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Lack of Teen Spirit, A Meandering Rant from TSF 6

Posted on February 22, 2010 | By Robert LaFrance | 4 Comments

The "Smells Like Teen Spirit" Single Artwork

Considering The Slacker Factor is a podcast and webspace targeted directly at Generation X, whose musical apex is squarely planted in early 90s grunge, what I’m about to say will no doubt offend some and may even be considered downright sacrilegious. So, let me just come right out and say it…

I never need to hear Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” again. That’s right, the GenX anthem that epitomizes all things slacker is not aging well in my eyes. In fact, the second I hear those opening power chords, I instinctually reach for the dial or digital preset button to find just about anything else (within reason, of course… I’m not about to choose any American Idol reject over the voice of our generation (I think, anyway).

It’s not really Kurt’s fault though. In 1991, when Nevermind was released unto the unsuspecting public, it was all I needed to puff out my chest and get all angsty. After all, this was the theme song to many a drunken slam dance, late night rally to plan our world domination, or solo introspective moment. But just three years later, after Kurt Cobain’s untimely death in 1994, the song sank into nostalgia. Hearing it then, we’d take a second to imagine what could of been, what still might be, and what contributions our generation was making (or not making) to the world. But now, it’s lost all that sense of nostalgia, emotional connection, and is just plain tired.

I blame radio. I’ve just heard it too many damn times. Back in the day when “alternative music” really started to affect the mainstream population, it felt like Generation X was poised to bring slacker culture to the whole world. You could tune into just about any radio station format – from “Modern Rock” to “Top 40″ and hear the evidence of how deep “Teen Spirit” had penetrated society. The video was aired every 10 minutes on MTV, which meant you couldn’t escape it no matter where you were. It was ubiquitous angst. But, there is a fixed limit on many times you can repeatedly feel those strong emotions when a song comes on. There are only so many times that that melody, those driving drums, that distorted guitar, and the gruff vocals can penetrate your heart.

Unfortunately, I think this fall from grace is inevitable. Just think of all that cutting edge rock and roll from the 60s and 70s – Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimmy Hendrix, The Doors. They changed the face of music and lead a cultural revolution. But now, 40 years later, the whole genre is relegated to the dusty corners of the radio, ipods, and vinyl albums with not a record player in sight. And I’m sure that even our parents, who were there for the birth of “freedom rock”, aren’t going out and getting stoned, practicing free love and “imagining world peace”, when “Dazed and Confused” makes it’s 55 thousand, 227th appearance in their ears.

So, by no means am I debasing or marginalizing “Smells Like Teen Sprit.” I just don’t think there is any way to avoid this slide into staleness. Music should always evoke that same passion we all felt in 1991. And if the songs of our youth are no longer able to arouse those feelings, maybe we should move on and explore new music that sing about our current struggles like, I don’t know, the trappings of corporate America, the unending demands on our time from the kids and their all-encompassing social lives to the responsibilities of supporting household in a down economy, the unpaid bills and the fears of being trivialized as a generation. Actually that sounds like god-awful music. So barring that, maybe we can at least tap into some of Nirvana’s deeper album cuts or smaller hits yet still amazing songs like “All Apologies” or “Rape Me.” Or maybe I’ll just go listen to Pearl Jam instead – at least they’re still putting out new music.

- Robert LaFrance


4 Responses to “Lack of Teen Spirit, A Meandering Rant from TSF 6”

  1. cnaugle
    February 22nd, 2010 @ 11:03 pm


  2. Dave Anderson
    February 24th, 2010 @ 11:00 am

    I agree. I think Gen X has moved on from Smells Like Teen Spirit. The local X radio station where I am from plays it a little too much. I think they are trying to appeal to us but what they don’t understand is that we (Gen X) like variety and don’t like to be labeled or stuck on a label or anthem for too long. Most of us fear conformity and if everybody is still listening to Nirvana or if the media and other generations overly identify us with a song or the Grunge genre, it makes us want to run away.

  3. Robert LaFrance
    February 24th, 2010 @ 12:51 pm

    Exactly! Save all conformity for those pesky Generation Y’ers! After all, “Millennials are really about authentic reality and family” anyway, according to MTV.

    Thanks for the comment, Dave!

  4. Phil
    March 11th, 2013 @ 4:55 pm

    I understand your need to move on and in a way, many people have. To me, ‘Teen Spirit’ is more than just a song, scene, genre of music, or life-style. It reminds of art – all art. And to truly make a mark in this world or your life, you need to take chances and do something that no one else would. Thats what Kurt did, and he’s still an inspiration to me this day. I’m waiting for the next person to come along and do something as amazing as Kurt did, and repeat that ideology all over again.

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