When Nirvana's 'Nevermind' Changed Everything

When Nirvana's 'Nevermind' Changed Everything
AP Photo/Robert Sorbo, File

There were some in the Seattle music world who had a sense of what was coming. Jennie Boddy remembers when she and Susie Tennant first saw Nirvana play the songs that would be on Nevermind at a Seattle club called the OK Hotel. “They played ‘Teen Spirit' and ‘Lithium' and all of our mouths were open. Susie was hyperventilating at how good they were. Even the guys who jumped into the mosh pit knew how good they were.”

A few months later she saw them again at the Off Ramp. “Grohl had recently become their drummer and it was even more amazing hearing him play the new songs. The band played a full set. Then they shut down the club at two a.m. and cleaned it out and then we all went back in and the band played for another couple of hours. Kurt was so happy.”

In January, when Nevermind would go to number one on the Billboard album chart, Geffen president Eddie Rosenblatt was asked by the New York Times to describe the label's marketing strategy and he modestly answered, “Get out of the way and duck.” It was indisputably true that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” had so much magic that it made everyone's job a lot easier, and there is no question that the song would have been huge no matter who was or wasn't involved with it. Nevertheless, the band and DGC did spend a lot of time and energy launching Nirvana's major-label career in a particular way.

In marketing terms, the band wanted to keep its credibility with their early fans while also pulling in lots of new ones. A lot of the angst that artists went through with record companies and with the media was really related to the tribal differences within the rock audience. It was one experience to love an artist that only you and a few of your friends were into, and a very different one if they became popular and the kids at school whom you hated were suddenly humming their songs. On a personal level, Kurt wanted a success that was acceptable to all the facets of his inner teenager. He identified deeply with outcasts whose sense of self was wrapped up in being part of a small subculture, but he also embraced the joy of being part of a large audience who could come together around an anthemic chorus or a powerful riff.

 

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