Anniversaries always tend to make us feel old, don’t they? They remind us of the passing of time. An anniversary can be as sweet and sentimental as a first kiss or as gut-wrenching as the passing of a loved one, but they always share one thing in common. The event is forever etched in time, dusted off once a year and reminisced about. We each celebrate anniversaries in our own unique way: It can lead to a pleasant conversation that begins with a simple “remember when,” or it can be a quiet moment of self-reflection as we ponder how much our lives have changed since. Today, I’m going to talk about the latter.
Each anniversary is special and significant to the person who celebrates it. Sometimes they are very personal milestones, having nothing to do with traditional occasions such as birthdays and weddings. I myself enjoy such an anniversary. It was twenty years ago this week that I first discovered the band Nirvana, which, unbeknownst to me at the time, would play a powerful hand in shaping the adult that I am today.
I had a pretty normal childhood growing up in the ‘80s. I wanted to be He-Man, Reagan was president, ALF was on TV, Nintendo was king, the Olympics were in Los Angeles, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller was the coolest thing our family ever purchased from our local Bi-Mart. I had food, clothing, a roof over my head, and the benefit of two parents in a loving marriage. We were far from rich, but our family never went without. I wasn’t a popular kid by any stretch of the imagination, though I had a lot of friends in school. Our house sat on the corner lot of a typical suburban cul-de-sac, serving as the neighborhood hot spot for kids that wanted to converge and play together. It really was as good as life could get.
I remember watching the ball drop on TV in 1989, as we said goodbye to the ‘80s and hello to the ‘90s. I said to my brother, “I don’t want it to be 1990. I like the ‘80s.” I was thirteen years old and entering those awkward teenage years that we all remember so fondly. In fact, my teenage years were so awkward that I could have been the poster boy for the cliché. I had begun to pack on many extra pounds, my childhood friends had all been split up into cliques, and the popular girls routinely used me as the textbook example of “the guy they’d rather kiss a frog than be seen in public with.” My self-esteem took a major tumble and I suffered from a devastating loss of identity.
I did all the same things that most kids did: I tried wearing only the coolest brand names, listening to only the coolest bands, and of course, tried to hang out with only the coolest people. None of it worked. Every time I attempted to stick a toe into the deep end of the pool, one of the popular kids would cut me right back down to size by reminding me that I was unwanted. I grew so tired of the poor treatment from my schoolmates that I became stricken with a debilitating anxiety disorder. Frustrated and angry by the unfair hand that I felt life had dealt me, I couldn’t face the ridicule anymore and I dropped out of school. The cool kids had won and I accepted that I was just a nameless, faceless teenager that no one would miss.
I’d always felt weak for dropping out of school, though it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In my sixteen month hiatus away from the torment and peer pressure of public school, I began to find myself. My real self, not that callow youth that had adopted trends in hopes of not having to be on the outside looking in. I began to find my own way, and it all started with a new philosophy on life and a love of post-modern music.
Hidden away on a low budget AM radio station called “The Beat” was an emerging style of music that spoke to the deepest layers of my soul. It was music being created by people that rejected conformity and assured people that it was okay to defy labels and to think and do for yourself. This was what it meant to be a part of the “grunge” era. It wasn’t a new breed of unhygienic slackers that simply didn’t want to cut their hair and get jobs; it was a generation of free thinkers that stared back into the eyes of a cookie-cutter society and said “fuck you! We matter!” We were the modern day Island of Rejected Toys.
I had fought so hard for the love of my peers, but then realized that I was missing the love of someone much more important: Me. It was within myself that I had finally found the acceptance I so desperately craved. And to think, this transformation all began on the day I first heard the opening riff to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Those four very basic barre chords reverberating against my eardrums broke the shackles of an old mindset that had been holding me back.
As Nirvana’s Nevermind turns twenty years old this week, I can hardly believe that it was so long ago. Today, I am thirty-five years old, and the hair that once proudly reached beneath my shoulders is long gone. I am happy to report, however, that I am still very much that same person. I lost the angst over time, but kept the ideals.
Kurt Cobain never wanted to be known as the voice of a generation, but that’s exactly what he was. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t fully grasp the depths of his intelligence and profoundness until I was older. I see teenagers today wearing Nirvana t-shirts—clearly not even have been born when Nevermind was released—and I wonder if they even understand what it all meant. Sure, they may like the music, but do they get it? I imagine it’s the same way my parents felt twenty years ago when my generation was full of teenagers wearing The Beatles and Led Zepplin t-shirts.
So, allow me to wrap this up by saying Happy 20th Anniversary, Nevermind. After twenty long years, you’re just as masterful and poetic as you were back then. May your ability to inspire and teach live on forever. I became the person I am today because of what you meant to me. You were absolutely at the right place at the right time for me and so many others. Thank you.