Kurt Cobain had a way of making his I's resonate like We's. Those famous 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," don't welcome an audience at all, but the form of loathing they offered easily became a model for millions to imitate. Cobain was an intensely personal writer, but his personal was also public--that's why his suicide left so many feeling a defencive embarrassment bordering on disgrace. And it's why his intense fanship for the indie rock he'd grown up on (Black Flag, Melvins, Butthole Surfers, Meat Puppets, Raincoats, and tons of others) made him the first great alternative rock figure: R.E.M. may have convinced the indie scene to believe in itself, but Nirvana convinced the rest of the world (corporate and fan) to believe in indie. Unfortunately, the contradictions it was Cobain's great talent to magnify finally became a whirlpool. On Nevermind, every time Krist Novoselic's bass, Grohl's drums, and Cobain's guitar crunch into each other the effect is a chime, noise as beauty, instead of a thud. Purists who complained are indie-rock granola heads-- Vig's bold production, which assumes a social dominance alternative hadn't yet achieved, may be the album's most revolutionary quality. As for "Smells Like Teen Spirit," what can you say about a mega-hit that generated eight-figure profits and also managed the complexity of the greatest art? "A denial," Cobain rasps, but that's only half of it. Nirvana could translate underground affinities into mass music because Cobain's fragmented personality bridged the gap--inhabiting the psychopaths of "Lithium" and "Polly" but just as deeply linked to their female targets, singing with the battlefield command of a rocker and the reverse of a proud subculturalist, viscerally judgmental without a shred of elitism. It's scary now to hear the first three songs mention guns; "In Bloom" was more autobiographical than we realized.


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