About A Kid: Nirvana’s Still Punk to Me.

I remember it well, I was 9 or so years old still jamming to my dad’s Yes and Kiss LPs. Yessongs and the first Kiss LPs were on repeat. My father wouldn’t dare let me touch his vinyl, so he would make me cassette copies. Of course I always had MTV and the radio on, waiting for them to play any cuts from those LPs I loved. That never happened, and hair metal or goofy pop was all to be heard on either formats. There was this video that kept coming on with this dude that dressed like a homeless version of my father. I couldn’t understand any of the words, all I knew was it looked like this band playing a school gym and people killing each other. Even at 9 I felt this way about school. I couldn’t play sports, I was kind of the freak in my public school due to the fact I was pushing around some noisy metal thing with wheels on it (I have a disability and use a walker to walk). So all I really had were my dads records, a few dorky friends that loved Super Mario as much as I did, and this video that I couldn’t get out of my head. Finally, I asked my dad to buy me the CD, but of course my dad was cheap and didn’t trust that I could take care of CDs, but he did know a young co-worker who I guess wouldn’t shut up about this Nirvana band. So, after a few weeks he came home with a dubbed cassette of Nevermind that his friend made for me. I had a cheap boom box my parents gave me and put it on as soon as I got it. That night I listened to the cassette 3 times. Some songs I instantly loved, some just freaked me the fuck out. As time went on, each listen made me love this band more. I would sing out loud to each song every day after school while my mother yelled at me to “calm the fuck down.” I was too young to grasp any of the lyrics, but I could kind of connect what this homeless looking guy was trying to say with each new video that came out for Nevermind.

No one in my school cared about music, or at least how I did, so I had no real information about where Nirvana came from or anyone else that sounded like them. There was no internet, I had no “big brother into punk” or that “friend who made me the mix tape that changed my life”. All I had was that tape. A year or so later, my aunt, who I thought was the coolest person at the time bought me Incestiside on cassette. (She was into good music I guess, she knew about Nirvana, but her big thing was being a Robert Plant groupie, following him around the world.)  At first I didn’t believe this was the same Nirvana even before I heard it. I thought “Wait, I haven’t heard any new Nirvana on the radio, and no new videos on MTV, no way this can’t be a new one.” When I opened it, the first thing I saw was Kurt’s mug, Dave, Krist and some other dudes. I thought “Well ok maybe they added members.” Turns out this wasn’t new but a collection of b-sides as we all know. Of course I wore this cassette out, “Molly Lips” and “Dive” were my choice cuts.

Middle school came and In Utero came out. I had to get my copy from I think a Wal-Mart or K-mart cause my copy had the “Waft Me” song title instead of “Rape Me.” A little older, I was able to identify more with the lyrics. My parents, while never divorced, came close to it many times, and the relationship I had with my father was more strained then ever due to certain actions of his. So when I heard Kurt sing “…I tried hard to have a father but instead I have dad,” even at 11 it made me think. There was something really “scary and dark” about this record that I couldn’t put my finger on. I loved the record sure, but some of it was just too weighty for me at the time. Also around this time I, like many pre-teens wanted to be cool and have lots of friends. Nirvana in my school wasn’t “cool” at the time, so I moved on to other things. I always would play Nirvana and some of the grunge bands I found through them (Mudhoney’s Piece of Cake LP blew my mind) , but I figured like my older heroes, Yes and Kiss, Nirvana is gonna be around forever, so who cares?

Kurt died and then the influx of people at my school that worshipped at the altar of Kurt came out of the woodwork. At first I welcomed this, and like many others I was bummed. Yep, I had a RIP Kurt shirt and poster too. I remember right before they issued Unplugged there was this school dance at my middle school. Myself and the “rockers and punks” wouldn’t dance, we just leaned against the wall and made fun of everyone. My friend dared me to request a Nirvana or Ramones song. The DJ said he only had the “About A Girl” unplugged single, so I guess as I told my friend that will have to do. An hour or so later the Nirvana song came on. We ran around like complete morons head banging to the unplugged version, but man did it feel good to freak out the teachers and students (we also of course had dyed our hair all kinds of crazy colors which I’m sure made it look even odder). As time passed Nirvana became tiresome to me. I heard them everywhere, and it wasn’t even Nirvana, just mostly Kurt. Kurt “was god” my friends would say. They dressed like him, wrote stupid poetry like him, moped around like idiots like him. I gave up. I stopped listening to Nirvana, I couldn’t take it any more. Luckily for me, I started to get into Sonic Youth, and boy for awhile did I worship them.

Of course I still would read whatever I could about Nirvana, I just couldn’t listen to them anymore. They did get me into Sonic Youth  (and to me SY was even cooler than Nirvana), so lets see what else Nirvana recommended I thought. I checked out whatever I could, The Melvins, Germs, Bikini Kill, Dinosaur Jr., Black Flag, Boredoms, Leadbelly, Wipers, Flipper, Sebadoh. At 14 and 15 all of this new music was like opening up a new world. While my high school was discussing Monster Magnet, KoRn, and other crap, I was still a dork in my own way, obsessing over The Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth, and all these new bands I was finding. I was discovering all these connections, influences, and what DIY punk was. I discovered what that Sub Pop logo was on the back of all of their DGC releases. “A label run by a few people that you can actually contact and get a hand written answer? Wow how awesome is that!”

I grew up in a home where the only shows my dad ever wanted to go to were Arena rock shows, I never knew it could be different. I started reading about Bikini Kill, their ideas on feminism and much of the bullshit women and members of the LGBTQ community go through not only in life, but at shows and such. Interestingly, as I was discovering Bikini Kill I also remember reading the liner notes to Incestside that read something to the effect of: fuck off and don’t listen to Nirvana if you are sexist, homophobic or dislike people of color. Through Bikini Kill I found the awesome Kill Rock Stars record label. I read about The Boredoms and bought their CDs (thank goodness for the used bin at Record and Tape Traders) and through them discovered Merzbow, John Zorn, DNA, and many more. How could you not hear Black Flag and not get into Negative Approach, Necros, early Touch and Go records or early Dischord records stuff? In Utero was recorded by some dude named Steve Albini. I found out he was in bands, so I needed to hear them! The list goes on and on, and all these new musical doors were opened to me. Nirvana was this band that kept on giving (hell, just yesterday I found out about “Industrial Nirvana”, a show they did where Nirvana played noise with a drum machine and invited friends to help!), I didn’t even need to listen to the music that much anymore to realize how lucky I was to grow up with Nirvana. All of this made high school bearable for me, and with the internet becoming more prominent my last few years of high school, it wasn’t hard to discover even more.

Here I am at 29. I help run a DIY record label, I’ve booked shows, tours, and fests, I’ve hosted a college radio show, and with all of this met some of the most important people in my life. All the big mags and internet places are doing “20 years of Nevermind” pieces, but I would like to think that if Kurt were alive today, he’d be more interested in what a person like me thought than some white dude on a major label playing the dying game of mainstream rock (or the now noticeable over-hyped blog band game). I am a product of what can come from a band that has an impact as big as Nirvana. I understand to some people, Nirvana might not be very cool (a punk band that sells 10 million copies of a record, no fucking way right?), or to younger people Nirvana has become “old people music” (I think I actually heard Nirvana on a classic rock station). I totally understand that, and I completely grasp the hammer over the head on how important Nirvana was.  To me though, Nirvana was my “punk rock mix tape”, they were that cool person in high school that passed you that Flipper tape. I didn’t grow up in any kind of place that had DIY shows or a community. I grew up in a lower middle class suburban apartment community. Nirvana was not perfect, and with any mass consumption of a band there is bound to be a lot of bullshit that you might not agree with, be it with the bands’ actions, the bands’ members, or their fans. Furthermore, I don’t really think I can say Nirvana is my favorite band of all time.  Though, while sure the “machine” that was pushing Nirvana was the same “machine” that was pushing homophobic and sexist music and art (and trust me, I am not giving them a pass), a band that was the biggest band since arguably The Beatles influenced a kid that only had the radio, TV, and a boombox. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s