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The Great Divide

Watching the NFL kickoff game with friends at Buffalo Billiards tonight, a great dispute arose revealing what is, perhaps, the most profound divide in America today. In short, one friend asserted -- absurdly, in my view -- that Pearl Jam is better than Nirvana. I, correctly, asserted the reverse. A third party took a Kerry-esque nuanced view that Nirvana is the superior band, but that Ten is better than any single Nirvana album. Clearly, I think, neither of these two can be trusted with the defense of the nation. But maybe others will support them....

UPDATE: For everyone who keeps complaining that some third band is better than either, fine. But the topic of conversation was Pearl Jam versus Nirvana, not Best Band Ever.

September 10, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

It seems to me, Matt, that your epistemology has an unjustifiable lack of regard for the Butthole Surfers.

Posted by: scarshapedstar | Sep 10, 2004 12:42:40 AM

Anyone got Pixies tix>

Posted by: epistemology | Sep 10, 2004 12:45:22 AM

?

Posted by: epistemology | Sep 10, 2004 12:45:53 AM

Easy now, Matt--

While Nirvana was the more important band, there are many ways with which Pearl Jam is superior...1) musicianship--not always the most necessary element in rock music, but the boys in Pearl Jam could outplay Nirvana anyday in terms of talent...more importantly 2) songwriting--this may come as a blasphemy for fans of early 90s rock and roll, but when you look at the songs, they are more complex musically, and though I love Kurt Cobain--his lyrics were oftentimes seemingly pointless, or too dense for anyone to be able to reasonably interpret. Whereas Vedder is a lyricist more in the Springsteen and Neil Young mode. Cobain could oftentimes be the most powerful, it didn't take much to see into the soul of someone so troubled--but I still prefer Pearl Jam. Many indie snobs and rock snobs in general (I AM NOT calling you one, necessarily) snub Pearl Jam because they are influenced by classic rock acts like Neil Young and the Who as much as they are by the Minutemen. But I think that is shoddy criticism. PJ has a lot of stupid fans that only go to concerts to hear, "Even Flow" but that shouldn't count against a band that still makes great music to this day.

Posted by: Marc | Sep 10, 2004 12:59:08 AM

Easy now, Matt--

While Nirvana was the more important band, there are many ways with which Pearl Jam is superior...1) musicianship--not always the most necessary element in rock music, but the boys in Pearl Jam could outplay Nirvana anyday in terms of talent...more importantly 2) songwriting--this may come as a blasphemy for fans of early 90s rock and roll, but when you look at the songs, they are more complex musically, and though I love Kurt Cobain--his lyrics were oftentimes seemingly pointless, or too dense for anyone to be able to reasonably interpret. Whereas Vedder is a lyricist more in the Springsteen and Neil Young mode. Cobain could oftentimes be the most powerful, it didn't take much to see into the soul of someone so troubled--but I still prefer Pearl Jam. Many indie snobs and rock snobs in general (I AM NOT calling you one, necessarily) snub Pearl Jam because they are influenced by classic rock acts like Neil Young and the Who as much as they are by the Minutemen. But I think that is shoddy criticism. PJ has a lot of stupid fans that only go to concerts to hear, "Even Flow" but that shouldn't count against a band that still makes great music to this day.

Posted by: Marc | Sep 10, 2004 12:59:42 AM

I pity the fool who thinks Pearl Jam is superior to Nirvana. Although in my mind, and this isn't a defensible position in any way simply my educated opinion, both are inferior to Soundgarden. 'Badmotorfinger' beats the shit out of 'Ten' and 'Nevermind'.

Posted by: Knuckles | Sep 10, 2004 1:00:00 AM

Sorry about the multiple posts.

Posted by: Marc | Sep 10, 2004 1:00:23 AM

This failed two band system fails to recognize firstly the importance of Sonic Youth in both of their existences. It also completely ignores the higher quality music from both Pavement and Unwound in contrast to the decidedly mediocre offerings of the bands in question.

Posted by: zed | Sep 10, 2004 1:03:27 AM

This failed two band system fails to recognize firstly the importance of Sonic Youth in both of their existences. It also completely ignores the higher quality music from both Pavement and Unwound in contrast to the decidedly mediocre offerings of the bands in question.

Posted by: zed | Sep 10, 2004 1:04:52 AM

Your third friend is pretty much right -- Ten is better than anything Nirvana put out, and Nirvana was better than Pearl Jam in toto.

Posted by: Kimmitt | Sep 10, 2004 1:10:55 AM

Um, they both suck.

Posted by: Peter Nads | Sep 10, 2004 1:10:58 AM

You can't step outside the geographical boundaries that Matt drew with the comparison. It seems clear to me that he's comparing Seattle bands only, and I still think they are both off the mark. Of course, I came of age in Seattle during that time, so I saw Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden in their prime. Never did get to see Alice In Chains, however. Layne Staley was always in rehab or on some horse binge when I had tickets. That was really goddam annoying.

I've seen them all, and none of them ever put on as good a show as the late, lamented Silly Rabbit did every gig they played. They should have ruled the world, and instead I think most of them work at Boeing, Microsoft or Kinko's now (except for the drummer, who is kicking ass in The Living Daylights).

That said, I think the gentleman above grossly overstates they songwriting of Eddie Vedder. But that is, of course, only my opinion. Also, musically speaking, I'm unsure I agree. Both bands had gifted guitar players, mediocre bassists, and a revolving door of talented drummers. The only place Pearl Jam could be considered superior to Nirvana is if you put Stone Gossard and the anonymous guitar player that Nirvana hired (Pat Smear?) in a head to head competition. Stone would eat his shit for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a late-night snack.

Posted by: Knuckles | Sep 10, 2004 1:13:07 AM

I like both a lot, but it really is no contest: Pearl Jam is a far superior band. Nirvana struck a nerve, and may be more historically important, but they really aren't even in the same league musically as Pearl Jam.

Posted by: Timothy Klein | Sep 10, 2004 1:26:16 AM

If isolated musicianship really meant anything -- as opposed to band chemistry, personality, whatever it is that makes a band sound like it sounds -- Asia (the band not the continent) wouldn't have sucked and all those kids shredding away at Guitar Center would have careers instead of just hair.

Posted by: quisp | Sep 10, 2004 1:32:19 AM

waaay off-topic, but have you seen anything super-smart on the Iran nuclear crisis?

Stephen Kinzer's article in the April 2004 Prospect is good, but something more recent, specifically focused on Iran's recent aggressive saber-rattling?

Here is the case for hawkishness:

". . .Iranian agents, acting with the support of at least some factions in the regime, have assassinated dissident exiles in various European capitals, launched attacks on American military bases, and even, according to several intelligence agencies, planned the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that took 85 lives. . .It still supports groups that militantly oppose the current Middle East peace process. . ."

http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewPrint&articleId=7376

". . .The State Department calls Iran the "most active state sponsor of terrorism in the world." Much of its support goes to groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, but the 9/11 commission also reported that Al Qaeda members -- including eight to 10 of those involved in the airplane attacks on the United States -- were allowed to use Iran as a transit route to and from training camps in Afghanistan. A number of Al Qaeda operatives remain in Iran, ostensibly under house arrest but in all likelihood allowed to carry on their deadly work.

Iran has trained and armed Muqtada Sadr's militia, which has been attacking U.S. forces in Iraq. Former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, the cleric who now heads an influential government council, makes no bones about what his country is up to. In an April sermon, he declared that the situation in Iraq posed "a threat because the wounded American beast can take enraged actions, but it is also an opportunity to teach this beast a lesson so it won't attack another country. . .Hassan Abasi, a senior member of the Revolutionary Guards, recently boasted that Iran had "a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization."

http://www.cfr.org/pub7317/max_boot/bush_cant_afford_inaction_on_iran.php

". . .powerful Iranian politician Ali Rafsanjani has publicly speculated about a nuclear exchange with Israel."

". . .Rafsanjani and Khamenei may well be "pragmatic" mullahs--I have certainly long argued that they are. But they have also been among the godfathers of Iranian terrorism. From Beirut to Buenos Aires to Paris to Berlin and to the Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia, Rafsanjani and Khamenei put terrorism into the foreign policy lexicon of the Iranian clergy. . .KHAMENEI and especially Rafsanjani have nurtured Iran's nuclear program from its infancy. More than anyone else, they are the will and mind behind this program. It is not unreasonable to conjecture that their very identity--who they are as leaders, clerics, and Muslims--is wrapped up in Iran's bomb program. And they are supposed to give it away to Americans, who don't threaten them over al Qaeda, and to Europeans, who keep offering the Iranians more time after the clergy has blatantly lied to them? If you were a "pragmatic" mullah who had beaten the shah, survived the American-aided legions of Saddam Hussein, and eaten alive your revolutionary colleagues-turned-enemies, would you be intimidated by such folks?"

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/003/798sghdy.asp?pg=2

I'd vote Nirvana, though I love Pearl Jam's versions of Last Kiss and Yellow Ledbetter

Posted by: roublen vesseau | Sep 10, 2004 1:32:38 AM

...and Toto was "musicianship-wise" possibly the most skilled in history. So what? Larry Carlton played on Partridge Family records. Doesn't make them good. Saying that Pearl Jam is/are better musicians or better musically (etc.) than Nirvana sounds like a consolation prize to me, like "she has a great personality." I guess a better analogy might be: who is a better writer, Flannery O'Conner or William F. Buckley? Well, Buckley has a bigger vocabulary...and really excellent syntax...

Posted by: quisp | Sep 10, 2004 1:42:48 AM

I was going to comment on the oddness of posting such utter trollbait immediately after reinstituting comments, but then I came across this: the anonymous guitar player that Nirvana hired (Pat Smear?).

Nirvana means nothing to me; however, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, Knuckles.

That is all.

Posted by: godoggo | Sep 10, 2004 1:45:36 AM

Nirvana had guts. Throwing out "Heart Shaped Box" as the first single after Nevermind, while everyone was waiting for "Smells Like Teen Spirit, Part II" - priceless.

Posted by: Kiril | Sep 10, 2004 2:03:05 AM

Pearl Jam is the better band, but come on, Nevermind is by far better than any PJ album. The guy who said Ten is a dumbfuck, ten isn't even PJ's best album. Vs. and Vitalogy are both better, and No Code is about even.

That being said, Alice in Chains is by FAR better than either.

In fact, they sang John Kerry's theme song:

Down In A Hole And I Don't Know
If I Can Be Saved
See My Heart I Decorate It
Like A Grave

Posted by: Reg | Sep 10, 2004 2:14:19 AM

Pearl Jam is the better band, but come on, Nevermind is by far better than any PJ album. The guy who said Ten is a dumbfuck, ten isn't even PJ's best album. Vs. and Vitalogy are both better, and No Code is about even.

That being said, Alice in Chains is by FAR better than either.

In fact, they sang John Kerry's theme song:

Down In A Hole And I Don't Know
If I Can Be Saved
See My Heart I Decorate It
Like A Grave

Posted by: Reg | Sep 10, 2004 2:14:42 AM

Sorry for the double.

The guy who said Pavement Sonic Youth and the Pixies are better is right.

Teenage Fanclub was also better.

Posted by: Reg | Sep 10, 2004 2:19:36 AM

Ten's a great album, but it sounds quite dated already. I don't think the same can be said for any of Nirvana's albums. The more polish and production you apply to an album, the more firmly you plant it in its era. There was lots of great songwriting in the 80's, but because the songs used so many crazy synths and pointless effects, many of them are unlistenable today.

Posted by: Alex | Sep 10, 2004 2:37:33 AM

Ummm, Soundgarden? Huh? "Louder than Love" is a tremendous album, better than anything by either PJ or Nirvana.

And in terms of musicianship, I'll take that other Seattle band, Queensryche, any day. Tremendous band, at least so far as "Empire", after which they became a Pink Floyd tibute band.

It's all academic anyway. The best hard rock records of the era didn't come from Seattle anyway: "Mother's Milk", "Blood, Surgar, Sex Magik", "Psalm 69", "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste", "Pretty Hate Machine", "La Sexorcisto", hell even the self-titled "Motley Crue" record -- easily their best -- was better than most of what came out of Seattle.

Feh. I hate my generation. No musical taste whatever.

Posted by: setmajer | Sep 10, 2004 3:44:30 AM

Grunge bands should all apologize for taking away the real good music: hair metal.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Sep 10, 2004 5:45:06 AM

Ok, I can see the argument for Alien Jourgensen being a pioneer. And I could see an argument for Sonic Youth. For Radio-friendly bands, I would certainly have to vote Soundgarden over either PJ or Nirvana. I really like that first Nirvana record, and Ten is the only PJ album that sticks, but Soundgarden tops either one.

Regardless of all that, why has no one mentioned Camper van Beethoven??? What's the hell is wrong with you freaks?

Ok, maybe that's a little excessive.

ash
['Skkkkkkkiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnyyyyyyyyyyy ppppppuppppppppppyyyyyyyyyyy!']

Posted by: ash | Sep 10, 2004 6:19:50 AM

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