You know how researching something on the Internet leads to something else which leads to something completely unrelated. This pattern eventually lead me to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
I remember first hearing this song in 1991 when one of my gaming buddies showed up for our game night with a small boombox. He had the Nirvana CD playing Teen Spirit. I remember that the song had a pretty infectious rhythm, which I can still easily conjure up in my head years after having last heard it. But the lyrics were . . . what? I could make out, “Here we are now, entertain us,” but the rest of the words were completely unintelligible.
Not that songs must have completely clear lyrics, but . . .
I understand this song, and this band, especially Kurt Cobain, became a cultural phenomenon in its time. I remember asking my game buddy that night, “What’s that song about?” His answer, “Teen Spirit is a girl’s scent spray.”
Yeah, I was aware of the Teen Spirit spray thing from the common commercials of the time. But then, and even years later, I never heard anyone give a definitive answer for what that song is about. I would think that for a song to be declared masterful, a phenomenon, fans should at least have a hint as to what it’s about.
Now, I was 24 years old at the time this song was a big hit. So maybe my lack of appreciation for it has more to do with my being beyond the teenage and college demographic than with the song itself being intellectually void.
But then in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked “Smells Like Teen Spirit” number 9 in its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Huh? How does this break the top ten? This song gets top ten status, but “Stairway to Heaven” ranks 31? Hell, how does Nirvana’s only top 20 hit (reached only #6) beat out anything by Led Zepplin? Or The Who? Or U2, or Johnny Cash, or Elvis Presley? Or even Boston, which got rank number 500 with “More Than a Feeling”? Come on — “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is 491 places better than “More Than a Feeling”? That’s ridiculous.
And then I remember seeing a VH1 show, 100 Most Shocking Moments in Rock ‘N’ Roll a few years ago. Kurt Cobain’s suicide was ranked the number 4 most shocking RnR moment? An angsty, drug-addled “genius” who couldn’t handle the couple years of fame that his weird song got him killing himself is considered more shocking than Marvin Gaye being murdered by his father, (number 5)? Or Elvis Presley dying, (number 21)?
Really, the people who figure up these top whatever lists have a weak sense of what is truly great and classic, and shocking.”Smells Like Teen Spirit” is mumbled drivel compared to many of the bigger hits even in its own year. And Nirvana/Kurt Cobain are sad one-almost-hit wonders compared to so many artists who have more hit songs than he had years of life.
I don’t hate Nirvana or their song, but it’s downright insulting for them and it to be elevated to a pedestal above so many more worthy names.