“A Fan of the Ghost”

Man, this sentence: “ I was a fan of the ghost more than the band.” Lord almighty that’s brilliant. Perfect.

And her larger point is one that I think is important. Ruth Hill in her book on Bourbon Spanish America says that our biggest problem in understanding race in that era is that we look back through the lens of history. To Kathy’s point, this Nirvana nostalgia that remembers them as ubiquitous and us all as fans from the beginning (or if not the beginning, at least we were hip to it by Nevermind) remembers through an era of iTunes and Foo Fighters and YouTube and instant wide sharing of cool stuff. I think we’re remembering wrong.

My best friend at the time saw Nirvana when they opened for REM when we were sophomores in high school. She thought they were good. Bought their t-shirt. Remember, she was my best friend. I was at her house at least once a week. I never heard a Nirvana song until my senior year of high school. I don’t know if she didn’t also buy a tape at the show (the very first CDs that came into our house were the Led Zeppelin box set, which the Butcher got for Christmas, also my senior year, which meant that, before that, no Phillips had a CD player. For sure, no minor I knew had a CD player when I was 15. If I had to guess, without asking him, I’d guess he got some kind of CD player for his birthday (at the end of October) and then may have had to wait until Christmas for anything to play on it.) or if she did but she didn’t like it that much or what.

But now, if someone says “I heard this cool band,” It takes me five seconds to find them on the internet and hear them.

I’m not saying that some people weren’t big fans from the second the album hit, but I think we forget how long it took for things to catch on. I mean, just as a thought experiment, recall Thriller. There was an album with a bunch of hits on it, that sold incredibly well (to put it mildly), but remember–it sold well for a long time. Because it kept finding new audiences. Everyone in the world, or hell, just the United States, who was going to buy that album and like it didn’t know about that album when it came out, or even when it hit number one.

Things used to be able to build buzz on the back end, after release. Take on lives of their own.

That we remember it like someone flipped a switch and we all loved Nirvana says more about how we love music now than how we did then.

5 thoughts on ““A Fan of the Ghost”

  1. I was a buyer at a record store when In Utero came out, and it was sort of a flop — until he did what he did, at which point we couldn’t stock either album fast enough. So I have to wonder would Nevermind still get even a fraction of the kudos it gets now had he not, or would it have faded into one-hit-wonder obscurity?

    I mean, even if grunge still became what it became … really, none of the other grunge bands sounded much like Nirvana to my ears, most of it was more in the Pearl Jam/Soundgarden 70s rock revival mold. And Jane’s Addition may deserve more credit than Nirvana for the general shift away from the 80s hair metal.

    I guess I’m just wondering how much did his suicide shape this lens we’re looking back through more than the music? I remember after he died when all these boomer music critics were writing articles calling him the John Lennon of gen-x and we were just rolling our eyes like wtf?

  2. Jennifer, I think the question depends on making a distinction between the music-buying part of the population generally and the really, really dedicated-to-the-new-music-of-their-generation part of the population more specifically. I think it’s possible that Nirvana could have been hugely influential on the smaller group without having much of an impact on the larger. As they say about the Velvet Underground (to use an example from my generation), not all that many people bought their albums, but every one who did started a band.

  3. that’s sort of what I’m getting at, except reversed — Nirvana sold a whole lot of albums, first from the pop explosion of Nevermind then later from the post-suicide revisionism, but I’m not sure they really had as much impact on other musicians. I’d probably go again to Jane’s Addiction, or maybe a little farther back to Sonic Youth as more who I would think of as the VU equivalent of the time. But that’s admittedly from the perspective of someone from the elder half of the gen-x crowd, those of us who were just-starting-or-already-in bands when they came out — I’m sure they probably had more impact on the kids who grew up listening them. But then that goes back to my original thought, would their music have stuck around long enough to influence those younger kids if not for the post-suicide hype?

  4. So you’re saying that Kurt Cobain was more like Sly Stone (except for the actually dying part). I can see that….

  5. Yeah, that sounds right. Like maybe he would be remembered for more than just Everyday People if he had died (well.. and didn’t have Jim, Jimi, and Janis to compete with for the after-death notoriety)

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