Thursday, December 08, 2011

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana for Class

Just finished taking Cultural History of Rock and Roll at school. College is cool like that. We finished the class with a discussion of Seattle grunge and especially Nirvana. My teacher decided to end there because it's kind of the most recent big deal in rock and roll, the whole slacker scene and the celebration of depression and impotence and being able to get a kick out of life without any big ideas. It was profound. The last question posed in class was what's happened in the rock scene since the nineties? The class inspired two thoughts.

The first thought I'm thinking is an answer to what's happening in rock and roll since the nineties. It's a fair question. The easy answer is quite a lot. Bands are always appearing on the scene and ripping up the stage, feeding us the next new and hip thing, and sticking it to whichever man they've decided to lampoon. After the hardcore scene during the eighties, however, and the college rock grew from rock and rollers who weren't as angry--R.E.M. and such--and Seattle spawned grunge in the eighties, pretty much all boundaries broke. Nothing is sacred anymore and everything is fair game. Everything is in equal amounts shocking to someone, which makes everything, really, equally tame. Whatever your taste is, there is that kind of rock and roll somewhere. All you have to do is wade through everything else till you find it. One answer to "what's happening with rock and roll?": everything. Everything that was happening is now happening. Now, different than ever, it's all allowed. Kind of strange but true.

A nuance on this idea that everything goes is everything goes everywhere. Rock and roll, always a global thing, has mostly been produced in America. Britain tended to absorb and speed up and push the envelope for any new movement that arose--the spirit of fun in the early boogie rockers like Berry and Little Richard got tightened by the Beatles and the Stones, the punk of the Ramones and Patti Smith assumed the really active directed anger it always needed at the hands of the Sex Pistols and the Clash. As a result, we talked in class almost exclusively about the U.S. and England and only ever mentioned other countries as they related to the Americans and Brits who went there, except on very rare occasions--like when we talked about Bob Marley and Santana. Everyone in the world makes rock and roll, though. We never talked about J-rock, a whole scene that has done some of the best punk/glam meld of anyone, or the folk metal groups that are howling at the world from northern Europe, directly pulling from libraries of mythology and folklore creating strangely primordial hard metal. These are nuances on a theme and not really anything new. But they're good, and will be worth noting in the Cultural History of Rock and Roll class I will teach in twenty years.

The other thought that occurs to me is how strange it is to think about an album--Nevermind--released in 1992 as a piece of history. Twenty years ago. Holy sheet.


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