Nirvana - Nevermind

If you started out the ’90s playing in a scuzzy stomp-rock band, there’s a decent chance that you became a millionaire at some point during the decade. If you were a parent of teenagers, you may have, at some point, worn Doc Martens or stripey multicolor stocking caps in a lame attempt to impress your kids. If you worked in an ad agency, you may have pitched a TV commercial in which a Volkswagen crowd-surfs. These things were happening everywhere during that decade, and in a lot of ways, they were happening as a direct result of Nevermind. In some other ways, the death, less than three years later, of that album’s creator was also a result of the album and its hugeness. So is the fact that this creator, one Kurt Cobain, recently surpassed Elvis Presley to top Forbes’ morbid list of the top-earning dead celebrities. Twenty years after its release, Nevermind is still making somebody rich.

Saturday marked the exact 20th anniversary of Nevermind’s release, and that anniversary is loudly being celebrated all over the media. Among the fireworks: A huge box-set reissue of the album, a tribute LP by Spin, a Jon Stewart SiriusXM Q&A with Grohl/Novoselic/Vig, a Seattle all-stars tribute concert, the blog post you’re reading right now. Much of the noise is about the album’s massive and unexpected commercial success, an out-of-nowhere game-changer that nobody expected, least of all the members of the band themselves. 20th anniversaries are usually nice times to take nostalgic looks at certain artifacts and to gauge their after-effects. But you can’t quite do that with Nevermind because those ripples are still rippling. Generations of kids have been brought up with the idea that music can be immediate and personal and weird and loud and deeply felt and also hugely popular. That’s part of the reason we have phenomena like Arcade Fire today. They’re hugely popular because they’re a good band and people like them, but also because people are willing a band like this to be huge, to help validate the precedent that Nevermind set. The hugeness is part of the point. And so is the excitement. When Odd Future played a series of livewire shows at this year’s SXSW, plenty of pundits immediately reached for the Nirvana parallel. Hell, I immediately thought of Nirvana too, and the closest thing I ever saw to a Nirvana show was a 1996 Foo Fighters headlining set at a radio-station festival in a football stadium. The only reason I didn’t say the N-word out loud is that I didn’t want to sound like a lame.

It’s fun to talk about that cultural impact because we still don’t know what the hell happened that made this record so popular. It’s hard to talk about the music. It’s especially hard for me to talk about the music because I simply can’t hear the album as music anymore. The album came out a few weeks after my 12th birthday, and I was just getting to be the perfect age to get really excited about this album and everything it represented. I bought magazines with Nirvana on the cover, I cut out pictures of them and put them on my wall, I developed opinions about their various different producers before I had any idea what a producer did. And I listened to the album over and over, so many times that it immediately becomes background nothingness when I listen to it now. It’s like rewatching Star Wars; once you’ve experienced something often enough, at a young enough age, that you learn every second of it, there’s nothing left to learn of it. Actually, its omnipresence is even more than that of Star Wars. It’s not like I see 10-minute scenes from Star Wars every time I turn on the TV, but this side-A tracks from Nevermind are always on the radio.

I don’t have this problem with Bleach or In Utero or MTV Unplugged In New York. I don’t have it with Ten or Achtung Baby or The Chronic or Faith No More’s The Real Thing or DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s …And In This Corner or the Judgement Night soundtrack or any of the other albums I listened to way too often as a kid. I can hear and enjoy all these records as music just fine. They sound good. They bring back memories. Nevermind just is. It’s like the Monolith in 2001: A giant slab of meaning that we may never disentangle.

Anyway, that’s my overly pretentious take on the album and what it means now. But what about you, the readers? To commemorate the occasion, we’re giving away one of the $109.99 Super Deluxe Limited Edition Nevermind box sets that come out tomorrow (exclusive to Best Buy through 10/24). To enter to win, all you have to do is (1) be a fan of Stereogum on Facebook and (2) comment by telling us your favorite Nevermind-associated memory. You’ll have to comment via Facebook Connect — not your ‘Gum user account on this post — since we’ll have to be able to check if you are a fan of Stereogum on FB when the sweepstakes ends. The prize will go to the author of our favorite comment posted below (that’s right, we’re not picking randomly this time so make ’em count). Deadline to enter is 10/10 at 5:30PM EST. Have your comment logged by then, and you’re in. (Of course you can also comment below with your ’Gum profile, but you won’t be eligible to win this sweeps.)

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Comments (109)
  1. I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” while going to BGSU in northwest Ohio. I always listened to 89X out of Detroit, and they had played the song a few days before the CD was coming out. I had snagged that ‘broadcast’ on cassette, and easily listened to it in my car on pretty much an endless loop prior to racing out to the local record store to grab the disc when it came out. Even on the crappiest little boom box, that song had so much power….

  2. Kurt being wheeled out in a wheelchair at Reading then breaking into Breed. classic live moment.

  3. hearing nirvana for the first time , and going on napster and downloading every song i could find and becoming a fan ever since. i know it was years after kurt died but bettter late than never.

  4. I knew the album, and Nirvana, were going to be huge when I was sitting in my uncle’s boat (while it sat in his driveway) with my hip-hop & smooth r&b loving cousins and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on the pop radio station they were listening to. We all just started rocking out to it at the same time, turned it up and didn’t say a word while it played. The moment of “This is something” was so crystal clear to me.

  5. My first memory of Nirvana was seeing Weird Al doing the spoof video and then I saw the original and realized how awesome Nirvana was and apparently Weird Al did to to spoof the video use the same director extras and gym. talk about an homage.

  6. I bought this for my mom for mothers day after it had came out. I still have the cassette tape that I had to tape back together after wearing it out on a road trip to Texas.

  7. I remember buying the “Lithium” cassingle and finding the lyric sheet for the album inside. I glanced over the lyrics for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and thought, “That can’t be right.” It took many weeks of listening to the album before I finally accepted those lyrics as legit.

  8. It’s not a memory of Nevermind but the fact then when the advertising campaign began for this box set hearing teen spirit kick in still sounds incredible.

  9. My dad had actually bought the Nevermind cd when it first came out. I was only 7 years old at the time but I remember really jamming to Smells like Teen Spirit. I made him copy it to cassette for me so I could jam with it on my walkman!

  10. i remember hearing kids talk about nirvana in middle school, and sometime in eighth grade i went on that ol’ favorite limewire and grabbed a bunch of tracks and put them on in windows media player (dat visualizer). breed came on, the drums kicked in, and i rocked out so good that i fell out of my chair. eight years later, i’m still having a love affair with rock music.

  11. Riding down the streets of suburban Michigan, blasting Nevermind in my friend’s crappy 1984 BMW after school with the windows down. This was in the late 00′s so we weren’t in the grunge movement at all, we were just a bunch of angsty high schoolers that needed some kind of release from “the man” and this was the hands-down best option. Even now the album speaks volumes.
    I know that this is a pretty cliched situation, but still, thinking about that sense of teen angst after a day at school and needing to unwind through the power of music is pretty powerful.

  12. i was 11 when it came out, but started listening to nirvana, here in Greece, maybe at 13-14, when i bought a cassette of Nevermind. i listened to the cassette at a frind’s house and then i went and bought using (a great deal of) my allowance. i didn’t know what was driving me to headbang when listening to smells like teen spirit. awesome years

  13. I wasn’t born when it came out, but during my early teenage years I was big into grunge. This and Ten were what I listened to for a couple years. Good memories.

  14. My earliest memory, literally, is of me (maybe 2 or 3 years old), really sick, sitting in my living room in the middle of the night with my parents watching, what they would later explain to me, mtv. And they might tell you otherwise, or they just don’t remember like 3-year-old me does, but Smells Like Teen Spirit was definitely on, and I so vaguely remember watching that video. Now it’s like, whenever I watch that music video, it brings up this dreamy, David Lynch-ian feeling of deja vu, and I think of this memory.

    p.s. I was gonna leave a gif of the janitor rocking out, but it didn’t work :/

  15. I admit I first listened to them when I was 15, sadly it was the day Kurt died. After that I got hooked to Nevermind. Weirdly enough “Something In The Way” was my favorite track.

  16. I remember my friend made me a cassette tape of Nevermind in 6th grade but he cut out “Territorial Pissings” cause the album was too long to fit on one side of the tape and it was the worst song on the album. I was so pissed at him. Later when I actually bought it on CD, “Territorial Pissings” became my favorite song because it was the only one I hadn’t heard a million times before.

  17. Nevermind was the first album my dad and I could really agree on. That’s my first and favorite memory. He is a musician and I’m sure disdained all my tastes in music in my youth. Nirvana changed all that. He bought two copies of the album – one for each of us and we listened to it and discussed it all the time. It was rock. Pop. Smart. Subversive and amazing. We still talk about it.

  18. I remember…wait, no I don’t. I was seven months old when Nevermind came out. :(

  19. I was about 8 years old at summer camp circa 1992, and we had a dance one night with one of the girl camps. I remember looking up to the older teenage kids, thinking they were really wild. There were teenage girls headbanging to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the dancefloor! This actually happened back in the early 90s–I saw it happen, I swear. I’m not talking about a couple of outsider chicks who peeled away from the wall to come out and rage for one song–ALL of the girls were out there going wild for Nirvana. For one hot minute, Nirvana took punk to the mainstream.

  20. I bought the Nevermind cassette when it came out. I was 12. I flipped the cassette jacket inside out so my mother wouldn’t see the cover.

  21. I lived in a military base in Germany until ’95, when my family moved to New York. It was there that I discovered music outside of MC Hammer (my favorite at the time) on the now defunct ZRock radio station. So when I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the radio in ’95, I was 13 and thought I had just discovered some amazing new band. I listened to the radio every day after that just to hear it again before I mustered up the courage to call the station directly and request it. I’ll never forget the Deejay’s reaction. Here I am thinking I’m wanting them to play this super obscure indie band and the deejay replied with “Yeah, okay sure” in the most nonchalant fashion as to say “Not THAT song again.” I was in disbelief and thought that maybe he just didn’t know who Nirvana were. It wasn’t until months later I would start to learn the tragic truth.

  22. thinking it was overrated for about ten years and then finally revisiting the album and loving it.

  23. I loved this album when it originally came out. What made it even more special was hearing my dad (RIP) singing the songs around the house.
    He would usually walk around singing The Doors, Hendrix, Talking Heads, but when I heard him singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” it made the band that much more important to me. Mostly because he knew all the “good stuff” and that was his thumbs up.

  24. I think I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on our “rock” radio station here in Indy. And then would tune in every night to here it on the nightly call-in countdown show they did. I remember going to my friend’s house (I had *just* started high school) an we would listen to it on the radio. It’s amazing how that song and album changed *everything* about how I listened to music and what music I listened to…

  25. A few of us in elementary school decided it would be great to perform “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (read lip sync, we were all, like 11 years old) for some sort of talent show. I can’t even recall being familiar with Nirvana or the song at all so I had to be taught by my older brother (how to dress; how to move) and perform the song with not three but six people. It was ridiculous. But this was my first experience with Nirvana and probably heavy duty rock n roll in general.

  26. Wait did we ever find out who won the Neon Indian machine thing? I really wanted one to scare the hell out of my dog

  27. EASY. when i was in college at liberty university (the late reverend jerry falwell’s school), and i was discovering great music for the first time, my devout christian roommate knocked on my door on day and sat me down for a talk…his words:

    “i hear you’ve been listening to a lot of nirvana lately dan…i just wanna ask, is everything ok?”

  28. Seeing riki rachtman debute Smells Like Teen Spirit on Headbangers Ball. You Could Be Mind by Guns N Roses was big on that show at the time, a great hard rocker — but this was on a different viceral level that I haven’t felt since.

  29. This is not my favourite memory, this is, in fact… probably the only strong memory I have from that time. I was a little kid. My older brother Walter, a huge Nirvana fan (and a huge fan of Smells Like Teen Spirit, of course) took me to Buenos Aires, Argentina to see them live at the Velez stadium, in October 1992. I really didn’t understand or care much about music, but my brother, he was a massive fan and was really, really excited about the whole thing. But the experience didn’t turn out as well as he expected it to. Argentinan people, especially in rock concerts, are really intense. Some artists have say that they are the best crowd in the world (I think Mick Jagger said that), but when they’re not in their best mood, things can get pretty dangerous. As I said, they are intense, sometimes in good ways, and sometimes in bad ways. We got to the stadium. I don’t have clear memories from this night, but do I remember people walking around everywhere, people chanting the chorus to Smells Like Teen Spirit, stuff like that. Calamity Jane was opening, and all I remember is that they got a really BAD reception from the audience, it was just awful, people kept yelling at them. My brother didn’t know what the hell was going on, but everybody was in a real bad mood… So, finally, Nirvana showed up up, and Kurt was so angry, he played the opening riff to Smells Like Teen Spirit and then just moved on to another song. And after that song, he played the intro again, and moved on to another song. My brother kept telling me, “I’m sure they are going to play that song last.” But they didn’t. The big hit, missing from the setlist. My brother’s dream, shattered to pieces. I don’t remember much from that night, but I do remember people being completely mad about this. They probably deserved it. But my brother and I didn’t, we were there to enjoy the gig and have a good time. My brother sold his Nevermind cassette to a friend (it was the only Nirvana album he had), and never listened to them again, ever. Years later, as a teenager, I bought In Utero and it just blew my fucking mind, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

  30. I picked up a copy of Nevermind in seventh grade all the way back in 2005 because it seemed like the cool thing to do. As soon as Smells Like Teen Spirit came on, I immediately had a big ol’ deja vu episode because I wasn’t even one when this album hit big on the populace and my twenty-something parents must’ve engrained it in my head. Anyway, still one of my favorite albums of all time.

  31. there was a short while in 1991 when my dad had two color TVs side by side in our living room. at the time this pissed me off as i still had a tiny black and white in my room, but the upside to this is he kept one muted on MTV almost all the time, and whenever something he really dug came on, he would put it on both TVs and blast them. this is how i first experienced the teen spirit video, and it really had an impact on my 10 year old mind. started playing guitar not long after that, and nirvana songs were the first i learned.

  32. It’s with a heavy heart that I admit to all of you gummers that I was not a teenager when Nevermind was released. I wasn’t ‘there’ when Kurt and Co. defeated Michael Jackson to claim the top position on the Billboard charts, or when he pierced his grunge laden sword through the hearts of metal bands every where and ‘changed everything forever’. When Kurt took his life, I was still getting the hang of walking upright (I was a slow learner), however, thanks to my father’s record collection, Nevermind made me feel as if I was actually ‘there’, whenever I pressed play. When I was 12, I asked my dad if I could borrow a couple of his albums. Without hesitation, he handed me Nevermind with an arrogant smile on his face and told me that this album was perfect for me. Sure enough, it was, and it still is. I don’t know if it’s Kurt’s gravely howl, his unique brand of confusingly brilliant lyrics, or the almighty fuzz that they produce, but Nirvana can connect to anyone on such a visceral level.

  33. I was fairly young when Nevermind came out, but was already an MTV junkie. I remember seeing the “Teen Spirit” video for the first time thinking this is something REALLY different than all the hair metal and bad R&B that was usually being played. It seemed exciting and like music was on the brink of something big.

  34. Im a very judgmental person, and whenever im proven wrong about something, i’m instantly interested in it and probably fall in love with it. I hated high school and a lot of people i didnt really like, cause they looked like ignorant people, loved Nirvana. Wore the shirts, and talked about how they were the greatest thing on the planet. One of their favorite songs were “Rape Me”. I was like “Ugh… what kind of demented shit are they listening to?” I discovered “Come as you are” a year later and was so pissed about how wrong i was. I listened to every song and “Rape Me” became one of my favorites. Went back to the people i didn’t really like and told them i loved Nirvana now and i thought i was wrong about them. I started talking about how i loved Dave Grohl, and named songs like “About a Girl”, “Aneurysm”, and “You Know Your Right”. They had no idea what i was talking about, and i was proven right, they were ignorant and dumb. Thank you Nirvana!

  35. I was one of those kids who didn’t really discover Nirvana until posthumously. I was 11 in 1994. I wasn’t even in the phase of forming my own musical tastes. Then 2 years later I was haunted by Nirvana tracks on the radio. I would tape them from my little tapedeck/stereo. Then I was informed that my own mother had a CASSETTE TAPE of In Utero that she never listened to that was handed down to me. It was all uphill or downhill from there, depending on your perspective. One of the first CDs I bought myself later that year was a copy of Nevermind. I went on to collect bootlegs0 Hormoaning, the Outcesticide’s, etc. And generally become obsessed with them. Nirvana was a very striking force during my formative years.

  36. Nevermind crept slowly into my life. My musical taste did not develop until much later than many of my peers. I remember hearing about Kurt’s death when I was 14 and not really understanding why people in my school were so distraught about it. I think because I was not popular I was not inclined to delve into anything that popular kids liked…which, ironically, resulted in me missing out on an album that was intended for the unpopular kids. A couple of years later, my sister, who is two years younger than me (and was one of the popular kids), would play Nevermind loudly all the time with her door closed. Through the walls, two of the songs struck me as having uncommonly comforting and haunting melodies. I didn’t know it at the time, but these were Drain You and On a Plain. In my senior year of high school, I listened to Nevermind for the first time one day when my sister was out of the house. I liked how something in the music actually sounded blue and watery. It was the first time I had ever heard an album that sounded like an aural representation of its cover art. And still I didn’t buy Nevermind.
    Three quarters of the way through my first college semester I had made few friends, and I didn’t even go home for Thanksgiving because I was so ridiculously behind on my work. Around this time, I turned on the radio to WHFS and got in bed, where I basically stayed for three days, only getting up to microwave a Kid Cuisine when I was really hungry or to use the bathroom. There were always Christmas ads weaving in and out of my dreams and the distinct feeling that this wasn’t where I was supposed to be, that this wasn’t what the holidays or life should feel like. On the third night, I awoke to the sound of NIRVANA. WHFS was playing three-song blocks of each artist. The first song was Drain You from Nevermind, which was followed by School from Muddy Banks and Sappy from the No Alternative comp. This was music that sounded exactly the way I felt, overwhelmed and like if I rolled off the bed that I would fall into some abyss. For the first time since I left home, I did not feel completely alone. I got back into the land of the living, and my next purchase was Nevermind. It was my gateway album into indie rock, so I have NIRVANA to thank for changing my life and opening me up to a world of music that actually speaks to me, that I can count on when I can’t count on anything else.

  37. My first memory of Nirvana was seeing Smells Like Teen Spirit and the Weird Al version when I was at the college. Then I remember listening Come as you are. And discovering the tortured life of Kurt Cobain as a teenager. And the 90′s were Nirvana, finally.

  38. I had Nevermind on cassette (well, it was taped from a friend’s CD) for quite some time before I even got a CD player. But another friend of mine gave me his old CD copy of Nevermind. I was at home, alone, so I finally got a chance to listen to the album without headphones on my cheap-ass bookshelf stereo system; after the album was over, I went to do a thing and then, about ten minutes later, I heard some crazy grinding or something. It was at this point that I discovered the hidden track ‘Endless, Nameless’, which was an incredible surprise for a music craving teen. I’m just kinda sad that there wasn’t a hidden track on In Utero…

  39. Nevermind was the first cassette I bought with my own money – after seeing a group of teenagers levitating on bleachers on TV i was convinced this is what high school would be like. I took it to grade 3 “show and tell” and blared ‘In Bloom’ while showing my classmates how to mosh like the kids in the SLTS video..

    It was the first and most sincere rock ‘n roll moment of my life

  40. I got a copy of this album in the early fall of 91, before it hit the radio. I don’t remember where I was when I first heard it, I just remember what it felt like — being punched in the gut. It was like everything I’d ever heard before and nothing I’d ever heard before all rolled into one. I didn’t have MTV, so I didn’t even know what the band looked like, but I remember racing home on a Saturday night to see their SNL performance.

  41. It’s 1992 and I’m in 8th grade at a Middle School Dance at my school. Nevermind had been out for awhile and the local Top 40 station (XL 106.7 in Orlando) had been playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the radio so all the kids knew it. I guess our Middle School was cool or something, because their resident DJ, some goofy dude named Johnny Magic, actually was DJ’ing our Middle School dance! Looking back that was probably no big deal, but he was a star in the minds of pre-teens in the area. Anyway, he gets on the mike and goes “Alright, we’re gonna play Smells Like Teen Spirit, but NO MOSHING! If anybody moshes, we’ll turn it off” They start the song, and within 30 seconds there’s a big group of kids moshing in the middle of the gym (dancefloor) and they cut of the song. You could say that inspiring 11-13 year olds to mosh at a middle school dance no matter what the adults said was very foretelling for what Nirvana meant to our generation.

  42. Well….I stole the nevermind album from my dad back in the day..Hes one of dem old fools who tries hard to be cool or hip..he would try to sing smells like teen spirit but totally butcher the words..haha.I still have the album to this day (frickin scratched !!)and he still asks for it back to this day

  43. I’m like 14 and just heard “smells like Nirvana” for the first time and someone was like “you know thats a parody of a real song right,”? and I was like “whoa.”

  44. There was a kid at my high school who looked so much like a brunette Kurt Cobain that it was freaky. He was a big fan too and we became friends after we bothe wore the same Nevermind tshirt to school one day.
    When Kurt started spelling his name “Kurdt”, this kid tried to put an unnecessary letter d in his name as well. Except his name was Aaron. Twenty years later we still call him Darren.

  45. I knew nothing of the northwestern indie scene at the time. I didn’t know Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone or the Melvins. But I was into metal and felt like the mainstream had nothing for me. Some friends of mine were into punk rock, others were into industrial, others were into English alternative bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode. They too felt like the mainstream had nothing to offer them. Then local radio stations picked up Smells Like Teen Spirit, and suddenly every one agreed. That’s what I remember most clearly about that school year when I was 17, fall of 91 – winter of 92, discovering that it was possible for something cool to take over.

    The Madonna/Michael Jackson crowd had nothing to do with the phenomenon. It was all about every one else finally agreeing on something.

  46. My father taped headphones to my mother’s stomach while I was in the womb. Needless to say Nevermind was played often. Does that count as a memory?

  47. I remember sitting in my friend Tony’s car, when he slid “Nevermind” into his CD player. I was no newcomer to punk and indie rock, so initially I was underwhelmed as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” played. I said to Tony, “This is just another punk band.” The second listen through it dawned on me… this is a punk band. I knew it wasn’t a mail-order suburban skater and music head thing anymore. At that point in time, it felt legitimizing and vindicating because misfits of all stripes took such abuse all the time from dull unimaginative people. It was a musical watershed and a bonafide classic with all kinds of unintended consequences.

  48. Enjoying 10 minutes of silence after my first listen to Nevermind only to be jolted out of my chair from a haunting sound out my stereo that was the hidden song “Endless, Nameless”.

  49. I used to drive a beat up old ’80s Toyota Supra; cranking Lithium on the highway always seemed to make that car go so much faster and gave each drive its very own theme song.

  50. 1991. Santa Fe. Argentina.

    A friend (his name was Matías) ask me if i’ve listened a song called “huele a espíritu adolescente”. I tell him no. I was 7 years old.

    He put the cassette in the stereo and we just listened the record. It was like listening music from another planet for us.

    We were so young, the perception of music was chaotic. And, at the same time, it was like discovering a whole world of new music through that cassette.

    In Argentina, in that times, a CD Player was rare to find, so, we just collected boxes and boxes of cassettes.

    Matías died some years ago, he was like 21 or something. I was destroyed.

    I’m 27 now and when i listen “Come as you are” inmediatly i remember my old friend. But, with a big smile always… after all, it was his fault that i’ve discovered that new planets.

    ps: sorry my bad english ;)

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