Monday, October 20, 2008

The Archives: Personal Nirvana

A Tornado Slide first: I am reprinting an archived post.

In New York, my young friend Dave pondered if anyone could have really cared about Nirvana. He was being serious. Taken aback, I informed him that Nirvana was my first favorite band (because really, who would have risen to that position prior to Nirvana? Firehouse? The Arc Angels?), and my favorite band of all time.

Dave can't comprehend what that music meant to those who lived through it. Hopefully, this hastily-written memoir will enlighten him. It is reprinted without edits -- the only change is the addition of the "Seasons in the Sun" performance that inspired it all. (It was missing from the original post because we couldn't find junk on YouTube back in 2005. Thanks, progress.)

* * *

Saturday, January 08, 2005
We Had Joy, We Had Fun, We Had Nirvana

I spent the majority of Wednesday (my snow day) pouring over the contents of the Nirvana box set, With the Lights Out. I read the full color booklet, listened to some of disc 3 (In Utero demos with alternate lyrics!!) while cooking dinner, and watched the DVD. The DVD features a lot of rocking out in Krist's mom's house, some live performances, and a few early videos. The DVD is essentially the fourth and final disc of the box set, and ends with a Nirvana cover of Seasons in the Sun -- studio footage with Kurt on drums, Dave on the bass, and Krist on guitar.

The reason I started this post was to convey their recording of Seasons in the Sun, but after staring at the screen for a few minutes and browsing through the Nirvana Fan Club site for another 30, I still have no idea how to explain it. The three of them are just fucking around, Kurt casually singing, casually altering lyrics, behind the drumset, Krist and Dave looking back at him (when Krist isn't looking down at his axe, struggling to play the notes in order) -- just a perfect, throwaway, early-nineties moment in a tiny room, imperfectly playing a sweet, wistful, seventies hit.
Goodbye Papa please pray for me
I was the black sheep of the family

This post is not going well. How can it? I can't possibly explain it. I can't possibly explain exactly why I spent the majority of the day -- up to the moment I fell asleep -- thinking "I miss Nirvana". You can't know how much I liked Nirvana, and I can't know why I liked Nirvana so much.

A framed picture of a rubber duck hangs between the two surround sound speakers on my back wall. Prior to that, it was stuffed into my files. Prior to that, it was taped to the inside of my high school locker. Prior to that, it was artwork within the liner notes of Incesticide.

I have no idea what struck me before Nevermind, but after I dubbed by brother's copy, that was it. My tape was clear, with some yellow on it, Memorex, 90 minutes. It belonged to my walkmanesque Memorex personal cassette player. I listened to it every day on the bus, to and from school. I listened to it, particularly Drain You, over and over again on the ride home from a field trip - the first and only field trip we ever took out of the state, to a cave and a salt flat in Oklahoma; I was in the seventh grade, and I was wearing sunglasses. The tinted lenses allowed me to stare at the girl I had a crush on with zero repercussions -- she would look at me a few times, but I just kept looking straight ahead at her, confident that my hideous yet effective sunglasses would shield my obsession.
In a passionate kiss
From my mouth to yours
Sloppy lips to lips
You're my vitamins
I'm like you
(Except that, in my youth, my dubbed tape with no liner notes -- not that it really matters, even the liner notes didn't have all the lyrics -- I thought the last part was "I like you".)

I listened to it on the tractor -- I was on the 80 acres surrounding my home, and I remember Mrs. Mies waving as the bus drove by, so it must have been one of the days I was kept home from school so I could help plant wheat, which makes sense because then I would have been on the smaller tractor, the one that makes less noise because it's not as big as the 1066. The larger tractor was so loud that it was pointless to wear headphones; even at the highest volume you could barely hear what song was playing, and I suspected that listening to headphones at their highest volume was likely bad for my hearing (although that didn't seem to stop my father from ordering me to work on the loudest tractor in the world). So, I must of been on the 686, and I know I was listening to Bleach, because I the memory is connected to Love Buzz. I learned from my new box set that Love Buzz was actually a cover song -- Shocking Blue, a band from the Netherlands of all places, wrote it -- and part of my youth was a white lie.

In Utero was released when I was a freshman in high school; coincidentally, I bought it on the same day that I borrowed a Blind Melon album from Danelle. In those days I rode shotgun in my brother's '79 Cutlass -- those familiar with the Oldsmobile line will recall that particular model did not feature a CD player, so we had to wait to get home until we listened to it. I put in the Blind Melon album when my brother wasn't looking and pressed play. "It sounds like Blind Melon," he said. Then we switched to the real deal; after hearing Rape Me, he brought the other stereo upstairs so he could play Smells Like Teen Spirit at the same time as Rape Me, to prove to me and to himself that it was the same riff at different speeds.

A bootlegged live album was taken when my house was robbed. I called the store I bought CDs from to ask if it had been sold to them that day. It had not. She explained that they would need a case number from the police -- that's how this sort of thing usually works. I looked around to see what else had been stolen.

Kurt died at some point due to a shotgun blast. (I have always opted against renting the movies and reading the books that debate murder versus suicide. In the end, it matters, but it doesn't matter.) Where was I? I don't remember. For me, his death was cemented the next morning at Shawn's locker; Simmons was there, too. Shawn and I had once made a little dance routine to Son of a Gun.
The sun shines in the bedroom
When we play
The raining always starts
When you go away
Joe was on my baseball team around that time, so I guess he died in Spring (a Google search confirms it was April). (I believe this must also have been the season that Joe hit three dingers in one game, and accepted an intentional walk later in the season when we face that team again. The three home run game by Joe remains the most inexplicable display of power I have ever seen, and will hold that slot until I witness one of those grandmother-overcome-with-adrenaline-lifts-car-to-save-the-baby-underneath events, and that intentional walk had to be the greatest and strangest feeling Joe G. had ever felt and has felt since.) I told him a kid at my school had killed himself, and he asked if it was because Kurt did. He said there were kids across the country committing suicide just because Cobain died. He thought it was unbelievable. I did not.

My heart-shaped box set adventure was Wednesday - on Thursday, the memories of junior high were put on hold, back to work. I picked up the two women in my carpool and drove us to our cubicles. But it was okay, because In Utero was playing on my car stereo, 30% louder than I had any right to subject my passengers to.
Ecto-plasma, Ecto-skeletal
Obituary every birthday
Your scent is still here in my place of recovery!


Anonymous said...

Man, you are in the wrong line of work. I demand that you become a writer before you waste away on a phone in a cubicle somewhere, trying to explain to people that they will not get West Nile from hookers.

I remember I was at school when I heard of Kurt's death. I was in 12th grade--I think it was technically after school (the line between class time and free time became blurred by spring of senior year), and I was putzing around in a classroom with some friends waiting for baseball practice. It was a teacher who told me (this probably sounds strange, but this was the same teacher who taught us how to make homemade beer, showed us that we could drink hydrochloric acid if it was diluted, and eventually got fired for giving students makeshift tattoos). I fell speechless. I think the early 90's grunge/alternative scene had as big an effect on me as anything I've ever encountered musically and stylistically. This probably explains my lasting fondness for dissonance, flannel and heroin.

I feel cheated by Kurt's death, whether it was suicide or murder.

Is it better to burn out or to fade away? [-jeff.]

dn said...

Let you forget Kurt's (alleged) suicide note, "I don't have the passion anymore and so remember, its better to burn out than to fade away."

Thanks for the compliment re: my writing, but I think there's some work to be done before I am a novelist. In the meantime, I will save lives.

Anonymous said...

on new year's eve, i went to a party-type thing at a really nice hotel in cleveland with some friends. more than half the crowd was in tuxedos, so it's safe to say that we were out of place. in one of the rooms, there was a casino set up. so, we were playing at a craps table when i heard some guy behind me say "i would never waste money on the nirvana box set." as if it were a reflex, i immediately turned and said "that's the dumbest fuc*in' comment i've heard all night." as you can imagine, i received some strange looks from a crowd whose average age was ~40. but, i felt it had to be said. kurt cobain and layne staley/jerry cantrell defined a 4-5 year period of my youth, and i'll be damned if i'm going to let some tux-wearing, mini-cooper-driving moron tarnish that.


dukkillr said...

I remember the first time this post ran. At the time I didn't understand, and I still don't. But it remained in my mind as one of your most vivid posts, and something definitively dn.

Well written.

Anonymous said...

loved the post all over again... which was only enhanced by the link to the firehouse video.


dn said...

Firehouse. Jesus. I distinctly recall trying to fit an entire Firehouse tape onto one side of a blank 90 minute tape, and struggling to decide which song would have to be axed. God knows what was on the other side of that tape -- the music that had the distinction of sharing a cassette with Firehouse. Shitty, shitty Firehouse.

I can't say if there is really anything to "understand". The people that are drawn to grunge or indie rock or heavy metal as teenagers seem to hold their affection and loyalty longer, and with more vigor, then those that were listening to country or rap or, God forbid, N*Sync.

I mean, you don't really see people my age cranking Blackstreet, pumping their fist, screaming, "They don't make jams like this anymore!" (Although maybe you should see this ALL THE TIME.)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jeff. Dan, fuck saving lives. You need to write. I'll do my part to make sure the public is educated about West Nile and hookers. And Nirvana, amen. Amen.