“I grew up in an alternate dimension where Nirvana didn’t exist”
By Chad Thomas Johnston
[I really like the premise of this article – it’s very unusual within the context of Collapse Board – which is why I asked Chad if I could reprint it. The original title is An Open Letter to Everett True: 5 Songs from the Boy Who Listened to “Nerdvana” – Ed]
I grew up in an alternate dimension where Nirvana didn’t exist.
(That’s the introductory hook that’s supposed to make you want to read this, of course, since you are arguably the universe’s foremost authority on Kurt Cobain and co.)
Now for something less striking (although I will return to this alternate dimension blather in a minute): I want to thank you for writing Nirvana: The Biography. I read it while my own child was incubating In Utero inside my wife, and your book likewise incubated in my mind for a spell after I read it.
Your book was a gift to me in so many ways. Upon reading it, I found myself wondering what I could possibly give you in return. In the age of social media, after all, readers can actually express their gratitude to authors when they are inclined to do so in the form of a bloated open letter such as this one. You see, Everett, peasants wonder what to give kings, who have everything. After reading your book I found myself likewise wondering what I could possibly give music journalism’s reigning authority (you) since you have probably heard everything.
Like the little drummer boy, I bring my gift to you: Pah-rum-pah-pum-pum …
It does indeed involve drumming, although I am not offering you free drum lessons. You would fare better if The Shaggs’ drummer taught you, I promise.
Back to that alternate dimension blather.
When you were celebrating the Sub Pop scene in print in Melody Maker, I was celebrating an even more obscure scene in my bedroom with my air guitar. Had you been present to report on the proceedings, you might have referred to it as the “sub-Sub Pop” scene, had you been inclined to refer to it at all.
While you were covering Nirvana, I was listening to music Beavis and Butt-head might have referred to as “Nerdvana”. That is to say I was listening to Christian alternative rock (I am not even kidding, Everett), and my peers were kind enough to tolerate my rabid obsession with a number of bands who are even more obscure now that they were when I was foaming at the mouth about them in the ’90s.
I know, I know. Jesus said Christians would be hated, and boy was He right when it came to His followers who spread His message with a Flying V.
It may be that in a poll, Christian rock ranks only slightly above Zamfir the pan flutist in coolness. Even the people who loathed Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music are likely to lunge for that wrecking-ball-of-a-record in a heartbeat if given the option to listen to it instead of, well, Stryper. But I am not writing about Stryper.
I might be wearing a yellow and black catsuit as I write this, however.
I am writing to share music with you, Everett. I want to write about the bands that filled the Buzz Bin of my imagination in the 90s. These bands were an alternative to the alternative music Nirvana was playing, as meta as that sounds.
I will admit, I knew about Nirvana (I loved them), but as the son of a minister I could hardly listen to them. I was actually one of those well-behaved minister’s kids who ate his musical vegetables at his parents’ prompting. I licked the plate clean, and eagerly.
So it was as if Nirvana did not exist in my world. My world was soundtracked by alternative music to be sure, but it was populated by an alternate cast of characters. The genre would be immediately recognizable to any outsider, but the faces would be unfamiliar.
I championed these bands in my youth, distanced myself from them in young adulthood, and then rediscovered them after a hiatus from listening to them. Somewhere in between, I bought all of Nirvana’s albums and let my obsession with them come to full fruition. This is where you come in, Mr. True.
I want to tell you about a few of these bands, and here is how I want to frame this experience for you: You must first jettison from your mind any preconceived notions you might have about “Christian music” and be open to listening to these songs as stand-alone artifacts from a sub-culture that should be taken on its own terms. Yes, Beavis and Butt-head would have been inclined to deconstruct this music with a series of burps and farts sounding something like Morse code. That is, it is easy to ridicule Christian music. But it may be far more interesting to listen to it for the sake of listening to something you have never heard before. I would urge you to discover these songs as you might discover arrowheads in the soil in your own backyard. Consider them cultural artifacts.
If nothing else, consider these songs curiosities to behold. You may dismiss them outright, or you may find them to be interesting enough on their own merit. Either way, this letter and these songs constitute a thank you. My gratitude may be the grating kind, but I hope you will at least appreciate the spirit in which the gift is given.
In case you are wondering who I am, I am a 33-year-old resident of Lawrence, KS who works a day job, but spends his free time as a husband and father who also happens to write. My literary agent is based in Seattle, of all places, although I have no other connections with the grunge capital of the world. In the book my agent is currently shopping to major publishing houses – a memoir titled The Stained-Glass Kaleidoscope: Essays at Play in the Churchyard of the Mind – I write about how I was obsessed with Nirvana during my teenage years, but could not listen to the band’s songs in good conscience. I mean, there was a baby penis on the cover of Nevermind. (I honestly was not horrified by this, but others were.) As I write in the book, “Penises have never flown too well in Christian circles”. It’s true. To this day, I still have yet to see a flying penis at church, and I doubt I ever will.
Without further ado, here are a few songs from the alternate dimension I inhabited in the 90s.
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