You-are-there narrative of Nirvana’s rise, focused on the trio’s comrades at the dawn of Alternative Nation.
Soulsby (Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide, 2012) builds his second book concerning Nirvana’s brief run and long shadow through the recollections of Nirvana’s fellow musicians, most (though not all) of whom remained obscure. This is in line with the most positive aspect of how Nirvana’s success transformed the regional American musical underground: "Nirvana never felt it was above the many bands they befriended; they always felt they were part of the community who tell this tale rather than of the celebrity world they joined.” Formed four years prior to 1991’s chart-topping “Nevermind,” the band’s core was the fragile, artistic Kurt Cobain and the less-enigmatic rocker Krist Novoselic. Benefitting from the communal, low-budget vibe in the Pacific Northwest music scene, their nascent band quickly evolved into an efficient, hard-driven touring machine, alongside other avatars of grunge like Tad and Mudhoney. As one musician observed, early Nirvana was “definitely still grunge but with better venues comes better sound and all things better.” Naturally, Cobain’s spirit hangs over the storytelling; he’s remembered as withdrawn and clearly overwhelmed by health issues and controlled substances but also for kindness and humor. In an improbable moment, as they were taken under Sonic Youth’s wing and added powerhouse drummer Dave Grohl, all the elements aligned for a major cultural shift. As “Nevermind” broke big, the band “brought the communal spirit of the underground to whatever strange land was opening up for them,” engaging social causes and booking confrontational bands as opening acts. As Soulsby notes, “Nirvana saw fame as valuable only if it stood for something.” Yet the rockers’ reflections become increasingly poignant as the band’s denouement approaches.
Besides appealing to fans, the book ably captures the lost milieu of independent rock, which Nirvana’s moment irretrievably transformed.