We knew instantly that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” signaled the dawn of a new era in pop music; it expressed our joys and fears, and pointed the way to a new future. We pledged to commit all the details of this moment (sorry, Moment) to memory, so that when our children asked us what it was like When The World Changed Forever, we would be able to pass down the tale.
Oh, wait a second: It didn’t happen that way at all.
Yes, I saw “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video over lunch, but nobody seemed to know who Nirvana was when I got back to school. It wasn’t like my friends could just punch up the video on their iPhones after I told them about it; the clip was in heavy rotation on MTV, but you still had to watch the channel for an hour or two (and at certain times of the day) to see it. Once my classmates did see it, a number of them purchased “Nevermind,” as I did. But many of them didn’t. Some preferred Pearl Jam. Some liked N.W.A.’s “Niggaz4life.” Some didn’t care about music at all; they’d rather play Tecmo Bowl. Then there were the millions and millions of Americans who bought Garth Brooks’ “Ropin’ the Wind,” the best-selling album of 1991. If anything, that was the album that we as a culture were united behind — it sold 14 million copies, though I never heard it once blasting through people’s windows.
You’d think that people living in a monoculture would be able to agree on a soundtrack for all the shared experiences we were having. But guess what: People have always had differing opinions and tastes, even when they had fewer media options.