I’ve been listening to a lot of Nirvana recently. It started with my just turned eleven year old daughter and her introduction to the band. This particular daughter is basically just a recreation of my young self, both in appearance and mental stability (aka lack there of). She has recently found a connection with music, one that I can understand and appreciate. Her new found fascination began when she discovered that Billie Eilish’s songs speak to her. She reveres these songs as some sort of gospel in that middle school “no one else could possibly understand her” kind of way. Gone are last summer’s Taylor Swift sing alongs, and gushing with friends about their first real concert experience at the Reputation tour. I don’t think she’d let herself be caught dead listening to Bad Blood now. She has standards. She has Billie posters on her walls, she tells us facts about Billie, her kindred soul. Facts of such importance like how her brother was a character on Glee, a show that seems was just relevant, but she has only seen in streaming re-runs. Since music has always been a source of therapeutic relief in my life I get it. When I heard “Bellyache” fifteen times in a row (I mean seriously I’m pretty sure I could figure out the whole song by memory if handed an instrument now) I got it. So one night while she drilled me on what music I liked, and “Oh! Have you heard this Billie Eilish song???” (yah dude I have the album on my phone, I’m not as out of touch as you think I am) I decided it was time to educate her on all the amazing music out there that her “I know everything” little mind had never stopped to appreciate.
I asked her if she ever listens to Nirvana. She kind of shrugged and was like, yah I guess I’ve heard their songs. Now I KNOW she’s heard them, the same ones that were played in the 90’s non stop still pop up on our alternative radio station when I’m chauffeuring her around. Yes, I still listen to regular radio in the car, I’m all old school like that. In my defense my husband listens to political podcasts. Pretty sure he’s going to be yelling at the neighborhood kids to get of his lawn soon. Projecting back her oh so familiar pre-teen attitude of ya-you-think-you-know-but-you-have-no-idea I said okay, but really do you KNOW Nirvana? Because I have a feeling you and the deep little artistic soul that is bouncing around waiting to break free from you will attach to Nirvana’s music like a leech.
So firing up the old YouTube on our Smart TV I pulled up Nirvana at Redding. Let me take a minute here to reflect on the instant gratification of not only YouTube but also the fact that I can now pull it up on my TV. I mean really? When I was her age I was still just hoping my favorite song played on the radio so I could record it on the cassette recorder I had placed next to the speaker. Without fail the damn DJ would ALWAYS cut in before those last few chords of the song had dissipated. So was life in 1994. I would live with that scratchy interrupted version of my my music until I earned enough money to get to Tower Records and buy the album.
Carrying on, Nirvana at Redding is one of those truly epic concerts that music aficionados, such as myself and my eleven year old (clearly), will still be enraptured with decades down the road. I mean I expect that when our education system begins teaching pop culture history of our time period this event will have it’s very own page in the history books. Just like I expected she was enthralled. My eight year old son did his best impression of dancing man (not gonna lie, he was concerningly good at the part) while we fell into a discussion appreciating the magic of the event. The whole performance still so oddly bewitching even through old streaming video. I explained Nirvana’s influence in music while she tried to wrap her head around Kurt Cobain’s hospital gown. We discussed the meaning behind his lyrics, talked the intricacies of Lithium. Not only the song but the actual drug which I have had an on again off again fling with since my late teens. When she asked if he was still around, picking up on the fact that something was off about the way he was being talked about, we discussed his untimely death. She took it all in, her far too wise and deep for her young age mind processing and coming to understand a piece of the beautiful and tragic impact Nirvana had on the world of music and youth in the 90’s.
Since this introduction her homogenous playlist of Billie Eillish is no longer the only music I can hear on repeat filtering through the door to her room. Her alexa now also constantly playing “Come as you Are,” “Rape Me,” and “Lithium,” the latter being one of her favorites. The opening lines of Lithium seems to strike a chord with her tween girl angst and inevitable restructuring of friendships. She is feeling this particularly hard at the moment as she has spent the last three years using her oddly mature understanding of human interaction to build a web of popularity she now wants out of. She’s tired of being the social performing monkey of her peers. She is beginning to realize her “friends” aren’t really all that friendly or supportive. While she may not fully yet comprehend the true meaning behind “I’ve found my friends, they’re in my head” the lyrics struck a chord in a way that makes her feel understood, and isn’t that what lyrics are meant for anyway? After all any artist that needs their audience to connect to their work only in the way they did when they created it is in for disappointment.
So in her new found love of the music that I too had set to repeat years ago, when I finally got a CD player (remember those? My car actually still has one. I think my car might be getting old…). I found myself reconnecting and once again finding meaning in the songs. As an adult I have a new appreciation and a different connection than I did as a teen. Gone are the days of thinking that a band or singer was the only person/people in the world that could ever understand the way I felt. Instead of the dramatic angst of yesteryear I find myself grateful that someone took the time and was eloquent enough in their descriptions to not only so perfectly capture a time and a world that we have moved forward from, but to also capture raw human emotion. It is these emotions infused in the music that have the power to connect us. Giving us comfort in knowing someone might be able to empathize, especially when we feel misunderstood. In my mid thirties as I come out of the trance of a decade devoted to parenthood I crave a connection that doesn’t involve PTA meetings or gymnastics meets, and when I hear these songs that is what I find. Maybe I have graduated from my angsty adolescent behavior but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still feel the same thrills and disappointments. Nor am I any less crazy than I was back then, I’ve only learned how to function at a slightly more acceptable level.
So I will continue to pop in my earbuds and play “Nevermind” on repeat until my mood shifts and I connect or reconnect to another artist. My daughter will do the same and hopefully we will continue to share our new and old findings, connecting with not only the music but with each other in the process. I find myself making mental lists of what artists to share with her next, Foo Fighters is an obvious choice. I actually have videos on my phone from their amazing concert in Centennial Park a few years ago. You remember that tour when Dave Grohl was recovering from a badly broken leg but was so rockstar he performed in a medical boot and made it look cool? I tried Fiona Apple last weekend, her music reminding me of a 90’s version of Billie Eilish, my daughter wasn’t sold. Maybe when I set my Pandora to one of the alt stations I have saved, a song I have forgotten about will pop up and we will spend weeks with Green Day or The Yah Yah Yah’s on repeat. Also, dear daughter, don’t think for a second I haven’t heard those late 90’s pop punk songs filtering out from your bedroom too. Just so you know I know every word to those songs and spent many summer nights singing them at the top of my lungs in some open air concert venue or on college evenings bobbing my head to the beat in a glorified bar with a small stage in San Francisco. I know you better than you think babe.