Programming note: This was originally published at Music Mind Zone on Feb. 20th, 2011. I’m re-posting it here to preserve it and to collect the various writings I have around the web.
Today would have marked the 44th birthday of Kurt Cobain if he had lived. If you have extra reading time, I highly recommend checking out Kurt Cobain’s journals for insight into what Cobain was thinking and feeling as he broke Grunge ground with Nirvana. An excerpt:
If we were going to be ghettoized, I’d rather be in the same slum as bands that are good like Mudhoney, Jesus Lizard, the Melvins and Beat Happening rather than being a tenant of the corporate landlords regime … There are a lot of bands who claim to be alternative and they’re nothing but stripped down, ex sunset strip hair farming bands of a few years ago. I would love to be erased from our association with Pearl Jam or the Nymphs and other first time offenders.
Cobain not only talks about music, but also about his thoughts on authority, life, love, fame.
It’s good to question authority and to fight it just to make things a bit less boring, but I’ve always reverted back to the conclusion that man is not redeemable and words that don’t necessarily have their expected meanings can be used descriptively in a sentence as art. True english is so fucking boring. And this little pit-stop we call life, that we so seriously worry about is nothing but a small, over the weekend jail sentence, compared to what will come with death. LIFE ISN’T NEARLY AS SACRED AS THE APPRECIATION OF PASSION.
The music that Cobain wrote for Nirvana remain some of my favorite songs, ever. Living on the East Coast, in a small town that lived outside of any music scene, it was a miracle that I heard of Nirvana before MTV picked them up and turned them into a household name. I had a friend who had a cousin from the West Coast. She was much older than my friend and I, but she humored us for the two weeks she was in town visiting and let us hang out with her. She carried around her Walkman everywhere and we had to constantly shout her name in order to get her attention. At one point, she was so fed up with our shouting that she just handed us her headphones and let us listen. It was a bootleg tape of Bleach and it changed my life. Even listening back on it now I’m transported back to 1990 and I can see all the ways that Bleach changed me. What would have happened if I hadn’t heard Bleach when I did?
I was an angsty little kid, much too old for my age. Bleach opened my eyes to the world in a way that other music hadn’t. Back then, I was still digging through my dad’s record collection, listening to The Beatles, Boston, Journey, Bob Dylan, The Band, The Who, Fleetwood Mac. I didn’t know music could sound like Bleach, let alone be released. Listen to “About a Girl” from Bleach, released in 1989.
When Nevermind was released in 1991, it was a huge deal in the town I grew up in. Stores refused to stock Nevermind because of the cover so I had to settle for videos on MTV until, by chance and luck, I ended up at a chain store while visiting family, something like Wal-Mart, and I was able to sneak off and buy a copy. I hid that from my family for a long time, listening to the music but hiding the case under my mattress. “Lithium” was on repeat for three months straight.
Two years later, I was in pre-adolescent angst mode, and In Utero was released. On the verge of becoming a teenager, my depression had already set in. Nirvana’s previous albums all served as fuel for my emotions, and In Utero was no exception. At the time, my friends were listening to Pop music on MTV, we finally had a decent radio station that played something other than Country and 80s music, but they still weren’t playing stuff like Nirvana. Here is “Heart-Shaped Box” from In Utero, a song that I didn’t really understand until I was older, but was listened to at least once an hour that year.
Nirvana, especially Kurt Cobain, opened my mind and world in ways that would have taken years if I hadn’t been exposed to them. While they’ve sort of dropped off my listening radar in the past few years, I still consider them one of the many bands that influenced me throughout my life, and I thank them for it.