(2011 note: This is my very first blog entry from early 2007, originally posted my old My Space site. As I was just a baby blogger, it’s not very good, and chunks of it have been re-written and re-purposed for later entries. I keep it as a historical curiosity.)
I have dedicated the past eight years to the field of education, and in doing so passed from a 24-year-old whose evenings out did not really get going until at least 10:00 pm to a 32-year-old whose Target bed-in-a-bag comforter is usually tucked up around his chin by 11:00. The second thoughts and repercussions of this life choice may fill a future blog or two, but is not the subject of tonight’s spiel. The subject of tonight’s spiel is music, and emotional ownership of music.
I am privy to any number of conversations carried on by high school freshman and sophomores when they are supposed to be engaged in whatever drivel I have assigned them. Recently, I heard one freshman lass make repeated references to a “Pete.” Playing the part of stern classroom disciplinarian, I reprimanded her to stay on task, and who was this “Pete” person anyway? Turns out, she was referencing Pete Wentz of the band Fall Out Boy. I made a disparaging comment about the state of young folks’ music, and went back to pretending to work. The freshman girl in question wasn’t even pretending to work, so I guess that puts her one up on me.
Having not heard a lick of Fall Out Boy’s music, but having seen a number of glossy hairstyle-oriented photos and read some reviews, I feel pretty secure in dismissing them as utter horseshit. But I am not the target audience, and the emotional investment of the girl who was discussing them was just as fervent as my own to my own music…a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. No…actually about 15 years ago in the exact same dead-end town of Yuba City, California.
In this era of download-able music, kids will never know the tactile sensation of walking into a music store the size of a walk-in closet (Camelot Music at the Y.C. Mall), going to the three-foot wide section of rack labeled “Alternative” (a brand-new category just added a few moths ago), picking up that copy of Frizzle Fry by Primus that I had been eyeing ever since a friend played me their cut from the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack on the cassette (!) player in his Chevy stepside pickup in the high school parking lot. The CD was housed in a long cardboard box, and paid for with a bulging pocketful of $15 in change, some saved, some pilfered from the change jar on Dad’s dresser.
I am firmly convinced that the impact of Nirvana on my generation is the exact equivalent to the impact of the Beatles playing on the Ed Sullivan Show on a previous generation. I had been a subscriber to Rolling Stone magazine for about a year at this point, and read their polite but dismissive 3-star review of Nevermind a month or so earlier, along with a more enthusiastic review from the ’91 year-end issue of Spin (Perry Farrell on the cover), so I was aware there was something brewing.
Sometime in early ’92, my friends Jeff W. and Jeff O., arriving in recently acquired cars driven with the permission of recently acquired licenses, mounted the stairs to my bedroom. Jeff W. had a CD. He kept it tucked behind his back, as if it were some kind of glorious secret. “See if you know who this is,” he said, and placed the disc in my player. The opening chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” blasted out from my Quasar speakers. It was the first time I heard it, but having done my magazine homework, I knew who it was, and said so, proudly. The three of us stood there at the foot of my bed, and listened. I was dumbfounded, transported. Believe it or not, Nirvana’s major label debut was hard to come by in Yuba City in December 1991. Jeff W. let me dub off a cassette copy that day. (Which was worn out by the next summer, when I actually bought the CD for the first time, from an “Alternative” rack that was a full fifteen feet wide)
The likes of Paula Abdul and Color Me Badd had only recently been knocked off the charts by Guns N’ Roses, and now here was something that made GnR seem like antiquated dinosaurs. It all happened in a matter of weeks. Jesus, it was exciting…
Funny thing, the passing of time. I’m listening to Nevermind right now on the ol’ iTunes (replacing my long-defunct dubbed-off cassette), and it really doesn’t do much for me. I admire it’s technical qualities, I enjoy basking in the memories it brings back, but it’s definitely just an old picture in a thick frame for me now. I am much more moved by much more recent music. That gives me hope. Maybe I’m not ready for the elephant’s graveyard just yet.
That is now, but I’m writing about THEN. When I, and the friends I had at the time (scattered to the four winds now), thought this music was a manifesto created by disenfranchised garage-rock punks in the Pacific Northwest just for us. It was like a secret handshake. Shaking our heads in pity for the few, straggling peers who weren’t in the know. “Oh, you still listen to Bon Jovi? Jeez…”
I started dating a certain girl right around this time. As of this writing in mid-2007, I can state with a fair degree of certainty that she despises me for reasons both accurate and imagined. (Again, that’s a story for another time.) But at the time, she shone for me like the north star, in the words of Winston Churchill.
…January ’92. Eventful for many reasons, including the first glimpse on Nirvana on the TV…
The girlfriend and I were faithful weekly viewers of Saturday Night Live. This was the time when Dana Carvey was considered cutting-edge, Adam Sandler and David Spade were up-and-coming supporting players, and Phil Hartman was alive (and all was well with the world.) Week in, week out we watched them come and go on SNL. Guest hosts like Patrick Swayze and Rob Morrow (remember him?). We watched Sinead O’Connor tear up the picture of the Pope and asked each other “What the fuck?” We would get dozy after Weekend Update, and lean against each other. If I was at her house, when the show was over at 1:00 am, she would walk me to her front porch, kiss my forehead and admonish me to “sing along with the stereo so you don’t fall asleep driving home” even though I lived less than three miles away.
I don’t remember that date off the top of my head, but I according to my research, Nirvana was the musical guest on SNL on January 11, 1992. I had looked forward to it all week. They did not disappoint.
When I drove home that night, guess what I was signing?
My ultimate point is, I think people are losing something vital. You don’t have to wait a week to see a band play two songs on a late night TV show. You can look them up on youtube. You don’t have to bring in a pocketful of change scrounged over six weeks to take a chance on a full CD. You can pick and choose what you want off the Internet for free, or at most, for 99 cents a song. And yet…and yet…
The emotional ownership of the music is the same. Kids still share knowledge of a new band like a secret handshake. The stuff I think of as crap is the stuff these kids are listening to as they lean, half-asleep, against their first girlfriends, the ones who will break their hearts in a month or a year, and forever burn that music into their memories of a certain time and place. As long as that continues, I think there’s hope yet.
“And just maybe I’m to blame for all I heard/And I’m not sure/I’m so excited, I can’t wait to meet you there…”
Rock on, babies…