September 29th, 2011 | by CHRIS STAMM Music | Posted In: Columns

Upper Extremities #9: Endless, Shameless (The Nirvana Issue)

Chris Stamm's Weekly Punk Column Sells Out

     
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Attempting to find an untrampled path into the center of the ever-expanding celebration of Nevermind’s 20th anniversary, I perused my terribly old-seeming record collection in search of a better album released in 1991, a record against which Nevermind would seem limp and wan, something to use as a shield in my contrarian battle against Nirvana nostalgia.

I found two albums from that year that I love nearly as much as Nevermind—Fugazi’s Steady Diet of Nothing and Screeching Weasel’s My Brain Hurts—and upon hearing the woozy guitars that give into the unforgettable groove of “Exit Only,” I realized I could concoct a convincing argument that these two punk touchstones were and are more vital than Nirvana’s third-best LP, but I realized two seconds later that I’d be hiding my true feelings in order to massage muscle into a barely original take on a subject beaten so far past death that it has already reincarnated as that cute guy from Girls I want to make out with.

The simple and sad fact—sad only insofar as I really did want to take my red pen to critical consensus and/or disengage from the early ‘90s just long enough to find something contemporary to write about—is this: Nevermind is perfect. I’ve had a difficult time thinking about anything else these past few days.

It’s too bad, then, given my inability (okay, it’s more unwillingness than inability, if I’m being totally honest) to write at length about something else, that the product inspiring all of this retrospection turns out to be so underwhelming and inessential. I wish I could enumerate all of the unscrubbed treasures waiting for you in the various special editions of the best album of 1991, but, as is often the case with such capitalistic slashes at your dustier heartstrings, the bonus material composing Geffen’s spendy nostalgia trip is either already nearly as familiar as the twelve songs on Nevermind (e.g. “Aneurysm” and “D-7” and “Even in His Youth”); interesting only to completists, fanatics and audiophile pricks (e.g. the decayed rehearsal takes of eventual hits that eat up disc two and the early Vig-mixed version of Nevermind that wastes space on disc three); or overshadowed by a similar yet superior product (e.g. this set’s live tracks vs. 2009’s indispensable Live at Reading CD/DVD).

The gangbang edition:

nevermind
super deluxe edition

As for the remastered album itself, which is available sans bonus discs for something in the neighborhood of ten bucks—consider it the budget trip back to the land of Cross Colours and Tabitha Soren—well, you will have to take that leap all by your lonesome, because these ears never have and likely never will hear anything shinier or brighter or louder or meaner or prettier in ballyhooed remasters of past classics. My theory about this particular inability would take way too long to fully explain here, but here’s the gist: at this point, the songs from Nevermind (being the pertinent example here; this theory applies to other artists and albums), no matter how long or hard Geffen Records fingers, fucks and sucks them, will never fail to shoot straight past all of my carefully arranged aesthetic sensors and burrow directly into the squishy meat of memory, where I will not hear the music so much as see it light up the same buried visions it illuminated last time I decided I wanted to visit those sights, places, people.

And so listening to the remastered Nevermind, I’m feeling and seeing the same stuff I saw and felt when I listened to my scuffed and scratched twenty-year-old copy one, two, three, four years ago: my mother, a Nirvana fan before I was, at the ripe old age of only a couple years older than I am now; me at eleven, still too obsessed with Ice Cube and Cypress Hill to have more than a passing interest in Nirvana; Use Your Illusion I and II, which were my favorite rock albums of 1991 when 1991 actually happened to me; Terminator 2, which will forever be stuck to Nevermind in my mind as the other undeniably awesome thing from 1991 that I will never not love to death; The Real World New York, which still counts, even though it aired in ’92, because I don’t think my mom purchased Nevermind until then, but let’s not crack that can of worms.

Which is to say that one of the last things I think about when I listen to Nevermind is Nevermind, and that is how I define its greatness: as the rare work of art that was able to swallow a part of the world that gave birth to it. Which means I already have just about everything these special editions can give me, in the form of a twenty-year-old piece of plastic that I stole from my mom. So thanks, but I’m good.

 
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