Twenty-five years ago this month, Nirvana released their second album Nevermind—a record that ushered in grunge and changed rock and roll forever. Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon witnessed the explosion herself: she and then-husband Thurston Moore had encouraged their record label, DGC, to sign the band and the noise-rock pioneers took Nirvana on the road in the summer of 1991 for an epic European tour, which is chronicled in Dave Markey’s documentary 1991: The Year Punk Broke. Below, she opens up about hitting the road with Nirvana — and how she feels about the album today.
Sonic Youth did a summer tour [in Europe in the summer of 1991]. We did club dates and festivals. We thought they were amazing. It was so funny, because not many people knew who they were and they were playing first. It’s so hard to play in the daylight and be the first band. But at all those gigs, Nirvana would go wild and Kurt would go down into the audience.
Then Nevermind came out and it was amazing. It wasn’t surprising [that it was successful] but at the same time, the mainstream seemed so impenetrable. We had a tape of [Nevermind] before it was released. I remember talking to the Geffen Records A&R person, Mark Kates, about it. And we gave a copy of that and a Dinosaur Jr. album to Neil [Young] while we were on tour with him [in 1991]….we gave it to his stage manager. I don’t know if [Neil] ever listened to them.
But Nirvana was a band that was more commercial. I think Perry Farrell [founding Lollapalooza in 1991] showed there was a market for something called “alternative” music, which just became a radio format word. Lollapalooza galvanized it. And it just set the stage for Nirvana, they solidified that idea. So there were other bands from Seattle…you know, people get lumped in. There was Bush and bands that had this big sound. Every kid wanted to be Kurt Cobain for a while.
It’s too sad to listen to Nirvana, for me, sometimes. But Nevermind is a record that’s just become so popular. I have this mix CD that Bill [Nace, Gordon’s partner in Body/Head] made me. It has a Nirvana song on it. When that comes on, it’s great to listen to.
Watch Kim Gordon on the road with Nirvana in 1991, as featured in the documentary 1991: The Year Punk Broke