Hard to believe it’s been twenty years…

April 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

Come
As you are
As you were
As I want you to be
As a friend
As a friend
As an old enemy
Take your time
Hurry up
The choice is yours
Don’t be late
Take a rest
As a friend
As an old memoria 

Supposedly there are events that people of a certain age or generation will never forget where they were when they occurred.  For my grandparents, it was December 7, 1941.  For my parents, it was November 22, 1963.  For my generation, there is January 28, 1986 and 1:18.  And for many others in their late thirties and early forties, there is April 8, 1994.

I was a sophomore at the University of Tennessee and it was a little past 2:00 PM EDT.  I was hanging out with two friends of mine in their dorm room when another friend came in, seemingly shocked and agitated.  He said, “Turn it to MTV, Cobain’s dead!”

“What?”

“Suicide, apparently.”

So we turned it to MTV, to see the This Week in Rock crew talking about the discovery of Nirvana guitarist/lead singer Kurt Cobain’s body in his house after he had been missing for three days.  Dead of a shotgun blast to the head.  For the next few days, MTV continuously played Nirvana videos, especially their 1993 MTV Unplugged performance.  It was so numbing then, as Cobain was, if not the musical voice for my generation, a voice that spoke to those of us frustrated with the world crumbling about us, a world that often felt fake and vapid.

Certainly Nirvana’s music (although with other Seattle-area bands of the early 1990s) was very influential.  When I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” it was around the end of high school or perhaps during my first weeks at UTK.  I remember the ebb and flow, from the mumbled quiet to the near-screeching loudness of both Cobain’s guitar and voice.  This was something different, something that was defiant and yet so vulnerable.

Yet “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was never my favorite track from Nevermind.  It was “Come As You Are,” which contains lines such as “Take your time/Hurry up/The choice is yours” or “Come/Dowsed in Mud/Soaked in bleach/As I want you to be,” that really appealed to me.  It was akin to a youth anthem, yet in many ways was an anti-anthem for doomed youth.  Even now, over twenty years since I first heard it, I get this sense of drowning in a tidal wave of emotion, of wanting to just let go and dare to feel, if only for a moment.  Not many songs bring this out of me, but this one always had.

Then there are the tracks from In Utero, which are as much of a middle finger to commercialism and market expectations as one can find.  The rhythms are melodiously discordant, if that makes any sense.  Certainly the lyrics are raw, taking no quarter.  Yet there are still moments of wounded tenderness, like the beginning to “Heart-Shaped Box”:

She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak
I’ve been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks
I’ve been drawn into your magnet tar pit trap
I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black

And yet, ultimately, despite the signs of self-destructive behavior (I recall a Rolling Stone interview from late 1993 in which Cobain talks of his heroin use to deal with a stomach ailment and thinking that he sounded desperate for a more permanent release even then), it was a shock to hear of his suicide.  For a while, it was difficult to listen to music or to watch MTV.  It may not have been the day that the music died, but it certainly left a lasting impression on me.  I think today will be devoted to listening to some of my favorite tracks, remembering, if less intensely, the emotions I felt twenty years ago.

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