I was a 14-year-old teenager in the winter of 1993.
That year in October my sister got married and her and her husband briefly lived in the downstairs of our house. Their bedroom was the former “back room” aka my father’s somewhat untidy office. I remember sitting in that room as a child and typing on a very primitive computer. Around December 1993 my sister and her husband moved out and got an apartment nearby. Once they did I did not hesitate to move into that room and finally have a room of my own. I gathered my possessions and clothes from the upstairs room that I had until then shared with my younger brother.
Little did I know when I was hanging up my clothes in the closet that I would have an epiphany that would literally change my life and put me on a path that I am still on.
Inside the room’s closets there were boxes. I didn’t want to invade my sister’s possessions but I came across an uncovered box that had CDs. One of the CD’s that I found that day was done by a Seattle band that had the year before “changed music” with their “grunge sound” and knocked Michael Jackson off and claimed Number One on the Billboard Album charts. I had seen their videos. That band of course was Nirvana. And the album was Nevermind.
A great amount of music had been played in our house by this time. When I was a kid my mother played a great deal of Joan Baez on the stereo system my father had built. One of Dad’s favorite artists was Jim Croce. I remember listening to Thriller and me hiding behind the couch because I thought Michael Jackson was going to come out of the speaker and kill me. A neighbor had gotten me into a great deal of music when we would shoot baskets in his backyard. But it wasn’t until I found that Nirvana CD in my sister’s closet that I really found music that I felt related to me and was mine.
I looked at the CD cover: A naked baby boy swimming towards a dollar bill on a hook. Inside the CD artwork I read a bunch of lyrics that seemed to make no sense and saw a blurry picture of what I concluded were the band. I had never seen anything quite like it.
What the artwork looked like had little impact compared to what I would hear when I put the CD in the Sony boom box I had received for the Christmas of 1992.
I looked at the case. The first song was called “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I had seen the video – a chaotic pep rally – but had never heard the song itself without the video.
Six seconds. I knew after that that everything would change. Six seconds of jangly guitar. Then the second after the drums slam and slam and then the guitars distort. They play the procession with chaos and distortion and then…twenty-five seconds in the drums play guitar over a four note bass pattern and two-note guitar motif. And then the chorus: Distortion raging, drums slamming, singer screaming:
“WITH THE LIGHTS OUT
IT’S LESS DANGEROUS
HERE WE ARE NOW
I FEEL STUPID
HERE WE ARE NOW
Wait what? What is this? And then verses and choruses and a guitar solo.
You know if this CD had that song and a whole bunch of crap for the rest “Smells Like Teen Spirit” still would have changed my life. But this CD had incredible depth of rock songs and superb lyrics – all of which – according to MTV – made no sense.
I sit here today having recorded three albums and can point to that moment when I first heard that song on CD as the moment that a) I found music I felt was my own b) made me want to listen to more music and c) soon after decide that I must play guitar and write songs.
And that soon after is exactly what I did. In June 1993 I walked into the office at my high school called Monsignor Bonner – I had just finished my freshman year – and requested a transfer slip so I could go to public school. That was without a doubt the first decision I ever made for myself. It was a defining moment. Bonner was a great school and all but I wanted to not ride the bus for a hour each way to school and more importantly I wanted to go to school with girls. Bonner was an all guys' school.
Once I started at Penncrest High School I was an art major and took guitar and made a friend named Keith and with his friend Jeff we started a band. The rest is history.
But back to Nirvana before I conclude. So I rushed out and bought all the Nirvana CDs I could find (Incesticide and In Utero – I don’t think I found Bleach until later). I read Rolling Stone and watched MTV more than I ever had and also bought other CDs by bands with funny names such as The Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam. I bought books about Nirvana such as Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana by Michael Azzerad.
April 5, 1994 was a beautiful day. My brother and some friends went up to Indian Lane Elementary School and played roller hockey on the abandoned tennis courts. When we got home my mom told me Kurt Cobain committed suicide. I never knew anyone that killed himself or herself before this. And although it is impossible to explain to some people -- Kurt had a huge impact on me and had put me on a path. I never saw Nirvana live and now I never would. I was really upset and watched MTV. I vividly remember the family driving to church the following Sunday and I was crying I was so upset that Kurt was dead. No one in my family understood. But his music and the music of other bands kept me going.
I always thought I liked In Utero best of the Nirvana CDs. The band had ragged on Nevermind that it was “too poppy” and “too mainstream” and I must admit for the last ten years I didn’t listen to the band much.
I recently ordered the 20th anniversary deluxe box set of Nevermind and I played the remastered version of the CD. And those six seconds. And the drums. The screaming. The guitar solo. And it sounded as amazing as it always did. That album has had a tremendous and lasting effect on me.
It made me feel like I was 14 again.