October 4, 2011

20 Years of Nirvana's Nevermind

When I first heard Nevermind playing in my cousin’s room it was like I was punched in the face. In a good way. I instantly knew there was a world out there that was as irrevocably fucked up as I was feeling on most days. It was 1997, I was 13 and a raging malcontent without an outlet. That was till I, and an entire generation, stumbled onto Nevermind. After which everything changed. And the rest of the 90s was left sucking its glistening cock.

My cousin loaned me the cassette and I drowned out the world with it, rewinding, fast-forwarding, my walkman guzzling batteries like a pisser in bar. Cobain became my unwilling, dirt-kicking Messiah. This was a sound like nothing I’d ever heard before. Remember those were pre-internet, pre-youtube days (and thank god for it), and music was hard to come by. From the killer opening riffs and cocky lyrics of ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’, the smoked-out snarls of ‘In Bloom’, the brotherhood of ‘Come as You Are’, the anger of ‘Territorial Pissings’, to the pulsating drums of ‘Stay Away’, the album doused mainstream in kerosene and set it on fire. Making a mockery of popular music by staying on the Billboard charts No. 1 for a long while at the same time. The album broke all notions of music at it was perceived. Suddenly Metallica and GnR sounded like a fog of grannies knitting scarves. It was historic. It made a god out of Cobain and monsters of his fans. But 20 years since the release of Nevermind and I’m surprised at how the music still has its resigned, pessimistic and provocative edge and doesn’t sound outdated like so many of the two-bit bands that come and go without a trace nowadays. This is a testimony to its staggering genius for great art perpetuates, stimulates, and endures.

It’s difficult to explain what the album did to my young mind without slipping into cliché. The album shaped me to an extent where I think my dormant alcoholism and my incapability to have lasting relationships have root in the very spools of its reel. That aside, Nevermind gave me courage to be disenchanted, gawky, ragged, to diss god and my folks. It also turned me into a hater of all things moral, silly girls, pretty boys, newspapers. It gave ugliness its much-needed beauty. But most importantly it gave me, and again, an entire generation, the power of music and the feeling of invincibility that comes along with it. The world could not break our thin bones. 

In the 14 years since Nevermind, I found out that pot makes me see yellow spots and helps me to write. I fell in love and got my heart promptly broken. I graduated. Came to Delhi and ran away to the hills where I finished my money, set a hotel room on fire, slept on a boat in the middle of the lake, drenched in puke. Came back with a toothbrush and five bucks, just enough to call for help. I fell in love again but with lesser intensity, and fell out of it. I dropped acid and danced for three days straight. I ran away to Goa, chopped tomatoes in a restaurant, dyed my hair pink, fell in love with my first love and fell out of it just as quickly. I graduated from college, bummed around. Got a job that made me hate my days. Quit. Got another job. Quit. Got another job. Sometimes I think about my waywardness and wonder how much of it has to do with my adoloscent punk and grunge awakening. How much of it has to do with Nevermind?

The baby on the cover is all grown up, but I wonder if he ever got his head out of water.

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