Nevermind25: From the EMP Museum Oral Histories Archive


Nirvana’s groundbreaking album Nevermind celebrates its 25th anniversary on September 24th, and KEXP is commemorating the iconic album all this week with special interviews, giveaways, web stories, and more. Our neighbors at the EMP Museum have generously opened their vaults to us, sharing these stories from the EMP Museum Oral Histories Archive.

Bruce Pavitt, co-founder of Sub Pop Records:

I remember going to see Nirvana at the Central Tavern. They were playing at, like, 8:30 on a Sunday night, and the bartender was in the room, myself and Jon Poneman. That was it. And I think some guy sweeping the floor. Even the janitor was there, kind of setting up for the night. And they played for about 45 minutes, and it was really obvious at that time that Kurt had an amazing voice. His songwriting at the time, I felt was a little undeveloped. And the amazing thing about Nirvana for me, and Kurt in particular, is the rate of development, the rate at which his songwriting developed. It was phenomenal. See, if you go back to Sub Pop 200 and listen to a song like, “Spank Thru”, for example, it’s -- I don’t think it’s a particularly strong song. But over a period of two years, this guy just really blossomed and matured as an artist faster than, than anybody I’ve ever witnessed.

Ernie Bailey, guitar tech and longtime friend:

I think it was after about the second or third time I’d seen Nirvana, probably the third time, um, I’d seen Nirvana with Rob, I remember the next day walking to work and I couldn’t get "Blue" out of my head. That bass line. And, you know, it was, it was confusing in a way. Because I thought they were, I thought they were a bit sloppy of a band. I didn’t really think I would ever really like them. But they had these songs that you couldn’t get out of your head. I mean, they were almost like, you know, you go back and forth between having Beatles songs in your head and then having Nirvana songs in your head. And they seemed like they were just as catchy, and, and it was, I guess it was interesting, because this was a local band and you just didn’t really think in terms of local groups being that good, in terms of, you know. They had, most of the local bands had great punk rock songs, but they weren’t like catchy pop songs.

Butch Vig, producer of Nevermind:

I didn’t need to do a lot of arranging on the album. I mean, there are bits and pieces I would have them cut out here or there if I thought it was going on too long. But, man, they sounded good. And they were on fire. They were in Los Angeles staying at a posh, you know, for them, a posh hotel, which is the Oakwood Apartments, which are not posh, by any standard, but for them, it was. It was better than anything they’d ever lived in. And I remember they were staying next to Europe, the band Europe, was working on their next record. And they’d had that big album, The Final Countdown. Little did they realize that Nirvana was soon to drive the nail on that coffin of the hair metal band. And it was an exciting time, man.

Rachel Flotard, Visqueen:

I remember when I first heard Nirvana, literally I’m driving and I was by myself. I was going up the Mass Pike, you know, and this radio announcer just talks about this band from Seattle called Nirvana. And they played "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and I literally was just, I’m like I love this. Oh my God, what is this?" And it’s so cliché. I mean, it feels cliché to say now, but it really was, it really did feel like that for me. And I guess as a kid growing up, I always thought Seattle was a place where grandmas lived. I don’t know why. But I loved it so much when I came out to visit, and I knew that it was kind of musical mecca. I wanted to go to where the action was. Whether I just did it or not, I just wanted to put myself there subconsciously. It must have been. But, you know, like about a year or so after Kurt died, I think I came here and moved here, drove across the country and found a job.

Alice Cooper:

When I heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit," I kicked myself. I said, I should of written that song. That was such a good Alice song. You know, I mean, I just said, oh why didn’t I write that song? That was really good, you know. Um, but I totally related to them, you know I related to all those bands. I just didn’t understand the depression behind it. You know, in fact, I said I want to take all these bands in Seattle and rent about 50 buses and take em all to Disneyland for about a week. Just to cheer 'em up a little bit. You know. Okay guys, no heroin this week. Cotton candy. You know. [laughs]

J Mascis, Dinosaur Jr:

Yeah, when Nevermind came out I wasn’t surprised at all that it was successful. You know, you could tell they were going to be huge. I don’t know, something about his voice sounded right on the radio, you know like Bad Company or something. We had Nirvana open up for us in Green Mind tours. It’s like, “oh yeah, we’ve got to have Nirvana open so then when they’re huge we can open for them.” It’s like, “What? Nirvana, who are they?” Even my friend, I made him buy like the Bleach album. He’s like, you know he was in Arizona and he wrote me back, “This is horrible. I brought it back to the store. I don’t know why you wanted me to buy this.” And then the next thing you know, he’s totally into them. And he’s like, “Oh that song’s on Bleach?’ That’s pretty, I like that song.”

Krist Novoselic:

Well, he was, Kurt wasn’t really the tortured artist, like the sulking, tortured person. Like he was a really funny person. And somebody was watching this, when we were doing the Nirvana: Lights Out box set, and they were editing it and they were looking at all these videos, and they’re like, you know what, I was looking at Nirvana and like all these interviews and you were all, everybody’s always laughing. Like the band is always laughing, making, cutting jokes and just, you know.

And then this, if something was the most apparently stupid, ridiculous, the better. It had to just be really super stupid. It was really funny, like it was so stupid. [laughter] But, you know, Kurt was a sophisticated person. And, um, again, he was a great artist. And, and he was insightful. And, um, you can see some of the art he did, just the paint. If he would have just stuck with painting, he could have just done painting and, um, sculpture.

I have this pipe he made me and it’s this [laughter], it’s this, I never used it. [laughter] It’s this writhing, weird, tortured spirit person. It’s really like this tortured weird ghost. And so, he was always creative and his mind was always, he was always doing things, compelled, and, and he was a very hard worker.

photo credit: Alice Wheeler

Alice Wheeler, photographer:

Tracy and I had tickets to go to the MTV Live and Loud and it was December 13, 1993. I snuck my camera in. I had this little tiny $100 point-and-shoot and there was two lines: one where they were scanning you, and one where they were patting you down, and so I went through the pat down line and I got through with my camera and about, I don't know, maybe five rolls of film. I didn't take any photos during the show 'cause I think that was the main problem -- they didn't want you taking photos during the show -- so I waited until after it was over.

I saw Kurt, and we were goofing around. The first thing he did was he opened his trailer and goes, "Take my picture! Take my picture!" Like he was grinning at me, like, "I'm a rock star! Take my picture! Ah!" And he did that weird grin photo that I have, and it was pretty funny, and then I remember he changed his clothes from stage -- like, he had his ripped up jeans and his, like, weird sweater and everything, and then when I went backstage, he had a pair of brand new jeans on and, like, this brand new parka, like those kind from the '70s, and, like, a Vaselines t-shirt, I think. I go, "Oh, you changed your clothes." And he goes, "Yeah, that's my rock star clothes. I like new clothes. Like, now I'm rich. I can go to JC Penney's and buy new jeans or something." -- No, he didn't say he was rich. He never talked about being rich. But you know, "I have enough money to go to JC Penney's now and buy new jeans." He was pretty excited about that, compared to the holey dirty ones from the thrift store.

Bruce Pavitt, co-founder of Sub Pop Records:

With every artist I've ever met, there is a part of that person who wants to be a huge star. And it may just be a small voice in the back of the head, but it's there. And as the groups became more popular, that voice started to become a little louder as people realized that beyond all odds that they could actually maybe make a living doing music, and they could be a star. And see this tension between trying to maintain integrity and stay close to your immediate artistic community, ‘cause that’s important and it was really important with Kurt and Nirvana. And how do you balance that with this emerging desire to fulfill your childhood fantasies? And it was always interesting to see that tension happen and how people would deal with that, okay? And, um, the level of popularity that happened was just... it was just, it was, it was phenomenal. It was such a powerful force and I don’t think anybody was ready for that, you know? As much as people might have fantasized about it, the reality came too fast, too soon.

Charles Cross, author of Heavier Than Heaven:

I think that the story of Kurt Cobain, the rise of Nirvana, the Seattle music scene, is interesting not just to fans of music. I think at this point it's part of our cultural history. I don't want to liken it to the Civil War or World War II, but it's something that happened to our culture and there are a significant number of people who find cultural movements like what happened in Seattle in the late-80s and '90s, those are part of our history now. And people study them, write PhDs on them. It was a phenomena, it was a phenomena that probably will never be repeated. I don't think the music industry will ever be in the place it once was. Music is so fractionalized now, where you have not just fans of heavy metal, you have fans of death metal or speed metal, or fans of gangster rap hip hop and not just hip hop. I always cite Nevermind as one of the last unifying albums that went across different musical generations. And you would go to anyone's house in 1992, everybody had that album. And I can't cite another example after that. I can cite 20 before it, but that record was a great musical glue that tied together so many different disparate groups.

KEXP celebrates the 25th anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind all week long, leading to a special encore presentation on Audioasis, Saturday, September 24th (the actual anniversary date). Listen all week for exclusive interviews, giveaways, and more in honor of this iconic album. Programming like this is made possible by support from donors like you. Help power KEXP during our Fall Drive today!

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