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 Everett True

Everett True revisits Nevermind (reprint from eMusic)

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In 1991, I was living in a one-man bachelor pad in Cricklewood, London. I was a staff writer for the U.K. music paper Melody Maker. During any given week, I would either be drunk in America, drunk on a plane to America or writing up my experiences, drunk in America.

I’d been at Melody Maker for a couple of years, and already had one notable story to my credit. It was my two-part cover article on Seattle label Sub Pop Records in February 1989 that was credited with breaking “grunge” – Nirvana, Tad, Mudhoney, Soundgarden – to the world. (I remain unconvinced. Wouldn’t I be, like, a multi-millionaire if that was the case, instead of a student struggling to support three kids and a wife on a research grant?)

At the start of the ’90s, I was closely associated with music coming from the Pacific Northwest of America, be it grunge (Seattle) or Riot Grrrl and the International Pop Underground (Olympia), and wrote countless articles around it. One such article was a review of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that appeared in i>Melody Maker, Nov. 9, 1991, a couple of weeks before its official U.K. release date.

I thought it might be interesting to go back through this review, and pick it apart in an attempt to explain what was going through my head as I wrote it. First, we’ll have the review and then, the breakdown.


“Pull up a chair, there won’t be a warmer sound for years,” I wrote in Melody Maker. “Heck, I know this is a week early and everything, but I couldn’t resist. I rushed out and bought this on import like it was the very first time.

“The part I like best for tonight occurs third time through when Kurt sings, ‘I found it hard/ So hard to find/ Oh well/ Whatever…never mind’ and nearly gives up, sounding all bruised and little-boy hurt, like a favourite toy truck battered and chipped, hidden ‘neath your brother’s bed. He’s this close to chucking it all in, but then the inexhaustible chorus breaks through, the bravado guitars rush in, and you start wondering if the world’s turned mad, that people like Axl Rose and Perry Farrell and Motley Crüe can dig something as poppy, as puritanical, as passionate as this. The metal world must be yearning for credibility real bad if they’re willing to embrace such avowed anti-rockers.

“Single of the year, in case you were wondering how to fill in those Readers’ Polls.”

“Pull up a chair, there won’t be a warmer sound for years,”

I believe the choice of words is deliberate. At the time, grunge was everywhere. Grunge = dirty = noisy = messy = belligerent. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was all of this, but it sounded like far more. The words “cleaned up” never entered my lexicon, but it was always clear that this song was going to appeal to a greater section of the population than just me and my Sonic Youth-loving friends. I figured it had to be down to the way the drums came crashing in, and the main refrain. I knew this song was the big one, even though “In Bloom” was way superior, and “Lithium” would reduce me to tears every time I saw it performed live. I’d been sent a pre-release tape of the album, months earlier, and thought it a right wheeze to put the “hello, hello, hello, hello” section on my answer phone. Man, I was sick of that song even before it was released.

I wrote in Melody Maker.

I met Nirvana on my first visit to Seattle: They told me they were competitive tree-climbers and fishermen and Satan-worshippers back in their adopted hometowns of Tacoma and Olympia. I believed them. Why wouldn’t I? I was experiencing more alcohol and loud heavy music and colored vinyl than I’d experienced my whole life. And I collected colored vinyl.

“Heck, I know this is a week early and everything, but I couldn’t resist. I rushed out and bought this on import like it was the very first time.”

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but music critics just do not behave this way. It’s not cool to exhibit a passion for music. I have no idea why. A few months before this review was written, I’d bumped into Nirvana in the throes of recording Nevermind. I was at a Hollywood Palladium show, rolling around the floor with Courtney Love; we were drunkenly punching one another, trying to roll underneath the velvet rope that separated the VIP area from the common herd, though I think security had us pegged. I’d never met her before. Kurt Cobain saw us, raced over, and joined in. It was clear we were having more fun than the rest of the place combined. He’d never met her before, either. I woke up the next morning in Nirvana’s rented L.A. apartment, naked underneath a glass coffee table, the entire place smashed to smithereens, my photographer and Krist Novoselic still awake, surrounded by a thick cloud of dope smoke. I raced out into the street, and flagged down a taxi.

“The part I like best for tonight occurs third time through when Kurt sings, ‘I found it hard/ So hard to find/ Oh well/ Whatever … never mind’ and nearly gives up, sounding all bruised and little boy hurt, like a favourite toy truck battered and chipped, hidden ‘neath your brother’s bed.

Credit where credit is due. Before Courtney “made it” with Kurt, we would discuss him – among many other topics. She was the one who fed me the “little-boy hurt” line (a facet of his persona that was obviously crucial to his whole appeal). He sounds battered, figuratively, on Nevermind, and especially on this song. No amount of polishing can hide that. The “favourite toy truck” line is mine. I come from a family of six children, four boys. We had to share everything.

He’s this close to chucking it all in, but then the inexhaustible chorus breaks through, the bravado guitars rush in,

I love music that sounds on the edge of perpetual breakdown, which is certainly what Nirvana’s live shows felt like during 1990-92, which of course is why they were so enthralling. Spontaneity! It’s at the heart of most great rock ‘n’ roll music.

and you start wondering if the world’s turned mad, that people like Axl Rose and Perry Farrell and Motley Crüe can dig something as poppy, as puritanical, as passionate as this.

I didn’t have much respect for these people and neither did Kurt. Can you tell? And I didn’t differentiate between shit I didn’t like and shit I didn’t like. Harking back to that previous note, that night at the Hollywood Palladium…Kurt and I ended up back at the same apartment, by a circuitous route (and only after Krist Novoselic had hooked a plastic bag over my ears to catch the vomit). Courtney drove away on the back of Dave Grohl’s motorbike.

The metal world must be yearning for credibility real bad if they’re willing to embrace such avowed anti-rockers.

And MTV, too! And MTV, too…

“Single of the year, in case you were wondering how to fill in those Readers’ Polls.”

I’m still shocked at how long the song is. Five minutes! Hardly the Ramones. As to the album it heralds…I like pretty much all of it still. I don’t give a fuck about the polish and the gloss because it’s hard to experience it any other way, still find “Lithium” nearly unbearably moving, “Teen Spirit” irritatingly familiar, “Drain You” underrated, the whole of the second side wonderfully droll. I can’t help thinking about my friend Tobi Vail (Kurt’s second Olympia girlfriend), whom many of these songs were directed at; and I can listen to it, 20 years on, without wanting to punch walls anymore.

Well, mostly.

Read more: http://www.emusic.com/music-news/spotlight/everett-true-revisits-nevermind/#ixzz1r7GkFTat

7 Responses to Everett True revisits Nevermind (reprint from eMusic)

  1. cirrusminor May 26, 2012 at 2:58 am

    It’s kind of hard to judge Smells Like Teen Spirit because I’ve heard it a million times. I think it’s probably a really good song, but I agree that Lithium and In Bloom are superior.

    My favorites off Nevermind are easily Polly and Something in the Way though. Polly lyrically and conceptually is amazing. The music is really sad and dark, but the lyrics are from the point of view of the rapist. It’s very intellegent for him to recognize that the rapist is suffering just as much as his victim. And the line “let me clip your dirty wings” is a knockout. Reminds me of Taxi Driver.

    The original album version of Something in the Way is very good, I love the accoustic guitar/ciello combo, but the one they recorded live for BBC is far better IMO:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ukIPh4wrK8

    His voice makes me cringe (in a good way), and the feedback during the chorus is the coolest thing, musically, that I’ve heard from them. This version is on the newly released Nevermind, which has like 40 songs haha.

  2. Preserver May 31, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    The super deluxe edition is superb because you get to hear all the mixes that we’re floating around before the final version
    The Devonshire mixes are the most radical & give a very different listening experience
    Well worth a listen – it is expensive though being a Holland only release

  3. LowerCaseNoun June 1, 2012 at 7:19 am

    @ Preservor.

    I disagree about the Deluxe edition.

    It’s been badly remastered. Suffers from the usual ‘loudness war’ problem which is disappointing given it was Bob Ludwig whos remastered it and he used to have a good reputation.

    I also don’t know why the Sound City Nevermind recordings of Old Age , Verse Chorus Verse , Sappy have not been included.

    I mean you do a Nevermind deluxe megathing edition with tape boombox recordings on etc but yet don’t include the above mentioned Sound City recorded songs on it ?

    Strange decisions.

  4. Beau June 6, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    A lot of great records swirling around in 1991/92, no doubt…

    I’m curious about Everett’s opinion of Sugar’s “Copper Blue” record, as this record sees a reissue release this month.

    It shares a few similarities to Nevermind – production values & sounds, and at the heart of the matter, great songwriting to boot.

    I am a massive fan of Bob Mould’s work during this period – the Copper Blue/Beaster couplet is an impressive achievement, and Beaster is Mould’s finest (half) hour.

  5. Golightly June 11, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    I love the idea that you put ‘hello hello hello hello’ on your answer machine. ha ha Pretty sarcastic and I wish I’d have had an answer machine and had thought to do that with it. ha ha If I had one now I wouldn’t hesitate to have Kurt Cobain field my phone calls. ha ha Tidy.
    Weird how reading about your experiences taps into memories and sensations of my teenage years. Makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. I’d rather read this type of thing than the crystallised bullshit ubiquitous to articles about Kurt Cobain and the mythology of Nirvana… because listening to Nirvana always felt and sounded like an intimate personal experience and I think that was a part of it’s magic, that they conveyed such wavelengths to people who never had a hope of meeting them and hanging out. Reviews of your reviews such as this invoke the spirit of the music. It was human. Like your reviews.

  6. Golightly June 11, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    And I’m sorry but nothing beats the excitement provoked in everyone around the moment when those drums kick in like an earthquake on Smells Like Teen Spirit. If it wasn’t for SLTS many people wouldn’t even be here discussing the merits of other ‘superior’ tracks in the first place. Being overplayed just meant that people had to explore further into Nirvana’s music to get more of that itch scratched and when they did, they found broad depths to immerse themselves in. A song for every state of mind and mood, yet always sounded Nirvana. Isn’t that amazing? Did the Beatles even accomplish that? I can think of so many emotions they covered, but rebellious youth off the leash? Not so much in my book? Hostility? Anguish? Fury? Desire? If they did, it was lost on me. Nirvana could be moody, pissed off, excited, bored, romantic, horny, hurt, lonely, celebratory, sarcastic, spiritual, political, daft, serious, jealous, kind, poppy, arty, twisted, direct…

  7. cirrusminor June 12, 2012 at 11:15 am

    I think you might be gushing a little bit. Nirvana’s like my second favorite band, but I don’t think they achieved a song for every state of mind and mood like you say. To me the general mood in most Nirvana songs is dark and sad. They were also often poppy, which is why the songs are so good, but I wouldn’t ever put a Nirvana song on the “happy” side of the spectrum.

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