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Songs of September

APARNA NARRAIN
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TRIBUTE It was on September 24, 1991 that grunge smashed its way into the collective consciousness of teen rebels with the release of Nirvana's seminal album, Nevermind, writes APARNA NARRAIN

MOVING ON Dave Grohl, former Nirvana drummer, performs during the Rock-en-Seine music festival photo: afp
MOVING ON Dave Grohl, former Nirvana drummer, performs during the Rock-en-Seine music festival photo: afp

He's the one

Who likes all our pretty songs

And he likes to sing along

And he likes to shoot his gun

But he knows not what it means

He knows not what it means

--In Bloom, Nirvana

T he year 1991 was marked by the Gulf War, Freddie Mercury's death from AIDS and closer home, Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. There was another moment that same year that would change history. On September 24, grunge smashed its way into the collective consciousness with the release of Nirvana's seminal album, “Nevermind”. Despite low expectations by the label, David Geffen Company, (only 46,251 copies were pressed initially) the album became an enormous hit, going on to sell over 30 million copies worldwide and knocking off the King of Pop's “Dangerous” from the number one spot on the Billboard charts.

Suddenly, an entire generation of disenchanted youth were able to vent their anger and frustration and the primary force behind “Nevermind”, singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain, was anointed the spokesperson. Though Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl had gone into the studio thinking that “Lithium” would be the hit, the first single released was “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. The song, with its signature opening chords and distinct baseline follows the quiet verses/ loud choruses dynamic that Nirvana would become famous for. The single was released on September 10 and received heavy airplay on campus and rock stations. The Cobain-conceptualised video of a pep rally that ends in mayhem, premiered on MTV's late-night alternative rock programme, “120 minutes”. It proved so popular that MTV began to air it during its regular daytime programming.

The album has 12 tracks as well as a hidden track, “Endless, Nameless”. Most of the songs follow the quiet/loud dynamic but what is riveting is the way the blistering drumming, the tempered baseline, catchy guitar riffs and distortion effects come together to create some truly memorable songs. The standouts are “Come as You Are”, “In Bloom”, “Lithium” and the haunting “Something In the Way”.

Says Sudhir Sarma, CEO FutureIP Labs Pvt. Ltd., “Cobain's lyrics were very different from the other music of the day. His singing style was also unique, a bit slurred and sounded as though he was tormented at times. Listening to him one could relate to the fact of how terrible things could be, how much sadness he had and the hate and anger he felt. This is what millions of his fans could relate to.” Suman Kumar, Senior Manager, User Experience, ESPN, says: “I think Cobain was in the right place at the right time and it just clicked. They not only brought great music which exposed people to a new genre but in terms of repertoire and compositions, you can't compare them with anyone. It's the whole mood of their songs. It's dark and full of angst.” He adds: “The beauty is that the lyrics are never self-explanatory. I think it's beautiful in that sense because you can interpret it how you want.”

Purvika Anand, a 26-year-old, who plays in a band called Noel Wonders Why, professes to be a complete grunge fan. “My favourites are ‘Something in the Way' and ‘Breed' which I like because of the intensity of the song. It's heavy throughout so it was more of a feel factor when I initially got into Nirvana because it was the whole teenage rebellious stage. It was like yes! somebody else feels the way I feel. Also, Nirvana opened the doors for me to listen to other music. I started listening to bands that they endorsed such as Melvins or other grunge bands such as Alice in Chains.” And Nirvana even had an impact on her musical aspirations, she says. “Listening to grunge also made me want to pursue music because though it's heavy it's really simple to play.”

Though Nirvana found immense success with Nevermind instead of putting them on top of the world it left them bewildered and unhappy and none more than Cobain. Charles Cross paints a picture of Cobain where his mental state quickly wore down. On April 5, 1994 he was found dead. He had shot himself in the mouth. Nirvana disbanded after that. The band may have been uncomfortable with its success but that doesn't change the fact that for many people Cobain was a messiah of sorts and 20 years later people are still touched by their music. What would he say to that? Probably, nevermind.

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