Nirvana's 'Nevermind': Hollywood Remembers the Band's Legacy

Michael Lavine
Kurt Cobain (left) Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic

Twenty years after their seminal sophomore album ushered grunge to the forefront of popular music, Kurt Cobain and his bandmates are still heralded as music industry game-changers. Black Keys' Patrick Carney, Evanescence's Amy Lee, Nick Swardson and more stars offer their own Nirvana memories.

Although many of the music industry's biggest players didn't know it at the time, Sept. 24, 1991 would have far-reaching impact on their future lives -- going on 20 years and beyond.

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Today, the world remembers the release of Nirvana's sophomore album, Nevermind. It was the band's first offering from a major label (Universal's DCG imprint), and one that would subsequently introduce Seattle grunge to the mainstream. Fueled by the success of its lead single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," it took a few months, but Nevermind eventually reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, spending a whopping 253 weeks on the chart.

The Hollywood Reporter reminisced with several contemporary artists, including Black Keys' Patrick Carney, Foster the People's Mark Foster, actor Nick Swardson and Melissa Etheridge, about the first time they heard Nirvana, and what impact that first exposure still holds today.

STORY: Memories of Nirvana, Grunge Scene: A Reporter's First-Hand Account
Joel Madden, Good Charlotte: “The first time I heard Nirvana was school. My brother played me a tape of Bleach, the album before Nevermind, and they blew my mind. When Nevermind came out, it was over. They were probably one of the most important bands in my life.” 

Patrick Carney, The Black Keys: “I don't know the exact moment I heard [Nevermind], but I remember my brother had the cassette and I remember watching them play Saturday Night Live. I guess that was around January of '92. I was blown away, really.” 

Mark Foster, Foster the People: “I was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the year that it opened in Cleveland. I was maybe 12 years old, and that week I started taking guitar lessons -- because of Nirvana. Nevermind had a huge impact… We were just in Germany a couple months ago playing a festival. There was a tent packed full of people, it was between bands  and they put on 'Smells like Teen Spirit' through the loudspeakers. Five thousand people singing along, going crazy, the song is still current -- put it on anywhere and people are still bobbing their heads.” 

Nick Swardson, actor: Nevermind blew my mind... If Kurt was still here, I can’t even fathom the music. After In Utero, I don’t know where Kurt Cobain goes creatively after that. He just put himself out there so much."

Michelle Branch: “I remember two things about being eight years old. One was the purple mountain bike I coveted that I received for my birthday. The other was seeing the video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ for the first time… Nirvana is, in my mind, one of the best bands, right up there with The Beatles. I'm always blown away by what was going on melodically not only with the vocals but in guitar solos. I had no idea what the lyrics were or what they meant as an 8-year-old, but I could absolutely sing the melody back to you. Just don't tell my mom.” 


Amy Lee, Evanescence: "Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV, but I loved it. So when I was around 12, I started watching MTV at a friend’s house...  and it was all about Nirvana. They had just really started hitting it big. Then we moved away from a town in Illinois that I really liked, to Arkansas, where I didn’t know anyone. I was awkward, I left all my friends and went from a cool, normal public school to this college prep school that I hated. Everyone was mean to me so I really dove into Nirvana big time." 

Butch Walker: “I remember sitting on the living room floor of my Van Nuys apartment recording demos for my then hair metal band's record. All of a sudden, I felt very insignificant, and that I may need to question everything I was doing musically. Within those three minutes, my own music instantly sounded very silly to me… The good news is, Nirvana saved me from spending the rest of my life searching for a way out of the hair metal abyss that was quickly being drowned in its own party. This new form of punk was was soul music in a way. The new blues. A way for the new generation at the time to relate to sadness and pain through a new sound. This paved the way for a whole new lot of artists who didn't necessarily sound like Nirvana, but expressed themselves with a little more integrity.” 

Melissa Etheridge: “The first time I heard 'Smells like Teen Spirit' was seeing the music video and I remember going, ‘What is this?’ I love the songwriting -- the soft verse and you bang the chorus. I do that live all the time -- it’s a real rock and roll thing. I heard that verse come down while he's singing and I'm like, ‘I don't understand the words, but they're mesmerizing to me’… When music -- a band, an artist, man or woman -- can represent a whole generation, that's what was happening… I never met Kurt. I wish I had. He knew that he saw his music and his generation’s angst be sold and corporatized. It was about money, and I just saw his soul die and go, ‘I don't understand. I don't fit in.’” 

Joe Trohman, Fall Out Boy, The Damned Things: "Nevermind was somewhat of a gateway record for me. I was so drawn to the rawness, the succinct songwriting, and the energy of it all. I became an obsessed fan on first listen. I tracked back to Bleach and loved that even more. And though In Utero was untimely their last record, it was quite an amazing pairing with Steve Albini engineering, who really captured their raw emotion and energy perfectly… In later years, Nirvana taught me how to approach songwriting differently, how to approach listening to music the way I do and set me up to be the kind of guy that appreciates the kind of band that doesn't need everything to be ‘perfect’ all the time. They had so much innate character. They were so nonchalant but still cared about what they did. They were a band's band and a band for the people. That's incredibly rare nowadays.” 

Greg Proops, comedian: “Nirvana are the greatest rock band of the last twenty years. Here was a singer that was a poet with a generous soul. He didn’t hate women and gays. They are the enlightened, hard-rocking band. Irreplaceable.” 

Sameer Gadhia, Young the Giant: “I was 12 or 13 -- kind of the normal age to start listening to Nirvana. Actually, Jake, our other guitarist, and I both played in Nirvana cover bands as our first bands. We were terrible. Really awful… I think [Nirvana] just got people to take themselves a little less seriously. The attitude they took from Seattle and brought it out the rest of the country, [they] made it mainstream to not care and I think good things came from that.”

Tim Rogers, You Am I: "When Nevermind came out, if you walked into anybody's house, or a party or apub, for months and months, that was the record you heard... everywhere you went. We played with Nirvana on a tour of Australia in '92. Thinking back on it always gives us a little smile…”