Recently, my wife and I got a call from our letting agents that our landlord was selling up and that we would need to find somewhere else to live. Thankfully after a few very stressful months we did just that. Whilst packing up for the move I stumbled across some awesome things from my youth that I’ve been holding on to, hidden deep inside various cupboards. The thing that stuck out the most was a folder I had made in year 8 of school which contained clippings from magazines and newspapers about Nirvana. Year 8 of school for me was 1992 and the clippings dated from then until the middle of 1994 when I had filled up all of the sleeves in the folder.
Amongst the various clippings, which were mostly from Kerrang and Raw magazine (both of which I never missed when I was a young teenager, which made Wednesday my favourite day of the week), were articles cut from newspapers the day the news had broken that Kurt Cobain had taken his own life. Reading the dates these articles were written made me gasp, can it really be almost 20 years since Kurt died?? This made me feel incredibly weird and emotional and it got me thinking a lot about the last 20 years and how those couple of years of being a Nirvana fan before Kurt’s death had had a massive impact on my life as a whole.
Now, inevitably with a big anniversary looming you will find article after article about Kurt and the legacy he left behind. A lot of these will say very similar things, probably along the lines of ‘he was a spokesperson for his generation’ or that ‘he changed the musical landscape for the better’. Which is all fair enough but so much has been written in this vein that it feels like white noise, it starts to detract from the truth because you get bored of hearing it. From my perspective, Nirvana were around at a time when I was at the right age for them to make a big difference and they really did. To look at the US billboard chart pre-Nirvana and post-Nirvana clearly tells a story of how alternative music suddenly became the mainstream. It is remarkable, but if you just concentrate on the fact that a different kind of band was now occupying positions on the pop chart then you’re looking at something that means nothing to me. We all know major labels will jump on any old bandwagon if it makes enough money and looking at the state of popular music in the last 10 years you can see that this didn’t last as long as was once thought. In the short term Nirvana paved the way for me to discover more bands that I would really like but in the long term it’s so much more than that. I can look at my life as a whole up to this point and can say wholeheartedly that Nirvana had a hand in shaping most aspects of it, from the music I listen to now to the way I view things, the friends I have and the woman I’m married to. I am not overstating it when I say that Nirvana has had an incredible influence on my whole life whether they meant to or not and I can safely say that Kurt Cobain is my hero.
I was awoken on the morning of the 9th of April 1994 by my brother, who at the time was a paperboy. He came in to the bedroom we shared and tried to wake me up, I was fast asleep on the top bunk of the bunk bed we had in our room. I remember waking up to the sound of him telling me Kurt Cobain was dead, he had said it a few times before I came to the conclusion that he was being a dick and as such I told him to piss off. Kurt couldn’t be dead so I went back to sleep. Later that morning I got up and found out that was probably the only time my brother hadn’t been winding me up about something and had actually been telling the truth. It stated in the newspaper as a fact that he was dead, a self inflicted gun shot wound to the head and that he had been found the day before on the 8th of April and had possibly been dead for a few days. I was shocked and gutted but didn’t really know how to process these feelings. I remember being back at school the following Monday and it being a weird topic of conversation amongst my friends. I also remember talking to my guitar tutor about it later on in that same week and telling him how I’d cried when watching a hastily put together programme about him on MTV but it seemed weird to be saying these things. I don’t think this had ever happened to me before, I knew what it felt like when a family member died but this was someone who I had never met or even seen in real life. Someone who only existed in magazines, on the telly or on the CDs/tapes I had collected. Initially I had felt really upset that I would never see Nirvana play live, I had been begging my dad to get tickets to see them at Brixton Academy where they had been due to play 4 nights later that year, he said he would try but he was having trouble getting them and then after Kurt had been in a coma in Italy a couple of months prior to his death had given up completely. I don’t know if he had tried or not but I had been convinced I was going to that show and the fact that that was no longer possible upset me a lot. These days a celebrity seems to die on a very regular basis which is dealt with by a standard tweet or Instagram tribute and then moving on. This wasn’t an option in 1994, I spent the day I had found out about his death asking my dad to buy most of the newspapers so I could cut out the bit about Kurt and stick them in my folder. I has been in love with Nirvana for less than 2 years at this point but in that short time a lot had changed.
Before the long hot summer of 1992 I had already become a big fan of music. I liked it when, as a young boy, my mum and dad would play the Beatles or the Beach Boys in the car and then towards the end of the 80s I had become obsessed with Michael Jackson. I spent hours watching live videos of him and playing my copies of Bad and Thriller on cassette. My cousin Becka would always teach me a Michael Jackson dance routine when she came to babysit, she was also a massive fan and responsible for introducing me to other music too. When I was 8 or 9 she made me a tape of all the songs on Appetite For Destruction by Guns N Roses that had no swearing on and this set me off on my obsession with music, records and bands. Soon after, in 1989, I bought my first record. I spent my weeks pocket money on a 7″ vinyl copy of ‘Poison’ by Alice Cooper from Woolworths. I remember getting home and asking my Dad if I could put it on to which he said yes and then became annoyed at the sound that was pouring out of the speakers, he didn’t like it which didn’t make sense to me as I thought it was incredible. My brother and I would then go on the regularly spend our pocket money on 7″ singles of varying genres. Our favourites were, Groove is in the heart by Dee-Lite and Batdance by Prince. About the time I started at Secondary school in 1991 something happened that opened me up to whole new world of music, my parents bought a new washing machine.
Now, it wasn’t the washing machine as such but more to do with the thing that came free with this new purchase, which happened to be a massive satellite dish. And this thing was massive, I remember being scared yet completely excited on the cold November night while my Dad was trying to attach the dish to the chimney on top of our house. Once this was operational, what seemed like an endless list of new tv channels became available to us, most importantly of which was MTV. MTV or MTV Europe as it was back then was nothing like it is now. Apart from The Real World the schedule wasn’t packed with reality shows, it was music video after music video interrupted by programmes about music and I fell head over heels in live with it. At this point in time, I had moved on from my Michael Jackson obsession and was developing a passion for rock music, most notably of which were Metallica and Guns N Roses. This was the Use your Illusion and Black album era, both of which we’re providing plenty of MTV friendly videos that had captured my attention. Around me, friends were developing similar ideas. My best friend at the time was already in to Iron Maiden in a big way and pretty soon all things metal became a big topic of conversation.
But then, watching hours of MTV led me on to discovering Nirvana and things quickly changed. There was something new and exciting about this band, the music was loud and powerful, the lead singers voice was raw and beautiful but this was very different from the other loud rock music I was listening to. I seemed to be able to identify with Nirvana more than I could with other bands I had been getting to, even as a 12 year old boy. Metallica, Guns n Roses and other bands of that type and their fans you’d see in the crowd in their live videos always looked like definite grown ups. They were identifiably a lot older than I was but Nirvana and the people you’d see in the crowd at their gigs looked young. I may have had ideas above my station but I could say that this was my generation, when people started talking about generation x then I felt that they were talking about me, my friends and people my age. Also, there wasn’t this macho, tough guy bravado going on that always left me feeling a bit detached from proper metal bands. I had found a niche that worked for and made sense to me. This was the first time I had ever noticed a movement was happening and I wanted desperately to be part of it. The word Grunge had started appearing everywhere and there were other bands with similar appeal that were being mentioned under this umbrella.
Pretty soon my group of friends at school were kids from all different year groups Who shared a love of music. Without really noticing we all soon had long hair and wore Dr Martens boots and had picked up the nickname from all the other kids at school, ‘grunge club’. This term was used by everyone to mock us consistently but I didn’t care, I felt proud to be part of this club. I didn’t care if this was making us unpopular or outsiders because we had found our identity and with that a really close knit group of friends who shared the same views and tastes.
On Christmas Day 1992 I got my first guitar and by the time Kurt died I was forming bands and writing songs. My first proper band that actually played in front of other people held Nirvana as more than just an influence, half the songs we played were Nirvana songs. We were called ‘Toothpaste’ and we made a point of covering the more obscure songs from Bleach like ‘Big Cheese’ and the punkier songs from other albums like ‘Tourette’s’. It had already seeped into our subconscious that the more obscure the better. Nirvana probably never set out to be a life changing band, a gate way for so many people to discover an alternative to the mainstream but that’s exactly what they became. Armed with our Nirvana covers and original songs, which were all written using the Nirvana template which ventured further out than just playing in our school hall. Our first show must’ve been disastrous but at the time I felt like I had arrived, it was at a venue that became a big part of our teens and early 20’s, the Lido in Margate. I was 14 at the time and this was early summer in 1995, we got through our set and it was enough to get the attention of someone who would become my best friend to this day.
That person was Paul, he is now my best friend and was in attendance that night, he thought we were awful but liked the fact we liked good music and were nice people. We soon, after several Friday night visits to the lido and other haunts that let bands play around Margate, became good friends. Being a few years older than me he became someone who would pass on a vast musical knowledge and open me up to several new bands and ways of finding new music. Paul had seen Nirvana play at Reading 1992 so I knew I could trust his judgement, it was in his company and under his guidance, at a record fair that I bought my first Fugazi album (Red Medicine) and it was in his bedroom that I first heard Sunny Day Real Estate. We would talk for hours about bands, record labels and everything that that entails. We would read fanzines and go to shows. We played in bands together which would take us around the UK and Europe, opening us up to experiencing first hand what D.I.Y and underground culture was all about.
I’m not close friends with everyone from this time or who I went to school with but all my friends and my wife are in my life right now because of this time. We still hold all of the values of punk rock and D.I.Y culture that were introduced to us by growing up and finding similar bands at similar times. We are left leaning, music obsessives, many of us are parents who want to be able to pass these views on to our offspring.
I hope all of my kids find this kind of influence that takes their lives off into an amazing direction. It’s hard to think that someone will come along and change their world like Kurt and Nirvana did for me. Maybe if Nirvana hadn’t broke big then I would still have somehow found my same way to discover everything that I did, but they did and I can relate it all back to them. I will always love Nirvana and I will forever miss Kurt. I hope all the teenagers I see from time to time who walk around looking awkward with weird hair and Nirvana t-shirts are getting the same benefit as a teen now as I did from discovering Nirvana in the early 90s. I hope that, even with the benefit of the internet and all the luxury and ease of use it brings with it, kids these days learn to dig deeper and explore an alternative world that exists outside of the mainstream.
Thanks Kurt for everything xxxx
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