[Metroactive Music]

[ Music Index | Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

'You Know You're Right' is a popular MP3 download.

Smells Like Teen Spirits

Nirvana's latest single is the aural equivalent of leg warmers

By Gina Arnold

THE OTHER DAY, I saw some high school girls walking in a clump at a shopping mall, the way high school girls do. They looked like some local form of the Mafia. Not only did their little group look forbidding--like Sopranos henchmen, only female--but they were dressed alike, in tight stone-washed denim jeans and hoodies, and they had long straight hair and enormous backpacks slung over their shoulders. The only way you could tell them apart was that one of the backpacks bore a patch that read "NIRVANA."

Teenagers don't wear patches of bands they don't really care about. But while I don't doubt her fandom, I figure the girl was maybe 8 when Kurt Cobain killed himself, too young to have taken part in the mourning, or to have heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with a freeing sense of wonder or even to have thought that there was something subversive about wearing a thick, wool plaid shirt and holey green cardigan.

I can only suppose she is the intended market for the new single "You Know You're Right," the last known Nirvana song to be released, which has just appeared on the radio. To her, it may sound like a rockin' little number, but to me it sounded dusty, transparent and hollow, like the distant whine of a feeble ghost or a bootleg recording of a Jim Morrison concert. It is, to quote Prospero in The Tempest, the "last scene of all ... that ends this strange eventful history."

Like many other Nirvana songs, "You Know You're Right" begins with a soft rumbling groove, then revs up to a roaring chorus: "Hey, you know you're right," or possibly "You know your rights." Kurt always liked that kind of wordplay, as evidenced by lines like "hello-how-low," "hate-Haight" and so on.

Thematically, I believe the song is about the kind of marital argument where one party gives up all pretense of debate and lets the other person rant on, because it's easier to agree than to assert one's real position. Because the studio version of this track is unfinished, the lyrics aren't entirely decipherable, but I think he says, "I have never felt despair," which is obviously meant as ironically as the chorus. It is a fairly chilling statement, but in purely musical terms this particular voice beyond the grave has less, not more power, to compel.

"You Know You're Right" isn't crap, but it sure hasn't benefited by being held in legal limbo for almost a decade. Frankly, it sounds dated, like the aural equivalent of leg warmers or a mullet. Ten years from now, when it blends into Nirvana's entire back catalog, it might sound a little fresher. But at the moment, the band's inner chi is at a low ebb, and "You Know You're Right" is a great illustration of the incredible importance of context in rock music. Psychedelic rock sounds good when it's paired with '60s fashions, drugs and ideology, but kind of silly when heard now. Similarly, at the time that Nirvana was big, its hard-rock chords and Cobain's innate grumpiness came off like protest music. But these days, the same disgruntled tone just sounds fatalistic and petty, particularly compared to lighter-feeling (though ostensibly just as tortured) bands like Nickelback, Creed and Incubus.

That said, I'm still a stone-cold Nirvana fan and always will be. My devotion was frozen years ago at the peak of the group's intensity. Unlike so many bands too numerous to mention, Nirvana will not grow old as we are left to grow old. It won't wind up at Konocti Harbor or release ever-more-uninteresting albums full of crap. The members won't lose their hair in front of us, or star in situation comedies.

Given the high odds that Nirvana would have done at least one of those things if it were still together, that's a good thing. On the other hand, the joys of a band's premature death are definitely nothing to celebrate, even around Halloween. I'm glad that teenagers are listening to Nirvana, but it'll be a few years before "You Know You're Right" will make it into my canon.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

[ Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

From the October 10-16, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate