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

In a new conversation with Songfacts, Desmond Child noted that grunge musicians, including Nirvana, looked down while performing, not out of style but necessity, due to their limited guitar skills.

This observation came while discussing the overshadowing of Ratt’s 1990 album ‘Detonator,’ co-written and co-produced by Child, by the emerging grunge scene. After saying that this period was difficult for the band due to member Robbin ‘King’ Crosby’s struggles with substance abuse, the producer went on to explain:

“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

However, Child’s view is not universally shared. In a 2023 conversation with Rolling Stone, Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins stated that Kurt Cobain played dumb intentionally, hinting at a deeper, more calculated approach to his music and public persona.

In a March 2023 chat with Howard Stern, Brian May praised Cobain as one of the greatest guitarists, emphasizing emotion and expression over technical skills. Similarly, Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen expressed admiration for Cobain’s guitar playing, citing it as a pure expression of feeling.