Pixies

The 20th anniversary edition of Nirvana’s Nevermind was released last week with 35 previously unreleased tracks. (Photo courtesy of Sub Pop Records)

Nirvana’s Nevermind, the album that catapulted the grunge movement into the mainstream and steamrolled pop music in 1991, turned 20 this weekend. To commemorate the album’s legacy, Universal Music Enterprises has issued a deluxe edition that promises to delve deeper into the mythology of Nevermind, an album that Rolling Stone Magazine has regarded as one of the “greatest albums of all time.”

Why is this though? Why do Dave Grohl’s roaring drums, Krist Noveselic’s punk-laced riffs and Kurt Cobain’s lyrics of alienation, angst and animosity towards the “rock star” aesthetic still linger on well after Generation X has faded away?

Jon Stewart, in his discussion with former Nirvana bandmates Grohl and Noveselic and Nevermind producer Butch Vig, sums it up perfectly. “It had everything — sonic menace, melody, urgency, irony. It was like The Beatles had swallowed Black Flag.” Those who know that The Beatles and Black Flag are at completely different sides of the music spectrum would probably denounce this statement as foolish, but if you look back at Nirvana before the days of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” you can see that Cobain was the medium between the two.”

Cobain had always been into pop. His aunt Mari would give him Beatles records, and even in his posthumously-released journals, he called John Lennon his “idol.” So it comes as no surprise that “About a Girl” was the result of listening to Meet The Beatles! for three hours. “But I can see you every night, for free,” sang Cobain over jangly pop chords that, as producer Butch Vig states was “the first hint that there was more to Nirvana than grunge.” Although “About a Girl” was the diamond in the rough off of Nirvana’s debut album Bleach, songs such as “Negative Creep” were the crusty, punk jewels that would reflect Cobain’s desire to channel the inner rebel in himself.

Behind chugging riffs and dark tones was Cobain’s distorted voice as he yelled “I’m a negative creep,” the anger and frustration behind the lyrics leaving your head spinning. “Negative Creep” was the demented, rebellious counterpart to the melodic and sweet “About a Girl.” Cobain’s journey was barely beginning and it would be this challenge to
combine both sides of the spectrum that would ultimately lead to Cobain’s success and demise.

Fast forward to 1991 when Nirvana’s Nevermind is released, featuring the hit single, teen revolution anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Due to the success of the song and its video, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became an instant hit on MTV and contributed to Nirvana’s breaking out into the mainstream. Say goodbye to Michael Jackson’s Dangerous and hello to Nirvana’s Nevermind.

“It was shocking to be famous,” said Noveselic in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “Then, of course, there was Kurt, who was thrust into being the spokesman of a generation.”

Three nobodies triumphed over the King of Pop. How were the underdogs of the grunge movement able to pull the rug from under one of music’s biggest artist? The answer is not that simple, but we can look to Cobain’s constant battle with pop sensibilities and the punk aesthetic as the means of an answer.

Looking towards influences like Pixies and label mates Sonic Youth as sources of inspiration, Cobain was slowly drifting away from his past influences, intrigued by bands that incorporated dynamic contrast and were more melodic. Along with Pixies and Sonic Youth, R.E.M. became a large contributor to Cobain’s growth as a musician.

“I don’t know how that band does what they do. God, they’re the greatest,” said Cobain in an interview with Rolling Stone, months before his death in 1994. R.E.M.’s influence on Cobain can be heard in Nevermind’s “Come as You Are” and “Lithium.” Fluid and enticing, each song was a beautiful display of dynamic manipulation as they would start off quiet and subtle, only to end with resonance and power.

You can see this same formula in mainstream music today. Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” starts with a soft verse, only to grow into a powerful wave of guitar and drums. Even hip-hop prince Lil’ Wayne, who was a Nirvana fan growing up, follows a similar routine in “Lollipop,” where his rhymes are backed by minimal electronic sounds that grow into explosive, pulsating beats. Dynamics and volume would become a huge part of Nevermind’s success, especially with “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

The soft melodies and Cobain’s guttural, low vocals clashing against Grohl’s roaring drums and Noveselic’s piercing bass lines formed to create something that was ahead of its time. It managed to bring together Cobain’s growing taste in music with that of his past influences. You still get The Beatles’ verse-chorus-verse pop formula, but you also get the dynamic manipulations of Pixies and the hard, anarchic sound of Black Flag. “I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies,” said Cobain in the Rolling Stone interview.

Nevermind did what no other album was able to do during the 1990s: bring in both sides of the rock music spectrum. Most of the songs on the album are written in a way to where each melody can be hummed and easily memorized.

“I remember being in the sixth grade and Nevermind was a really popular album,” said UT History of Rock professor Benjamin Krakauer. “Kurt Cobain was a pop icon. A lot of kids wanted to look like him, dress like him and play guitar like him.”

The battle that Cobain faced wanting to encompass his pop and punk sides fueled the album into what it is known as today. From the lyrical content to the musicianship, you can hear, see and feel Cobain’s desire to master that middle ground. Nevermind bridged the gap between pop and punk, resulting in a masterpiece that still resonates with people today.

“I think Nevermind made disillusioned young people feel empowered, even heroic in the angst of their teenage experience,” Krakauer said. “The music was really fresh and clear, and that is why people have continued to enjoy it.”

Printed on September 29, 2011 as: "Nevermind" celebrates 20 years with re-release

A crowd cheers for The Sword on Friday, October 8, 2010 at ACL. This year will be the tenth annual festival.

Photo Credit: Shannon Kintner | Daily Texan Staff

The sweaty, three-day, five stage, 130-band extravaganza that is the Austin City Limits Music Festival celebrates its 10-year anniversary this weekend.

The festival has taken the ACL name places Ed Bailey, ACL’s vice president of brand development, never envisioned. Twelve years ago, he sat down with the KLRU staff and its board of directors to expand the brand beyond the long-running public television series. Never did he imagine that during the next 10 years, the festival would have hosted performers such as Spoon, Pixies, The Strokes, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, Bjork and Kanye West.

“Ten short years ago, all you had was the television taping six floors up in the communications building in the University of Texas,” Bailey said. “Amazingly, all this came just from that.”

The non-profit KLRU wanted to create a festival that would add another dimension to the ACL live music experience while staying true to the show’s vision. The vision is, in Bailey’s words, “to create a space where bands just let loose with their fans.”

To create this, KLRU outsourced production of the festival to a group of business partners that would eventually become C3 Presents, the music industry powerhouse that’s also responsible for Lollapalooza.

“There was no long-term deal; it was all, ‘Let’s go do it,’” Bailey said. “‘Let’s try to make it stand for what the TV show has always represented. Let’s take what we could do in a year’s worth of television shows and do it in a weekend.’”

Within a span of three or four months Charlie Jones and Charles Attal, the future co-founders of C3 Presents, developed a two-day festival with five stages and 67 bands. One-day passes were $25. Organizers had expected between 20,000 and 30,000 to attend, but 42,000 people showed up on that first Saturday in 2002. The first festival, which featured an array of artists from Gillian Welch to String Cheese Incident, set a precedent of eclectic line-ups that the festival has kept as its popularity has grown during the last 10 years. Some highlights of the decade include Pixies in 2004, Coldplay in 2005 — the dustiest year in the festival’s history, Dave Matthews Band in 2009 and the Flaming Lips’ infamous bubble entrance last year. This year’s festival features less well-known groups Reptar and AWOLNATION, as well as international superstars such as Stevie Wonder.

After a record 75,000 people attended on the Saturday in 2004, promoters lowered the festival’s maximum capacity at the request of surrounding neighborhood associations. A new contract last year with the City of Austin authorized C3 Presents to sell up to 75,000 tickets, and attendance last year was around 70,000 each day.

Bailey said the reputation of the ACL television show helped contribute to the success of that first festival. Now that the festival is an established destination, it brings major bands to the television show that might not otherwise have made the trip. In past years, Pearl Jam, My Morning Jacket, Wilco and The National have all doubled dipped, performing for both the festival and the show, and this year Austin City Limits Live will be taping Coldplay, Arcade Fire, Randy Newman, The Head and the Heart, and Gomez over the festival weekend.
Looking forward, ACL must continue to adapt by making content of the festival and television show directly accessible from computers and phones, Bailey said.

Last year, a number of performances at the festival were made available for live streaming for the first time. This weekend, C3 Presents is making 35 performances available for live streaming through the online magazine “Spacelab.”

“The business models of the record industry and the business models of television have changed so radically that if Austin City Limits is going to be in the conversation 10 years from now, we’re going to have to do a massive amount of change,” Bailey said.