It was late one night in January 1992 an my friend Kris was sleeping over. We always stayed up to watch SNL, eager to catch Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, and the rest of the gang like we did almost every week. This night, however, was different. A band called Nirvana was performing. Like so many other teenagers, we had been inundated with MTV’s relentless barrage of Smells Like Teen Spirit, which aired every hour on the hour over the previous few months. I was sick of the fucking song, MTV had ruined it and we knew they were going to play it again on SNL.
I remember Kurt, with his bright violet hair, strolling on stage, forcing himself through the song, which still sounded fantastic. But it wasn’t their bitter rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit that altered my teens, or in my view, the trajectory of the 1990s. It was their next song Territorial Pissings. A far better track, to be sure, and a big fuck you to the label, to MTV, and to SNL who would have preferred a hit like In Bloom or Come As You Are.
After ripping through Territorial Pissings, the band smashed their equipment. Cobain jabbed his cheap guitar into his amp. Dave Grohl tossed over his drum kit. The audience screamed in shock and nervous excitement. I was thirteen and I had no idea what the fuck I had just witnessed. Kris and I looked at each other, bewildered, laughing, energized. The next weekend my mom dropped us off at the mall and I took my ten dollars and ran to Sam Goody and bought Nevermind on cassette. I must have listened to side A a thousand times before my shitty walkman finally ate the tape.
I really can’t believe Nevermind was released thirty years ago this past week. So much has changed, yet so much hasn’t. I still get a childish thrill watching footage of Cobain – who I, like millions of others, was enamored with – rebelling, destroying, letting us know it was okay to be subversive, to be different. No matter what you think of Nirvana, of Cobain, or the “Seattle sound”, those few years in the early 1990s impacted our lives. It changed the course of the decade, but more importantly, it gave voice to a bunch of outcast kids who were slowly dying inside, locked in their suburban basements, crying to be let out.
Thanks, Kurt, for opening the hatch.