Tobi Vail, former girlfriend of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, became a fan of the youth-targeted deodorant Teen Spirit when it was launched in America in 1991. As a joke Katherine Hanna, the lead singer of the band Bikini Kill, which also included Vail, scrawled across a wall in Cobain’s apartment ‘Kurt smells like teen spirit’.
Misinterpreting the statement as a comment on mainstream American society at the time, Cobain decided it was the perfect phrase to embody the disconnected rage and contempt felt by those who had not benefitted from, or could associate with, the excess and misplaced optimism of the indulgent 1980s. He used it for a song he had written which included lyrics like ‘I feel stupid and contagious’ just so there was no doubt where he was coming from. He called it ‘Smells like teen spirit’ and it was released on Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind, which came out 25 years ago on September 24th 1991.
The album went Platinum by November and reached Diamond status in 1999 with 10 million units sold. Only the most ardent of fans would claim it was musically one of the greatest albums of all time, but sick of the cartoonish excess of the ‘hair bands’, stadium-rock and spandex of the previous decades, Nevermind spoke to a generation like nothing else had. Cobain once explained where he drew some of his inspiration for the dark feelings and rejection he channeled in his lyrics: “Some of my very personal experiences, like breaking up with girlfriends and having bad relationships, feeling that death void that the person in the song is feeling — very lonely, sick”.
If there is any doubt about how important Nevermind was, consider this: nothing quite so powerful, with the ability to resonate within a generation has come along since. In terms of economic stagnation and career aspirations, many people today who feel globalisation has let them down are channeling the same anger and frustration experienced by the fraternity Nirvana appealed to 25 years ago. But there has been no voice or sound with the same impact on the current generation as Nirvana had back then. Bruce Springsteen is still valiantly carrying the torch, but nothing and nobody has exploded into the public consciousness with the force to define a genre like Nirvana did with Grunge.
So it’s all the more surprising then, that the title of the album was Nevermind, which suggests more of a shoulder-shrugged disappointment than an angst-fuelled middle-digit to the world.
And it got me thinking. What, 25 years ago, had you hoped to achieve by today that you have not – but no major regrets, just something that you might shrug off with a “well, never mind”? I decided to spend a night out in London asking friends and strangers alike and include some of the answers below:
I wanted an ability to drink multiple pints, or wines, without succumbing to feelings of remorse and regret the following day.
I was a stoner. I wanted to be Jim Morrison.
I wanted to walk and stop wearing nappies (an odd response given the question).
I wanted to be able to talk to women without going red.
I wanted kids and a white picket fence. My furry four-legged friend, though, is cheaper and will die younger!
I was 18 and had just won the North of Scotland Junior Best All rounder (a cycling competition) and come 6th in Scotland. I was pretty certain I would win an individual Scottish championship.
I was 15. My major aim to was to go out with Johnny Ray. I wasn’t cool enough and two years younger so….never mind.
I wanted to have a physique like my brothers when he was about 17.
I wanted to sleep with one of the Spice Girls.
I didn’t save enough money before my gap year travels. Not having enough money was the least of my worries as it turned out, so never mind.
Sad though it is to say, if I think back to listening to that album endlessly on flying scholarship and being best student of the year with a mate who went onto fly harriers, the answer is probably fast jet pilot.
I was gonna be a big shot architect. No joke.
I was incapable of linear thought back then aged 19. I always assumed I would want a Ferrari or Lamborghini. Turns out I don’t.
Honestly: climb Everest (failed); play pro-rugby (failed); learn to paint (failed very badly); live and work in a really rough foreign place (failed – sort of).
Taking my research ever more seriously as the night wore on I had a strained conversation (as I could barely be heard) in a bar at 2am. Starting poorly by asking the woman I was chatting to/shouting at if she was from Denmark having heard her accent, she said, no, Isle of Lewis, Scotland. I plowed on regardless and posed my question. She wasn’t sure she’d heard of Kurt Cobain. “What?”, I exclaimed, possibly a little too forcefully, “the restless, troubled genius that gave a voice to millions and defined an era; the sincere, contemplative, creative force that was so genuinely authentic he really felt the pain he wrote about such that it eventually killed him?”
“Sorry, I don’t know who you’re talking about”
“But, he was…….oh, never mind.”
3 Comments Add yours
“….how important Nevermind was, consider this: nothing quite so powerful, with the ability to resonate within a generation has come along since”
Nay old man, you are showing your age – there are loads of bands both home grown and off shore. Marilyn Manson, Linkin Park, Pantera, Rage Against the Machine, Future of the Left are a few that spring to mind.
“….the restless, troubled genius that gave a voice to millions and defined an era; the sincere, contemplative, creative force that was so genuinely authentic he really felt the pain he wrote about such that it eventually killed him?”
Nay again. Kurt Cobain was a narcissist who could not cope with the media limelight, heroin addiction and a bossy bird, took the easy way out by his own hand or should I say shotgun.
Finally, I am glad you managed to survive accosting the Jock filly at 2am – It is not something I’d do lightly, no matter how much beer I had on board!
Ouch! Landed a couple of blows there. Thanks for the comment Lee and I’ll accept Rage Against the Machine but can’t see Marilyn Manson in the same league. Sure he’s big, but what has he changed? The Goth/Emo mix makes for a great act, but is he more than that? And you’re right about the old man epithet; when did the day after start feeling that bad?
I’m not a particular fan of Nirvana – or suicide – but none of the bands Lee mentions comes close to having the same influence or legacy. Nice idea for an article. I was going to be a jockey. Whatya gonna do?