In 1991, I left home.
I mean, I was a grown up at the time. And I couldn’t see what was supposed to come next. My mom had harped on me (mom, if you read this, you know it’s true) for years about joining the military and doing something positive for my future. That, combined with my dead-end factory job, pushed me straight into the arms of my local recruiters office, where I quickly signed the paperwork to join the air force. After a wait of a month or so in order to lose a quarter of a pound (for that was how much overweight I was), I sped off to Texas. I had no guaranteed job (those of you who are current or former military may have gasped at that; no guaranteed job usually = a really crappy job) but started training on Memorial Day weekend.
Years later, my sister told me that I was the bravest person she knew for doing this. I just felt like I had no other option and I was running away.
In the fall of the same year, I went to my first duty station—the Pentagon—as a computer programmer (I got very lucky on that whole open general thing). I was poor (my E1 rank garnered me about $250 every two weeks) and spent all my money on beer and cigarettes. And music.
It was a weird time in my life. The world was opening up to me in ways it never had before, courtesy of getting the hell out of my hometown. I was living in Washington DC—well, DC adjacent as I was living in Northern Virginia. But I was exploring music in ways I’d never been able to before.
I bought my first CD player at that duty station, and with my post-basic training cash influx, I outfitted myself with a few must-have CDs: the Led Zeppelin box set, Nine Inch Nails “Pretty Hate Machine,” Shabba Ranks “As Raw As Ever” and Nirvana’s “Nevermind.”
I remember the first time I listened to Nirvana. It moved me. It shook me. It made me question everything I thought was real. I remember hanging out with the guys I worked with, and we immersed ourselves in this CD. It was a big deal.
The rise of grunge was widely touted as the end of the hair band—a welcome and merciful death. There were so many hair bands jumping on the formula that even the pioneers of the genre (think Poison, Warrant) were apparently coming out of their AquaNet Extra Super Hold-induced fog and going in a new direction, as evidenced by 1990’s “Something to Believe in” from Poison and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” from Warrant (though that one *did* come out on the “Cherry Pie” album), steering away from the silliness and the down boys and the eyeliner.
Nirvana exploded with a fresh voice that our ears were eager to hear. Watching Montage of Heck last week brought me back to the sights and sounds and feelings of the early 90s, and it was like a gut punch all over again. Except this time, It was a peek behind the flannel at the damaged messiah who led the way. It was a visceral, uncomfortable experience.
At one point in the film, I turned to my husband and said, “it’s a damn shame that it’s the most damaged minds that create the most incredible art.” This peek into the mind of Kurt Cobain was shepherded by his own daughter, informed by his family and friends and most importantly, Cobain’s own words through writings and recordings.
Though the film killed my ability to romanticize that time, I think it’s required reading for music lovers and especially Generation Xers. Cobain was the Generation X Elvis, Joplin, Morrison and Hendrix rolled into one. He reshaped music and sacrificed himself for the privilege.
I urge you to find this documentary and watch it.