This quote from Cobain was placed at the scene where NYPD police
were banging on the heads of peaceful protesters,
near The Holy Grail of Wall Street.
Apparently, the grunge music business meant that anybody in flannel
shirts was to be signed to a contract.
My whole home town would have been in the money, in that case.
some choice clippings from an article on Nirvana
In search of Nirvana
Twenty years ago an album that wreaked havoc on the conventional music industry was released. Lauren Spencer, who was among the first to hear Nevermind, reminisces with the surviving band members, and returns to Seattle to hear how Kurt Cobain changed music for ever
* Lauren Spencer
* The Observer, Sunday 18 September 2011
...The thing about Nirvana is that they changed the whole game," says Kurt St Thomas, a DJ at Kroq radio in Los Angeles, who was the first to play Nevermind end-to-end on WFNX in Boston. "Before that album came out there were only a handful of 'alternative' radio stations, and within two years of the record there were more than 100. It should have been a victory, finally good music was getting exposed to more kids who'd never heard stuff like Nirvana, but the radio stations were not really passionate about the music, they were passionate about making a buck, and they started playing Nirvana wanna-bes and watering it down. Once record companies jumped on the bandwagon, it just reeked of business. The image of Spencer Elden [the baby on Nevermind's cover] reaching for that dollar bill is so symbolic to me because that is exactly what it felt like."
After the overindulgence of record companies came the inevitable hangover. Musicians who had been scooped up in the sign-anything-wearing-flannel frenzy found themselves shaken off and having to choose between, as photographer Mercer observed, the blue, the green or the orange apron, signifying a job at either Starbucks, Kinkos or Home Depot.
"So much changed so quickly in the first half of the 90s," says Grohl. "People will tell me how really good that music was, and I agree – a lot of really good music became popular. There was a much more open musical environment and atmosphere. But then it ended up choking itself in a weird way. There were so many bands getting signed from garages and basements from around the country. It was like you left school and had three options: you could either go to college, backpack across the country or start a band and get a record contract – and if it didn't stick, that was when you'd have to go out and get a real job."
It seems Nirvana could have only happened then and there; a tight-knit community of local talent had been developing in Seattle for years, out of the spotlight where they had room to grow. Then a perfect storm combining record company budgets with expanding media outlets like MTV hit Seattle's musical shores, dragging more than a few bodies out to sea. Novoselic points out that, "We were the last musical phenomenon before online took hold. In 1999, Napster happened and nothing's been the same since. Now you have to pull people into the music, whereas before everything was pushed out toward the people. The playing field was levelled but now it's so vast that people have to work harder to be heard."
Wandering around the clubs to see what the Seattle kids are up to today, I was happy to find nothing sounded the least like Nirvana. There were the trance-like, Bolly-rock beats of Rose Windows, followed by Wayfinders, who sound like the thick, rich results of Uriah Heep combined with the Smashing Pumpkins. Later I happened upon Troy Nelson's band, the Young Evils, whose harmonies with Mackenzie Mercer are pop gems with an indie beat. Not once during these shows did the word grunge cross my mind. And yet they might not have been heard but for Nirvana. Nelson admits he moved to Seattle because Nirvana put it on the map, "and I'm still to this day trying to write a song as important as 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'."
"I think of it as a forest fire," says Sub Pop's Megan Jasper. "It just felt like everything went up in flames in Seattle so fast, but once it was out, time passed and there was new growth underneath. It makes room for people to come in and do new things. There was something about being in the shadows of grunge and Nirvana. There was a mindfulness because it was so close, and whatever you do, it needs to be different. I think enough time passed that it was OK to emerge and make things happen again. It's respect on one side and rebellion on the other.
"Most people in Seattle don't live in the past," Jasper continues. "Most people are more excited about the here and now. And thank god for that mindset otherwise this place would just be a ghost town." Though if you're into that kind of thing, there is a museum sitting in the shadow of downtown's Space Needle that's dedicated to preserving and sharing Seattle's musical legacy. It's the Experience Music Project, funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and right now there's an exhibition running until April 2013 where all things Nirvana are on display. Called Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses, it's an ambitious collection of, according to the programme, "rare and unseen artefacts and photography from the band, their crews and families". Larry Reid, punk promoter and manager, says it feels a bit like they've "fetishised" the grunge scene, though, as Novoselic points out, it's better than seeing Cobain's guitar hanging off the wall at a Hard Rock Café while you're eating chilli fries.