On September 24th, Nirvana’s Nevermind turned 25 years old. Its influence is now legendary and can still be heard in a majority of popular rock songs on the radio. Their fashion (or anti-fashion) has become a cultural landmark of the 90’s. There was a time, however, for a twelve-year-old boy, when being influenced by Nirvana was a huge pain in the ass.
I was ten years old and living in Missouri when Nevermind was released. At the time, it didn’t mean anything to me. It wasn’t until the second single, “Come As You Are,” came out that I became interested in them. It was the summer of ‘92 and I spent most of my summer hanging out at the public swimming pool in Cordell, Oklahoma. The music they played there was the pop station, but sometimes “Come As You Are” would play in between “Achy Breaky Heart” and “I’m Too Sexy.” That same summer, MTV started showing the video for “Lithium” nonstop. This hit me even harder than “Come As You Are.” Was there more music out there like this?
It turns out there was, and when I moved from Oklahoma to Florida in January of ‘93, I met someone who would open my musical doors even further. His name was Gabe, and his brother was into “Alternative” music. Gabe would bring his brother’s cassettes (showing my age here) over to my house, and we would listen and study them. Nevermind was one of these. The singles were being played to death at this point, but the songs they didn’t play on the radio turned out to be even better. They were loud, they were fast, and there was an intensity that coincided with my feelings about my recent relocation to Jacksonville, Florida.
I hated it there, or more accurately, I hated the school system there. I could not even be called by my nickname, Robbie, in class. I had to be referred to by my legal name at all times. I had a teacher throw a desk at me and yell, “In this class, I am your mother!” I don’t remember the context; I just remember it was frightening. Music gave me an escape from this day-to-day madness, and Nevermind became my go-to album.
Eventually, I had to pick it up on CD, and when I did, I was presented with another gift, a secret song. I laid in bed one night, listening to it from start to finish before I fell asleep. Ten minutes after the final song, an explosion of feedback came from my speakers and startled me awake. The song was called “Endless, Nameless,” and I still credit it for getting me into noise music. At over six minutes in length, the song was a distorted mess that felt like it could fall apart at any moment.
This led me to discover other “noisy” bands. Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, and Butthole Surfers became a part of my musical DNA. MTV was starting to show weirder music videos, and Gabe and I would talk about them every day at school. I remember him trying to turn me onto some band called Radiohead because they had a video for a song called “Creep.” He swore it was the best song ever made. It couldn’t have been that good. Where are they now?
In August of ‘93, my family relocated again. This time to Bonne Terre, Missouri. I was back in my home state, but not my hometown, after almost two years away. Nevermind had become a cultural phenomenon and I was a different person. My hair had grown out, my clothes had become baggier, and my T-shirts were promoting bands most people had never heard of. I had become “weird.”
My weirdness had a way of attracting other weirdos though, and that was good. A girl in my science class with dark, dyed red hair noticed the bands I liked and recommended I listen to Fugazi. We became instant friends, although our time together lasted only two weeks before I had to move again.
This was because for the first time in my life, I was being targeted for what I liked. One day, while working in the lab, we were told to take out a piece of our hair and put it on a slide. I remarked to Fugazi Girl that I had thick hair. The teacher sent me to the principal’s office because, according to him, I had said, “I have DICK hair.”
There was also an incident with two guys who didn’t like the way I dressed. They started off being worried about the beaded necklaces I wore. To them, it was “faggy.” Then it became about the Butthole Surfers shirt I wore. “Yeah, I bet you ARE a Butthole Surfer, huh, faggot?” I ignored them to the best of my ability until one day they followed me onto the bus that took me home from school. They kept calling me “faggot” while taking students’ leftover lunches and throwing them at me. When the bus stopped and it was time for me to get off, they followed me. After I took my last step, I was greeted with a fist to the back of my head. They proceeded to knock me down and beat the shit out of me while everyone on the bus watched out their windows. I was somehow able to get on my feet and run to my grandmother’s house. After that, I was relocated back to my hometown of Farmington, Missouri.
A month later, Nirvana’s next and final album, In Utero, came out. Eight months after that, Kurt Cobain shot and killed himself. They had become one of if not the biggest bands in the world. It became typical to see people with dyed hair and piercings. There were still those guys that liked to antagonize the “freaks,” but the freaks had found their people by then. It was no longer a pain in the ass to like Nirvana. It was probably a pain in the ass if you didn’t.
Charlie Nickles has held jobs painting car emblems, inspecting cereal, and making vegetable trays. He currently lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he writes, works, and beatboxes “Billie Jean” to unappreciative cats.