Nevermind: The memories of KEXP DJs and staff

photo by Chris Cuffaro

Yesterday, KEXP’s DJ Riz shared a crazy story about DJ’ing Nirvana’s infamous food fight CD release party at Rebar (read it here). Today, as we play all local and Nirvana-related music, you can read about the memories KEXP DJs and staff have regarding the band’s landmark album, Nevermind, which was released 20 years ago tomorrow.

And we welcome you to share your Nevermind memory in the comments below!

John Richards, DJ / The Morning Show:

The first time I heard Nevermind I remember like it was yesterday. I was living in Spokane and my brother was living in Seattle. He had been sending me mixed tapes for years and he would send over these little packages with a full length Pixies or a mix of stuff he’d discovered over the last few months. This particular package just had one tape and one side it had Mudhoney and on the other it had Nirvana. Little did I know I was just sent the sound of the city he was living in and that was just 300 miles to the west. From that first guitar riff of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” everything stopped and I sat there listening through the entire thing without really moving. Just sat there on my bed with my jaw dropped and thinking “I have never heard ANYTHING like this before.” Little did I know, I would never hear anything like it again either.

Abe Beeson, DJ / Audioasis (formerly):

In 1991 I was the Music Director at KCCR, the student cable radio station on campus at PLU in Tacoma. At the time I was also hosting our station’s local music show, and had been following the Seattle-area music scene intently for a couple years or so. I’d grown into a big fan of Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach, so I was very much looking forward to this new record.

Susie Tennant was then working for DGC Records, and coordinating with radio stations like ours, when Nevermind was coming out. Our first taste, though, was the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” 3-song EP. From the first few notes, I could tell that not only had the band grown incredibly as songwriters and performers, but that this song was going to be a big deal. I played it over and over as I went through painful girlfriend drama, the angst and power of the tune ending with a crash, only to start up again to smash away my troubles. The other songs on the EP -- “Even in His Youth” and “Aneurysm” were great, but my GOD that “Teen Spirit” would not be denied!!

When the full album came out, Susie sent a box with 30 CDs and 20 cassettes with a note: “Give copies to all your cool friends -- this one’s gonna be huge!”. I carried a few copies with me for a week, handing them out to the hippest Lutes on campus. Before I knew it, I wasn’t the only one obsessed with That Song. Susie Tennant was right -- as usual.

Kevin Cole, DJ / The Afternoon Show:

When Nevermind came out, I was working at the legendary First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis. One of our soundguys, Monty Lee Wilkes, was in town -- he was more of a “part-time” soundguy at the club, since his primary job was going on tour and doing sound for bands like Alice in Chains, the Replacements, and Nirvana. It was the middle of a hot August day, and we were setting up for a show for later that night, when he came into the club, holding a cassette.

“You guys have to hear the new Nirvana!”

We were all aware of Nirvana from Bleach. We thought they were cool, but pretty much thought of them as another “Seattle” band.

Monty piped the new album through the empty club’s huge PA system, filling the room with the sounds of Nevermind. We were blown away. There was no doubt, the album was killer. But none of us were prepared for how they would breakthrough in a way that The Replacements and Husker Du never did.

Rischel Granquist, Assistant to the Executive Director:

I honestly don’t remember much about Nevermind coming out. I do remember Bleach coming out and running down to the basement of Peaches (where I worked) to buy a copy before it hit the sales floor. My first real date with [my husband] Gary was at the Vogue seeing Nirvana open for the Flaming Lips — that was just before Bleach came out. Love Buzz was “our song.” I know Gary was excited about the release because Nirvana played some new pieces at their show opening for Sonic Youth and he mentioned to me that they were more melodic and that he was really looking forward to hearing a new record...

Gary Granquist:

I went in for a volunteer shift at KCMU on a fall afternoon in 1991. I first heard Nevermind on the radio when I walked into the station. I heard Riz play “Breed” on afternoon drive time. It sounded so AMAZING to hear something that raw, sounding so good, on indie radio at the time. Sonically, it was loud in all the right places. The drums were present, so was the middle end of the mix, and everything about the song just exploded. After years of trebly Husker Du records, with their “shredded paper drums”, I was pleased that some punk rock hammered into shape by Beatlesque pop hooks was available in a great recording. I remember thinking that Kurt’s voice was so much better than I had noticed before. Because it sounded good on the radio, it occurred to me that it might actually get some limited airplay on commercial radio. I had a vision of Nirvana actually selling 100,000 or more records. I was totally rooting for them to be able to make a living at music. Talented people like this deserved as much. It would be a relief to not have to encounter so many blank stares when I cited them as one of my three favorite bands of the time. The non-record store employee friends I had at the time were soon to have a new favorite band. It is still surprising to me that the record hit like it did. Quality so rarely carries the day in the commercial marketplace. Nevermind has memorable tracks, but the way it just washed over America like a tidal wave was so wonderfully unexpected and is the real legacy. With 20 years of hindsight, it’s the way that Nirvana’s ubiquity killed hair metal dead (Warrant, Skid Row, et al.) in it’s self-conscious, codpiece-wearing tracks that I think of most when I think of Nevermind today. Yes, 1991, the year punk broke indeed.

Nate Prudhon, Traffic Coordinator/DJ:

Nevermind was huge for me. Nirvana became my first favorite band, and Dave Grohl became maybe my primary drumming influence. A few years later -– January 7, 1994 -– I was jealous when one of my older brothers attended a Nirvana show at Seattle Center Arena and returned with a footprint on his face after getting kicked in the pit. (Turns out that would be Nirvana’s last U.S. concert.) 20 years later, Nevermind is still an amazing listen, front to back.

Brian Foss, DJ / KEXP’s Sonic Reducer:

I moved to Seattle in march of 1988. By 1989, I was living with a gal who worked at Tower records, the old Mercer street location. On 9/89 she drove me to a Bad Brains/Leeway/Tad show in Tacoma -- it was my first Tad show, I totally loved it. She had a tape that had ‘Gods Balls’ by Tad on one side and Bleach by Nirvana on the other. While I like both sides of the tape I totally fell in love with the Nirvana side. i remember buying the Blew EP when it came out at one of those 2nd time around record stores on the Ave. My first Nirvana show was with the Gits and Tad (again!) at the Hub Ballroom at the U-Jub in Jan 1990. I was continually broke around this timeframe so except for buying the occasional 7-inch record (like the Sliver single, I played that bitch to death!), I mostly just bought a buncha memorex cassettes and I taped taped taped. Yes, it was I who killed the music industry. So yeah, since I could only afford two-for-one Alpine menthol smokes and Lucky Lager 40 oz.ers, when my roommate guy got Nevermind I just remember taping it and playing it in car rides around town. I liked it but wished there was a ‘Negative Creep’ type stomper on the album. When Nirvana did a record signing at Peaches in the U-dist for the release of Nevermind I though of going, but I really don’t care about autographs so I skipped it. I had no idea they were gonna play a set -- that’s still one of my biggest regrets, skipping that Nirvana Peaches instore.

Here’s something my buddy Dan wrote about the free show that i missed out on.

Chris Estey, KEXP Blog contributor:

I never owned Nevermind. I heard it almost every day for months (perhaps more than a year) after it was released, but never bought a copy. Probably because I heard it so much when it was released, and where I was listening to it, and what it represented (somewhat).

I had started living in a low income housing tenement in downtown Seattle, across the street from the Gibson’s, about the time the major label debut for Nirvana came out. This bar was on the same block as the Terminal Sales Building, where the Sub Pop offices were. Gibson’s was a great dive, if by “great” one is describing, “interiors designed in the mid-70s and never changed and rarely cleaned,” and “ubiquitous with junkies, drunks, and criminals.”

Gibson’s had a cute little blonde waitress/barmaid at the time (whose brother was in Run Westy Run, if I remember that correctly) and Nevermind was on the jukebox. She worked a lot of shifts, and played the album over and over, booming throughout the bar. I memorized every lyric and chord change and cloud of feedback and drum trill as I sat there reading or hanging out with friends from my building, and never really felt the urge to go buy the album.

Also, you must remember the old indie music conviction of the 80s, which is now passed down as a “hipster joke,” but has some economic truth behind it: Nirvana were no longer indie. And though I had enjoyed Bleach and various Sub Pop singles and compilation tracks enough -- they were one of my favorite bands on the label (when they were still on that label), a great bookend to my other favorite band there at the time, TAD, which was a nice pairing of the pop and the rock aesthetic in basement noise terms -- I made my usual decision about passing on the leap to the major. Nothing against the band, I just put my money into regional and national independent label releases (unless it was hip-hop, where the lines weren’t so clear). This in itself was a strong force of habit to keep money directly in the scene.

Also, as a sub-genre of that theory (and another “hipster joke” in itself), I often would only buy debut albums of bands I really liked -- and stopped there, especially if they got really famous very quickly. By the end of the 80s there weren’t as many great bands as there were when I started buying my own music at the beginning of the decade, so it’s possible I could have made Nirvana an exception. The fact that I had seen them live twice nearby where I lived and enjoyed the pleasantly shambolic experience sort of nagged at me, too. But I didn’t cave, as the music on the CD (LPs were now suddenly ancient history) was ubiquitous in record stores like Sam Goody’s on Third and Pike, a big store which usually had nothing else for me to buy (and that is a statement in itself).

I had literally worn out my copy of Doolittle and some other contemporaneous albums that aesthetically formed a well from which Nevermind sprang, so didn’t feel like I was missing much. The one thing I really appreciated about the album’s success though is that when the local Seattle media responded to it by starting to do reports on the local music scene, for once it was not about what a bunch of drug-addicted rioting assholes we were.

Within a few months, I was visiting my parents at Bitter Lake, and saw the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video on their cable: which made me smile at all the visual anti-cheerleader in-jokes and MAD Magazine-style ambivalent, amorphous imagery implied nearly in frame. And then my mom and dad changed the channel and saw a news story on King 5 or something, and they were happy because they didn’t see my blue, knotted up hair and black leather jacket and paint-splashed shorts and (yes) flannels as signs I was lost forever to crime and depravity. I was simply “grunge.” I had a place in this world, and someone finally figured it out for them.

Denise Burnside, Director of Business & Operations:

I can’t remember when I first heard it. I was living in Montreal at the time, and I know we were listening to it as my group of friends were really into Bleach, but my striking memory doesn’t come from a first listen. I was in a small indie band that toured around, and I recall being in a grocery store in a small town in the Midwest -– and there on the radio was Nirvana. I had heard they were blowing up, but to hear that kind of music coming out of grocery store speakers in a small Midwest town shocked me. I had already been through the upper mid-west a number of times and I was never welcomed in those parts. I was a girl with weird hair and an odd style, which only afforded me gaping looks from women and scowls from men. I was once even questioned rudely if I belonged in the women’s bathroom, which I was very much in the need for. The point of all this is I was shocked these people could handle hearing such sounds with such closed minds. But it was happening!! I was shocked and excited. Future trips though the country proved it opened people up to accepting more, and for me, that was an astonishing and welcomed change.

Brandon Fitzsimons, production assistant:

I became a fan of the band when a friend turned me onto “Bleach” my freshman year of high school in 1989-90. Being a punk rocker in a boring suburb of Kansas City at the time was not an easy thing. When “Nevermind” came out in 1991 with immediate MTV exposure (never a good thing!) I knew things were changing when “the jocks, hicks, and preps” started talking about a band I liked, and started asking me where I got the 14 eyelet red Dr. Martens which they had previously harassed me about for years before... Things didn’t get easier, this was all out war and I went further underground!

Then to have Chumbawamba do the same thing to me 6 years later in 1997!

DJ El Toro:

In September 1991, I’d been living in New York City for two years, working a day job on Broadway while I cut my teeth writing for third-tier music magazines. Yeah, they still published magazines about music back in the early ’90s. I’d been dispatched to the offices of Geffen Records to interview British industrial dance act Nitzer Ebb about their new album, Ebbhead. As we got settled in, the label publicist asked if I needed anything else. I mentioned that I was going on a long trip the next day and could sure use some new music to fend off boredom during the plane ride. Maybe he could slide me a promo copy of Guns N’ Roses? He left and returned a few minutes later, as Nitzer Ebb and I were settling into the interview, and handed me both Use Your Illusion records, plus a Nevermind CD. “Trust me, you want this,” he insisted. One of the Nitzer Ebb guys — I’m pretty sure it was front man Douglas McCarthy — looked at the Nirvana album and voiced his assent, albeit a bit ruefully. “That record’s amazing.” From the tone of his voice, I suspect he already knew what the rest of the world was about to discover: Nevermind would change the music business forever.

Sara Green Williams, Administrative & Financial Manager:

1) I worked at a record store on Broadway (Orpheum). In the weeks leading up to the actual release, every time you walked down the street you heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” blasting out of every car. It was loud, people were loving it, it was the end of summer, it was everywhere.

2) In the days leading up to the actual album release, the store owner at Orpheum placed his initial order for the midnight Monday/Tuesday release day sale of Nevermind. My co-worker Cindy and I saw the order after it was sent and said “that’s not enough!!!”. He thought it was. It went on for hours before we finally convinced him to not just order more, but significantly more -– something like 400-500 pieces, which was a LOT for a small store like us. We blasted through almost all of them the first day and luckily had reorders in the queue already, as we were one of the few stores that didn’t actually run out of product that first week. Also funny that first day were all the high school kids coming in on their lunch break and picking up multiple copies for all of their friends.

Lastly, just for fun: I had the UPC number for that record memorized for about five years. We had no bar code scanner at my desk in the back where I did all of the receiving, so I had to 10-key the numbers in.

Timie Dolan, Donor Outreach and Events Coordinator:

I have many, many memories of Nevermind but one in particular was of the first time I saw the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I was in high school when Nevermind came out, and therefore the single for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I recall the tiny living room in the home I shared with my mom and my cooler, older sister (who was the person to turn me on to Nirvana and many other great bands), and the even tinier TV that had been in our home since I was 7-years-old. It was color, it was small, and for the first time since the 80’s it and we had cable and therefore MTV (this was back when MTV actually played videos. Also, that sentence makes anyone who says it sound old). It was a weekday evening, just after school and all three of us were headed out the door to something (dinner probably, a movie or who knows what) and we were likely late when I saw on my tiny color TV for the first time, Nirvana. I stopped and made my whole family wait until the video was over before we could leave. I didn’t take my eyes off the screen once because, and this was my exact quote as I remember, “I will never see Nirvana on MTV ever again.” I’ve been known to be wrong on occasion. This was one of those occasions, and my sister has never let me forget it.

Janice Headley, Programming Assistant Extraordinaire :

Why the heck did MTV air 120 Minutes on Sunday nights? My parents would never let me sleepover at Becky’s house on a school night. But thankfully, she’d tape each episode faithfully onto VHS and wait for me to come over the following weekend.

Becky and I were kind-of the weird kids in junior high. I wish I could remember how we realized we were kindred spirits, but most of my memories of Becky start with laying on her living room floor, sprawled under afghans knit by her Mom, watching MTV. During one of those sleepovers, a video debuted with a blonde-haired man playing guitar in a high school auditorium... we hit fast-forward on the remote control and looked for a new Ride video. My pre-teen-self cared more about the pouty lips of Mark Gardener than that greasy-haired guy.

Later, I heard that song again, played off cassettes in boom boxes in the hallways of my school. I just didn’t get it. In my adolescent immaturity, I would get into these fits of laughter, begging Becky, “Do those lyrics again!!!” She’d roll her eyes, sigh, and rattle off, “A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido” -- sending me spiraling into spasms of girlish giggles. I’d wipe the tears from my eyes, gasp for breath, clutch her arm and plead, “Again!”

And I’ll admit, it wasn’t until working here at KEXP that I realized, that greasy-haired guy and I were probably kindred spirits, too. I mean, I knew he liked The Vaselines, but Young Marble Giants, too? He had a tattoo of the K Records logo? But, I guess I was too busy gazing at my shoes and giggling to realize it at the time.

Leesa Schandel, Director of Development:

Nirvana defined a seminal part of my young adulthood, eventhough it wasn’t a central part of my young adulthood.

I went to Western in B’ham and graduated in 1990. (I’d majored in Child Psychology). Between graduation and April 1991, I stayed there and worked at a psychiatric hospital for kids. It was heart breaking.

Well, before graduation and for years aftewards, most of my friends were in bands in Bellingham, and we saw every show that came to town and could even go to any of the shows in Vancouver, BC and Seattle we chose, because they were equidistance from bham. We saw music 4-5 times a week.

BUT! I was an ambitious student and got accepted to graduate school in Orono, Maine (look it up on the map - it’s in the middle of fucking nowhere that you’d ever want to find youself x 10).

I’d somehow been connected to the WWU college radio station (but don’t ask me how because all details from that time are extremely fuzzy). So, when I got to UMO and I realized that the recession had hit the area hard, that there were no clubs, no coffee shops, no cafes, I thought I’d volunteer at UMO’s radio station to keep in touch with music.

Well, one day when I first got to Orono, I called the station to request Nirvana. This was in early September of 1991. Nevermind hadn’t come out. I had no idea which radio show to call to get the request played. There wasn’t anything called grunge at this time, and I was at a loss. Well, I decided to call the Metal Show, thinking that was the closest I could come to getting a similar genre. When I called the DJ, they taunted me, and said “is that metal?” and I had no idea how to classify Nirvana, or Soundgarden or Screaming Trees or Mudhoney or whatever. So I said, “well, kind of” and the dj basically said, Yeah, you’re an idiot, never looked or played my request and that was the end of that. And about two weeks later Nevermind came out.

Well, then I was at a campus show at the student union building at UMO about 6-weeks later, (it’s FIVE HOURS north of Boston, NO ONE tours there, so I was seeing a New England touring band), and the band did a cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It was surreal. That weekend, I went to Boston for a party and the person who owned the apartment where I was hanging had a poster of Chris Cornell on her bedroom door, and I was absolutely dumbfounded. How the heck would she have ever known who he was?

I also have a vivid memory of riding a bus to the UMO campus, in April 1992, my first year away from home and Seattle, and realizing that the trees hadn’t budded and there were no flowers and that it was still firmly winter. In my headphones was Nevermind, as tears streamed down my face that I was not in the verdant and lush Puget Sound area, seeing plum and cheery blossoms.

That fall and winter was my awakening to the understanding that somehow our music scene had broken out beyond Spokane and Boise. And, I then watched the whole PNW explosion, of which I spent so much of my life partaking, becoming an international phenomenon.

I tried to stay in touch, and I once even drove FIVE HOURS to see Mudhoney play in Boston, but it was impossible, it was just way too remote...it was a trip (meaning it was trippy and surreal in addition that it was way too far from everything, to live in Maine), and I DID NOT fit in, in Maine, btw!

Kurt died the year after I finished graduate school, just before I moved back to Seattle.

I was in my first job. I was working for a childhood hunger policy group that made recommendations to Congress and the State Legislature to advocate for “entitlement” hunger relief programs for kids. I was in Washington, DC, at a lobbyist convention of all things (I was 26 years old and easily 20 years younger than anyone at the conference) and learned about Kurt’s death in my hotel room. I layed in my bed and cried for awhile before heading downstairs, in my little lobbyist outfit, to prepare with others our strategy for lobbying Maine’s Congressional delegation to vote to expand the food stamps and school lunch programs. It was a trip to mentally go from the ripped long john girl of my youth to a lobbyist in the span of 90 minutes, but that’s what it was expected, and I accomodated. Alot changed for me that day. It’s almost like it’s the day I truly felt that I was an adult.

Darek Mazzone, DJ / Wo’Pop:

when Nevermind came out I was working as the music director for WMFO in Boston. We were a freeform radio station who took our eclecticism very very seriously. Nevermind came to the station with Guns and Roses. I believe that Geffen or the distributor boxed the records together. We usually used Guns and Roses as Frisbees so Nevermind got sold to the local record store for trade so we could have a complete Chicago Free Jazz School collection. ;)

That weekend i went to a local club called Axis where the DJ dropped “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in a set, (you couldn’t really mix it so it was a drop). It was a revelation. At first we thought it was Killing Joke since it sounds so similar, but soon it went into a whole other direction and we all went nuts dancing to that track.

I hit the record store the next day, bought Nevermind back and started playing it at the station. The rest is history.

The really weird thing about the record is that everyone listened to it. All the various musical tribes dug it.

Andy Klatt, Information Assistant:

When Nevermind came out I was all of 4 years old. Now, don’t you feel old! I was living on the complete opposite end of the country in Atlanta, GA. According to the release dates of a couple of my first albums, I probably started discovering music a year or two later. In Atlanta, my favorite station was the alternative 99X. Even in grade school, when we got picked up from school, my brother and I would immediately turn the dial to this station to hear the latest grunge and ‘90’s rock, a lot of it coming out of Seattle. I might have been a couple years late to the party, but, living so far away, I probably wouldn’t have heard about Nirvana until they hit it big anyway. Nevertheless, even subconsciously these were the songs that imprinted on me and undoubtedly shaped my future musical tastes. I often think if I was a generation older, I’d be wearing plaid and driving my Mitsubishi Eclipse to high-school blasting 99X as Nirvana first came south of the Mason-Dixon.

Louis O’Callaghan, Online Streaming Developer:

Christmas 1991, a hotel room in Vicenza, Italy. My State Department family was stationed in Naples, my brother was going to the UW and was visiting for the holidays, and we were taking a trip to Venice. Vicenza has a US Army base in it that pipes American TV into the hotels nearby. We were watching some sort of MTV when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on. My brother said, hey check this out, they’re from Seattle. We were from Seattle. Nobody’s from Seattle! What are people from Seattle doing on TV?

Justin Wilmore, Video Production Assistant:

Nevermind came out when I was 11 but I remember buying it with some allowance money. I had just gotten a boombox with a CD player for Christmas or something and listened to that album constantly on it. By the time 1993-1994 rolled around I was in 7th grade and hanging out in the band room at lunch trying to learn how to play drums with all the other “grunge” types. The school talent show was coming up and a few of us tried to figure out which Nirvana song we wanted to play. I wanted to play drums but I sucked so I switched to bass, which I had never played before. We learned “In Bloom” and played it at the talent show and it was pretty much the hit of the show. Kurt Cobain had just had his overdose in Rome and we were all shaken up by it so we dedicated our song to him. As awkward of a 7th grader as I may have been ending the school year with Nirvana bought me cool points all the way through high school.

Michele Myers, DJ & Producer KEXP Documentaries:

It was springtime, 1994, in the tiny town of Seward, Alaska. There were still banks of snow 5 feet high lining the streets. This was the first year I had stayed all winter in town. It was surreal and beautiful, the Northern Lights came by weekly, filling the sky with their electric streams of color, flashing lights and dreamy hazes.

I felt lucky to have a job in a dark, dingy Greek restaurant. The family who owned the place fought a lot in the back hall. They also saved the nacho chips that customers left on the table and re-served them to new customers. And the mother watched me like a hawk, expecting me at any moment (I think) to empty the register and run with the cash.

It was about 9:30am when I turned on the huge computer screen that always played MTV (this was back when MTV was known for playing mostly music videos). It was just me, Hawkmother and my friend Charlie the one-handed fisherman in the huge room. Charlie had just had his one cup of coffee and I had just put his first beer of the day on the bar.

Kurt Loder, the MTV newsman came on the screen looking unusually awake. He re-checked the paper in his hand before looking to the camera to tell us “Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, was found dead from apparent suicide in his Seattle home yesterday.”

Time seemed to stop as I thought about this. The young superstar had checked out. So handsome and talented, why would he do that? Years later, in studying Kurt to make a radio documentary on Nirvana, I would get more of a sense of this person. Kurt Cobain was portrayed as a misunderstood, sweet guy by the media. But sadly, he was owned by his addiction to heroin, his desire to be famous, and the edges of life that hurt so bad they made him bleed. He seemed to seek chaos out, to lean on the razor’s edge. (If you want the real story, check out the documentary “About A Son” that is narrated by Kurt himself.)

Kurt, misguided as he may have been, was incredibly talented. He doesn’t get credit for the fact that he’s an excellent singer. That his lyrics are sung from a real place of pain. When others try to sing those songs without laying out their vulnerabilities the way Kurt did, they fall flat.

What made Nirvana great was not only Kurt’s lyrics and the way he sung, but the mix of metal distortion and pop music (there’s nothing punk about this music except the attitude). This was the rare kind of heavy-sounding music that had memorable melodies. You could hum these songs in the shower. This makes them memorable, and great pop music.

There’s no doubt that Nirvana (and the rest of the rebellious Seattle music scene) were the reason I moved to Seattle that fall, and ended up DJing at a community radio station called KCMU (now KEXP). There was something truly different and kinetic happening here (and still is, although these days the cutting edge is found more in the hip-hop scene) that you didn’t see in other American cities. And Kurt was the leader of the anti-establishment. So much so that he became the establishment. By selling the heart-shaped box, somehow he got trapped inside.

Reese Umbaugh, Licensing & Podcast Coordinator:

I remember my 5-year-old self being very confused by the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, specifically which came first, Nirvana’s video or Weird Al’s “Smells Like Nirvana” video. Why did one song need TWO videos?! Why did they SOUND different?! Which was the REAL version?! The parody was lost on my preschool mind. The dueling album covers only furthered my disorientation, as they are nearly identical, with Weird Al replacing the Nevermind swimming-pool baby swimming after a donut. I think that image may have scarred my childhood.

Larry Rose, DJ / Larry’s Lounge:

I was living in San Francisco at the time, and while I was mainly listening to college radio (the great and recently departed KUSF), the alternative station there, Live 105, had a nightly new music competition where they would play three new songs and have listeners vote on their favorite. The song that won would compete with new songs the following night and generally a song would only win a few days in a row at best. That is, until “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was aired. That is where I first heard it and, while I was a fan of Bleach, it sounded so new and fresh (and from my hometown!) that I couldn’t help but to call and vote for it. I enthusiastically rooted for the song as it continued to win night after night over the course of several weeks, I’m sure breaking all records for the competition. As a result, I bought Nevermind the day it was released and saw one of my favorite shows ever when Nirvana played the Warfield Theater a few weeks later, amongst the most frenzied and excited audience I have ever witnessed.

Carol DuPuis, Account Executive Underwriting and Business Support:

I was living in New York City back in the early 90’s, a virtual wasteland for radio so the only way I discovered new music relied on random record visits or mixed tape exchanges with friends. Fortunately, my closest friend in NYC’s boyfriend seem to dig a little deeper, and made what would become my favorite mixed tape beginning with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” which beckoned some serious attention for good reason. I soon picked up Nevermind and instantly felt music had come alive again...

My Favorite mix tracklist:

1. Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
2. Sonic Youth – Kool Thing
3. Pearl Jam - Jeremy
4. Blur – She’s So High
5. The Breeders – Glorious
6. Belly – Gepetto
7. Pavement – Trigger Cut
8. Replacements – Alex Chilton
9. Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend
10. R.E.M. – Radio Song
11. The Feelies – Waiting
12. Paul Weller – Oh Huh Oh Yeh

Alex Ruder, DJ:

I was 8 years old when Nevermind came out. I had still not bought my first CD, as that landmark would later go to Genesis’ We Can’t Dance, a bizarre and largely non-influential choice in retrospect. A majority of the music I was listening to was on cassette tapes sent to our household from the BMG Music Service that my older brother and I stormed through every week to acquire all the latest hot hip-hop/R&B albums (I’m looking at you Shanice and Father MC!) that my parents weren’t super fond of. My two-deck tape player also saw a lot of action during these days when my brother would bring tapes back home from his friends. He’d ask me to dupe his latest bounty onto 90-minute blank cassettes, and with certain albums, I could fit one album on each 45-minute side. Sometimes this yielded interesting musical partners on a particular tape. My most memorable duped tape from 1991 featured one of the few “rock” albums I duped that year, a loud, catchy record called Nevermind by some guys from Aberdeen, alongside Bell Biv Devoe’s debut album, Poison, albeit with the last song cut off. I remember rocking both sides of that tape pretty hard, and to this day, every time I think of Nevermind, I can’t help but also recall the unstoppable New Jack Swing of BBD.

Quilty 3000, DJ:

Nirvana’s Nevermind was released five days before I boarded a Greyhound bus to move to Seattle. I was working at a record store, Appletree Tapes and Records, and always worked evenings on Tuesdays. Those who’ve worked in record stores know that Tuesday is when the new releases come in along with catalog shipments. More than likely, I priced and put out Nevermind on both CD and cassette tape. I don’t remember listening to the album then, but I do remember putting up the posters and flats for the release.

A few weeks before, when 10 by Pearl Jam was released, I put up a display for that album. The Nirvana one went up right next to it – which happened to be the last display I would ever do in my record store clerk career. I really liked the baby in the water photo, so I ended up taking all the leftover posters. I must have five or six of them, enough to do another display if I wanted.

I couldn’t have picked a better time to move. I had just arrived, all twenty-something young and bright-eyed, to a music scene that absolutely exploded in the first few weeks that I called Seattle home.

Troy Nelson, DJ:

I was a 14 year old Metallica fanatic living in Mitchell South Dakota (for those of you unfamiliar, it’s home to the world’s only Corn Palace).
I was into heavy metal ONLY. I was just learning how to play guitar and drums, and I decided I was going to be the next James Hetfield.
My girlfriend at the time called me and said, “my brother keeps talking about this Nirvana band that MTV keeps playing all the time, have you heard them?”
My memory snapped back to 8 months previous when someone played for me a cassette tape of a band called Nirvana and the song was “Negative Creep.” I remember thinking that it was trying to be heavy, but not heavy enough for my metal standards. But the song and name stuck with me, I couldn’t believe that the riff in that song sounded like he wasn’t even playing any chords, just sliding up and down the guitar like a maniac screaming that unforgettable “And I’m STONED!”
So while I was on the phone, I said, “I kind of remember that name, I think I heard some weird ass song of theirs months ago.” She said, “just turn it to MTV and I bet it will be on soon.”
So I did, and sure enough within minutes I saw that old “World Premier” thing that MTV used to do with the globe animation thing, letting you know that something new and exciting was about to be played, which was genius because it sucked me in EVERY time.
It was “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and I remember VIVIDLY my first thought: “I have never seen a guy with shoulder length hair before, what the....”
It wasn’t down his back like my heavy metal heroes, and it wasn’t short like a boring square. It was long though, and that’s what intrigued my small town sheltered mind.
When the chorus kicked in, I was YET AGAIN thinking “It’s heavy but not heavy enough!”
The next thing I knew I was at a store that sold CD’s and my Mom said that she would buy me any CD I wanted. I was looking through the limited selection
and they didn’t have any metal bands, so I thought well shit, I might as well try this Nirvana CD (which came in the old school long cardboard box!)
Got home and put it on.
1st song, skipped it, that was “the song.”
2nd song, skipped it, not heavy enough. Again.
3rd song no way.
4th song “Breed”, now we’re talking, that’s kind of heavy. But.......skip.
6th and 7th song skipped through, but I thought the “C’mon people now, smile on your brother..” part was kinda funny.
Then it was track 8, “Drain You”. The strangest opening lyric to any song I had ever heard. Why are there 2 babies talking to one another??
It kicked in and I’ll never forget the magical melody of that song. Something about it, ya know. It unlocked some strange and beautiful emotions somewhere inside me.
I listened to the entire song. It made me want to write a song THAT good. After that, it was all over. All the other songs made sense to me and one month later it was the only record I listened to. His lyrics and melodies were speaking to me like it was a code that only I understood. It could not possibly get any cooler than Nirvana.
Nevermind was so good, it ruined all other music for me. I dropped the heavy metal, it was just too......dare I say......HEAVY!!! How did this happen!!??
Kurt Cobain was my John Lennon, plain and simple. It changed my life so much, it’s the reason I live in Seattle. Kurt is STILL changing my life all these years later.
The band I’m in gets compared to The Vaselines all the time, and it’s no coincidence. Kurt introduced me to them, and many other bands I knew nothing about.
I’ve been writing songs with the essence of The Vaselines clearly in mind, without sounding exactly like them. We even got to open for them at Neumos, and what an unreal “full circle” moment that was.
I am a proud fan of Nevermind and fully acknowledge what it did and what it does to me. I am still a 14 year old boy when I hear it, when I’m writing songs, when I go to the EMP and see the Nirvana exhibit, when I met Krist Novoselic, when even just when the name COMES UP!
Of course I’ve moved on and listen to TONS of new music of all genres and get excited about it, but it’s Nevermind that’s responsible for almost everything I do today.
People say that something like that will never happen again, but I disagree. It’s a hard argument to win, but you’ll see. I believe in whatever that force is that posses an album like that. People laugh at me when I say that I’m STILL trying to write the next “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, And they have every right to laugh.
What kind of song would that be!?? And really, that statement sounds so fucking stupid.
But ya know what, it gives me something to work at every single day of my life.
Thank you, Nevermind.
Smiley face.
With X’s for eyes.

Hannah Levin, DJ / Audioasis and Seek & Destroy:

I moved to Seattle from Tacoma just a few days before Nevermind came out. I had just turned 21 and was preparing to start fall classes at the University of Washington. I was still unpacking boxes in my apartment off the Ave when my roommate’s boyfriend poked his head in the door. “I just walked by Tower Records and thought of you.” Flummoxed, I ask why. “Well, you like music, and that Nevermind record just came out. It seems like it’s SOMETHING.”

This simplistic, but potent prediction on his part proved itself to be profound. I wandered down to the store, bought a copy of Nevermind and a six-pack of Michelob (I was still a very un-hip Tacoma girl, after all, unschooled in the en vogue microbrews of the moment). I went back to my room, finished setting up my stereo and slid the CD in my clunky multi-disc changer. My most vivid memory of that moment was simply staring at a vibrating piece of lint on the speaker grill and tearing the label off my beer, bit-by-bit. I was hypnotized in the way you can only be when stumbling upon something you didn’t know you were looking for.

The most compelling, and ultimately iconic, pop music brings to light a matter that everyone has been kicking around their heads, but one that hasn’t yet been articulated in the culture. When I heard Cobain sing, “Here we are now, entertain us,” I realized right at the moment how pissed off I was at my peers (and myself) for growing so politically apathetic in the wake of the Gulf War. I was furious, sad, and comforted all at the same time. I fell asleep with record on repeat that night, and didn’t take it off until my roommate began to complain late the next afternoon.

Sharlese Metcalf, DJ, KEXP Events Assistant, and Audioasis Producer:

My Nirvana memories. I remember looking at the cover and being in shock! It was like nothing I had ever seen before! Things that went through my head? What is a baby doing in water? Why is he going after a dollar and how did an exposed penis get on an album cover?!

I also remember that I actually owned the album and on Sunday’s my mom was pretty adamant about only listening to gospel. I would listen to gospel to and from church, but at home I would blast “Territorial Pissings” mainly because of the name and how it begins with The Youngblood’s “Get Together” and I thought it was a gospel song and the vocals sounded the opposite of religion.

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2 Comments

  1. Eric Layland
    Posted September 23, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Multiple Nirvana memories, but specific to Nevermind... It was a few weeks before the official release. I was living in San Diego at the time. Friends from Seattle were visiting (The Twins & Boozin’ Susan - Hi!) the they got their hands on a pre-release cassette. That night we drove from San Diego to Long Beach to see Thelonious Monster listening to Nevermind in a continuous loop for the 2-1/2 hour drive to the show.

    Honestly, I thought Nevermind was too polished (I still do). The rawness of Bleach reigns supreme for my personal preference, but performed live...WOW!!!...the songs on Nevermind come to life and reach their furious raging potential.

  2. Gordon Vanguard
    Posted September 24, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    The reality is that I was too young to know who Nirvana was when Nevermind came out, and knew very little about the world of music at the time of Kurt Cobain’s death. However, the album Nevermind soon would become my gateway out of kid’s music into a much, much larger world. Nirvana was my first joint that would lead to my musical crack addiction. However, when listening to it now, after being exposed to so many other bands, it’s actually pretty easy for me to write off an album like this. There were many bands around the same time that were doing something very similar to it. There’s nothing complex, technical, or experimental in these songs, but that’s kind of the point for me. Nirvana took my newly discovered interest in the complex concept of music, and put it in a pill that made it easy to swallow and understand. They made music accessible to me, as well as tens of thousands of others. Nevermind, to me, is a feeling and a state of mind, more than it is a record. If it weren’t, people probably wouldn’t still be talking about it.

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