When Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” premiered on MTV’s 120 Minutes in the fall of 1991, it called down an avalanche of music that I wouldn’t dare to describe … but as music taken to heart and soul by millions of people. Mainstream media began to take chances with bands like the Breeders and Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day and Nine Inch Nails.
Nevermind hit the public like a nerve. Everything changed. The kids who didn’t want to rule the school, suddenly did. Warrant and Slaughter moved to Beavis and Butthead. Somewhere John Lennon was smiling. The world had shifted on its axis again.
“Come as You Are,” they said to all of us. They did, and we did, too. When Kurt died, I asked Dave Sirulnick at MTV News to make me a compilation of all the Nirvana interviews, in-store sessions, awards show appearances, concerts and off-hand conversations we had covered. There were so many hours, I was actually stunned. I know Kurt had a complicated relationship with mainstream media, yet I believe Nirvana knew how much the people who worked at MTV loved and respected them.
I will listen to Kurt, Dave and Krist for the rest of my life; that’s personal and indelible. When you see the amazing Pearl Jam 20 doc, watch for the bit of Kurt and Eddie dancing at the Video Music Awards. Watch Unplugged again. Listen to any cut on Nevermind, and really hear the drums, the guitars, the lyrics, the singer. Dig up the 1992 VMA’s. I will always consider the coming of Nirvana the gift of a lifetime. For me, it’s all personal.
Judy McGrath was president of MTV in 1991, when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” premiered.