Friday, September 23, 2011
Nevermind 20 Years
Where were you when Nevermind was released? It had been a long time since one record album had made such a noise. I was living in a huge loft on the east side of Toronto. I was single back then and dating musicians. I had a rule not to date musicians but you know what they say about rules. I was dating a guy who played guitar in a local cult punk band. I was working two jobs and a full-time parent. The loft had huge windows, 15 foot high ceilings, hardwood floors and I painted all the main room walls black. I was listening to Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, L7, Janes Addiction, DOA, Faith No More, and was already familiar with Nirvana via Bleach. On Tuesday and Thursday nights I was at improv workshops, on weekends I was usually at a live music show or a party. And at those parties or clubs Nirvana's Nevermind was a mass head banging phenomenon. Everybody had heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and it appealed to all kinds of music fans. Even cynical sour urban slackers were excited about Nevermind. And so were many old school rock fans. Hell, even my parents had heard of this new record. There wasn't a party I went to that didn't play this album. Every song was a masterpiece and the lyrics and heavy rock melodic sounds bonded dancers and shoegazers.
I was already lovingly familiar with the Pacific Coast sounds coming from mostly Seattle having seen Soundgarden in Vancouver and I would buy any record from Sub Pop Records on faith. Yet these records and bands were seen as messy and mostly alternative. Some naysayer coined the term "grunge" to insult the scene coming from low-employed dead end towns on the west coast. On the radio in Oregon, Washington, and B.C. Led Zepplin and Jimi Hendrix had never gone out of style out there and kids growing up on the west coast were immersed in anthem rock. And making it their own and fresh. Sad. Fresh. Angry. Misunderstood. Beaten. Cozy. Suspicious: west coast psyche complete. And all of a sudden tons of young people felt the same way and Nirvana sang it.
Damn. When Nevermind came out I was still "young". Looking back and thinking about this album I see just how young I was. Ouch. Bittersweet.
When Kurt Cobain died I was heading home in the afternoon in a taxi. The driver and I had been chatting when news of Cobains death broke through a news report. The rest of the trip I was crying. When I got into my apartment (not the loft anymore) I could see that my answering machine had several messages. Yes, answering machine. I didn't have a cell back then or digital messaging. A little tape machine with lights that blinked to notify messages. I knew what the messages would be about. They were from friends wondering if I was "okay"...and where were we gonna go drinking to mourn? I landed up bar hopping that night with Dave and Martina all around our neighbourhood asking places to play Nirvana. If they didn't have any Nirvana we'd leave. And then we'd say...oh they'll be playing Nirvana by next week. They had no idea.
That week after endless montages about Nirvana on tv, and the constant playing of Nirvanas "Unplugged" (which I couldn't watch, it just upset me) I tried to make a pledge that I'd never cry for a rock star again. I was done. I would brace myself for the early death that seems to be an occupational hazard of being such a celebrity. I have not been successful with my pledge. These beautiful musicians that seem to implode always break my heart again and again. The high cost of not ever becoming cynical.