Let me tell you, in the middle of the 1980s there was a growing sense that somehow, someway the rock music that people grew up with in the 1960s and 1970s had pretty much reached an impasse. It was as if this genre of music had evolved to a certain point and could no longer make it past or change to the next level. It was as if it hit a ceiling and its best days were behind it. This was what a lot of people were thinking back in the middle of the 80s because it was very easy to see why. A lot of music coming out then were very heavy into synthesizers. Even rock bands like Van Halen used a lot of synthesizer supplementation.
It was as if guitar rock and just enjoying guitar music in of itself was essentially a thing of the past. In fact, a lot of people were dismissing it as some sort of guilty pleasure that had seen better days. Well, you only needed to wait for a few years until the year 1991, when Nirvana’s breakthrough landmark album Nevermind hit the scene. It felt like some sort of sonic music atomic bomb was dropped all over the United States. People felt like there was some sort of musical and cultural reset button that was pressed by that amazing record. It really reminded people of the tremendous value of guitar rock.
A lot of people were thinking before then that if we were just going to compare technical notes and virtuosity, pretty much everything that was worth discovering and mastering had pretty much been beat to the ground. I can’t help but agree with these people. If you’re just going to look at guitar music as essentially some sort of technical project, you definitely have an argument. Nobody is going to argue with you because hey, it’s really hard to get past Eddie Van Halen or Stevie Ray Vaughan’s amazing guitar music in terms efficiency, speed and scale. All of that was previously explored territory.
But what people were completely blinded to was the fact that guitar rock is not just musical virtuosity. It is not just a simple matter of covering the right scales at the right time in the right way. There’s actually a lot more going on both in front of you and behind the scenes, and I am of course talking about attitude. If there is anything that is fundamentally earth-shattering about Nirvana, it is the simple fact that they brought out the sense of urgency and real angst that modern rock is capable of. The music they produced is at the same time old and new.
Nobody in this day and age can really say with a straight face that guitar rock will ever die because it operates in so many different levels, and the sense of urgency and raw emotion that it is all too capable of bringing to the table is hardy explored. If Nirvana opened the door, you can bet that there’s still a tremendous amount of space left in the room that Nirvana dragged us into. We got to see a little bit more of that room with bands like The White Stripes; even retro bands like Greta Van Fleet help us enjoy a few square inches of that amazing space. There’s still a lot of space to explore. So keep that in mind that the moment somebody says that guitar rock is dead or it has seen better days, you might want to raise your eyebrow and scold them because they definitely need to be more informed.