This is going to be an interactive post. Pencils ready? OK. You know how on Sex and the City, Carrie always sat in front of her laptop and thought, “I began to wonder…?” I’m doing that right now!
Let’s back up a little. In my office at work is a giant duratran of Nirvana from the Nevermind era. (A duratran is the big square poster that goes in the lightbox display of a store – it’s made of a special material that lets the light show through). I don’t have it up so much because I’m a huge Nirvana fan, because I’m not, although I have all their CD’s and I still like them. It’s more because, well, I work in the music business and it reminds me of somewhere near the start of my career when I worked in a record store and Nirvana was shockingly getting bigger and bigger. I remember being amazed that the label would spring for the cost of the duratrans (they’re pricey) and reserving the space (even pricier) for a band like that when there were Mariah Careys about. And I remember when I bought Nevermind, I bought it on cassette because I only knew the one song they were playing on WHFS and I was afraid to use all my hard-to-find college dollars on the spendy CD. We only got one copy in the store. One! That’s what a small release it was. The reason I recall this is because the case was cracked and since we only had one, I had to switch the plastic cassette-case with one from a promotional copy of something else.
So why is this relevant now? The other day, I was sitting waiting for the subway (I got one of six seats – this is bad, it means I just missed the previous train) and standing right near me was a tween boy, like 12 or 13, with a backpack sporting a Nirvana patch. This is the part where I began to wonder. Can this boy ever really know and love Nirvana? Who has the better fan experience? The person who witnessed the whole mad scene, the sea change in the sort of music that was popular, the bitter end? Or the kid who was born after it ended and discovers them after it’s all over? And I ask this question from the other side too, because I consider myself a big Beatles fan but they broke up before I was born and I missed the mania, the screaming, the “oh my God the new single is out, he got married, they’re going to appear on Ed Sullivan” part of things. Can it ever be the same for me? Plus, I already knew it was this huge cultural happening before I started. I came to the music knowing it had changed the world.
But on the other hand, the music comes to me untainted, without any extraneous stuff. It’s just music, not lunchboxes, not gossip, not visuals. It’s a finished work, like seeing the TV season on DVD over one weekend rather than eagerly awaiting the next episode after the cliffhanger. I never had to worry about what Yoko would do to the Beatles, it was already done if there was anything to be done. The same as how this kid probably doesn’t worry what effect wacky Courtney Love will have on Nirvana’s output. The same as the young’uns in my office who think I bought the duratran on eBay. When I say it was from my store, the store in which I worked, and I took it home at the end of its run in the lightbox, they get that “gosh, Grandma, tell me more!” look on their faces.
By the way, I’m not comparing Nirvana and the Beatles, they’re just examples.
Anyway, this is the kind of thing that goes through my head when I’m waiting for the train and trying to ignore the whistling Spanish guitar-playing busker. The punchline, by the way, is that this boy was actually standing apart from his family (just like young Becca on vacation with her family!) and was a French tourist. So he wouldn’t have experienced “Nirvana changes American music” up close even if he’d been born years earlier.
And now, for the interactive part. Please make your feelings known in the comments. Can the kids ever be as big fans as the people who lived through the band’s heyday and watched it all develop and explode? Or is it easier to love the music when it’s only that, music, and not caught in a whirlwind of hype? If you’re not a music fan, don’t feel left out! You can talk about your lunchbox or Ed Sullivan.
Well, obviously the title comes from Stairway to Heaven, and Led Zeppelin are another group who already were legendary, had a member die, and broke up before I was aware but this post isn’t about them.
This is my favorite Nirvana song. If you can’t feel the line, “I’m not like them but I can pretend,” then you haven’t been a teenager.