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Nevermind (the years that have passed)

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By Alex Gillies

Firstly, this story isn’t special or probably any different to several million other people my age. It’s not a macro-story but a micro-story.

I’ve read a lot of commentary over the last few days about the 20th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind. Most of it a waste of time. Some of it strikingly poignant (Collapse Board Article). I started this post with some random memories, but with the intent of finishing with something more fleshed out and even with a punchline. In the end though, I decided to stick to random memories. Feel free to compare them to your random memories of the same topic.

It was the 24th September 1991 that Geffen Records released Nirvana’s album Nevermind. That’s 20 years ago this week. You already know the story of Nirvana so I’m not going to repeat it. As for me. I was 15 and I’d just moved from living with one parent in the rural Darling Downs to living with another parent in coastal Mackay – both far far away from the bright lights of the big city. It was rough seas in my teenage world with trouble at school and at home. I had spent about seven or eight years previously listening to my dad’s old school blues and white jazz and me listening to whatever 80s pop was in the charts. I read Smash Hits magazine and the outer reaches of alternative to me was Aerosmith.

I’m not lying when I say that I still remember sitting on the floor in the loungeroom on a Saturday morning in November watching Rage when I first saw the film clip for ‘Teen Spirit’. Something really clicked with that song. It so sounds like cheesy nostalgia to say that now but it was all I talked to people at school about the next week. A friend who was already switch on dubbed me two tapes, the two in the photo below:

I played those tapes incessantly. I played and paused ‘Teen Spirit’ until I had the lyrics written out and blue-tacked to my wall. I sat there and tried to figure out what ‘Chaka’ meant written on the front of Dave Grohl’s kick-drum (it was many years later I found out it was a LA graffiti writer). That week, I also discovered the Ramones, Sonic Youth, Henry Rollins, the Pixies (The UK Surf Mix of ‘Wave Of Mutilation’ is my fav Pixies song to this day), Concrete Blonde, Leonard Cohen and more. Soon I would hear Black Flag, Bad Brains and more amazing bands. I have a recollection from around that time of throwing the John Farhnam CD my mum bought me, onto the train tracks outside my back fence just before one of the cane trains came rolling past.

I put this tape in the tape player last night and listened to it. It sounded so terrible. No treble left at all but it still played!

A few months later home life went south and on my 16th birthday so did I, with a train ticket for a birthday present. I didn’t have any money to buy a proper copy so I just listened to my tape in my walkman, turned it over and listened to Bleach, turned it over and so forth and so forth… until I need to go and get more batteries. Unfortunately, I returned to Brisbane four weeks after Nirvana played Festival Hall. I didn’t get to go (of course) but I did track down a tour poster (see above).

Soon I started working my first jobs and as soon as I had saved enough money, I started buying proper copies of what ever I could afford. I would catch the train for an hour into the city, go to Kent Records (my teenage self was too intimidated by the staff at Rocking Horse to go there). I didn’t have a record player but I didn’t care because I’d started … collecting records. I think I spent at least two or three years listening to my dubbed tape and just reading and looking at my records. I also bought any and every magazine that had anything to do with Nirvana in it.

As time passed, I really started to get my record collecting on, nabbing all kinds of weird things. I spent a good few years between ’92 and ’94 spending all the spare money I had on anything Nirvana – I really became consumed by the music that much. Surrounded by many years of turbulence, it was definitely the one constant and reassuring bedrock in my life.

I was still at school when I left home to go live on my own in a awful suburb called Eagleby. I saved up enough money for one of those cheap CD/tape combo players. Then I finally rested the tapes and started listening to all the CD singles and I’d bought and I finally got proper copies of the albums.

I discovered some of the weirder people in the world too. Sure I had done plenty of experimenting in my life already but this was how I discovered William S. Burroughs.

I remember arriving outside the record store at 7am the day In Utero came out. I bought the tape/poster combo. I could have bought the CD but I wanted to be able to listen to the album on my Walkman no matter where I was or what I was doing. I got the LP and the CD versions with each subsequent pay-cheque.

So by the time April 1994 came around, I had piles of magazines. I think I owned at least five T-shirts. Lots of music, lots of bootleg CDs and concerts (thanks Rocking Horse 2).

Just like my vivid memories of ‘Teen Spirit’ in Mackay. I have vivid memories of waking up in my share house in Southport and turning on Triple J to hear that Kurt was dead. I’d lie if I said I didn’t cry that day. Crying for a stranger I had never met and in truth didn’t know apart from what he wanted to tell journalists. It took 24hrs for things to be confirmed and all the details to come out. I have this tape with compiled news reports from the 9th April 1994. I think every time a news story came on. I just hit record. I don’t think I’ve ever actually gone back and listened to this tape …

Apparently, this week there are cinemas around Australia, there are Nirvana screenings of a live concert from back in the day. I can’t go because I will be on tour with my band and so I have ignored it all so I don’t feel like I am missing out. I do remember however when MTV Unplugged came out. I won the opportunity to go see it in the cinema just before it was released. I won the pass by listening to and phoning into Triple M (the things we do?!?!). There was some obscure quiz question after the screening and I was the only one in the packed cinema who knew the answer. I won a numbered single and a promo single. It’s maybe not much but I was stoked!

As the years passed, I searched for more and more new music. I discovered a lot of amazing bands that I learned more of life’s lessons from. Money got tight and life got hard in the late 90s and I sold a large quantity of what I had collected. It’s a shame but you do what you’ve got to.

I remember lots of people getting Kurt and Nirvana tattoos in ’94 and ’95. So many smiley faces! I wanted one but was never game to do so. Just a few years ago I read Nirvana: The True Story by Everett True. Again, like so much to do with this band, I bought it the day it arrived in bookstores. I remember reading it over a few days. I remember crying when it got to those final chapters and I remember feeling amazing a few weeks later when I finally decided with complete resolve to get this tattoo …

I’ve read lots of stories over the years that say that everyone has an album or piece of music that changed everything for them and that they, from that moment on judge everything else by. I guess that’s why there are so many babyboomers who never made it past Led Zeppelin or The Who. I have been buying new albums by bands every single week since 1993. I think there has only been seven or eight bands that have equalled how ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ made me feel that first time I heard it.

Sure, a bunch of record execs have made lots of money off people like me. They still are today seeing as I’ve pre-ordered two different 20th anniversary deluxe reissues of Nevermind but you know what? I don’t care how many times I’ve heard these songs, I still haven’t worn them out! I also haven’t worn out many of the records I’ve collected over the last 20 years and to this day still get a kick from searching out and finding a record by a band I love.

We all start developing an enlightened view of the world from one kernel, one flashpoint. This was my kernel that helped me to understand, read and discover more on feminism, social hierarchies, the ideology of music, outsider music and the underground, suicide and the philosophies of death in modern culture and more. Sure if it wasn’t this it would have been something else. But it was this and this week I’m celebrating that!

12 Responses to Nevermind (the years that have passed)

  1. Lloyd B September 22, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Bravo!

  2. Darragh September 22, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    Great stuff!

  3. Emerald Niall September 23, 2011 at 6:57 am

    Good article. I could really relate to you crying through the last few chapters of Everett True’s Nirvana book. Great vinyl!

  4. Lucy Cage September 23, 2011 at 7:19 am

    *applauds*
    Good on you. It’s always worth being reminded of how very deep the love for a band can run, what it can lead to, how crucial it can be.

  5. Stocky September 23, 2011 at 9:00 am

    I still have half of those singles and magazines. In the early 90s, my eldest sister had a lebanese boyfriend (his name was Hasaan, but we called him “Hash”). When I first met him, he asked me what music I liked. I said, “I’ve been mainly listening to Nirvana.” He copied me on tape Dinosaur Jr’s “Bug” (and later “Where You Been”), some Sebadoh, Swervedriver’s “Raise” and Beasts of Bourbon’s “The Low Road”. It was Barnsie and Farnsie no more!

  6. Matt O'Neill September 23, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Easily my favourite piece of this whole deluge. Such a wonderful piece of writing.

  7. Niall September 23, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Ah, the Pump Up The Volume soundtrack! I remember that one well – I had it on one and a bit sides of a C60 and got introduced to a lot of great music by it, like The Family Stone’s “Stand” (even if it was a cover). PIty the film was so rubbish.

    My older brother had Nevermind on a C90 with New Fast Automatic Daffodils on the other side (random, I know) so I managed to get a 3rd generation copy of it. I think the erosion of sound quality was good at taking away some of the over-polished production. I can’t remember what was on the other side of my tape now, testament to a great album I guess.

  8. Darragh September 23, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Some girl at a high school dance circa 1995 made out with me for wearing a Unplugged in New York shirt. I then rented the shirt to my friends for subsequent dances at $5 a pop on the basis that it was ‘lucky’. 😀

  9. gregcharles September 23, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Nice article. I remember having a dubbed cassette copy of Nevermind, and it did change my life – it sounded so otherworldly for an eleven year old previously into Guns n Roses and Poison. the fact that it was badly dubbed gave it a much rawer sound, almost tearing off the Andy Wallace sheen. I will never forget hearing ‘In Bloom’ or ‘Lithium’. some of those guitar sounds and vocal melodies are permanently etched into my brain, it was a magical experience.Though sometimes I forget how much of an effect it had. Thanks for reminding me what it was like, Alex.

  10. Erika September 24, 2011 at 1:35 am

    A lot of people have been writing about discovering Nirvana as teens. Some have questioned whether this band would mean much to someone older. I am almost exactly one year younger than Kurt Cobain would be.

    Yeah, I did a double take in 1991 when I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the radio. My head went, “what??? this sounds like punk rock! what is it doing on the radio? weird.” Oh, and there was that stuff about Seattle and flannel shirts. That was confusing, you know, why Seattle would claim dibs on flannel… (PONEMAN did that? he’s not even from Seattle! I have a recording of him in 1985 pronouncing “Oregon” all east coast, “Ore-gone”)

    When Cobain passed away, I saw the headlines, but that’s about it. I didn’t read papers or watch T.V. I recognized Nirvana as a popular band that kids listen to.

    In 2001, when I was 33 years old some online music retailer had a big sale on CDs. I owned maybe 2 CDs at that point, so I ordered a bunch of 90s music I felt like I’d missed out on. Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers, stuff like that. And Nirvana _In Utero_. BAM.

    I didn’t really care for any of those CDs, but I *loved* _In Utero_, fascinated not just by the sound, but by the lyrics (he gets away with THAT???) “Rape Me” was the first song that blew my mind. I would say that I went on a very extended Nirvana bender after that, being fascinated by bootleg recordings and the sounds of semi-controlled chaos in the live shows. What’s the point in seeing a live show if you get exactly what you can get on a record? Fascinated by his guitar technique, again, controlled chaos and feedback over solid riffing bass and drums (see also: Jimi Hendrix, Wipers).

    Nirvana actually means a lot to me. Kurt Cobain is definitely in my top 3 most influential musicians. Nirvana is to me a “crossover” band, which are the coolest. They crossed punk not just with heavy rock, but with pop, and not just any pop, but you know, like Beat Happening crossed with Melvins. CRAZY. Crazy good.

  11. Cam October 27, 2011 at 11:39 am

    i really enjoyed reading this article. very emotive.

  12. Pingback: Interview with Alex Gillies of No Anchor | Darragh Murray

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