- Karen Schoemer
- Krist Novoselic
|The New York Times
||A Band That Deals In Apathy
There are many things the members of Nirvana don't care about. "Nervermind" (DGC), the band's second album and first for a major label, offers a catalogue of them.
"Sunday morning is every day for all I care," intones the guitarist and lead singer Kurt Cobain in "Lithium," a song about a man who sits alone in his room after his girlfriend rejects him. Mr. Cobain closes "Smells Like Teen Spirit," a study of generational apathy, with the line, "I found it hard, it's hard to find, oh well, whatever, never mind." "Breed," a song that seems to be about the difficulty of starting a family, opens with the words "I don't care" stated six times for emphasis.
More important, the group, which will appear tomorrow night at the Marquee, doesn't care about typical rock formulas or conventions. "Nevermind" is above easy categorization. Its accelerated rhythms and three-chord power riffs come from punk rock, but the dense, slamming guitars are as heavy as metal; Mr. Cobain has a menacing growl that could compete with the most ferocious metal dudes, but when the songs lighten up he shows a voice that is just as well suited to melodic pop. Sometimes Nirvana will crack open a ballad by inserting a full-scale punk chorus, or construct a song out of acoustic guitar, bass and no percussion except a few well-timed cymbal crashes. The songs seem to follow an internal purpose all their own.
On a recent afternoon, Nirvana showed its lack of regard for the customary laws of time and space, as well as for society in general, when Mr. Cobain failed to materialize for this interview. "He's disappeared," said the band's road manager nervously. The bassist Chris Novoselic happily volunteered for the job, and seemed equally at home discussing his recent stint in a Los Angeles jail on a drunk driving charge as he did talking about the highly individualist workings of Nirvana. "We've never been goal-oriented, personally or as a band," Mr. Novoselic explained on the phone from Boston, where the band was to perform that night. "We just want to play, and put out what we consider good records."
With "Nevermind," Nirvana has certainly succeeded. There are enough intriguing textures, mood shifts, instrumental snippets and inventive word plays to provide for hours of entertainment. "Lounge Act" closes with an extended guitar chord that suddenly distorts and loses shape like a crayon melting on a radiator. "On a Plain" ends on a fade-out, but its luscious three-part harmonies remain at full volume a few extra seconds. "Polly," a slow, disturbing song about a woman trying to escape from a rapist, features little more than the dull, dry strum of an acoustic guitar. "That song," said Mr. Novoselic, "is pretty much Kurt's. We got him this left-handed Fender Mustang guitar for $20. He really liked that guitar, and he wrote some great songs on it. He wound up smashing it, being Kurt."
Nirvana started up in 1987 in the small town of Aberdeen, Wash. Mr. Novoselic summarized the band's history this way: "We were living in this coastal town in Washington State, typical repressions were happening, we all felt odd, like why are we weird, and we started listening to punk rock. We were listening to the Dead Kennedys and Millions of Dead Cops, and getting these radical political messages that society is really screwed up. And we started getting our own group together." Junky Equipment, but Motivation
Mr. Cobain had an aunt who was a struggling country-western singer, so he had access to a portable four-track tape recorder for making demos. Mr. Novoselic bought a bass, and together they found a drummer (Nirvana went through four drummers before recuiting David Grohl, who plays on "Nevermind"). "We had just the junkiest equipment, but we were really motivated," Mr. Novoselic said. "We practiced every day and in a couple of weeks we had a bunch of songs. We took it very seriously."
By 1989, Nirvana had released singles, an EP and a debut album, "Bleach," on the ultra-hip Seattle independent label Sub Pop, earning the band the status of indie-rock heroes. At first, Mr. Novoselic said, the band was leery of signing a major-label record deal. "We were terrified," he said. "But we drove down to L.A. and found an attorney and started talking to these label people. We toured all these major-label offices and found out how they worked. We just gained an education and are comfortable with it now."
As a result, "Nevermind" is more sophisticated and carefully produced than anything peer bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Mudhoney have yet offered. And for all Nirvana's pledged nihilism, there are a number of issues the band strongly supports. "We're pro-feminist," Mr. Novoselic said. "Sexism is just as bad as racism. We've made it clear that we're going to play all-ages venues on this tour. And we're total leftists. We're going to demand the socialization of the music industry. Records are going to be free to everybody."
Nirvana will perform tomorrow at the Marquee, 547 West 21st Street. The band will go on at about 10:15 P.M. Tickets are $11 in advance or $13 at the door. Information: (212) 929-3257.
© Karen Schoemer, 1991