We Don’t Have To Breed – Nirvana’s Nevermind and masculinity
By Wallace Wylie
When Nevermind came out I was 15 years old, living in Falkirk, Scotland and I didn’t have the slightest idea who Nirvana were. At the time, I was still half in love with Top 40 pop while also listening to what I imagined was more grown-up music. Basically, my idea of alternative music was Inspiral Carpets. [Nothing wrong with that! - Ed] I watched Nirvana play ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on Top Of The Pops and thought it was terrible. Why was this guy singing in such a ridiculous voice? Must be some silly American metal band. 1991 came and went, and by ’92 I had all but left the Top 40 behind. Fueled by my love of The Beatles and other ‘classic’ bands I imagined that the best guitar music was also the highest-selling. With my vague knowledge of the current music scene I made the leap that U2 and R.E.M. must then be the most important bands in the world! Yes, my then 16-year-old self was still ridiculously naïve when it came to music. What could possibly save me from my ignorance? Obviously, it was Canada. My parents had family in Newfoundland, and in 1992 my mum decided to leave the UK for the first time in her life and visit our Canadian relatives, with me and my dad in tow. It was the summer of ’92 and the house where I stayed had MuchMusic playing almost constantly. It was there that I first heard ‘Lithium’, and it was there that my love affair with Nirvana began.
In my mind, I always imagined that there were other contemporary bands who I loved just as much as Nirvana, but looking back it truly was a watershed moment. In ’92, before Nirvana, I was listening to The Beatles, The Jam, The Stone Roses, The Doors, U2 and R.E.M. Even if I wanted to think of U2 and R.E.M. as current, they had both existed for over 10 years. By ’94 I was listening to Pavement, Sebadoh and Teenage Fanclub, all because of Nirvana. Instead of looking to the past for inspiration, I began to take enjoyment in what was happening right now. Something about ‘Lithium’ hit me really hard. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the song contained the lines “I’m so ugly”, “I’m so lonely” and “I’m so horny“. It managed to sum up my feelings of confused masculinity, my sense of repulsion as teenage hormones flooded my body and seemed to insist that I objectify all the women around me, but I was not one of those guys. Stuck with powerful sexual impulses, I convinced myself that to act on them was disrespectful and cheap. The power dynamic behind male/female relations weighed heavily on me. How would I ever know if my impulses were going to push a girl into doing something that she ultimately did not want to do? My crippling self-consciousness and acne meant that I wouldn’t have to worry about the sexual act for a while, yet the nature of masculinity and male sexual urges still haunted me.
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