Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Life In Song: Nirvana - Nevermind

This is part three of a very slowly continuing series.

Certain songs remind us or certain memories. These are my associated memories for Nirvana's seminal "Nevermind" album. I obtained "Nevermind" through the ubiquitous but technically illegal process of "dubbing" -- cassette to cassette copying -- my brother's purchased copy.

1.> Smells Like Teen Spirit

My home didn't have cable TV, so I don't associate this song with a grunge pep rally. I think of sharing the back seat of my mom's car with fellow seventh-grader and best friend Chris. We were on the way to the Odyssey of the Mind tournament. Chris quoted the a short phrase from the song, "a mosquito", while making creepy hand gestures. He said nothing of the lyric that followed, "my libido", because we had no idea what that meant. (See: Odyssey of the Mind tournament, the weekend activity we became involved in through our school's gifted program.)

2.> In Bloom

Eighth grade. The school bus that took us home from a road basketball game was equipped with a tape deck, an unheard of upgrade over the standard AM/FM radio. After wasting this accessory for the majority of the trip, I was allowed to insert a cassette. Maybe "In Bloom" sticks out because it was the only song we heard before the ride ended, and maybe not, but I do know this: that was the first bus ride on which newly officially recognized couple Jarod E (8th grade) and Angie M (7th grade) sat next to each other.

This song's opening lines became the basis for a joke of my friend Jeff S, which went something like:
"Hey, Jeff! How's it going?"
"Ah, not to good, I had to sell the kids for food again..."
Jeff was in the seventh grade.

3.> Come As You Are

I don't associate this song with any youth event. The only thing it envokes is the billboard outside of Aberdeen, Washington, the home of Kurt Cobain, that encourages visitors to "Come As You Are". Which is lame? Neat? I don't even know anymore.

4. Breed

The 1992 Elite Eight pitted Christian Laettner's Duke Blue Devils against Jamal "Monster Mash" Mashburn's Kentucky Wildcats. Sitting on my grandparents' living room couch, I had "Breed" in my head as I rooted for the upset in what would become the greatest NCAA tournament game ever played. I thought my brain was misremembering the lyrics, and later found I was correct in humming "We can plant a house / we can build a tree" rather than the more logical, less whimsical alternative. Duke won in overtime, thanks to an improbable shot from incredible pussy Laettener, who finished the game perfect from the field as well as the free throw line. Two years later, Cobain killed himself. Coincidence? Or another damning clue that the Seattle police refuse to investigate?

5.> Lithium

I owned a live CD with a killer version of "Lithium", but it was stolen when my house got broken into. Fifteen years later, I could probably find it online. I'm going to look into that.

6.> Polly

Before we drove to compete in Odyssey of the Mind, we had to build our setpiece, a mousetrap-like contraption wherein one event triggered the next. The final phase of construction took place at Keith's house, because his dad had an large, unattached workshed. Despite our parental supervision, JJ had us listening to "Polly wants a cracker / I think I should get off her first". JJ was also responsible for playing Guns N' Roses profanity-laden "Get in the Ring" during a separate after-school project for the gifted program. Smart, athletic, rebellious -- needless to say, JJ was a hit with the ladies.

7.> Territorial Pissings


8.> Drain You

As I've mentioned...
I listened to [Nevermind], 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.

9.> Lounge Act


10.> Stay Away

Pay attention, because this sums up everything you need to know about my relationship with "Nevermind". In environments that prevented me from listening to a personal cassette player -- such as time spent mowing lawns -- I passed the time by playing "Nevermind" in my head, nonstop, front to back. I have a tangible (not literally, of course, but in the parlance of our times) memory of mowing the eastern side of my driveway, just south of the large pine tree, "listening" to the introductory drumbeat of "Stay Away". Related: circling the maple tree in the middle of the yard with Metallica's "Unforgiven" in my head.

11.> On a Plain

Not much. "Love myself better than you" probably seemed a more impressive lyric to me as a teenager than today, and that's even before I saw it as a sexual reference.

12.> Something in the Way

One school night in 1993 or 1994, there was a fundraiser in the auditorium that amounted to an open mike night -- sparsely attended by the group of seniors that developed it and those seniors' younger siblings that tagged along. One male student sang The Lemonheads' "Being Around" solo, unable to find Dan V., his would-be duet partner. Shawn happened to be there, too, with his acoustic guitar that he was learning to play, and we decided it would be a good idea to perform "Something in the Way" -- a perfect choice for budding performers, as it was easy to strum and easy to sing. We rehearsed briefly in the commons before taking the stage, and made it through a verse before my brother walked toward the stage and said, "We're leaving". He wasn't kidding. I hopped off the stage and followed him to the car. I assume the song stopped behind me, or maybe Shawn (and Keith? He may have been up there, too) finished it. Either way, dick move by my bro, who pulled the same stunt at the big, free Collective Soul concert that year. (Making me leave early, not pulling me off stage. Collective Soul and I were close, but not that close.)

Thus ends Nirvana week on Tornado Slide.


Anonymous said...


after reading this, i'm happy to have somebody to commiserate with about the huge waste of time Odyssey of the Mind was... or maybe your experience differed from mine.


Anonymous said...

did shawn keeping stopping and restarting the song over and over again while on stage?