Last weekend, I went to a wedding in Seattle. While there, I hit up the Nevermind Turns 20 Nirvana exhibit at Seattle’s EMP Museum. However you feel about the band, you can’t deny the massive influence Nirvana has had on music, so here’s a rundown some of my Cobain-based memories in honor of the 20th anniversary of Nevermind, the band’s breakout album.
I’m 8 years old and watching MTV.
Due to an unfortunate school incident I shan’t go into, Music Television has become forbidden, so I glance toward the entryway, often, praying I won’t be discovered. It’s not a very enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, but then something incredible happens: Four simple chords reach into my brain and soul simultaneously, as I am transfixed on the scene dancing across my television. In the music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a trio of musicians has taken over a high-school gymnasium with the heaviest music I’ve ever heard. While I don’t understand the lyrics, I connect to the song in an utterly primal fashion. I didn’t know guitars could be made to sound this way, and until now, I haven’t heard anything so incredible in all my life. At this very moment, I fall in love with rock ’n’ roll.
I’m 13 years old, and after years of
listening to me whine, my mother signs me up for guitar lessons.
My instructor works out a deal in which he will teach me any song of my choosing as long as I work hard on the finger-picking madness of songs like “Get Back, Old Devil.” I master the oh-so-tricky concepts of bar chords and drop-D tuning—the keys to playing my favorite Nirvana songs. I sit on the junior-high quad strumming through songs such as “Lithium” and “Rape Me.” Girls don’t like me (they still don’t), but I have Kurt Cobain’s anger and passion to keep me company. I’m going through the usual changes that affect all pimple-faced teens, but as long as I can sit on the foot of my bed and sing “Something in the Way” to myself, I realize I’m not alone, and everything will be OK.
I’m 15 years old, and I’m in an extra-curricular high-school class called Rock Ensemble.
Four other musicians attend the class, and between us, we haven’t been able to write a decent original song. This does not bode well, as we have been scheduled to perform in front of the school in just a few short weeks. Sadly, we’re just not friends outside of class, so we have no common musical ground from which to operate. Our poor, frustrated teacher is nearing madness, and he finally suggests we learn a few cover tunes. We choose one song each, and though I’m super-bummed I’ll have to learn “No Woman, No Cry,” I am excited to shred the solo from my selection, “Heart-Shaped Box.” The performance is my first in front of an audience, and my nerves melt away with pride. Maybe girls will start to like me (spoiler alert: They don’t).
I’m 23 years old, and holding my dream job at an independent record store in Northern California.
The best benefit to the job is that we can borrow anything used. The Nirvana box set, With the Lights Out, comes through the store, and I pounce on it like a crazed beast, aching to hear unreleased demos, B-sides and live performances. As I pop the first disc into my CD player, I think of all the years of happiness Nirvana has brought me, and I laugh as I think to myself, “Good Lord, I love rock ’n’ roll.”
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