I first heard of Nirvana the way I heard of a lot of new and exciting things, through my cousin Tom. He played me the Nevermind album he had just bought on cassette, and I was terrified. I was 13-years old at the time, and loud rock and roll scared the hell out of me. I was raised to think there was something wrong with it, that it was wicked or satanic. Later on I saw the video on MTV for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" at my friend Louie's house, and I wasn't so scared. "Nirvana is the only heavy metal band I like," I boldly declared. I wasn't sure how to differentiate this band from Mötley Crüe, Metallica, Guns N' Roses, and all the other bands the bullies at school were into, but I knew I liked it a lot better.
My friend Brandon also had the Nevermind tape, and he made me a copy. "They're the only heavy metal band I like," I told him. "They aren't heavy metal," he said, "They're just a regular rock band." He then said to me, "You know how a lot of times you buy a tape, and a couple songs are good, and the rest of the songs are just ok? This album is different. EVERY song is good." He was right. I became obsessed with the album, often listening to it 3 to 4 times per day. I listened to it on my headphones when playing basketball, while riding a bike, in a car while different music was playing on the radio, anywhere. They were instantly my favorite band. Before I got into other alternative rock music of the day, I was listening to Nirvana at the same time as when I was asking my mom if I could get the Kris Kross tape at Kmart.
I first spotted the Bleach album on tape in a now defunct record store in Solon when I was 14. I quickly snapped it up, and was initially taken back at what I heard. This album from 1989 didn't at all have the pop sensibility of Nevermind, and I honestly thought it kind of sucked. But this was in 1992, back before music could be thumbed through and instantly disposed of. I listened to the album with dedication, and eventually got into it. Same thing later that year when the Incesticide collection of "covers, rarities, and b-sides" came out. I didn't know what any of that shit meant, or who the Vaselines or Devo were, but I eventually settled in to the recording. Since Incesticide and Bleach did not generally receive the same attention as their breakthrough album did, they felt more personal to me. Looking back, I associate Incesticide with spending time alone, listening to it in a dark, quiet house by myself. But I don't associate that with feeling bad at all, or necessarily feeling happy, just a time that I appreciate.
When In Utero came out in 1993, I was having the hardest time finding an opportunity to go anywhere to pick it up. So one night when the rest of family went out for the evening, I famously rode my bike from Aurora to Solon in a rainstorm to get the tape, as my hometown didn't have any place I could go. (Kind of like Aberdeen, right Kurt? Ok, sorry.) I rode all the way there, got the tape, then rode all the way back before my family got home. My mom noticed that my jacket was covered in mud, and asked me for an explanation. "Oh, I just rode my back around for a while," which sounds completely deranged due to the fact that it was nighttime, raining and cold out, and I was 15 years old. "So THAT'S why you asked when we'd be home," she said. Looking back, I think the idea of my riding a bike around like a serial killer would be more concerning than the truth of what I did.
By 1994, I'd adopted more of the look and identity associated with "the scene." I started to grow my hair out, and exclusively listened to alternative rock. On the morning of April 8th (during my school's Spring Break), I went to my friend Kenny's house wearing a Dinosaur Jr. shirt with 70's striped socks (probably my dad's) pulled up on my calves. I tried to put my hair in a ponytail, but it wasn't quite long enough. We went to his friend's house that afternoon to see a girl he was on and off with, and while we were hanging out, her older brother walked up to us and said "Did you guys hear Kurt Cobain killed himself?" Kenny immediately burst out laughing, as he knew what a fan of Nirvana I was. I felt sick all over. I remember watching the news report on a TV at their house. While returning home late that afternoon, I saw in the distance my friend Louie approaching me on the sidewalk, and he pantomimed shooting himself in the head with his finger. He and I both went to Kenny's house, where MTV News on. Kenny's older brother and Louie both cracked jokes at my expense. I'm not sure why my friend Mikey was in the area that day, as he did not live near our neighborhood, but he was one of the good ones, and also a big Nirvana fan. He met the rest of us at Kenny's house, and we hugged as soon as he walked in. Kenny's older brother told us both to get out.
When I returned to school after the break, I wore a poorly handmade Kurt Cobain shirt as a tribute, and I got fiercely ridiculed. I think at first I thought, "I don't care, this is for Kurt!," but I eventually took the shirt off (was wearing an undershirt for this anticipated reason) because it got to be too much. Kenny told me later that I "Shouldn't have worn that shirt." Aurora: Ya gotta love it. No you don't.
So there it is, I was one of those "Nirvana changed my life, truly spoke to me" people. But before I adopted the lifestyle and attitude, there was the music. Nirvana didn't just get me into punk rock, they got me into music. I can't believe it's been 25 years today (died on the 5th, but they did not find his body until the 8th), but I also can believe it. Seems like a million years ago. Long may Kurt live, and long may the music reign.