Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Nirvana: 20 Years Later

Here we are 20 years after Kurt Cobain’s suicide and Nirvana’s music is still big news. Also with Nirvana’s recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, the band’s status has risen to another level. People still flock to anything associated with the group, everything from the conspiracy murder theories to the music itself. All the long lasting media attention still pales in comparison to the whirlwind of when the Nevermind album conquered the music industry. The mania was everywhere, saturating both radio and television. Complete insanity went amok as sheep-like people jumped on the speeding ship.

I remember being a senior in high school and my thoughts the first time seeing the “Smells like Teen Spirit” video. I could hear a genuine underground punk rock ethos within the music. Did I foresee it exploding in popularity? No not at all. I figured they would be one of those cool bands that would be trapped on MTV’s 120 Minutes time slot. Of course I was quite wrong. Once the momentum grew, every idiot around was listening to Nirvana. That alone left a bad taste in my mouth. Suddenly I completely despised the band. Anytime someone spoke about them, I countered with a negative rebuttal. Something along the lines of, “fuck that weak shit, listen to Pungent Stench.” I voiced pure venom for all their singles. Looking back, I know now my juvenile hatred was mostly directed towards the majority of Nirvana’s mainstream fans. That section in time was a grand example of how the corporate train picked up on something special and completely crammed it down everyone’s throats with exhaustive promotion. When Cobain killed himself, I had just graduated Marine Corps boot camp. I was immune to his passing. He was just a pathetic junkie that killed himself. I thought it was moronic how all these people were crying as if they had known him personally. Graduation from boot camp was all that was on my mind. Upon my arrival home, I was shocked to see punk band Greenday on MTV. They were just a punk band on independent label Lookout Records that had just jumped to the big leagues. No question that Nirvana’s success had opened the door for more “punk” bands to take a stab at the limelight. That is a whole other story.
It’s funny how a person’s tastes and thoughts change with age. All these years later, I now truly appreciate the band’s work. Their discography is filled with artistic brilliance. From the early singles and the Bleach LP to the major label releases, all great material. Their songs have pop hooks but still a rough edge. They paid their dues early on with touring and living in terrible conditions. Then almost over night the band became immortal. Did the success and fame come too quickly for them to handle? Yes I think so. Were they mentally equipped for the responsibility? No, they were not. In my eyes, they were an honest, underground band that idolized the Melvins. They had a catchy sound and hoped to put out a few records. Unfortunately their ascension to the top left some casualties, but then again that’s standard practice in mainstream music.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Cassette = Crap?

Here of late there has been a growing interest in cassettes. The demand for old tapes on the Internet is surprising. Also, more and more underground bands are doing cassette only releases. Is it for budgetary reasons or nostalgia? Will it return to a prominent medium? Absolutely not, however it is an interesting trend that has taken hold.
The cassette is a unique format that can make it cumbersome for the listener to skip around searching for their favorite song. This creates an atmosphere were the listener is almost forced to experience the entire album. The argument can be made that in the past this method forced bands to create a great album from beginning to end. From personal experience, yes with a cassette I would listen to it in that manner. I did so to hear the album as a whole, but also because I hated fast forwarding.
Another point I’ve heard is the appreciation of the cassette sound. It is said to have a unique warm sound not found on CD or vinyl. I’ve talked to some who enjoy the flat tones with the fuzzy, hissing background noise. In their mind it is said to give character the same way the popping sound does for vinyl. Yes that sound may bring the listener back to years past, but it does not enrich the quality of the listening experience.
Honestly, I am not a fan of the cassette. I was glad when its mainstream format went extinct years ago. It’s not a reliable source to preserve music. Besides regular degradation, you have to be on guard watching for your player to “eat” the tape. If you grew up with cassettes you definitely know the aggravation of an “eaten” tape. Even if you’re able to repair it, the sound quality will never be the same. With that being said, I don’t think it had a great sound in the first place. Of course an unworn cassette definitely sounds better than an Mp3, but that still doesn’t win the favor of being a zenith of listening.
As mentioned earlier, lots of independent bands are going the cassette route. They like the low fidelity feel. Plus it’s way cheaper to press cassettes versus doing vinyl. I like it in the sense of it being collectible and nostalgic. These types of releases are a hot commodity to collectors that must have all the limited edition releases: color vinyl, picture discs, special booklets, etc. Collectible music items are meant to be just that, collectible. So I feel the same way about bands doing limited cassette releases. This may seem hypocritical approving of these types of releases because earlier I completely belittled the cassette format as a whole.
My final thought is the cassette is a fun novelty for limited releases but I do not understand the collectors who scour the earth searching for old tapes. Who am I to judge? If it brings them pleasure, then so be it. Who knows, maybe next the 8 track will make a comeback…..