Kurt Cobain is a divisive figure in my family: My brothers and I revere him as a musical genius and role model, while our parents view him as nothing more than a loser, a label based solely on the facts of his untimely self-induced demise in 1994. But for some reason, my father had original copies of two Nirvana CDs (Nevermind and In Utero) in his collection comprised mostly of ’80s glam bands and David Gray LPs. “Everyone was talking about them,” he told me when I found the CDs. “I was just following the trend. I’m not sure why.” The year was 1991, and Nirvana’s Nevermind was quickly moving from being a relatively underground release to one of the biggest records in the world, and, as it would turn out, of all time.
Nevermind‘s combination of intensely catchy melodies and thrashing punk made it unlike anything mainstream audiences had ever before heard, especially on the radio. While it embodied the underground punk scene of the Pacific Northwest, it was also extremely well-polished, something Cobain was never fully comfortable with. “It’s such a perfect mixture of cleanliness and nice, candy-ass production,” Cobain would later tell Nirvana biographer Michael Azeraad in Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana. “It may be extreme to some people who aren’t used to it, but I think it’s kind of lame, myself.” Two years after Nevermind, Cobain would make up for this “lame” sound with Nirvana’s third (and final) studio album In Utero, which perfectly captured the band’s raucous live performance.