From the Department of Futile Requests comes the following:
Dear Seattle, can we not with Smells Like Teen Spirit any more?
Like, at least not in public? When visiting friends who know literally nothing else about the town’s music request that you play it as you drive them around Ballard, fine. When you’re home alone and overcome with an overwhelming nostalgia for anarchy cheerleaders and dingy high school gyms, fine. When you’re in another city, at their sporting event, fine.
But really, neighborhood bar? Coffee shop? Public plaza? Barber shop? NORDSTROM RACK?
I’m not crying for Nirvana’s entire catalogue– or even most of it– to be banned from the public sphere. If you are a space that plays rock music from the last thirty years, it makes sense that Nirvana would be some of that music. Realistically, they slot along The Beatles, Abba, Fleetwood Mac, and the song from “Breakfast Club” as permanent fixtures of our sonic universe.
But Teen Spirit. It’s not a bad song. But it’s such, such, such a cliché. It’s the documentary about the ’90s as they happened all around the world checking in with “the kids.” It’s your uncle– or you– playing “air” guitar on a tennis racket in front of a bunch of mortified youngsters, and claiming its a culturally significant act. It’s every self-righteous speech a now-libertarian grey-longhair gives about the ’60s, transmuted twenty five years later. It’s a postcard from a Northwest that never truly existed, a counter-culture Norman Rockwell painting.
Nirvana were, for a period of time, my favorite band. While the whole wave of grunge landed just slightly before my time, many of the ideals, opinions, and examples provided by bands of and just after that era showed little Graham that you could be a “regular dude” and still be empathetic, sensitive, and at least try to not be sexist or racist. Cobain’s screed in the “Incesticide” liner notes being maybe the most explicit example of such.
In hindsight, there are lots of clumsy, hamfisted ways that moment failed itself, and being a “regular dude” is generally awful. Still, I have deep affinity for the music of that time and I also want to never randomly hear any of it in a bar every again. Let it live in moments between friends, in specific call backs, and all those movie soundtracks.
There are many other songs that I find annoying, or would rather do without, but they also never meant anything to me. As such, I’ve elected not to rant about those, because it’s neither my place, nor do I have the time.
Still. Smells Like Teen Spirit is hardly even the worst of our musical problems.
Also published on Medium.