The Post About Nirvana That I Need To Read Tonight

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image: guitarlessons.com

I think that in order to write really well and convincingly, one must be somewhat poisoned by emotion. Dislike, displeasure, resentment, fault-finding, imagination, passionate remonstrance, a sense of injustice — they all make fine fuel.
~ Edna Ferber

I was thinking about that first semester of our junior year at UT. I didn’t have a place to live and was crashing at yours for the first couple of weeks. And I remember you’d been talking about this new band you’d heard.

I remember standing in your kitchen making a sandwich or something, and you and your roommate were in the other room watching MTV. Back when MTV used to be what we remember as MTV. And I heard that song come on that was unlike anything else.

I put down my bread and my mustard knife or whatever and came out to where you guys were in front of the TV and I remember saying something like who is THIS? and you saying something like this is that band I was telling you about.

And we did not move again until this was over…

Smells Like Teen Spirit

I think I just stood there with my hands at my sides and my mouth open, or something. When the spell broke, the room was different. I knew it. You knew it. Your roommate knew it. The future had changed course.

It would not be glammy, or poofy-haired, or costumed, or artificial. The future was pain and anger. Honest and raw.

A couple of weeks later we went to Sixth Street. We parked a few blocks away and as we got out of the car there was another car across the lot with its doors open blasting Nevermind. I thought, okay, it’s official. This is what we’re doing now. Because those guys were not even music guys.

Here we are now, entertain us. I feel stupid, and contagious…

Those lyrics were social commentary back then. But there’s no irony or sarcasm left in those lines anymore. That’s just how it is now. And Nirvana is now classic rock. God, I feel old.

I’m writing because I couldn’t sleep last night. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about this shit, which is crazy because I usually wake up in the middle of the night thinking about work. Waking up thinking about work is something I’m used to. I’m not used to waking up thinking about Nirvana. But I fell asleep in bed watching them on my iPad. And I woke up wanting to watch that MTV Unplugged show. (I still have a copy of that thing on VHS, and I have a VCR somewhere but it’s not hooked up.) What I wanted to see was “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” I wanted to see Cobain’s eyes leave the planet at the end. 

easily amused

refe99.com

A lot of people can’t stand that Cobain guy because he was weak or selfish or whatever. At the end of the day, they’re probably right. I feel like what he had came from a place of pain. And maybe it’s wrong to say that the best art comes from pain. But I know that the songs or books or whatever that have hit me the hardest have always come from a place of pain. And I think I just wanted to share that with someone who would understand.

I remember how much you regretted missing them when they played Austin, but I don’t remember why we didn’t go. I looked it up online. The show was in October, so that moment in front of the TV would have been just a few weeks prior. How did we fuck that up?

I miss those days.

Hope you’re well.

Say hi to the missus and kids.

Walt

_______________

I’m not doing the Blogging 101 thing, but I did write this in response to the prompt about writing with a specific reader in mind.

53 thoughts on “The Post About Nirvana That I Need To Read Tonight

    • My current obsession. I get on these kicks, you see.

      My memory of certain musical moments, like the time I heard Nirvana for the first time, is as vivid as any of those “where were you when Kennedy was shot?” types of memories. You’re a music fan…is that true for you too?

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      • Having been raised in a fundamental independent Baptist church environment, I was not “allowed” to listen to pop music, rock and roll and other kinds of music. Of course, I did listen as often as I could, but it was definitely intermittent.

        Having said that, I do have some “trigger” music that can take me back to particular places and time. Eleanor Rigby, for instance. We studied it in 11th grade poetry. I remember early Beatles because it was everywhere. So, yes, and no. Or maybe I am way off track.

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      • Yeah, I’ve got trigger music too. My highschool class song, for example. Whoever picked that was a genius. Nothing takes me back to high school like that song. But I don’t remember the first time I heard that song like I do the first time I heard Nirvana in that kitchen, or Metallica at summer camp, or Iron Maiden on the radio in my bedroom, or Led Zeppelin in my dad’s car. I can’t remember conversations I had a week ago, but those moments are burned into my brain.

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  1. Pingback: Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation | David F. Watson

  2. As I understand it, Cobain suffered greatly from stomach ailments. They dogged him continually. That he still had strength to work, write, create, tour, perform – even ‘entertain’ us – is to me (as a similar sufferer) incredible. Once again, it seems art is synonymous with pain in some way, shape or form. I really enjoyed this post, Walt.

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      • I think Pennyroyal Tea was about that, the stomach. We had some very lovely and very strange neighbors when we lived in West Seattle and one of them went to school with Cobain, grew up in Aberdeen. The stories he told (not about Kurt, but Aberdeen) I wish I could remember, but seems it was always really late at night if you know what I mean.

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      • I was very much into the Seattle sound back in the day, especially Nirvana and Soundgarden. Pearl Jam not so much. They weren’t even grunge until like their third album. My brother moved to Issaquah a few years ago. He’s in Tacoma now. Got himself a Suburu Forrester, which I hear is what everyone is required to drive up there? In Ohio it’s the Honda Odyssey.

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  3. I grew up in WA, and I have a vivid memory of listening to his songs, flannel tied around my waist, wearing an old tshirt and old jeans. ‘Back in the day’, before recreational pot was even a thought, and listening to his voice, filled with pain, addiction and rebellion of any norms. Sweet teenage angst. So glad we made it out…without the grunge haircut!Great post.

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  4. Kurt Cobain..Last Words

    To Boddah

    Speaking from the tongue of an experienced simpleton who obviously would rather be an emasculated, infantile complain-ee. This note should be pretty easy to understand.

    All the warnings from the punk rock 101 courses over the years, since my first introduction to the, shall we say, ethics involved with independence and the embracement of your community has proven to be very true. I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music along with reading and writing for too many years now. I feel guity beyond words about these things.

    For example when we’re back stage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowds begins., it doesn’t affect me the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury, who seemed to love, relish in the the love and adoration from the crowd which is something I totally admire and envy. The fact is, I can’t fool you, any one of you. It simply isn’t fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100% fun. Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch-in time clock before I walk out on stage. I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it (and I do,God, believe me I do, but it’s not enough). I appreciate the fact that I and we have affected and entertained a lot of people. It must be one of those narcissists who only appreciate things when they’re gone. I’m too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasms I once had as a child.

    On our last 3 tours, I’ve had a much better appreciation for all the people I’ve known personally, and as fans of our music, but I still can’t get over the frustration, the guilt and empathy I have for everyone. There’s good in all of us and I think I simply love people too much, so much that it makes me feel too fucking sad. The sad little, sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus man. Why don’t you just enjoy it? I don’t know!

    I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what i used to be, full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point to where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable, self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become.

    I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven, I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general. Only because it seems so easy for people to get along that have empathy. Empathy! Only because I love and feel sorry for people too much I guess.

    Thank you all from the pit of my burning, nauseous stomach for your letters and concern during the past years. I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

    Peace, love, empathy. Kurt Cobain

    Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your altar. Please keep going Courtney, for Frances. For her life, which will be so much happier without me.

    I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU!

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  5. I will never forget the first time I heard Nirvana, I was just a kid and learning to play guitar. I was into rock and punk at the time but they changed things forever. Guess what’s going on the stereo RIGHT NOW!

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  6. Well, I identify with this post completely. My roommates were obsessed with Cobain. I was more of a Pearl Jam gal, but mainly because I thought Eddie Vedder was a mad genius too, but with a will to live. Strange how people force you to pick between the two. Guess that was the start of the lame: Team So-And-So crap. But honestly I like them both.

    I recently read Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira in which a high school student writes to dead people that have made an impact on her life. Cobain is one of them. It’s YA, but it’s good YA. It felt like a novel length writing prompt, however.

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    • I didn’t like Ten back then and still don’t, but I loved Vs (my favorite of theirs), and Vitalogy was pretty good too. They were always considered part of the grunge movement, but I contend that Vitalogy was when they first went grunge – three records in. That book sounds interesting, but I think I’d rather read the adult-adult version.

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      • I hear you… I got a lot of blow back from the Nirvana set. Don’t agree 100%, but hey, different strokes. I love all of PJ. Nirvana was too angsty for me at the time. But I get it… For crap-sake, I better not wake up in the middle of the night thinking about this, or I’ll blame you. I need my sleep! 🙂

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      • No, I’m not meaning to give you blowback like that Nirvana set. I like Pearl Jam just fine. I just prefer records two and three to their first, and if Nirvana and Soundgarden and Alice in Chains were grunge, I don’t think Pearl Jam was. They had their own thing going on, but were from the same place as those others and got lumped in with them. And Mr. Vedder did have a bit of the mad handsome intensity going on to those sheets of empty canvas.

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  7. I remember when I heard Kurt Cobain had died. My other half was listening to the radio on headphones – can’t remember why. The news came on and his face – the shock. That moment when I saw his appalled expression and I didn’t know what was wrong, then finding out – I’ll never forget it.
    I love ‘Where did you sleep last night’ – his vocal performance on that is extraordinary and extraordinarily moving – abeautiful, beautiful song. ‘Penny Royal Tea’ – ‘Heart Shaped Box’ – ‘Polly’ – their Unplugged version of ‘Man Who Sold the World’. We still play them all.
    Cobain was a truly gifted individual who just didn’t have the capacity to cope with the life he’d made for himself.

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    • I remember the first Cobain Is Dead scare being the more shocking one for me. It was shocking in a way that was surprising yet also kind of not surprising at the same time. There was also relief when it was revealed he was not dead. Then just a short time later the real thing happened, and more than anything else it just kind of sucked the wind out of my sails. Bleach and Nevermind are great records even today. In Utero I’ve always found underwhelming, a bit disappointing, not too terribly memorable. But the Unplugged show, that was one for the ages.

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      • Much as I love an electric guitar, there’s something very moving about just hearing the human voice and acoustic accompaniment – and he did have such a great voice. All the LPs have their merits – Bleach is my other half’s favourite, I swing between the others. Grand we’re all still listening 20 odd years later.

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  8. Bill’s Pennyroyal Tea point is interesting. I thought as pennyroyal was a traditional drug used to induce birth (used by women carrying unwanted babies) and as In Utero is about pregnancy and birth …

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    • Good connection. Kind of like your Alcatraz – Albatross – Al Etc connections. 🙂 I never read the Coleridge version of Mariner, I just got the Iron Maiden Cliff’s Notes version. (Not sure if you have Cliff’s Notes over there, but maybe you get the gist.) 🙂

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      • We don’t get Cliff’s Notes, but I’ve seen them mentioned so know what you mean! I’ve never read the Ancient Mariner all the way through, either – only bits. Quite a tale, though, it seems. I wonder if Coleridge invented the idea of harming albatross’s as bringing bad luck, or if it was a ‘thing’ first? I’d never heard that Maiden track before – listening to the full version on You Tube now. I like the creepy becalmed bit. These guys know their 19th century poetry, then!

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      • If you liked it, try ‘To Tame A Land,’ their synopsis of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Or ‘Alexander the Great,’ which will catch you up on the exploits of…uh, well… Alexander the Great. They are the Wikipedia for errant teens who lived prior to the Wikipedia era.

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  9. Pingback: The Post About Nirvana That I Need To Read Tonight | mollyellarae

  10. Pingback: The Post About Nirvana That I Need To Read Tonight – Kate McClelland

  11. No, not selfish. I agree. Just a sensitive soul who crashed under all the pain. Whether it’s writing, acting or what ever art we’re discussing, I always think (well, actually shout) that you can only use personal pain as a tool not as a goal. Otherwise it’s just emotional vomit. Most of he time it’s easier to use your personal pain after you’ve processed it – though very consciously done it can be a tool before that stage. I think he did this in an amazing way. So beautiful and so raw. Thanks for honoring him like that!

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    • Agreed completely about using pain as a tool, and avoiding emotional vomit. Well said. As for the selfishness, I think that is connected with the choice to abandon a child more than anything else. Glad you liked the post. I should probably time stuff like this to coincide with the dates things happened, but I always forget to do that. I tend to post what I’m feeling when I ‘m feeling it.

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      • Oh I really appreciate the fact you posted this because it just came up in your life again right now. This way your readers feel like they witnessing something true.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I just started uni when these guys hit. I’ll never forget, just can’t. They came on in the main campus bar (same song as you note) and everyone went wild. People were jumping on the tables screaming the lyrics, so my roommate (a serious wanker, actually) started yelling: ‘what are you saying? you don’t even know the words!’. And he was right, but who cared. Kurt and his cohorts were in the right place at the right time for me, and I feel like he was a genius – an underappreciated, wistful, angry genius (and yes, weak and selfish too, but aren’t we all…). I wish he were still around and pumping it out. So many of the others from his time are lame now, irrelevant long ago, but Nirvana is still there, and when I hear this music I go back to a great time.

    And this post takes me back to a great time. Thanks Walt – I feel like we have something seriously in common.

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      • I hear a lot of people slagging Nirvana, actually, but they never seem to listen to the words and pair that up with the music to see what I see. But glad you did. And thanks for taking me back to an awesome memory. Gonna play some Nirvana this evening, and see if I can indoctrinate my kids.

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  13. Go for it. Mine are too young for Nirvana. But I’m starting to get one of them into The Beatles. She asked last night to hear “the Hawaiian shirt one.” Took me awhile, but I finally figured out she meant the YouTube video where Paul is in a studio singing Eleanor Rigby in said shirt.

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  14. Pingback: In which Kurt Cobain enables me to appreciate James Taylor, somewhat (and Lukas Graham is also mentioned) | waltbox

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