L.A. Weekly journalist Nicholas Pell’s recent article Nirvana Killed Rock & Roll is nothing more than clickbait nonsense. In his snotty piece, Pell claims the band – singer/guitarist and main songwriter Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl – were “pretty terrible” musicians. Pell doesn’t stop there, though, he blames Nirvana for the death of Rock and Roll. (Who knew Rock was dead?)
Pell’s comments are reminiscent of the Jazz snob (who played in a friend’s rock band years ago) who said Eric Clapton was a sloppy guitar player. Of course, Mr. Jazz would have given both his testicles to be as ‘sloppy’ and successful as Clapton. (Funny thing happened when Mr. Jazz got in the studio with my friend’s band, he couldn’t record a Rock solo in time. The guy, a music school graduate, could play all kinds of mind-boggling Jazz, but he was unable play a simple solo.)
Comments like Pell’s (and Mr. Jazz’s) are pretentious and self-righteous. Most respected guitar players would laugh at the suggestion that Clapton is anything but a world-class musician, and most songwriters, Rock or otherwise, would balk at the suggestion Kurt Cobain’s songwriting was “terrible.” Cobain spoke for an entire generation of teens who found in him a poet they could call their own.
Nirvana didn’t make history because Cobain was a great musician, it was the music, as chaotic and cacophonous as it sometimes was, that made him the voice of a generation. Art isn’t about being the best or even great, it’s about connecting with people. Nirvana shook the very foundation of Rock, but they sure in the hell didn’t kill it. Their music might not have been for everyone, but it resonated with tens of millions of music lovers around the world.
Some will argue Nirvana wouldn’t be as legendary had Cobain not committed suicide, but the band’s legacy was cemented with their major label debut, Nevermind. Despite his mental health issues, Cobain was able to get the music in his head recorded before the pain of living became too much and lead him to take his own life. 30 million people didn’t buy Nevermind because it was “terrible.” Pell, a musician himself, should know this.
Forum dwellers and haters can argue that artists such as Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga — like Nirvana — have sold tens of millions of albums, even though (in the minds of the haters) they aren’t very good. I’m not much of a fan of Bieber or Gaga, but there’s no denying they are great at what they do. Just like Cobain and crew were great at what they did.
Nirvana’s success (and by extension the success of bands like Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam) might have helped drive the final nail in the coffin of the already dying hair metal genre, but it didn’t Kill Rock & Roll. Bands like Monster Truck and Kings Of Leon prove Rock is alive and well today.