One of the most important albums in rock history -- Nirvana's Nevermind -- got its start at an unremarkable brick building in the 1200 block of East Washington Avenue. This was the home of Smart Studios, where a little-known Seattle trio came to record with Madison producer Butch Vig in April of 1990.
Nirvana showed up with a bunch of half-finished songs, but Vig immediately saw the potential in leader Kurt Cobain's tortured vocals and songwriting. He turned Cobain's primal screams into accessible pop music without sacrificing a bit of their potency.
The producer and the band finished Nevermind in Los Angeles, using the Smart Studios tracks as a template. One of the recordings from the Madison sessions, "Polly," did end up on the album with no further tinkering. It's a pure dose of Kurt's moodiness. You can imagine him mumbling the lyrics in a corner of the studio all by himself.
Nevermind hit number one in 1992 -- a surprising achievement for such a dark, depressive album. I was one of the misfits who recognized himself in songs like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Lithium," those four-minute explosions of confusion and pain. I'd heard high-decibel angst before, in 1970s and '80s punk. But Nirvana's songs were more artful than punk, thanks to Cobain's expressive singing and poetic lyrics. I found it inspiring that an often out-of-control guy could gain such exquisite control in his music.
In real life, of course, Kurt ultimately lost control. Nirvana was silenced by his suicide in 1994. Smart Studios went silent, too, closing in 2010.