(John Wilson is one of my favorite people. We roomed together two years at FHU. We met the first week, played lot of tennis, hung out in cemeteries, watched a lot of sports and MST3K and Kids in the Hall. He can quote every scene from “The Breakfast Club” verbatim. Just one of many talents for a man with many degrees. He is currently a librarian at FHU and lives near there with his crafty wife and two cute daughters. He is the guest blogger today as we kick off a July series on music in the 1990s. Thanks, Johnny.)
I remember when I first heard of Nirvana – I was riding home from school with a friend who had just bought Nevermind after she heard Smells Like Teen Spirit a couple times on the radio. I remember thinking how tired I was of buying albums based on one radio song – albums that would always end up disappointing me, and songs that would not last for more than two weeks of radio play. So I distinctly remember making a resolve right then and there that I would never buy a Nirvana album. Just on principle.
I was stubborn for a pretty good while on this issue too, but somehow I heard enough of Nirvana to make me change my mind. After all, it was a good principle, but it was just bad timing that I applied it to my [eventual] favorite band. I was coming out of the eighties, where I was taught that music was about expression and youth, usually in the form of exuberance or some sort of energetic display. Think Guns ‘n’ Roses or Van Halen. Those bands are fine but they didn’t really speak to me. My life didn’t always feel like the party that Van Halen described; and the rebellion that Guns and Roses embodied always fell flat with me. To be honest, Guns ‘n’ Roses was another example of what I wanted to rebel against: people who told me what the teenage experience was supposed to be like. They were like my parents, but in musical form and with probably much worse advice, and I didn’t relate.
Then Kurt Cobain came along and spoke for me – eventually, that is, after I let him. Even when what he sang was close to indecipherable, the angst in his voice was enough. That angst was everything, really. Every other band danced and jumped around the stage in their attempt to convey something about youthful energy. But for me, when Kurt stepped up to the microphone and just stood there, unmoving, while he poured his guts on the stage, he was describing the dissatisfaction, the struggling, and feeling of not belonging that I felt.
I was lucky enough to see Nirvana on tour just a few months before Kurt committed suicide. Seeing them live on stage, I remember at the time feeling like my teenage experience was finally validated. I guess lots of bands fill that role for other teenagers. Maybe, once again, Nirvana was just an issue of timing in my life. I imagine that another band might have done the same thing for me if I had lived in another period. But this was how I felt, coming of age in the nineties.