’57, ’62, ’67, ’70, the mid-’70s, ’90
Nirvana’s first-ever live performance of Smells Like Teen Spirit
From The Smart Set:
The history of music is marked by a few, fleeting, magical moments: 1957 in New York jazz, 1962 in Liverpool, 1967 in San Francisco, 1970 in Detroit, the mid-’70s at CBGB ,1990 in Seattle. Stars had aligned to produce so-called local “scenes” whose underground bands ended up transforming music the world over. Whatever caused such things, that mysterious convergence of talent, timing, and personalities, it was happening again right now on the West Coast, and somehow — by good luck and staying up on new music — I’d found out about it.
If the musical eras that Chris and I had experienced in our teens were any indication of future patterns of history, then I knew that this moment would pass as quickly as the rest. The underground bands would one day be discovered by the larger culture. They’d start playing big cavernous venues with higher ticket prices and higher percentages of meatheads in the crowd. They’d tour constantly to spread the word, put out numerous singles and albums to feed the furnace of popular demand while it was hot, and as the musicians aged and tired of the road, they’d likely tire of their own musical ideas, abandon their previous style, and their song-writing would change — suffer, possibly. And as they played the same songs over and over for years and years and things became routine, more like a job, their shows would lose the power and purity that once made them so monumental. This is often the way, as any book on music history explains. But right now, these particular West Coast bands were young and energetic, their music fresh and unprecedented, their shows still intimate and overlooked enough to feel like a dirty little secret, like when you don’t wear underwear to dinner and your lover touches you under the table. Future fans would look back on this year in awe and wish they could have experienced it. And we, the informed obsessive few, would know that we did experience it — that we were there — not to brag or feel superior, but to relish the fullness that comes from devouring something of substance, be it food, foreign lands, or a whole era at the height of its artistic potency. It was rare that you were aware that something culturally significant was happening while it was happening — usually such appreciations occurred in hindsight — but I was aware of it. Chris was, too.
He had a different life now, but I wasn’t going to miss it.