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31: Nirvana

Photo By DGC Records

What I Used To Be Will Pass Away And Then You'll See…

As we look into the horizon, another US election year is upon us. The battle for the highest, most esteemed, and important vacancy in the entire world is one that can resemble a below average, undercard slugfest rather than a game of wits, enterprise, and courting. Indeed, the process of rising to the apex of this office is one that plays with fire and pushes the boundaries between good and evil, entertainment and embarrassment, showmanship, and clownery.

You may forgive our friends across the Atlantic for being completely tired and worn out by this circus. Interest and care for politics and deciding who represents your nation on the world’s stage, is something that can understandably be of immense value and hold a deep meaning for people, whether patriotic or not. But at times, hope gets completely lost, and disenchantment becomes more natural than anything else that suggests even the slightest hint of optimism. If this all too familiar, it’s because it is. These two opening paragraphs could have been written in 1983 holding the same sentiment as it does today in 2023. In fact, a disenfranchised person in Cleveland, Ohio may well harbour the same sentiments of distress towards their government as one may have in Aberdeen, Washington a few decades back.

Photo by Adam Hubka

It is almost impossible not to separate Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, but being a legendary Rockstar and iconic frontman for one of history’s most celebrated bands results in a type of aura that makes his and the group’s legacy overlap regularly, a cardinal relationship at its most poignant. But it is also impossible to ignore the political climate in the United States during the 80s, how it continued to contribute to the 90s and the connection it has to the Nirvana-lead Grunge movement.

Ronald Reagan’s divisive time in office - known for his conservative values - was key in birthing a lot of grassroots, counterculture movements. Income inequalities and growth disparities pushed by his tax cuts, plus a lack of economic diversity and a large drive for consumerism made the realities of working-class people hard. Reaganomics was no friend to social causes either, with a lot of sects of society feeling its wrath. Grunge captured the disillusionment that a lot of Americans felt, particular blue-collar workers and conscience, progressive voters. With the music picking up pace towards the end of the decade, Seattle would be the incubator forGrunge’s acceleration into the mainstream landscape.

Photo from I MAY ROAM

It was during this period where the birth (and subsequent rebirths due to chopping and changing drummers) of Nirvana would take place, and their sound and style began to formulate. Kurt Cobain was a child of divorce who was always in tune with his humanity, notably being a strong advocate of feminism, pro-choice abortion, and LGBTQ+ rights. Krist Novoselic was a second-generation immigrant of Croatian descent with a keen interest in Punk Rock, and given his lineage, no stranger to standing up for his beliefs. Dave Grohl, Nirvana’s fifth and final drummer, was a mix of his two bandmates, and would join after the break-up of his band Scream. At this point, Nirvana had an album under their belt with a decent foothold in the Seattle Grunge scene, but things were only just getting started for the trio.

The end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s saw George Bush continue the majority of Reagan’s work, albeit in a more pragmatic fashion. Not much changed, and the same begrudging sentiments over the economy remained relevant. Nirvana would articulate theirs and many others’ feelings in their art as they had done prior to Grohl joining in 1990. Cobain’s abstract style of songwriting, heavy on emotion and unique patterns alongside gritty, raw, and distorted instrumentals was a key feature of Nirvana’s and their contemporaries’ styles and formulae. Cobain would mention his inspirations ranging from The Beatles, Pearl Jam and The Sex Pistols. In truth, Nirvana were every bit of Grunge rolled into one, as their blend of influences - a DIY mix of all things Rock inspirited - was in tandem with the Grunge mentality and lifestyle; a by-product and reaction of the rejection towards commercialisation that was sweeping many industries in the United States. Nevermind’s release and success solidified their arrival and position at the forefront of culture

“When you're in the public eye, you have no choice but to be raped over and over again – they'll take every ounce of blood out of you until you're exhausted... I'm looking forward to the future. It will only be another year and then everyone will forget about it…”

- Kurt Cobain, speaking on Nevermind to Flipside

As fans loved the music, the creators would find themselves in tumultuous relationships with one another and themselves. As with all groups, Nirvana would have their disagreements - some healthy, some not - and Kurt Cobain’s personal struggles are well documented. One can envisage having such a deep connection to the art, its roots and the heart of the movement leaving a profound, personal impact. To have your music, initially meant to stand toe-to-toe with the people against the corporate machines that were taking shape and dominating the output across the landscape, only then for the same enemies you wanted to defeat seek you out for their greedy agenda that you were against, adds pressure that weighs down the artist. This was reflected in Nirvana’s work and Cobain’s persona, despite an unparalleled level of success, influence, and respect from their peers.

Kurt Cobain’s tragic, premature death was met with worldwide grief. Nirvana was arguably just getting started and acclimatising to their international reach and reputation. The eclectic mix that shaped their music and synthesizing diverse genres was enchanting audience from everywhere, leaving an enduring impact on global music. The world has changed a lot since then, but it’s hard to find to a reference point or beacon of hope to guide people through the same challenges that have remained a constant on political, economic, and social scales. Dave Grohl continues to rock away, whilst Krist Novoselic fights the good fight for political causes and social activism, but perseverance and defiance appears to be short-changed when corporations hold all the cards. A penny for Kurt’s thoughts would be fascinating to say the least.

Ronald Reagan’s fingerprints are visible in a lot of the political games flooding everybody’s screens of assorted sizes. In similar vein, Nirvana’s musical afterlife continues to live on forever too, as society continues to grapple with where we wish to stand in the face of challenging times against greater powers. But whilst there are individuals who’ve managed to have a firm grip on Reagan’s baton, there is difficulty in seeing who is carrying Nirvana’s. There is certainly a gaping hole for somebody to lead the charge with 2024 around the corner.

Written by: @WhosAria

Edited by: @Arriver

Bars Of Wisdom

In collaboration with Arriver.