It was September 24, 1991, and the world was about to be shaken by the explosive sound of one of the biggest albums in music history, Nevermind, by Nirvana from Seattle, WS. With its over 30 million copies sold worldwide, the album also arguably forged a kind of globalised youth culture, fuelled by the increasing reach of MTV — which had its videos, including Smells Like Teen Spirit, on heavy rotation.
The album’s great success followed a European tour and proved a shock to the mainstream system — Geffen label president Ed Rosenblatt described it as “one of those ‘get out of the way and duck’ records”. But in the Seattle DIY scene, the mood was less celebratory: “My memory of Nevermind is that it felt like a betrayal,” says The Make Agency founder Mahdis Keshavarz, at the time a 15-year-old Iranian-American riot grrrl and booking indie gigs at the Old Fire House Teen Centre in Redmond, near Seattle.
“People were protective because Nirvana were representative of a community and so many ideas. In retrospect, I have great sympathy for the band, because I think they legitimately made beautiful music that touched people’s hearts. In fact, I remember visiting Iran soon after Nevermind came out, and smuggling in tapes to play to friends and relatives, you’d see their faces, like: ‘What is this? It’s kinda cool… can I get a copy?’
“But within Seattle at the time, people were super-upset, it was that DIY ethic that believed you couldn’t achieve liberation through a major label. We knew rents and ticket prices would go up, and we were really protective of our spaces. Kurt would often turn up at the Old Fire House and just be quiet in a corner. He was a gentle soul, and everybody loved him — yet sometimes, he wouldn’t be welcome, depending on who was playing, because the anger levels were high. That must have been hurtful.”
It’s recent news that Spencer Elden, the kid on the album cover, sued Kurt Cobain’s estate for child sexual exploitation. And this, in addition to arousing mostly indignation in the world of rock, has also sparked someone’s imagination, adding new works to the already fun reinterpretations of the cover.