Nirvana’s Nevermind was released 20 years ago. I caught this NPR story on the radio this morning that brought it to mind. I wouldn’t want to treat essentially ephemeral things with weighty seriousness, but occasionally something breaks through. Aesthetically would anyone put Smells Like Teen Spirit next to say Bach – no. But that isn’t what pop music is about. Its about catching a vibe. You get the pop music you deserve. Stuck with Katy Perry and Britney Spears – look in the mirror. Of course I would say the same thing to oh my am I getting old about Michael Jackson and Debbie Gibson. Trust me – Katy sounds really good now, and you will still bop along when you embarrass your kids 20 years later, but you’ll just be putting on a brace face. Back to the point. Pop music catches a vibe and occasionally goes deep. Nevermind…that is the deep end of the pool.
Here is why. Pop music is ultimately the law. (Even the stones cry out.) In expressing a vibe of the day it is expressing the wants, desires, actions and works of its singers and listeners. If you want to know the status and sins that any given culture is experiencing, listen to its pop music. There are really only three ways that pop expresses the law: 1) a glorying in breaking it. (Rom 1:30) This is long an glorious vein and most of the truly fun and playful pop songs are here. Say what you want about Katy – her songs can be fun…at least for a while, until you actually try and live them. 2) A rundown of the effects of breaking the law. This is every pop song in the vein of Seger’s Against the Wind or the road songs like Journey’s Wheel in the Sky, Bon Jovie’s Wanted or the Eagles’ Tequila Sunrise and Fast Lane or more recently Coldplay. There are memories of fun, but the fun doesn’t seem fun anymore. And the bills are coming due. And road seems hollow.
Then then you get to #3. 3) This game is rigged and I ain’t playin’ it no more. The Stones’ Gimme Shelter and almost every track on Nevermind. These are the pop songs that you can play 20 years or 40 years later. They sound from their time, but they also transcend it, they still sound current because you can hear the human condition. They are not just breakin’ the law or recovering from it. Every generation does that in its own way. These are at the end of that spiral. They are looking for more. “It’s just a kiss away.” “I swear I don’t have a gun.” When you are there…the gospel might be heard.