Nevermind is 30

No one reading this needs to be told how good this album is. No one needs to be told how important this album is. No one needs to be told how relevant this album still is.

It may not quite be true that Nevermind changed the sound of rock music overnight. Bon Jovi continued to have hits for years afterwards. Guns N’ Roses remained enormous, though they lost their outlaw cool. Thrash bands continued to do well commercially, and Nirvana never had any beef with them anyway (they were reportedly on good terms with the guys from Metallica, and hired Andy Wallace to mix Nevermind specifically because of his work on Slayer’s Seasons in the Abyss).

But hair metal bands did mostly try to update their image and sound in response to the rawer, more unkempt noise coming out of Seattle, and it did change who got signed, and who got played on the radio, and in those terms Nevermind exerted a heavy influence on the sound of rock music for years to come. The critics Alfred Soto and Chris Molanphy have both drawn attention to what the modern rock chart looked like pre-Nirvana – its heterogeneity, its Britishness and its absence of heavy guitars, and how that changed after Nevermind‘s success. More than the Hot 100, college radio, the Modern Rock chart and in the rock press was where the album’s influence was felt most heavily. As Soto observes, “I.R.S. Records’ promo muscle wasn’t gonna get any Kirsty MacColl on a ’95 playlist.”

But while it’s interesting to look at Nevermind‘s impact on an industry-wide scale, that story has been told and retold, and a major landmark anniversary probably deserves a more personal response.

Mine goes like this. I was nine when Nevermind came out, and was too young to hear it or really appreciate it. I became properly aware of Nirvana – other than as a band whose name I knew and whose records I’d seen in HMV – when Kurt Cobain died. By that point, I was 12. I realised then that I actually did know fragmentary bits of their songs: I’d heard Teen Spirit, Come As You Are and In Bloom, and snippets of their melodies had wormed their way into my subconscious. My older brother Mark came home with Nevermind one day, and I insisted on having a cassette copy. And then my schoolfriend Jose showed me his electric guitar (an HSS Sunn Mustang in red) and his ability to play the main riff from Smells Like Teen Spirit.

And that was that. The path ahead was clear. There are albums I love more than Nevermind these days, and there are albums I’ve listened to more. But nothing comes close in terms of life-changing effects. Would I even be a musician today if I hadn’t have a) heard Nevermind and b) shortly after realised that people like my friend, and by extension people like me, could get a guitar and play music like this? I honestly don’t know. Before that moment, I’d wanted to be a writer of some kind, a novelist or a journalist, or perhaps both. Because of Nevermind, writing is something I enjoy and happen to earn a living from, while music is something more fundamental. The blood in my veins, the fluid in my cells. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world, probably millions, can tell exactly the same story.

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