It only takes one song to start a rock revolution. That trigger, in late 1991, was “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” an exhilarating blast of punk rock confrontation by Nirvana, a scruffy trio from Seattle. “Teen Spirit,” its moshpit party video and Nirvana’s kinetic live shows propelled their second album, Nevermind, to Number One and turned singer-guitarist-songwriter Kurt Cobain into the voice and conscience of an alternative-rock nation sick of hair metal and the conservative grip of the Regan-Bush ‘80s.
Nirvana owes its success and legendary status, and least in part, to teen rebel fatigue associated with … George HW Bush? That’s right. Nothing fires the furnace of scruffy punk confrontation like compassionate conservatism. A thousand points of light? I think you mean a thousand points of white hot spikes of torturous angst!
I guess I can see the influence of Bush on Nirvana via his solemn pledge “read my lips, no new taxes”. Since Bush then proceeded to raise taxes, the mystery of the naming of Nirvana’s second album (Nevermind) is finally revealed. Beyond that, this seems to be a stretch by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bio writers.
I think we can see what they’re trying to do here, recycling that hoariest of liberal clichés that the Reagan years were a nightmarish dystopia (predicated on your willingness to ignore all the peace, prosperity, freedom and landslide endorsements of his policies by the voters), and somehow that led to a new edgy, angry music.
But Reagan wrapped it up in early 1989, yet that “trigger” for the Nirvana “revolution” came out in late 1991. Firearms typically don’t take more than two years between the trigger pull and firing. What to do Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? You’re snared in a nasty tangle of revisionist history and bad metaphor! Only one way out, stick it to Poppy.
When you’re down to a thread of causation this thin, you get the sense that they don’t know what caused Nirvana’s rock “revolution”. Or maybe it wasn’t a revolution at all, and this is I all hyperbole in the service of perpetuating the myth that this music actually “meant” something.
It’s their hall of fame, their rules, I suppose. As such, we need to at least hold them to their logic. If the presence of the steely conservative grip of President George HW Bush led to the Nirvana revolution, then the absence of President George HW Bush would have forestalled this revolution. Therefore, the man most responsible for creating the George HW Bush administration is the one really responsible for Nirvana. Plus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has an entire wing of inductees labelled as “early influences”. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you what promises to be a surefire Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee for 2015: Dukakis!