Quantcast
 Wallace Wylie

We Don’t Have To Breed – Nirvana’s Nevermind and masculinity

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

Nirvana

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.

(continues overleaf)

Pages: 1 2

11 Responses to We Don’t Have To Breed – Nirvana’s Nevermind and masculinity

  1. Jack August 27, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Two things:

    #1 Being a date-raping footballer or a groupie-abusing hair-metal narcissist may not be the best a man can be, but being overly sensitive and ashamed of your y chromosome ( as represented by Kurt) isn’t a healthy masculinity either. You are what you are. Own it and live your life.

    #2 (For thee ed more than the author:) Inspiral Carpets were fucking shit. Obscure at the time and rightly forgotten now. I hope, as they stock shelves or shuffle papers, they remember their musical past and hang their heads in shame. Because no-one else gives a fuck.

  2. Princess Stomper August 27, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    >#1 Being a date-raping footballer or a groupie-abusing hair-metal narcissist may not be the best a man can be, but being overly sensitive and ashamed of your y chromosome ( as represented by Kurt) isn’t a healthy masculinity either. You are what you are. Own it and live your life.

    *nods vigorously*

    Neither the footballer nor the ashamed-male is comfortable with who they are, and that’s more than unattractive – it’s unhealthy. My reaction on reading this, after “Jeez, how do you get up in the morning?” was just feeling really sad. Personal question: did you go to a single-sex school? I’ve often noticed that people who go to these schools have real problems relating to the opposite gender, like they don’t realise that they’re just people the same as they are.

    >#2 (For thee ed more than the author:) Inspiral Carpets were fucking shit. Obscure at the time and rightly forgotten now. I hope, as they stock shelves or shuffle papers, they remember their musical past and hang their heads in shame. Because no-one else gives a fuck.

    Ah, I still remember being marched back to the shop by my mother because she didn’t approve of my “Groovyfuckers” t-shirt. Inspiral Carpets were great – but very of their time. Couldn’t listen to them now.

  3. Lucy Cage August 28, 2011 at 3:55 am

    @Jack. Sorry, you’re wrong about that. Actually, I’m not sorry. You’re just plain wrong. Inspiral Carpets: neither shit, nor obscure nor yet forgotten.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGr7jPXcGUk

    I think you should remember whose side you are on.

  4. Princess Stomper August 28, 2011 at 6:48 am

    I stand corrected: I can listen to them now. 🙂

  5. Everett True August 28, 2011 at 7:56 am

    The exact same video I was going to post when I woke up this morning. Also, if you renounce Inspiral Carpets then you’re also renouncing ? And The Mysterians … and that’s just patently absurd.

  6. Wallace Wylie August 28, 2011 at 8:55 am

    This was about my sixteen year old self, it wasn’t a brochure for a lifestyle choice. “Own it”. That sounds a little Dr. Phil for me. I’m 35 now. I’m surviving. Don’t worry.

    As for the Inspiral Carpets line, although I threw it in there for laughs I actually have a strong affection for them. “Island Head” ep was one of the first things I ever bought. “Biggest Mountain” is fantastic. They have a lot of excellent songs. “She Comes In The Fall”, “Commercial Rain”, “Joe”, “Move”, “Caravan”, “Dragging Me Down”, Saturn 5″, the aforementioned “I Want You” with Mark E. Smith. History has made The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays the only credible bands from Madchester, but I certainly listened to Inspiral Carpets a lot more than Happy Mondays. Happy Mondays? Some great songs, but mostly kind of shit.

  7. Everett True August 28, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Speaking as the person who wrote the first ever music press review of Happy Mondays (supporting McTells at Camden Falcon in 1988) for NME, where I also used the word “grungy” to describe their guitar sound, a full year before I went to Seattle…. they could be killer good, live.

  8. Wallace Wylie August 28, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Also wanted to add that nowhere did I say I had trouble relating to women. I actually related to them very well. A lot of the time it was other men I couldn’t relate to. The problem, aged 16, was my distrust of my hormonal urges and my utter lack of respect for normal notions of masculinity and what it meant to be a man. This all happened twenty years ago.Lest anyone loses any sleep I’m a fully functioning member of society. I still have a deep distrust of societal notions of masculinity and being a man, but that’s just fine. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  9. Princess Stomper August 28, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    >The problem, aged 16, was my distrust of my hormonal urges and my utter lack of respect for normal notions of masculinity and what it meant to be a man.

    But that’s what I meant about not relating to women properly – if you’re convinced that acting on your hormonal urges is disrespectful and cheap, without recognising that (under the right circumstances) the subject of your lust might welcome those urges, then you’re not relating on a human-to-human level. The problems arise when people stop treating each other as people first and boy/girl second.

    I’ve never watched Dr Phil, but I’m sure he comes up with some good advice sometimes. 🙂

    Genuinely happy that you’re OK now – and that we all agree that the Inspirals had some fine moments. Except for Jack, but then, Jack’s weird.

  10. Everett True August 28, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    This all happened twenty years ago.Lest anyone loses any sleep I’m a fully functioning member of society.

    For me, it was over 30 years ago. And Bangs alive I was conflicted! I guess the main difference between me and Wallace here is that I’m still not a fully functioning member of society.

  11. hannah golightly August 29, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    @Princess- sounded to me more like Wallace was describing being conflicted with his own feelings towards himself rather than towards women. Like he was uncomfortable with himself at that time and was getting conflicting and confusing messages from society about what a man was that didn’t fit with how he felt.

    Anyway, thanks Wallace. I guess that Nirvana managed to reach out and touch people on a very personal and intimate level that felt supportive to them. I know that I felt like that. I felt alienated before I first heard Nirvana. They empowered me just by existing. It’s weird how just listening to their music made me feel tougher, stronger and less alone and better able to stand up for myself against the whole school. I felt cool. I wasn’t. But I got to feel that way.

    Whenever I hear Nirvana, I feel a few things, loss, nostalgia, energised, part of something… I also can’t believe the genius of the music. I’m a songwriter these days and I listen to Nirvana from a different place and it’s just wow. This is so simple and so complex and so compelling and I don’t know- important or something- all at once.

    Years ago when Nirvana were still relatively current I stopped listening to Nevermind for a whole year because I got all purist about it being too ‘Pop’. I was only about 15, so there you go. Then I came back to it and it hit me again with a new impact and I couldn’t believe how heavy it was. It’s an amazing record, one that you can play to death and then bring back to life. If only it was the same way with KC. I didn’t know him, but I still miss him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.