Don’t You Forget About Me: Nirvana – “You Know You’re Right” (2002)
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 2, 2008
Possibly my favorite listing to be found on the IMDB Goofs page–ahead of Errors in Geography, Audio/Visual Unsychronized and Factual Errors (Possibly Deliberate By Filmmakers)–is that of the Anachronism. It’s great fun to read about the gold watches that can be found on crusaders’ wrists in Braveheart, or the Reeboks that Globe attendees can be seen wearing in Shakespeare in Love, or other such proofs that the movie does not actually take place during the year claimed. But what I find infinitely more compelling are Future Anachronisms. In other words, if one of the members of The Breakfast Club brought an MP3 player to detention, or if one of the athletes Jerry Maguire represented expressed interest in playing for the New Orleans Hornets, or if Thelma and Louise drove an electric car into the Grand Canyon. You won’t see too many of these listed on IMDB Goof pages–namely, because they should be physically impossible–but they certainly raise more interesting qusetions, don’t they?
“You Know You’re Right” arrived amidst great, great hype in 2002. A Nirvana box set had been expected to be released the year prior to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Nevermind, and “You Know You’re Right” was to be the cornerstone of the set–a brand new Nirvana song, heard before only in incomplete versions on lousy bootlegs, claimed by members of the band and by Courtney Love to be one of Nirvana’s greatest achievements (I think someone even said that it “could have changed the course of popular music,” though I can’t remember who or find the quote, probably for good reason). Of course, amidst legal squabbling between Novoscelic, Grohl and Love, the set was stalled for another few years. Instead, the fans got a mere Hits collection the next year, simply named Nirvana (an attempt at giving the band their equivalent to The Beatles’ 1), with “You Know You’re Right” the only new or in any way rare track. After that, it had better have been something pretty special, right?
Not only was “You Know You’re Right” something special, it was something…well, impossible. It was, almost undeniably, an example of a future anachronism. Recorded in 1994, it somehow managed to capture exactly what rock music sounded like in the year 2002. Now on a superficial level, this is somewhat unremarkable, since Nirvana on the whole were a pretty big reason why rock music sounded the way it did in 2002 (Follow the flow chart, please–Nirvana-Pearl Jam-Candlebox-Live-Creed-Nickelback). But the intricacies of this song–they all scream early 00s. The guitar harmonics on the intro and outro are just like those in Puddle of Mudd’s “Blurry”. The thunderous, near tribal-sounding drums and rumbling bass on the verses are eerily reminiscent of those in Disturbed’s “Down With the Sickness”. When Kurt raises his voice up to an octave-higher shout at the end of the second verse, the resemblance to Maynard James Keenan in A Perfect Circle’s “3 Libras” is uncanny.
It’s perhaps because of this bizarre kinship that “You Know You’re Right” is not better remembered than it is. The Puddle of Mudds and Disturbeds of the world made most folks seem to want to forget that rock music even existed in 2002 (except, of course, for the White Stripes and Strokes), and YKYR blended in far too well with those for people to remember it as part of the Nirvana pantheon. Bearing me out with this is the fact that the only people that seem to still recognize the song are the nu-metallers of the time themselves, as both Seether and Limp Bizkit have been known to cover the song live. And just as “Blurry” and “Down With the Sickness” sound much better to me now than they probably did in ’02, I think YKYR is certainly good enough to rank as a true Nirvana classic–as cathartic as anything on In Utero, as catchy a chorus as anything on Nevermind, and (almost) as bruising as anything on Bleach.
Nirvana’s prediction of the future of rock may have seemed dystopian to some–and yeah, it probably felt like it at the time–but they always were just a little bit smarter than their contemporaries. When people get enough distance to recognize the brilliance of StainD’s “For You” and P.O.D.’s “Boom,” perhaps the world will once again remember the top-shelf quality of “You Know You’re Right.”