Sells like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture, and Social Crisis

By Ryan Moore | Go to book overview

4
Young, Gifted, and Slack

I'm working / But I'm not working for you / Slack motherfucker.

—Superchunk, “Slack Motherfucker”

Everybody loves us / Everybody loves our town / It's so overblown

—Mudhoney, “Overblown”

In late 1991 and early 1992, Nirvana hijacked the airwaves with “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” When their album Nevermind passed Michael Jackson's Dangerous on its way to the number one spot on the Billboard charts at the beginning of 1992, many people perceived that a significant shift in music and popular culture was underway. This shift was largely unanticipated because there had been few commercial successes within “alternative” music to date, and thus insiders at DGC, Nirvana's record label, were modestly hoping that Nevermind might become a gold record (sell 500,000 units) if management worked hard and the band toured extensively for a full year.1 To everyone's surprise, Nevermind would go gold after only one month as Nirvana's music, along with the general persona of Kurt Cobain, seemed to resonate with large numbers of young people. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” with its opaque lyrics about apathy and angst, was quickly hailed as the anthem for a youthful demographic that were in the process of being christened as “Generation X.”

Nirvana's success represented a major breakthrough for the kind of music that had been performed in local music scenes in college towns and bohemian enclaves across the United States during the previous decade. Indeed, many of these communities would be dramatically transformed after Nirvana entered the spotlight, as those in the corporate music industry came to believe that alternative music could be commercially

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Sells like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture, and Social Crisis
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • 1: Anarchy in the Usa 1
  • 2: Reagan Youth 33
  • 3: Hell Awaits 75
  • 4: Young, Gifted, and Slack 114
  • 5: Retro Punks and Pin-Up Girls 156
  • 6: The Work of Rock in the Age of Digital Reproduction 197
  • Notes 219
  • Bibliography 245
  • Index 265
  • About the Author 275
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