A lot of noise has been made about the fact that, round about 20 years ago, an album was released by some greasy kids representing a budding genre of rock music defined by distorted power chords, shouted lyrics, and anger.
I was nine, a newly-baptized Southern Baptist Jesushead–and I was oblivious to grunge.
Don’t misunderstand me — I was not sheltered from [what I then called] secular music. In the car, we had two radio stations — Sunny 100 (mom in the car) and Rock 103, neither of which were Jesus music stations. I’m not sure one even existed in the hooch valley back in the early 90s. If one did, we didn’t listen to it.
So basically, I grew up to a mix of oldies and pop from mom, and classic rock from dad. Though Rock 103 was not a classic rock station, my dad would only turn up the volume when he heard music made by bands that were in their prime when he was in his prime — late 60s to early 80s. Zeppelin, Jimi, Cream, The Who, Queen, Santana, CCR, Skynyrd, Aerosmith, Allman Brothers, Wet Willie, Grand Funk, Rush, Yes, Kansas (how prophetic…), Journey, and a host of others. These bands were the rock royalty against which I judged anything else I heard.
Nirvana wasn’t really even on my radar until much, much later in life. I’d left behind the Praise Jesus Bible thumpin’, but never the classic rock. Though the old gods remain strongest, I’ve found a few newer rock deities at whose altars I’d offer thanks, though my focus tends toward individual musicians rather than bands — Jack White, David Grohl, Flea, Vic Wooten, and Robert Randolph to name a few, and some leftovers from my dad’s era, like John Paul Jones, Eddie Van Halen, Dickey Betts, Carlos Santana, and Geddy Lee.
Nirvana, speaking primarily through power chords, was an affront to everything I knew to be worthy in rock. Complex melodies, impossibly fast and technical solos — those are supposed to be the hallmarks of a great guitar band. Seeing that Nirvana was a three-piece group, I understood why their music was simple — the lead singer was also the only guitar player. Instead of doing one thing and doing it incredibly well, he was trying to do two things at once while performing.
I am no stranger to live music performance. Long before those fakemusic games came out, I was playing bass guitar with church bands and rock bands. Being only a mediocre player at best, I never tried to do more than play my four or five strings.
So Nirvana sort of offended me on a fundamental level. They seemed to be choosing to be half-ass.
Then along comes Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and music turned into a game that anyone could play. In Bloom featured the best bass riff on the album and there it was for me to play. I even dabbled in drums for the first time. Simple rock turned out to be a lot more fun to fakeplay than to listen to.[youtube:http://youtu.be/PbgKEjNBHqM%5D
But I still cannot understand a word they’re saying.
- HFL Celebrates 20 Years of Nevermind (hifilives.com)
- Seattle museum showcase is a rock fan’s nirvana (travelnews.britishairways.com)
- INTERVIEW: Nirvana’s Nevermind album turns 20 (cbc.ca)
- Reaching the Nirvana of contextualisation (seevl.net)
- Spirit of the times (theage.com.au)
- Remembering Nirvana’s Nevermind (cbc.ca)
- Rock Band Weekly: Nirvana 4-pack, 10 pro guitar upgrades (joystiq.com)
- You: Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ turns 20 (france24.com)
- Between the Grooves of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ (Feature) (popmatters.com)
- The Enduring 20-Year Legacy of Nirvana’s Nevermind (blogcritics.org)
Something quite magical typically happens around September. I’m old enough now to anticipate it happening, but I’ve yet to be able to accurately target from where the feeling will come. I’ll usually start pulling out my favorite autumn classic records (which I’m sure I’ll post about in the future) to let the mix of nostalgia and welcome weather change trigger the emotional blooming season. Normally, the new addition to my ever-growing collection of fall records doesn’t really manifest itself until around October and I’ll not realize its memorable impact until long after the fact. This year was an exception.
This past Monday, for the first time post summer heat and humidity oppression, I got to throw on a hat and hoodie to start my day. During my morning internet rounds, I found a free download (via Last.fm) of the band HEALTH’s cover of the Pictureplane tune “Goth Star”, and the feeling of fall came much sooner than I was expecting. It was perfect, and everything fell into place.
There a few aspects I find interesting about this piece. For starters, I’m not really someone who focuses so much on lyrics. For me, the evocative aspects of music lie in the soundscapes. I think it’s why, as much as I love rock and roll, I’m just as much moved by a well produced hip-hop track or electronic piece. (Pick your sub-genre. I’m pretty open to all of them.) The original version of “Goth Star”, sans the R&B vocal sample that’s essentially unintelligible, had no lyrics. HEALTH’s version adds subtle lyrical vamps which add to the melancholy feel of the tune.
All we have is lost…
Beg for what you want…
I find it interesting that so many current bands cover the songs of their contemporaries. Another good example of this is Small Black’s cover of Best Coast’s “Sun Was High(And So Was I)”. Certainly this isn’t some new phenomenon, as it was more commonplace pre-MTV era. However, the prior practice was more about songs being sold by dedicated songwriters to performers, rather than the current model of bands writing their own music (mostly…at least as far as rock bands are concerned). Unlike this former “business model”, these covers feel more sincere and facilitate a sense of community amongst indie acts. It hearkens back to Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones covering Bob Dylan songs (“All Along The Watchtower” and “Like A Rolling Stone”, respectively). What makes this instance unique, to me, is the genre crossing. Pictureplane is primarily an electronic act, where as HEALTH is a traditional rock 4-piece (think Nine Inch Nails with more colorful clothing and less overt religious imagery). The de-stigmatization of using synths and samplers in rock and roll enables a lot of this cross-cultural tributing and allows for more accurate recreation of the original pieces.
Look, I live in the American Southeast and I know good and well this bit of cold snap is just a tease. It’ll be 90 degrees again, most likely within the week, and proper autumn weather won’t settle in ‘til most likely late October. However, with all of the other auxiliary aspects of fall kicking off (pun half intended) like football and a new school year/semester, it’s nice to have a soundtrack to welcome in my favorite part of the year. Lucky for me, it’s a cover of a song I like by a band I like. Cheers…
- HEALTH – “Goth Star” (Pictureplane Cover) (stereogum.com)
- Listen: HEALTH Cover Pictureplane (pitchfork.com)
- Concert Picks: Men Without Hats, The Jadewalkers, Pictureplane… (beatcrave.com)
- Can I Just Say… (ericswett.wordpress.com)
- Pictureplane – “Negative Slave” Video (stereogum.com)
- Pictureplane: Thee Physical (Review) (popmatters.com)