I remember I first began listening to Nirvana when I was twelve years old. In December of 2009, to be exact. My parents had just bought me what is to this very day still my most prized possession: my very first guitar.
There are no words, dear reader, with which I can even begin to describe the impact that that guitar would come to have on my life.
It was beautiful. ... to me anyways. From a more third-person point of view, in all honesty, it was a piece of shit. It was a Fender Stratocaster (typical right?). It had a jet-black paint job with a glossy protective layer of lacquer finish over the wood. The pick guard was a reflective, pearly white color, complete with three pick-ups, a 5-way selector switch, a volume dial, two tone dials, a whammy bar, and a string-through bridge. The brand-new strings felt so amazing on my (at the time) smooth fingertips. The fretboard was a dark rosewood, and felt so right to my left hand, like a was born to hold that one particular guitar... Complete with a small Fender Squier amp, a crappy little amp cable, a piece-of-shit strap that couldn't even really hold the guitar's weight, and a nice, convenient little pack of spare picks. The entire package, guitar and all, was only like $120. Definitely not top-notch quality, but... it worked. It was functional enough and efficient enough to learn on. And to me, it was the most gorgeous, most amazing thing in the entire world.
Over what is now 6 years of playing guitar, what skills I have developed were, for the most part, self-taught. However, for a short time (about a maybe 2-month long span, if that), I did take guitar lessons at the same shop that my parents had bought the guitar from.
That guitar changed my life, and those few lessons opened up a whole new world.
Before I got that guitar and began learning how to play it, I was just like every other 12-year-old on the face of the fucking planet. I listened to the stupid, shitty, talent-absent music that played on the radio's modern pop stations, under the delusion that it was good music. Don't get me wrong-- some of it was. ... occasionally. ... rarely. You know, like they'd occasionally play a good Kings of Leon song or something. But most of it was the early synthetic bullshit that now permeates our radio stations. But I didn't really know the difference-- I made the subconscious decision that (unfortunately) most adolescents make without even realizing it: I just assumed that, just because it was on the radio, it was pretty much the only good music around.
Like I said. Those guitar lessons opened up a whole new world for me.
Suddenly all these amazing, beautiful, unique, history-changing music was thrown at me from all directions, artists and bands that I had never even heard of, but were apparently "the real deal." Random names were brought up by my guitar tutors whenever they referenced "the good shit"-- Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Primus, Weezer, Foo Fighters, Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Collective Soul, The Cranberries, Incubus, Bush, Green Day, The Offspring, Live, Creed, The Killers, Evanescence, 3 Doors Down, Metallica, MDC, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, The Dicks, Sublime, Chevelle, Cracker, Hootie and the Blowfish, Dave Matthews Band, Donots, Smashing Pumpkins, Guns n' Roses, Smash Mouth, Alice in Chains... and some of them I knew I had heard before. Being born in '97, I remembered hearing some of those names on the radio as a toddler, vaguely. Very vaguely. I remembered my mom and dad listening to them sometimes, saying that it was the music that they listened to as teenagers. But I had never really gotten into it. It was a whole new world.
My experience with Nirvana began with one of those original guitar lessons that started it all. I was really making progress well for a beginner, and several of my tutors had already complimented me various times for my quick learning skills. I had progressed through tuning, reading tabs, and playing single notes, and now my teachers wanted to show me how to play something called "power chords." Apparently, these power chords showed up a lot in some kind of 90's music style that was called "alternative," or "grunge" or "punk."
My teacher pulled out a sheet of notebook paper that had some tabs written on it. He said, "These are the power chords to a song called Smells Like Teen Spirit. It was played by a band called Nirvana. Ever heard of them?" I shook my head. He laughed and said, "Bring that up to your mom when she picks you up tonight. Tell her to show you some Nirvana. If she grew up in the 90's, I'm sure she wouldn't mind." He then proceeded to show me how to play the song. It was pretty simple, just the same 4 chords played over and over again in different forms: F, A#, G#, C#.
When the lesson ended and my mother picked me up, I brought up Nirvana and Smells Like Teen Spirit to her. I'll never forget the sheer look of shock on her face when she realized that I knew nothing about them.
"WAIT." she said. "HAVE I NOT INTRODUCED YOU TO NIRVANA?"
"OH. MY. GOD." It was as if she thought she had failed as a parent or something. "YOU NEED TO KNOW WHO NIRVANA IS."
Within a month, I had all four of Nirvana's studio albums (Bleach, Nevermind, Incesticide, In Utero) and two of their live albums (Live from the Muddy Banks of Wishkah, MTV Unplugged in New York). I absolutely. Positively. Fell. In love with them.
All day long, I would take my CD player with me everywhere, blaring Kurt Cobain in my head, soaking in his lyrics, admiring his tone, fully absorbing every last note and chord in my mind. I mean, ALL DAY LONG. In the mornings before school, I'd blare Blew, Floyd the Barber, About a Girl, School, Love Buzz, Paper Cuts, Negative Creep, Scoff, Swap Meet, and Mr. Moustache in my ears. I gave me the boost of energy and excitement and strength in the mornings, made me feel vamped up and eager. At the park, I'd slip away from my little brother and my mom and find a quite place to hide and listen to Smells Like Teen Spirit, In Bloom, Come As You Are, and Breed. On the way home, I'd refuse to listen to the shit my mom played on her 80's-90's-today radio station and privately jam out to Lithium, Polly, Territorial Pissings, Drain You, Lounge Act, and Stay Away. When we got home, I'd literally pace up and down my street all alone, soaking in On a Plain, Something in the Way, Dive, Sliver, Stain, Been A Son, and Turnaround. After dinner, I'd isolate myself in my room and turn Molly's Lips, Son of a Gun, Aneurysm, Serve the Servants, Scentless Apprentice, Heart-Shaped Box, Rape Me, Francis Farmer, and Dumb on my radio. After my bath, right before bed, I'd head bang one last time to Very Ape, Milk It, Pennyroyal Tea, Tourette's, and All Apologies. Nirvana truly became the soundtrack of my life.
To this day they still are.
This sound, this incredible blend of Aberdeen rock-and-roll/Seattle underground punk/signature Kurt Cobain grunge is... so dynamic. So evolving. Their music truly did grow alongside the impact it had. Power. A dark, brutal energy of sheer honesty. RAWNESS.
From their beginnings, you see in Nirvana this fascinating sound of an odd mixture between a Black-Sabbath-sounding musical style and a Creedence-Clearwater-Revival-sounding vocal style. Not to mention a starkingly strong underground 80's-90's punk rock punch.
Singing ideas of humans fallen from their own graces, not realizing how capable they truly are in such a mainstream-conformity culture. The shame that came with being in any way different from "proper" society. Loneliness, and a hatred for how their experiences, their pains, their perceptions-- their enlightenment-- had set them apart. Malice of the established, the systematic, the thoughtless. The emotionless.
Because, being such aficionados of high-energy, anger-filled melody, they needed emotion. They had no time for fucking apathy.
And yet that message of mental freedom never really seemed to revelate upon the minds of their early fans. Unfortunately, human beings have a tendency to get caught up in the melody and not truly pursue the level of musical spirituality that is necessary to truly divine the emotions and meaning behind a song. So often we trade reason for rhyme.
There they were, all those early "fans"... they apathetically sang along, worshiping the very selfish, self-entitled spirit of teenage angst that Kurt Cobain so often condemned for being lazy, unproductive, and conformist.
Nirvana did something that few bands, if any, had ever done: they created their own gospel of anger for society's condition. A gospel that few people can actually interpret efficiently, and understand.
The anger, the hatred! The hatred for society! For the abandonment! The conformity, the close-mindedness! The lack of thought! The rejection, vanity! The... apathy.
"This is out of our reach, this is out of our reach, this is out of our reach, and it's grown!
This is getting to be, this is getting to be, this is getting to be drone!
I'm a negative creep, I'm a negative creep, I'm a negative creep, and I'm stoned!
I'm a negative creep, I'm a negative creep, I'm a negative creep, oh..."
-- Negative Creep, from the album Bleach
The loss of humanity, of individuality, and empathy... the loss of wonder.
This very anger builds into a sheer-- no, the sheerest form of contempt for a lack of understanding.
Truly a name. NIRVANA.
Kurt became such a worshiped teenage punk rock idol that he ascended (not by choice) to this role of adolescent messiah, offering nirvana in its rawest and most sincere form to those who would just at least try to understand.
Freedom of the mind.
Isn't that what punk rock's all about?
They wanted their listeners to evolve with their music! Try to open their minds to a collective energy of understanding.
But the apathy... was all that stood in the way.
"Underneath the bridge,
Tarp has sprung a leak,
And the animals I've trapped
Have all become my pets,
And I'm living off of grass
And the drippings from the ceiling,
But it's ok to eat fish,
Cuz they don't have any feeling.
Something in the way..."
-- Something in the Way, from the album Nevermind
Enter... Smells Like Teen Spirit.
In what is quite possibly the most history-changing song of all time, Kurt spends an entire five minutes using lyrics full of irony and satire to mock the fools who dance and sing to their own hypocrisy. He screams out his contempt for them in the chorus...
" 'Load up on guns! Bring your friends!
It's fun to lose and to pretend!
She's overbored and self-assured!
I know, I know a dirty word!'
'Hello, hello, hello, how low?'
'With the lights out,
It's less dangerous!
Here we are now!
I feel stupid
Here we are now,
Entertain us!' "
--Smells Like Teen Spirit, from the album Nevermind
It's almost as if he said, "Fuck all you hypocritical, ignorant sons of bitches who dance to enlightenment and sing to your own condemnation in your absolute apathy! You are everything wrong with society! You don't want definition, or freedom! You want cool, conformity, whatever's hip and pop on the radio! FUCK YOU ALL!"
A rage for society. Those fans, the very ones the song is written about, they know all the words, proclaiming them loudly from their preppy cars on the way to their high-end jobs only to spend the day contemplating absolutely nothing but paychecks, bills, and when they might be gettin laid sometime this week.
In his own words,
"He's the one who likes
All our pretty songs and he
Likes to sing along and he
Likes to shoot his gun, but he
Knows not what it means,
Knows not what it means
When I say it!"
--In Bloom, from the album Nevermind
They truly do riot on their records! Riot against viewing their message as a fashion, a style!
"As a trend,
As a friend,
As an old memory, ya...
--Come as You Are, from the album Nevermind
This culture's hellbent mainstream-lined mentality to only accept the popular into our lives regardless of personal emotion or individual thought... From the time we are infants, we are delved into the deep, dark waters of materialism and taught to chase the dollar on the hook with what life you have left; naked, cold, abandoned, alone. It's as if all society sings to a living, breathing hymn of
" 'I don't care, I don't care, I don't care, I don't care, care anymore!
I don't mind, I don't mind, I don't mind, I don't mind, mind, don't have a mind!"
--Breed, from the album Nevermind
And yet... somehow... in beautiful, dark, honest, poetic, raw energy of defiance... he still had the courage and the will to lift his lungs and his heart and scream out the YAAYAYA of Lithium in hopeful pride, and a refusal to give in to a society that tells you to fit a mold. He still, to this day, screams
"I'm not gonna craaaack!!!"
--Lithium, from the album Nevermind
In brilliant, illuminating refusal, he raised his fist to society and yelled with all that he had in him,
I GOT A NEW COMPLAINT!"
I GOT A NEW COMPLAINT!"
--Heart-Shaped Box, from the album In Utero
Because he didn't want people to feel half-hearted calling his work "Nirvana." He wanted them to truly mean it when they called it that.
Because that's all they ever were.
"Our little group has always been and always will until the end."
--Smells Like Teen Spirit
"All in all is all we are."
--All Apologies, from the album In Utero
Thanks for reading,
p.s. stay tuned for Pearl Jam