great rock music in my opinion. And I believe you open Pandora’s Box when you discover Nirvana. You become part of this cool music group that drinks Red Bull to read books in a park or something along those lines.” – Danny Singh
“I was born 13 years after Nevermind was released and seven years after Kurt Cobain’s untimely death. I grew up listening to ’80s and ’90s rock, but Nirvana was a band I never fully understood until I was a teenager. Only then did I realize how this three-piece band essentially came out of nowhere and single-handedly changed the entire dynamic of mainstream music. As the ’80s glam metal scene had been so oversaturated by artists and pushed by every label and media outlet accessible to the public, music fans were seeking out a more authentic form of artistry that just wasn’t present during this time in music and pop culture. When Nirvana came along, they had a rebellious nature to them. Not in the sense of ‘F–k you to Tipper Gore and all you parents’ that so many rock artists had both embraced and also made corny through its overuse, but rather a ‘we’re making music for the underdog, the misunderstood, and if you don’t like it, we don’t care.’ Their ambition came solely from the desire to push their message to as many people as possible.
“What I personally admire most about Cobain was his ability to ignore judgment and criticism, even amid controversy. I believe this is what allowed him to thrive as both an artist and a true innovator, being that the carefree image he projected was truly authentic, and he gave his audience an outlet to his very stream of consciousness. My band WHIT3 COLLR is modeled after Nirvana, and like Cobain, I am the frontman/lead guitarist/songwriter. But similar to Nirvana with their ground-breaking Nevermind album, I’m not looking to emulate, I want to innovate. Just as Nevermind had a profound effect on the musical landscape, I’m working to manifest the creation of a new era of music, a truly innovative form of art, that I hope allows future generations an outlet and source of energy, comfort, and spiritual fulfillment, just like Nevermind did 30 years ago.” – Will Sawyer, WHIT3 COLLR
“When we started Evaride we wanted to play music we loved and grew up on in a new and current way. We definitely wouldn’t have our sound without growing up hearing Nirvana. Growing up in the ’90s when bands and guitar-based music reigned supreme was an experience we are grateful to have been alive for. It’s a goal we still have today of bringing back amazing lyrics, melody and guitar based popular music.
“One of our favorite lyrics from Kurt is actually a rather generic one, ‘Come as you are.’ When that opening guitar riff hits and you get that first line – something magical happens. It’s the same magic we try to bring to our own music. To bring truth and feeling through our lyrics to let the listener feel what we are expressing. Something we feel is lacking from most of the music that is produced today. Truth, a message, feel, and lots of guitars!” – Hayden Maringer, Evaride
“Nirvana was incredible. I mean for the time it came up, with all of the hair metal and hard rock bands dominating the market, the music style and lyrics were completely unheard of. Kurt Cobain as a lyricist was the perfect mix between angst and symbolism. The music itself diverted completely from the top chart hits, going for a more simple and powerful writing style. To this day the album Nevermind inspires musicians all over the world. Personally, Kurt’s melodies and lyrics are what speaks most to me. The music under a song like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ which are just four simple power chords. That’s it. What makes the song are those melodies and the lyrics. That’s what I take from Nirvana as a whole. He just knew how to write lyrics that everybody could feel, and that’s something that I think is important for all writers and vocalist to learn, because that’s the kind of music that speaks.” – Aidan Amini, Slaves To Humanity
“I think a majority of songwriters would say they’re inspired by Nirvana and the songs Kurt Cobain wrote. I remember the first time I heard Nirvana — they’re one of the few bands you hear for the first time and like immediately. You know it’s good even before the songs start. All four singles on Nevermind tell you all you need to know about the band and what you’re in for. They sound like what they look like live and they’re one of those bands that people will forever reference and look to for inspiration.
“I definitely still refer to Nirvana songs when coming up with my own material. The way the songs go from a dirt hook to a clean verse — I’ve utilized many times in my own tunes. I also love when a rock band can transcend to a pop level without having to make typical pop music i.e. Radiohead, White Stripes…” – Mikaiah Lei, The Bots
“I never learned how to read music or much theory as a kid, I learned how to play guitar by playing along to records I loved and figuring it out by ear. Nevermind was one of those records I would play along to at max volume ad nauseam until my mom made me turn it down. I think something that really stuck with me about Nevermind as I started making my own music was how they always got so much out of so little composition wise. Just guitar, bass, and drums but it sounded as full as an orchestra. I attribute a lot of my minimalist tendencies to that. It’s not about the most parts, but the right parts. Lyrically, Nevermind always inspired me because of Kurt’s ability to dress up extremely important and complicated issues in such beautiful ways. The way he intertwines being blunt and metaphorical has had a huge impact on how I write. – Alexander 23
“I remember driving back from my 10th birthday party at the bowling lanes in Edinburgh, when my dad showed me Nevermind for the first time. We didn’t talk the whole ride, just let the album play. I was transfixed. The cover, the drums, Kurt’s voice and the dark beauty of it all. As a kid, I remember feeling that this music was not for me. it felt older and more powerful than anything I’d heard before.” – Lorkin O’Reilly
“I first heard of Nirvana when I was about 12 and had always enjoyed their music, but it wasn’t until I saw their 2014 performance of ‘Lithium’ at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with St. Vincent that it really clicked for me. I went back and devoured every record I could. Kurt’s attitude and distrust for the system would change his generation and go on to change mine. I think of him when I perform and love to channel his raw aggression on stage.” – L’FREAQ
“I wasn’t born when this album came out, but I feel as though I joined the influential slipstream Nevermind had created after I was born in ’96. I remember seeing the video for ‘Come As You Are’ on Kerrang when I was about seven or eight and becoming obsessed with the sound and feel of the whole thing. It was very different from everything else that was on Kerrang. My uncle had the album on cassette and it didn’t leave the car radio for about a year. Our drummer Fionn says that he learned that he could hit two crash cymbals simultaneously from the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ music video, and I learned that I could sing with my hair in my face. I think that tune was THE tune we all gigged when we were about 12/13 playing all-ages gigs. I still don’t think anybody nails the character of Kurt’s solo nowadays though.” – Dylan Howe, Rowan
“I first learned about Nirvana in my 6th-grade history class. I never really liked school growing up but Mr. Pipes (my teacher) was the first person who gave me excitement about learning. We were discussing pop culture and how teens can change the course of history. The whole ‘the children are the future’ bit. Instead of repeating this semantic satiation that all public schools teach Mr. Pipes took a different approach and taught us about Nirvana’s 1991 hit ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ We had to break down the lyrics into sections and interpret what the song meant in our own words. After this day I became obsessed with Kurt Cobain and Nirvana researching him endlessly on my dad‘s computer at home. I downloaded ‘SLTS’ on LimeWire and listened to it maybe 500 times. That year for Christmas I got an iPod and downloaded the whole Nevermind album right away on iTunes. The album never got old. I had a new favorite song from it every so often and still at 24 years old I can turn to that album and feel understood in a way music these days rarely does. Lyrically it’s pretty simple but I think that’s what makes it so raw and relatable. It can be interpreted in so many ways but at its core, it’s honest and feels like you know the band personally. Kurt Cobain‘s writing style has played a huge part in the way I sing melodies and write my own music I am forever indebted to Nirvana‘s genius.” – Kitty Coen
“Remember finding Nevermind in a pile of my dad’s CDs. The jewel case only had the back on it. Was immediately drawn in after seeing the track list and that monkey with a battery strapped on its back. Kept that sucker in my CD player for way too long. Massive sound, ridiculously catchy songs, and no filler. Still a perfect record from start to finish.” – Mike Gustafson, BUMMER
“Everybody has a story about the first time they heard ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ For me, that experience became a defining moment in my life. I was 15 years old, (as was Nevermind), and my reaction was akin to a spiritual awakening. It felt as if the whole world had ripped itself apart and put itself back together in five minutes and one second. I was forever changed, alive, and hungry. 14 years later I found myself at Dave Grohl’s Studio 606, making an album with my band Kills Birds. A fan of ours, Dave graciously opened his studio to us. On our second day, as we were tracking vocals, it finally clicked that we were not just at Dave Grohl’s studio making an album, but we were also recording on the same Neve console that Nirvana made Nevermind on 29 years prior. It took a second to understand the gravity of this moment. My love (and our love) of Nirvana came full circle. The feeling of completeness I felt is still hard to describe, but 15-year-old Nina would have died.” – Nina Ljeti, Kills Birds
“When I was in elementary school I developed a knack for raiding my brother’s CD collection when he wasn’t home. One afternoon I was sifting through this messy pile of plastic jewel cases and all the sudden there it was. The album artwork possessed me with a sense of urgency that’s tough to convey. I felt like some kind of grunge paleontologist uncovering the gateway to another universe. For as long as I live I’ll never forget pressing play and hearing the opening riff of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ The weight, the speed, the soaring melody and poetry – it was everything at once and it was a kind of beautiful chaos I never knew existed. There must’ve been some sort of vinyl being pressed in my brain at that moment, soaking in an energy that’s permanently engraved into my DNA. The entire album to this day serves as an inspiration for everything I do. – Des Rocs
“I got heavily into Nirvana around the same time I first got on the Internet. The first YouTube video I ever watched was ‘Come As You Are.’ The first video I ever uploaded was a cover of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (I was in a Nirvana cover band). The first guitar tab I ever looked up was ‘In Bloom.’ I learned their entire discography and I remember thinking ‘these songs are stupid simple.’ It was very inspiring as a beginner guitarist.” — JW Francis
“Nevermind completely changed my outlook on music and my career path. I was in 6th grade when I discovered Nirvana, though I had seen their logo on shirts and had heard ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in The Muppets movie in 2011. I had never actually played guitar, but about a month after obsessing over everything Kurt Cobain, including his musical influences, I committed myself to learning.
“The production, songwriting and sound of Nevermind was something that pushed the envelope further than any of Kurt’s peers (except maybe Radiohead). It was a sound that hadn’t been heard before 1991. It was a style of dark, haunting, and ominous chord structures and lyrics that haven’t really been revisited or done better by anyone since 1991 (other than by Kurt himself on In Utero in 1994).
“Bands like Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden all made what we call ‘grunge’ in the ’90s, after Nirvana and while all of these artists were able to capture the elements of grunge that make it grunge (i.e., ‘elements of punk rock and heavy metal, but without punk’s structure and speed’ – Wikipedia), none of them ever wrote any songs quite like Kurt’s. And this is because Kurt was the first person to make this kind of raw, punk rock music that wasn’t influenced by other punk rock or metal but by the eeriest and weirdest moments by artists like The Beatles or David Bowie. Kurt wasn’t too cool for that stuff though he gravitated toward their darker and introspective side.
“Before Nirvana, rock bands didn’t really put out songs as spooky as ‘Something in the Way’ or ‘Polly.’ Everything about Nirvana was cool and edgy with a much different sensibility and attitude than other rock artists of that era, such as Mötley Crüe or Guns N’ Roses, who catered to a different audience. No matter what people like to say about Kurt, he was very musically literate and the chord structures of songs like ‘Lithium’ or ‘In Bloom’ are a million times more left field and odd than anything mainstream rock bands were making in the ’80s and early ’90s.
“There is one chord progression in particular that many people consider to be ‘the Nirvana chord progression’ (E C A) that can be heard most notably on ‘Territorial Pissings,’ and later, ‘Heart Shaped Box.’ This is also known as the ‘James Bond progression’ and it’s not quite like any other progression in music. It is minor, but the way it resolves is an A major chord and results in a very unsettling, confusingly uplifting and grand feeling while being simultaneously gloomy and brooding. It’s the secret sauce that makes Nirvana sound like Nirvana. If other grunge bands from the ’90s were to attempt writing the song ‘Territorial Pissings’ they’d probably play the chord progression, E G A, which results in some of the more predictable fare out there.
“Instead, Kurt plays E C A which sounds like a small detail, but it’s the difference between the chords sounding like a generic rock song (E G A) or the kind of chord progressions that would be played by pirates of the Caribbean’s Davy Jones on his pipe organ in a sea storm. He writes the kind of melodies that evoke images of Frankenstein pleading with his hands to the sky in the rain on a hill being struck by lightning.” — Christian Gisborne, Velvet Starlings
“I remember the moment I heard Nevermind for the first time. It felt like the entire world shifted and I knew that everything had changed forever. It had so much gravity and relevance it smashed and shattered reality and created a new one. As underground punks/indie/goth kids, we all loved Bleach, but Nevermind was a body of work that touched everyone. I think the groundbreaking reality of Nevermind still shakes new listeners, because it is unapologetically honest. Kurt Cobain didn’t bend for anyone or any reason with pure irreverent spirit and was 100% unafraid to point out the hypocrisies of the world. All of this wrapped up in some of the most poetic lyrics and best songs ever written means…that touches everyone forever.” — MNDR