On September 24th, 1991, a lost generation of youths were finally handed their voice. The benefactor? Kurt Donald Cobain.
Nirvana had just released their second LP, Nevermind, and at the same time, inadvertently started a revolution in rock music and beyond. The superficial, virile ethos of hair metal were immediately annihilated by this mammoth, urgent, irate yet introspective new sound. A significant cultural shift was sparked and kids became passionate again. Alternative rock was alive, jeans were slashed at the knee and an almighty bird was flipped to the man.
Two years later and the “spokesperson” for this renewed grunge generation would be found dead in his Lake Washington home, having taken a shotgun to his head. The overwhelming expectation and demand sought from this tragically talented, accidental messiah was simply too much to bear, devastatingly bringing to a close the story of Nirvana.
Though a hackneyed cliché, while we no longer have Kurt, we always have the records—records which define bygone eras, while continuing to arouse listeners to tenacious and inspired heights today.
This September, Nevermind is set to turn 20 and to celebrate, Nirvana camp are to release a special edition box set, which will boast B sides, unheard rarities and a DVD featuring a previously unseen gig. The treats do not end there, however. It was recently announced that former Nirvana bassist, Krist Novoselic, is to mark the album’s 20th anniversary by seminally performing Nevermind it in it’s entirety at the Sky Church venue, at the Experience Music Project in Seattle on September 20th.
Today, as part of “Video Killed the Radio Star”, SongLyrics looks back to the legend that is Nevermind via the music videos born from the must-have album.
1. Smells Like Teen Spirit (Released September 10th 1991)
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the directorial debut of Samuel Bayer, who would later go on to direct videos for the likes of Green Day, The Rolling Stones, and Blink 182. Filmed on a soundstage in Culver City, the video took influence from Ramones’ 1979 musical comedy, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’. The flick sees Nirvana playing a pep rally which soon descends into anarchy. The chaos and set destruction which plays out at the end of the video is rumored to be a result of the genuine discontent experienced by the exhausted extras, all of whom had been forced to stay seated throughout the whole 12 hour shooting.
Notable lyrics from “Smells Like Teen Spirit“
With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto, an albino
A mosquito, my libido
2. Come As You Are (Released March 3rd 1992)
Following the disastrous experience of the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” shoot, Cobain decided to eschew Samuel Bayer in favor of Kevin Kerslake, who was known for his impressionistic style. Cobain, unable to come up with any ideas beyond including “a lot of purples and reds”, left the majority of “Come As You Are[‘s]” conception up to Kerslake. The finished product sees Nirvana playing in a darkened room, the camera lens distorted by falling water, while stock imagery such as multiplying cells are filtered over the top. The video also features the legendary shot of Kurt swinging recklessly from a chandelier, and footage of a baby swimming underwater, included as a nod to the Nevermind front cover.
Notable lyrics from “Come As You Are“
Come as you are, as you were
As I want you to be
As a friend, as a friend
As an old enemy
Take your time, hurry up
The choice is yours, don’t be late
Take a rest as a friend
As an old
3. Lithium (Released July 21st 1992)
Director Kevin Kerslake came back on board for July 1992’s “Lithium“. Cobain had initially intended for the video to be that of a cartoon following a girl named Prego, who discovers eggs which slowly hatch. Cobain and Kerslake were forced to abandon the idea, however, after they discovered the cartoon would take four months to produce. Instead, the flick became a collage of particularly aggressive live clips of Nirvana, including footage from a 1991 Halloween gig filmed at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre (which is due to feature in full on the DVD of the upcoming special edition of Nevermind). Nirvana biographer, Michael Azerrad, notoriously labelled the video a “disappointment”—but you decide for yourself.
Notable lyrics from “Lithium“
I’m so happy ’cause today
I found my friends, they’re in my head
I’m so ugly, that’s okay, ’cause so are you
We broke our mirrors
Sunday morning is everyday for all I care
And I’m not scared
Light my candles, in a daze
‘Cause I’ve found God
4. In Bloom (Released November 30th 1992)
For “In Bloom“, Cobain initially envisioned a video which would follow a girl’s bid to escape the evils of the Ku Klux Klan she was born into, however, Kurt abandoned this idea as it was considered too ambitious. Instead, Kevin Kerslake was employed by Nirvana for a third time in order to work on a flick intended to mock televised music performances of the early 1960s. The comedic slant was an attempt to lighten the band’s image, with Cobain stating he was “tired for the last year of people taking us so seriously…I wanted to f*ck off and show them that we have a humorous side to us.” The finished product—which was filmed on vintage Kinescope cameras to achieve a dated effect—features two performances, one in which a well-behaved Nirvana don some nostalgic 60s suits, and a second, which sees the trio change into dresses and contrastingly descend into set-destroying madness.
Notable lyrics from “In Bloom“
Sell kids for food, weather changes moods
Spring is here again, reproductive glands
He’s the one who likes all our pretty songs
And he likes to sing along and he likes to shoot his gun
But he knows not what it means
Knows not what it means and I say