Back in the day, Seattle was a place that bands loved to play. Bands that made it all the way up to our isolated corner of the country in the '70s and '80s were met with unbridled crowds that didn't give a hoot what anyone else thought about what they were doing. Seattle had yet to receive the memo that you were supposed to try and be cool at concerts. We were physically so far removed from the rest of the country that we just developed our own thing. This is the sensibility and sentiment that our now-beloved rock bands Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Tad, the Melvins, Pearl Jam/Mother Love Bone, the Fastbacks, P.U.S.A., and Nirvana all were born and bred from.
Laura Musselman Duff McKagan is the former bassist for Guns N' Roses and the leader of Seattle band Loaded. His column runs every Thursday on Reverb.
Along the way, though, and after many of these bands went on to stardom, Seattle audiences and artists--and I belong to both groups--lost their way. WE believed the hype, and WE started to look around to see what the other guy was wearing, thinking, saying. We stopped thinking for ourselves. We became precious.
When the Experience Music Project's Andrew McKeag called me in early August to see if my band, Loaded, would play a song off of Nirvana's Nevermind for their 20th-anniversary shindig featuring a whole swath of local talent, my reaction wasn't positive. I didn't want to fail and soil the weight of what the record has become. But I relented, and we agreed to play the hit "Lithium."As the show approached, I heard rumblings from some of the other artists wondering insecurely, "What would Kurt say?" I admit I bought into the anxiety a bit, and let some of this pressure sit squarely on my back.
In the early '90s, Nirvana--perhaps kicking and screaming--became the poster kids for change, and not just musical. In fact, a recent Rolling Stone article stated that Nevermind changed the world in an economic and political way. When we talk about Nevermind, we're rarely talking about rock and roll anymore.
Don't get me wrong. Nevermind, from beginning to end, is one of those great records that should be remembered always and forever. But when we start talking about a music's legacy as a lever for things like political and social change, too often writers like myself begin to interject our will into the experience. We forget that we're talking about rock and roll, something that's always been meant to get us out of our everyday head space, and a lever to have a good time.
There was a tension at EMP on Tuesday. A tension caused by what I believe to be a collective fear of "Is this the right thing to do?" I could see it in the artists' faces backstage. I could see it in the audience's faces when I came out sidestage. I saw it in my own face when I looked in the mirror. The only guy who seemed totally at ease, and full of grace and calm, was Krist Novoselic, Nirvana's stalwart bassist and a special guest on the night's bill.
I literally forgot the words to "Lithium" right as my band went onstage. Yes. I was freaked out. But I saw Krist sending a big smile from the side of the stage. It gave me the confidence to ask the crowd to help me sing. They did. I think that is all that was needed, too. The audience sang the whole damn song, and thankfully, very loudly. Suddenly, it seemed like old-school Seattle again.
Later in the evening, Krist joined the Presidents for "On a Plain" and "Sliver," and it was completely evident that our collective anxieties were misplaced. The night was meant to be, and it WAS OK to celebrate Nevermind without fuss, naysayers be damned.
Maybe now Seattle can get back to being weird and different and fun again. That'd be really cool.
P.S. I'd be remiss not to note that our man John Roderick added some serious elegance to the night with The Long Winters' version of "Something in the Way." Nice work, John.