The Day I Found Nirvana.
The below is a retelling of this discovery to my #roomdawgforlife, JME.
So there I was…
So there I was, procrastinating on homework and work-work by watching the TV show Child Support (which is hosted by one of my first childhood crushes, Fred Savage, who was way too old for me back then!). I can best describe the show as a cross between Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader — except on Child Support the kids are your lifeline instead of your demise. The show affords contestants an opportunity to play for up to $250K by answering open-ended questions of increasing difficulty. In parallel, there’s comedian Ricky Gervais with a panel of kids who are asked the same questions. The show flips back and forth between the contestant’s answers and the kiddo answers so you can get a feel for the type of knowledge the kids have.
Anyway, all of the above about a game show is a set up to introduce you to *how* I came to discover Nirvana on this particular day. While watching the show, it became more than apparent to me these kiddos are less-than-knowledgeable about what I hold dear as pop cultural references from my own youthful years.
Fred Savage asks the following question:
Often called the ‘anthem of Generation X,’ Nirvana’s biggest hit is titled ‘Smells Like…’ what?
And of course, the kids did not know. Their responses?
Poo?! Wildflowers! Trouble.
The above question both solidified my belief about the kids’ knowledge and made me feel really old. It also launched my hours-long discovery — for real it started just after noon and ended at 10 pm — of this band.
HaHa. Teen Spirit is probably the *only* Nirvana song you know…
Of course, I knew the answer to the game show question, but I also wondered *why* the song was titled that. So I googled: Why is the song called “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? and found an Up Venue article which revealed the backstory of Nirvana frontman, Kurt Cobain, being marked by an ex who notoriously wore Teen Spirit deodorant.
The article begins by discussing the Iconic Riff of the song, the inspiration behind the song, and ends with an onslaught of videos in another Up Venue article called “Smells Like Teen Covers” with links to the best Teen Spirit Covers. It was during this YouTube wormhole that I read a comment on one of the covers that said: to those of you who like this cover, this is probably the ONLY Nirvana song you know.
To which I chuckled one of those slow realization chuckles…dang, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” WAS the only Nirvana song I knew!
The time warp strikes again?!
How could this happen? For those of you who don’t know me, to my friends it’s common knowledge that I missed the 1980s entirely due to what we call the time warp which is my euphemism for growing up in a third-world country and immigrating to the U.S., and having gaps in my pop culture knowledge because movies, TV, music, made it there at a different pace and timing. The gaps in my knowledge are often laughable and a source of incredulity among my friends whenever evidence of the time warp rears its head unexpectedly in conversations.
As a testament to how well-known this time warp is to my closest friends, as I recounted the Nirvana journey to JME, she offhandedly remarked — oh, you missed Nirvana…timewarp?
Then we slowly realized and almost in unison: No…that was the nineties. How DID you [I] miss Nirvana?
The best I could offer was that my foray into alternative and rock music didn’t come until a few years after Cobain tragically ended his life. You know, in my high school years where my friends were more diverse, and therefore my music choices happened to be farther and wider-ranging beyond the PG County rap, hip-hop, R&B, and go-go staples.
That, and we didn’t have cable.
While I vaguely knew Cobain’s name and later came to know of Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters, it wasn’t until the below journey that I realized his origins and contributions. It’s so bizarre and fascinating to retroactively learn about a cultural era — one for which I was very much alive and adjacent.
From this experience I realize, now more than ever, that my relationship with music tends to be more experiential than I thought. My life’s musical soundtrack is almost always about the song — how and when I discovered the song and what *I* personally experienced at the time. I have rarely had an interest in the artist’s backstory, but when I do, I dig until there is no more to be learned.
Admittedly, this often results in years-later understandings of the lyrics and…(sometimes) disappointment.
My path to Nirvana (come along).
In the span of ten hours I ensued upon a Nirvana video-watching, Rollingstone article-reading, lyrics Genius song-interpreting journey. And in a matter of hours, I experienced what Nirvana fans experienced over years — the joy, excitement, relatedness to songs, grief, pain, sadness, and reverence for the band.
It was [IS]…emotionally draining. It left me feeling, as Cobain said in the MTV Unplugged version of All Apologies “all alone is all we are.”
If you’d like to experience what I did — then fear not — you, too, may go on your own discovery (or REdiscovery) of Nirvana. Below is a recap of how I came to know them, replete with links.
- The Story Behind “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” This is the article that launched my Nirvana journey.
- Best “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Covers. An article taking a look at the many covers of the song that shot Nirvana into stardom. **READER BEWARE** There are 20 covers! I resisted watching the original video until after I’d consumed each of the cover songs.
- Ten Best Nirvana Songs (according to Stereo Gum). When I got to cover #19, the Dubstep Remix, one of the commenters remarked that anyone who actually liked this remix probably never listened to any other Nirvana songs. So then I googled and found the above linked article and went on to listen to what Stereo Gum considered to be the Top 10 Nirvana Songs, while simultaneously looking up the song meanings on Lyrics Genius.
- Kurt Cobain’s Suicide Note. While listening to the Top Ten Nirvana songs and poring over the lyrics via the Genius, I was surprised to find a link to the suicide letter. Reading this note, brought clarity to Courtney Love’s name which I’d heard in the fuzziness that was my high school alternative/grunge music phase. I also read a bit about the Kurt Cobain suicide conspiracy theories.
- Frances Bean Cobain. In the letter I read Courtney’s name — yep got it. But I’d never realized/knew/recalled that Kurt Cobain had a daughter, Frances. So I went to Instagram and scrolled through a few of her pics. Smattered throughout, there are the few pics she has from her short time with her dad as well notes and memes.
- An Exclusive RollingStones Q&A w/ Frances on Life After Kurt’s Death. April 2015, 21 years later. Given the nature of my youth and having lost more than a few friends before the age of 30, the below quote from Frances resonated in a hauntingly beautiful way.
Even though Kurt died in the most horrific way possible, there is this mythology and romanticism that surrounds him, because he’s 27 forever. The shelf life of an artist or musician isn’t particularly long. Kurt has gotten to icon status because he will never age. He will always be that relevant, in that time, and always be beautiful.
- Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. Described as the “most intimate rock doc.” As of this writing, I’ve only watched the trailer, but have heard that it was very well done, and I have to watch it — so I’ll watch it soon enough. Trying to decide if to wait and get past the intense emotional experiences I’ve had in the past 24 hours or to just dive right in and let it all happen…
- One of Kurt Cobain’s Final Interviews — Including Extremely Rare Footage. I think I found this one after reading where Frances thought her voice is like Kurt’s and then I realized that I don’t know if I’d ever heard Kurt’s speaking voice. I mean, why would I? Before all of this, I didn’t really know who he or Nirvana was, save for “Teen Spirit.”
All in all is all we are.
“All in all is all we all are” — this repeated line of the song “All Apologies” resonated with me. It is an extremely complex Buddhist quote meaning “all things in existence are one.”
While I’m emotionally spent after this trip, I do find it extraordinarily coincidental and funny (in a the-universe-has-a-sense-of-humor sort of way) that mere days after committing to learn more about and expand my interest in Buddhism, I’d found…Nirvana.