Music Can't Change the World If It's Not Ready For Change

Kurt Cobain
Krist Novoselic's column on music and politics runs every Tuesday on Reverb. Check back on Friday when he writes about what he's been listening to.
I grew up listening to a lot of rock music and heavy bands of the 1960s and '70s. Then in 1983, I got bored and needed something new. That's when I discovered punk and hardcore music. I was transitioning out of a dysfunctional home, going to high school, and working almost every night at a Taco Bell. The new music opened up a whole world of people with a different way of looking at things.

I wasn't into hanging out at malls, keg parties in the woods, or any of the other favorite pastimes associated with the local youth culture. This "different way" spoke to me. Punk-rock music and culture was brimming with idealism. Some people took it to the extreme. They told me they threw all their old records away. They obviously had no need for them and the mainstream the music represented.

Music changed my life and gave me so much to hold onto. As easy as it is to get cynical these days, I still believe that music can change the world. Not so much in a wave that affects the masses, but one person at a time.

As a teenager, I cast off the old ways, but could never dispose of my beloved Black Sabbath records! Why color music that gives me so much pleasure with notions about a world I was weary of? Those big riffs gave me a lot of solace, and I couldn't discard them or those Warner Bros. "green label" pressings. (I still have that vinyl!). In 1983, Black Flag was sounding like Black Sabbath anyway.

It was ideals over ideology, and the music scene was brimming with both. Punk was rooted in anarchism, a philosophy of making structures independent of the state, corporations, or long-established religious groups. Anarcho-punk was loose, so an individual could take from it what they needed. In particular, punk taunted the mainstream, something that gave me a lot of satisfaction at the time.

Nirvana was a punk band. We came from the punk world, but one day the world came to us. It was quite a transition from being in a subculture to being on the radio and television in heavy rotation. There were many personal adjustments, but at this time I want to say how I still carried that idealism.

We were amazed when we were told of our gig on Saturday Night Live. We played two songs--as is the custom on this long-running television show. If you look at the video, you'll see I wore a Melvins shirt on "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and an L7 shirt for "Territorial Pissings." Of course I love these bands, but I was also on a mission. We wanted to promote the music from where we came from in hopes that it would change the world. (We did the same thing on Unplugged, covering songs by our friends in Meat Puppets and the Vaselines.)

Did the whole wide world really change? I don't think so, but I'll tell you this: I have met many who have told me how much Nirvana changed their lives. So things did change, but on an individual basis. Like that bored dude folding tortillas into burritos in Aberdeen in the early '80s, I'm sure these people were ready for change. All they had to do was be open to it.

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