As discussed back on Friday, Kurt Cobain, aged 11-17 was, while not a typical nor a normal boy, not much beyond the average. At that point, while having musical ambitions, he was not a rock star, he was barely a musician let alone a professional — his first live performance didn’t take place until December 1985 (just two months off being nineteen) and his first full band recording session is now thought to have happened at Easter 1986. In essence, he was indistinguishable from a million other teenagers who have embraced a love of music and adopted it as a fantasy of a future.
In Part One of this piece we dwelt on Kurt Cobain’s self-defined ‘road to Damascus’ moment when he discovered the punk rock of the early Eighties thanks to his friends in the Melvins; their practices, their tape compilations of the wider scene. While accepting that his tastes didn’t cut cleanly overnight from mainstream rock/pop to punk in one swift motion, the ability to define himself, to adopt this music as a component of his identity was a crucial act and deserves the weight he places upon it.
What has brought home to me how normal this moment is, however, has been the conversations with so many Nirvana fans over these past six months. The crucial thing the majority of people I’ve spoken to share with Kurt Cobain is an experience of that moment where a piece of music can retrospectively appear of such brutal significance that it hauls one into a fresh reality; one where another person’s music becomes a statement of one’s own life. Having anonymised these pieces I wanted to share the memories of other peoples’ conversions.
Remember these are people who bought the Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide book direct from me, from all over the world, who twenty years after Nirvana’s life, took the time to write to acquire something new on the band…There’s a weight and ongoing life that has sprung from whatever quiet moment of discovery took place back in the past:
I discovered Nirvana by chance in the spring of 1995. I was on a school trip in Wales and the Unplugged album was being played in the minibus. The song that caught my attention was Pennyroyal Tea- it literally changed everything for me, never had I been so moved and lost in a song. When I got home I pestered my Mum until she bought me In Utero and the rest is history!
I bought my first Nirvana album, Incesticide, when I was thirteen. When I heard there was a book dissecting the album song by song I was intrigued. When I heard rave reviews for the book, I got excited. My father had a cassette copy of the Unplugged performance and one day while driving he put on Lake of Fire. I was hooked from that moment. I did a little research on the band and found that Nevermind and In Utero were the mega hit albums. Bleach was the heavy debut. And Incesticide was kind of lost in the shuffle. Now, myself being 7 of 8 children, I kinda felt lost in the shuffle too, so I decided to go with Incesticide as my first pick in my Nirvana collection. And I’m happy to say, that was a great choice.
I grew up in a small town (700 inhabitants)…quite isolated and narrow minded community. When I was 13 years old, Nevermind got released. And thanks to the impact of that album being so huge, it even found its way to the gas station in my village. I bought in on cassette (!), That album changed my life.
I grew up smack dab as the Nirvana phenomenon plowed through life. I saw them live in 1993 in Davenport, Iowa- I was young but I remember it well, (the band went to taco bell on kimberly street after the show- I wish we had too). When I was a bit older I had opportunity to deliver a car to someone in the Northwest and I went to Seattle, Aberdeen, Hoquiam- all the sites. And I’ve written and received a letter from Leland Cobain, Kurt’s grandpa- apparently he enjoys writing letters to fans- you should write him. I’ve also met Krist twice- both times in Chicago where my brother and I saw Eyes Adrift…talked to him for a bit, got a hug, got a drumhead with all 3 band members sigs..Really great experiences- all of them. So when a “New Item” comes along I suppose it satisfies some sentimental need…
I began playing guitar when I was 10 years old(around 92 -93) and learned how to play Lithium. Since then I wanted to learn everything by them and eventually everything about them. I think a lot of people have a similar experience or at least with my friends.
I first heard SLTS on the school bus at around 10 years of age, and when I was 12 years old my mother graciously took me to my first ever concert: Nirvana with 1/2 japs and the breeders. Most people grow out of their childhood tastes but I haven’t really. Cobain has enormously influenced me in terms of my subsequent musical tastes.
First heard Sliver on the radio in Australia in early 1991 when I was 15 and was getting into punk and new wave, then got hugely into Nirvana later that year when Nevermind came out. Then I got into
Bleach after the fact.
I’m 32 and twenty years ago I was really young…When I was 11-12 I wasn’t interested in music. Even when I was 14, so I totally missed everything about Kurt’s death. I have more vivid memories about Ayrton Senna’s tragic death, to tell the truth. First time I’ve listened Teen Spirit, I thought it was a Metallica song!!! I’ve discovered Nirvana in late 1996, found some cassettes on my brother collection (he’s 5 years older than me) and reading about them on some magazines.
Well, I’ve been into Nirvana since my early teenage years. They were my first real musical fascination and the starting point from which I’d eventually discover other fantastic bands. I rarely listen to them nowadays (and when I do, it’s usually more or less obscure live recordings), but a keen interest in the band, its legacy, its individual members etc. endures.
My story… Well it’s pretty usual I guess. My first actual encounter with Nirvana was when in high school a mate of mine asked me to translate the lyrics to “Rape Me” for him. That must have been in late ’94 or ’95. A few months later, another mate of mine popped In Utero on his Hi-Fi and I can honestly say I wasn’t blown away. It’s only a few of months later that I actually took the dive and I’ve been hooked ever since. I have my little Holy Grails that I’ve been hunting down over the years but to no avail. It’s part of the fun I guess!
The only thing possibly fascinating about my connection to Nirvana is that I have a daughter who was born right around the time Francis Bean was born. They wound up going to the same elementary school, although Francis Bean was a grade ahead of my daughter. As a result, I would encounter Courtney Love from time to time and sometimes have little conversations with Francis Bean. I even played a game of handball with her.
For me, I’ve told the story in the final chapter of the book, but as a wider thought, music during teenhood was an identifiable way of distinguishing different groups at school — it was one of the labels kids used to create a shared identity or to break away from the group. Similarly it formed a method of exchange, something one could easily give to others to bind them to you, to create connection, or to indicate status by virtue of rarity, exclusivity or depth.
What I love about the tales is noting that actual contact or experience of Nirvana as a live phenomenon is the exception, not the rule. For most of my fellow obsessives, it seems that the intangibility is perhaps a factor in the depth of interest; life/death makes no difference almost when thinking of something one will never touch or see as a physical reality, it’s all still alive.