You've heard this opinion a hundred times before from smarter folk than me.
There were four bands that came out of Seattle in the late eighties. Nirvana, Soundgarden, The Screaming Trees and my personal favourite, Pearl Jam. I watched Cameron Crowe's beautiful documentary Pearl Jam Twenty earlier, and it got me thinking about the grand scheme of things, and it made me revisit my own history with these bands.
The greatest legacy, of course, is from Nirvana. And I don't quite get it.
Kurt Cobain was the poster-child for the entire "alternative" rock movement that surged into the early nineties. The mass media called it "grunge" but I'm not going to be so naive. I was the fan of Nirvana I was bred to be by popular culture. Nevermind came to me late in the game, but I was an avid listener of their MTV Unplugged because how can you not be, and their black "best of" was never far from my CD player.
The Screaming Trees came to my attention through Mark Lanegan's collaborations with Queens of the Stone Age. I could never get into the Trees own music, but Lanegan's dark, dulcid tones had me enamoured. There was a vulnerability to Lanegan's voice, something that drew me in even as it haunted me relentlessly. You have to respect that.Queens led me to The Mark Lanegan Band but never much further. I had to be in the right mood for his sound, and it was never a particularly good mood.
Soundgarden were radio darlings for a time, Black Hole Sun a video that crept up on me when I wasn't expecting it to, and it scared my fragile child self into submission. I never had much time for them until recently, with songs like Fell On Black Days and the aforementioned Black Hole Sun ringing true with me.
But the best of all these, the band that have never ever let me down, were Pearl Jam. There was something about Eddie Vedder's daddy issues that made his music so brittle but at the same time so resilient. "I-lived-through-this-suffering-and-now-look-where-I-am". I love the sound, I love Eddie's voice, and I can't get enough of it. To be honest, I prefer their earlier stuff, but who doesn't when it comes to bands? Earlier almost always means better, and it kind of reinforces my point about these four bands coming out of the same place at the same time and sharing a common ground but going to a different place each and every time.
I was trying to think about Kurt Cobain earlier, and it struck me that the best thing, in my eyes, that he had ever done, was MTV Unplugged. Everything else before that was perfunctory, unnecessary. The definitive versions of some of Nirvana's best loved tracks were performed there and then. I can't remember Cobain's voice like I can Lanegan's or Vedder's. Do I want to? No. I think Nirvana were overrated, but they helped bridge a gap between the alternative and the mainstream, and it's helped so many bands since. You can't knock that.
Cornell recorded a James Bond* theme, for crying out loud, so he's done well out of the whole thing.
*You Know My Name from Casino Royale (2006), COME ON GUYS.