In a recent discussion with Songfacts, Desmond Child provided insights into the grunge scene, particularly noting that musicians in this genre, such as Nirvana, tended to look down while performing not as a stylistic choice but out of necessity due to their limited guitar skills.
While reflecting on the overshadowing of Ratt’s 1990 album ‘Detonator,’ co-written and co-produced by Child, by the rising grunge movement, the producer highlighted the challenges faced by Ratt during this period, including band member Robbin ‘King’ Crosby’s struggles with substance abuse. Child then delved into the emergence of grunge, noting, “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.”
Expanding on the style of shoegazers, Child explained that they often played with simplicity, handling three or four chords and lacking the virtuosity of guitar legends like Joe Perry, Richie Sambora, Eddie Van Halen, and Steve Vai. Shoegazers, according to Child, were more conceptual, some being art students who took up the guitar.
Discussing the visual identity of grunge, Child emphasized the contrast in appearance, noting the unkempt hair falling over faces, downward gazes, sunken chests, and baggy clothing, all opposite to the tight and extroverted presentation of earlier rock styles. Child acknowledged the cyclical nature of style changes, emphasizing that shifts in fashion require a star to captivate imaginations, and Nirvana, with Kurt Cobain, played a pivotal role in this transformation.
However, it’s worth noting that Child’s perspective on Cobain’s guitar abilities is not universally shared. In a 2023 conversation with Rolling Stone, Billy Corgan suggested that Cobain intentionally played dumb, hinting at a more calculated approach to his music and public persona. Additionally, in a March 2023 chat with Howard Stern, Brian May praised Cobain as one of the greatest guitarists, focusing on emotion and expression rather than technical skills, and Def Leppard’s Phil Collen expressed admiration for Cobain’s guitar playing as a pure expression of feeling.