The room smells like an accident at a chemical factory; a blend of Tiger Balm, Deep Freeze spray, Vicks…It’s been a pesky few days between the stomach bug, the cold and my neck locking completely…Ah well! On we go!
Last week was my thirty-third birthday therefore marking the nineteenth anniversary of receiving the Nevermind album on cassette. A process of extrapolation means I know that yesterday/today is therefore the nineteenth anniversary of me buying either Bleach or Incesticide, which makes Friday April 5, 2013 the nineteenth anniversary of the other one of that pair. Why so precise? A wonderful family holiday to Florida coincided with the Nirvana endgame and gave me a chance to switch from my taped off copies of everything to the official cassettes. Oh, that means Christmas was the anniversary for In Utero.
In some ways the journey of that one album indicates the power of commercial music sales; taped off copy a year before sometime in the summer, leading to the cassette that still sits on top of my record player, to the CD copy sometime in 1996 following the Singles box-set in November 1995 (my first CD purchase – note that as late as Unplugged in New York I was still focused on cassettes, gosh…), then all the way up to both the Super-Deluxe and the Deluxe reissue (yeah, odd I know but it was easier to carry the Deluxe to work y’see? Plus I bought the Deluxe at a second hand store making it a far less mental purchase than it otherwise looks…) Surrounding those purchases I’ve invested money in the Charles Cross Nevermind book (a really good read), in James Adler’s Nevermind book (a really not good read), plus Susan Wilson’s Nirvana Nevermind book, I’ve heard dozens (at least!) of live copies of every song on the album, I’ve watched shaky hand-held cam footage or top notch official footage — it’s amazing how it’s been possible to consume and, more intriguingly, to re-consume the same set of songs over and over again.
And it’s nice knowing that isn’t just my trip — I’ve spoken to dozens of Nirvana fans these past months all of whom have similar tales of finding the music, different routes but a lot of shared characteristics. In general it looks like the core of people who still make up the fanatics are in that 31 to 36 year old age group now, were in their early-to-mid teens when Nirvana hit. I think that timing makes a significant difference; the human ego doesn’t fully evolve until around age ten meaning we’re not whole personalities, fully self-aware until relatively late in our youth — I think the discovery of one’s tastes and preferences, learning to ‘care’ for music, or authors, or activities, I think it’s all part of that void-filling spell of life, the quest to become someone. It’s why the music retains such importance for ‘us’; the music is great but musical obsession is about far more than the intrinsic qualities of a piece of music, there’s nothing about any single piece of music that denotes it must be loved — it’s about the listener and about catching them at the right moment. In the case of the Nirvana fans, the band hit at just the right moment; a few years later we’d be talking Smashing Pumpkins, or Green Day; a few years after that we’d be hip hop fans or sharing memories of post-rock appearing or *shudder* Limp Bizkit.
Alas, I’d have to say that the emphatic nature of the end of Nirvana’s career does matter in this regard; it’s a huge act that occurred — very few musicians commit suicide, even fewer at the peak of fame when they’re among the biggest musicians in the world. Someone dying does matter, it does invest the memory with importance, it does mark the music indelibly — for a bunch of teenagers commencing the quest to learn how to live, how to be a life, to be brought into such immediate contact with ‘the end’ isn’t necessarily damaging, but it is significant.
As a personal journey it has always felt great combining my own birthday ‘season’ with a spell of significance in the Nirvana story. For the first time ever I’ll actually be at work on April 5. But come evening I’ll still be pausing to play the tunes yet again; for all the debates around the commerciality of music it feels good to still feel something for the tunes at the centre.