It was the 19th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's suicide this past week. Jodie asked me whether Nirvana or Pearl Jam has been more important to me.
It isn't really a linearly equal question. She did know this.
Obviously Pearl Jam has had an opportunity that Nirvana never had - that of longevity. But beyond that, my discovery of the two bands was, naturally, unequal.
In April of 1992 at a party my friend Ian mentioned that he has been listening to a band called Pearl Jam. I saw the Evenflow video soon thereafter and bought the album. I enjoyed it, but it did not immediately change my life. In two months time I would be on tour myself with the Juanabees and Ten would get left behind - only to be championed later that summer by fans (of both Pearl Jam and the Juanabees) in my home town. It was then that PJ would take permanent hold in my aural aesthetic.
Meanwhile on a transcendental plane...
Nirvana on the other hand came to my attention quite spectacularly a month or more after Pearl Jam, and it was a moment I have previously chronicled where "everything changed."
The Juanabees paid comical tribute to Smells Like Teen Spirit on that tour and Nevermind was in high rotation in the tour van.
But as huge a comparative impact Nirvana had on me that summer, by mid-autumn Pearl Jam had out paced them in my heart and, without diminishing my enduring appreciation for Nirvana, we've never looked back.
The question arises, of course; what would have become of Nirvana had its trajectory not been abbreviated?
Well, who knows?
Obviously, at the time we were unaware that there was a visionary lurking in the ranks of Nirvana whose talent may have out shone Cobain. We don't have a lot to go on, but the growth from Bleach to In Utero was comparatively nominal. The best of tracks on the bookends would not have raised the high water mark of Nevermind by much. Which does speak to consistency, but not necessarily favourably.
Meanwhile, while Ten was a spectacular album, Vs managed to be even better and Vitalogy it's equal while for the first time truly showcasing the band's need to serve their own artistic needs, not merely the expectations of their audience. Beyond that point it becomes hard to compare. Would the raw soul-baring post-punk aesthetic of Cobain mature, or would it prove to be his one gift? Could Dave Grohl have blossomed in that circumstance and brought new depth to Nirvana, or was it necessary for him to find his own place, as in reality he did fronting the Foo Fighters? Could Krist Novoselic, surrounded by that much talent have become more than a lucky dabbler? Or was he always destined for political life, perhaps some one else might have filled his shoes. Hey, Pearl Jam got Matt Cameron behind the kit after a run of drummers that rivalled Spinal Tap. Almost any band could benefit from his presence. Imagine a universe where Les Claypool joined Nirvana. Geez... There is a combination of these factors where Kurt Cobain is the least talented member of the alternate reality Nirvana.
Okay, now lets get silly and add Trent Reznor and Mike Doughty to the line up... Fuck... Now THAT is a supergroup I'd pay to see.