In 1989 Nirvana released its debut album Bleach, famously recorded at Seattle’s Reciprocal Recording for six hundred bucks (this information was cheekily included in the album art). It was difficult to conceive of an album as sludgy and heavy as that becoming an authentic indieland sensation, but that’s exactly what happened. Bleach was one of those albums that, all through 1990 and the first half of 1991, got passed around endlessly on homemade cassette (it wasn’t shared on CDR because CD ripping technology had not yet reached the home consumer). I know, because I probably made a half-dozen dubs for friends.
Point being, when Nevermind came out that September, there was plenty of built-up demand, but even so, nobody was expecting a cleanly produced grunge masterpiece whose infectious hooks and palpably felt angst would power the album to #1 on the Billboard charts. Even after “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became the earworm of the autumn, none of my circle of friends knew which one of the trio blurrily pictured in the CD art was “Kurdt Kobain,” as he sometimes styled it. Indeed, I can remember one chum asserting that he fervently hoped it wasn’t the jerky-looking blond dude in the middle.
One of these dudes is the genius who wrote ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’......
Those few months to close out 1991, while we all grooved to “Come As You Are” and “Polly” and “Territorial Pissings,” the band members, whose latest album was not a product of Seattle’s Sub Pop but was their first release on Geffen, were looking to reach out to the weird freaks who had gotten on board the Nirvana express in a timely fashion (they didn’t know it, but never again would they be able to distinguish for certain their “true” fans from meatheads who banged their heads to the big dumb riffs). In October of 1991 they sent out a witty, playful newsletter to their “fan club” (well, actually not, as you’ll read) that I believe is the only such missive the band ever sent out (the Internet doesn’t seem to have any others, anyway).
To read that “form letter” is to enter a pre-Internet realm in which access to an Apple IIe and a copy shop provided the chance for countless struggling musicians to forge connections with their peers and fans—and generally crack wise. The double-sided sheet is festooned with some vague precursor to clip art—consider it was less a badge of honor than a positive survival requirement for any self-respecting DIY visual artist (Kurdt definitely had strong leanings in this direction) to hoard any curious or odd-looking printed matter for collage/inspiration purposes later on.
I don’t think I’d sent my name and address to Seattle, but a good friend of mine had. I can vividly remember poring over this exact newsletter at a pizza place in the West Village…. the only thing I actually remember was the funny reference to Dinah Shore Jr.—the light bulb on that pun went on as we consumed our slices. When I saw the images of the newsletter on the Internet recently, the first thing I did was to seek out that reference, and sure enough, there it was, just as I had remembered. Similar is the silly business about the band’s first drummer, Chad Channing, being the son of actress Stockard (not true).
People may have forgotten, but Nevermind‘s ascent to the very peaks of pop acceptance did not happen quickly. It hit #1 in January of 1992, five months after it had come out—during the same month, the band appeared on SNL and Kurdt and Krist (still going by “Chris” at this point) made out during the closing credits to goose the intolerant dumbasses in the home audience. So this newsletter is basically the last moment before Cobain and Co. hit the big time, became disillusioned with success, and all that jazz. Those tragic later circumstances make this a poignant read indeed, esp. when the band shrugs off a request for more precise lyric sheet with the tip to insert “gun” or “I don’t care” whenever one isn’t sure what Cobain is yammering on about.
via That Eric Alper
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Casting call for Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video