Nirvana Had To Hide Their Incompetence As Musicians, Desmond Child Explains

Desmond Child said in a recent interview with Songfacts that the reason grunge bands, like Nirvana, looked down on stage was not fashion, but rather a result of their poor guitar playing.

This comment was made about how the grunge movement, which was just getting started, overshadowed Ratt’s 1990 album “Detonator,” which Child co-wrote and co-produced. The producer began by explaining that Robbin “King” Crosby’s battles with substance misuse were the reason for the band’s difficulties at this time.

“At the same time, that kind of music was overshadowed by Nirvana, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ and the whole Seattle sound, which brought in grunge. It was the complete opposite of the extroverted presentations: chest out, reaching out, looking up. The new generation were what we’d call ‘shoegazers’ – they just looked down because they had to, because they weren’t really guitarists and couldn’t really play.”

The Contrast In Musical Styles

Child continued, detailing shoegazers’ style of playing music:

“They could play three or four chords and had trouble with that. They were not virtuosos like Joe Perry, Richie Sambora, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, who could light up the stage with their extraordinary playing. The shoegazers were more conceptual. Some of them were art students that took up guitar.”

The Visual Identity Of Grunge

In discussing the cultural impact of grunge, Desmond emphasized the physical appearance of the artists, adding:

“Their hair was in their face, they looked down, their chests were sunken in, their clothes were baggy instead of tight – everything was completely the opposite. That’s how it is: things swing one way, and then suddenly it swings the other way. You can’t have styles change like that unless you have a star, and Nirvana had a star that captivated everyone’s imagination.”

Differing Opinions On Kurt Cobain’s Abilities

Child’s perspective is not held by everyone, though. Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins said in a 2023 interview with Rolling Stone that Kurt Cobain “played dumb on purpose,” implying a more thoughtful, deliberate approach to both his music and public demeanor.

Brian May hailed Kurt Cobain as one of the greatest guitarists of all time in a March 2023 interview with Howard Stern, stressing the importance of feeling and expression above mechanical prowess. Phil Collen, the guitarist for Def Leppard, also praised Kurt Cobain’s guitar playing, calling it a “pure expression of feeling.”



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