Friday Feature: Jason Thomas Shares a Few Thoughts on Nirvana and Beck

May 1, 2018

Kurt Cobain L (Frank Forcino/Sipa USA via USA TODAY NETWORK) & Beck R (Photo by CraSH/imageSPACE)

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Nirvana and Beck. Yes, they both made their mark in the '90s and they're both a part of the fabric of the decade, but there is one major difference between the two right off the top. One flamed out after only a few years and the other has been at it for decades, becoming one of the most-loved and most-repected artists in the world of music, and even though there are more differences than similarities with the two acts, we thought they'd make one helluva pairing to close out the week. As someone that did both high school and college in the '90s, I have a few quick thoughts on both.

Beck

I believe it was early 1994 when I first saw the video for "Loser." Alternative rock was all the rage (along with gangsta rap at my high school), but even still, I couldn't quite remember seeing anything like this in heavy rotation on MTV. Yeah, you could see some weirder stuff on the network on Liquid Television or 120 Minutes, but for a song this out there, goofy, weird, funny, and cool to be getting major play was something that definitely stood out. "Loser" came and went, and a lot of casual observers thought that would be it, and then Odelay came along. "Where It's At" was the first single, and when that too was all over the radio and MTV, you knew that things were getting serious. "Where It's At" was followed by a parade of radio hits in '96 and '97, cementing Beck as an alternative radio mainstay. In the years that followed, he played with and mashed together so many different genres that we never knew what to expect from him. It was so refreshingly awesome to have an artist this talented and adventurous that had major-label backing and promotion that would actually get his music into the ears of the masses, and it still is. Folk, pop, blues, funk, psychedelic alt-country, whatever you dig, chances are Beck has been there and done that and you'll be hearing a whole lot of that this coming Friday.

 

Nirvana

As a 13-year-old in 1991 without an older sibling to show me what was what when it came to "cool" music, I was left to my own devices. I frequented the usual spots to get my music; the radio, MTV, my local record shop, and word of mouth at Valley View Middle School. In my world at the time, the biggest stuff was gangsta rap. I had grown up with rock bands and probably at that point in my life my favorite album of all-time was Appetite For Destruction (which is still way up there on the list), but NWA, the newly-solo Ice Cube, and Ice-T had all released music in 1991 and the fact that my parents would've been extremely concerned if they knew exactly what I was listening to when I was with my friends made those rappers even more appealing to us young teenagers. The music was dangerous, defiant, full of attitude and we loved it. Mainstream rock music, on the other hand, had grown quite stale at the end of the '80s. We all know the story, right? Hair bands had become tiresome and a lot of people were over the whole '80s excess thing with the parties, the limos, and the girls, girls, girls. The world of mainstream rock needed a change, and that change had been afoot in the '80s in the indie/punk/DIY underground. Michael Azerrad chronicled this era in his 2001 book, Our Band Could Be Your Life, and did a wonderful job of explaining how the bands that influenced Nirvana also helped pave the way for them to explode in the early '90s. At the time, I didn't know a damn thing about Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü, or The Melvins, but large parts of the spirit, sound, and attitude of those bands were present in the music of Nirvana, which appealed to 13 y/o me immediately. I didn't know what punk was, but the sound and energy of it was getting through to me in the form of a gateway drug known as the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video on MTV. After seeing the video for the first time in the fall of '91, I went right to the record store and bought Nevermind on cassette (didn't have a CD player until '92) and just as the '80s bands paved the way for Nirvana to take off, Nirvana paved the way for me to take off into the world of rock 'n' roll. That band and that album hit me at the right age, at the right time, with the right sound, and let me know that I was barely scratching the surface when it came to rebellious, guitar-based music.

I don't know what it is, exactly, but as I get older and older Nirvana's records sound better and better. Maybe there's a bit of the "the older I get, the better I was" thing going on, or maybe it's because of the goose bumps that I get when I hear certain songs of theirs that remind me of how powerful music and the act of discovering it can be. Yeah, when I occasionally give "Aneurysm" a spin, in my ears, it pretty much blows anything else around it out of the water.

Enjoy the Nirvana this coming Friday.