Chris Uggen's Blog: sweet-cobain

Monday, November 14, 2005


nirvana's nevermind is always listed among the most influential albums of the 1990s. i agree, to the point that my delinquency students accuse me of having "cobain issues." they read criminological theory and standard accounts by gang members and studies of prevention and control. heck, i even assign a textbook. still, they most remember charles cross' excellent biography heavier than heaven. i quiz them on cobain's class and family background, his delinquent acts, and his suicide.

I’m sick of myself when I look at you
Something is beautiful and true
In a world that’s ugly and a lie
It’s hard to even want to try
And I’m beginning to think
baby you don’t know

getting to the point ... nevermind was released september 24, 1991. less than a month later, mathew sweet cut loose with girlfriend, his power-pop masterpiece. i heard 3 independent mathew sweet references this weekend, which must reflect some sort of divine intervention. or coincidence. to my ears at the time, cobain and sweet both leaped from the radio -- teen spirit, breed, and come as you are for nirvana, of course, and girlfriend, evangeline, and i've been waiting for sweet. for some reason not apparent to critics or other listeners, i saw them as twins, or at least brothers: matt as the older, responsible, studio rat brother (with headphones above), kurt as the wildly talented younger brother with the impish grin and the issues.
I'm so happy 'cause today I found my friends
They're in my head
I'm so ugly, but that's okay

both came from humble origins, in rural washington and nebraska, respectively. they shared a love of popcraft, and both created big arty, noisy guitar work (though sweet enlisted nyc legends such as robert quine, while cobain strangled his jaguar his own self). i'd never equate the emotional content of their writing, but it isn't as different as the legacies might suggest. in my view, people tend to minimize the big beatlesy melodic hooks in nirvana as well as the darker, creepier side of mathew sweet (i've been waiting, ugly truth, sick of myself).
You don’t want to die
But the living gets you down
We want you to act like nothing’s wrong
Even though you heard a sound
And then you’re ripped right out of the ground
Like a f*ing root
Ah, you simply cannot hide
From the ugly truth

strange too, how much slicker nevermind sounds than girlfriend today. the sound on the former is massive. nirvana enlisted butch vig to produce nevermind, having recorded some early work at smart studios in madison (vig later went on to form garbage). sweet relied on fred maher, who gave girlfriend a "dry" sound with lots of live craziness. at the time, i don't think dave grohl got much credit for it, but his nevermind contribution is easily heard by anyone who has marveled at his foo work or his remarkable queens of the stone age drummer guest shot. today, mathew sweet collects art and plays in folkie supergroup the thorns. in 1991, i thought sweet was the future of radio rock (of course, by 1992, i thought helmet and "unsung" was the future of radio rock). part of me really wishes that cobain and sweet had been brothers and bandmates. they could have made something beautiful and true.


At 9:26 AM, Blogger Mike W. said...

That comment about Helmet really stings.

At 4:52 PM, Anonymous chris said...

hey, i loved them -- i thought i'd seen the future and it was helmet.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Tom Volscho said...

helmet was insane...i saw them live in 1997 and they were amazing, the tightest music ever


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