What Nirvana and NEVERMIND mean to me

July 8, 2008 · Print This Article


Nirvana Nevermind

I was riding home with my mom when I first heard Nirvana.  I have no idea how I was allowed to listen to the radio station of my choice that time.  As I recall, it was usually her music.  Yet this time I had it tuned to a rock radio station.  

I heard this song come on.  It transfixed me.  I was more than mesmerized.  We pulled into the driveway while it was still playing.  I ran into my room, turned on the radio and called my best friend at the time, Rick (Ricardo).  I told him to immediately turn on the radio and listen to this.  He got his radio on in time for the last chorus.  I had no idea at all what the singer was saying in the chorus, but I was totally gripped by it.  I remember saying to Rick, “listen to what he’s saying in the chorus!”  

No other song has ever stuck out in my mind the first time I heard it like that one did.  I was 17 at the time, a senior in high school, living in Cape Coral, certainly no music mecca of any kind.  My family didn’t even have MTV.

The song was “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. 

I don’t remember what happened after the next song came on the radio.  I didn’t even rush out to buy the album, NEVERMIND.  I had started building a CD collection in 1988, but I didn’t own the CD of NEVERMIND until mid-December.  It was given to me as a Christmas present by Becky, a co-worker at the country club I worked at then.  The employees participated in a gift exchange.  She said it was very hard to find.  That CD resides still in my closet here in Tokyo, some thousands of miles from where I first possessed it.  From January 1992 to May 1992, that album was played every time Rick and I drove down to the beach to play beach volleyball on Sunday mornings, save for the first track, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  That song was given special reverential treatment.  It was not meant to be played at just any unspecific time.  It was something to be used only wisely, and deliberately.  It was perhaps the first time I gave a song that kind of status.  I have a long list of them now.

Yet it would not come to be even my favorite song from that album.  Perhaps only one person in the whole world knows my absolute favorite song.  The most powerful song in the world to me.  That person would be Dee, co-owner of the Deepin in Jeonju, South Korea.  The song is “Drain You.”  It is the song I go to only when all else fails.  Dee played this song for me as I took my leave of the Deepin for the last time.  As I walked out into the alley from the Deepin, I wept, and strode out into the night as I always do.

Dee and Jason outside the Deepin Jeonju, South Korea

In college I recall sitting in a parking lot on USF’s campus, in my car, and for some reason I needed to play that song.  In my last college apartment, I also played the song, preparing pillows and using wooden spoons to play the drums along with the song.  I believe “Drain You” to contain the best drumming of any song I’ve ever heard.  

The way the song slows down in the last third almost to absolute quiet, then slowly builds up, and finally roars in catharsis, it’s the only sure, absolute thing that can break through anything, and relieve whatever pressure or illness that has taken hold of me.  “I’ve traveled through and to you to end up in your affection,” which I know is not how the lyrics are written, but it is how I long believed they went, and continue to believe.  “You’re my vitamins.”  I know what people think the song is really about, but it’s not about that for me.  You know what I think the song is about.

The weight of music for me comes from its level of desperation.  If it has none, then the music has no weight at all.  You can HEAR in Kurt’s voice the desperation, you hear in the way Dave beats the drumheads, trying to break them (he confirmed this in an interview, to my great joy as I always thought that’s what he must have been trying to do) the desperation.  They HAVE to play this song.  And I HAVE to listen.  

In the following years I would come to love Kurt…..as much as almost anybody I’ve ever met in person.  I never got to see Nirvana live.  For some unknown, but now ludicrous, reason, I didn’t go see them when I had the chance to in Lakeland, Florida.  Why didn’t I?  I just don’t remember.  

When Kurt passed I was in a daze.  I did not LOVE Nirvana before this.  I did not LOVE Kurt before that.  But I did after.  And I went about atoning for this.  Pearl Jam were due to release a new album after Kurt’s passing, and I needed Eddie to pen a song explaining what happened.  And he did.  And I saw Pearl Jam perform “Immortality” on Saturday Night Live.  And I heard Eddie say, “some die just to live.”  And I said thank you Eddie, now I understand.  “There is a trapdoor in the sun.”  And then at the end of the performance Eddie pulled back his shirt and revealed a black “K” stitched into his shirt over his heart, and the next day when I went to work at MOSI, I fashioned a similar black “K” onto my work shirt and wore it in plain sight.  

I am proud that Nirvana released NEVERMIND in 1991.  For this album and the musical movement it sat upon the apex of, DEFINED my generation.  My generation, had a definition.  It had music to define it, unlike any generation since the 60s or 70s had.  And I am proud of that and feel very lucky to have been a part of that.  I can recall hearing through my dorm room door my neighbors talking about seeing a Nirvana video and saying feverishly to each other, “Did you see Kurt’s EYES?”  My generation can any time in the future when asked, what was it like in 1991?  What was it like in the 90’s? just simply play NEVERMIND, and answer the question completely.  I feel sorry for kids today.  I don’t know what they will be able to say defined their generation.  

I’ve seen Hole, and I’ve seen Dave in the Foo Fighters three times.  But I never got to see Kurt, though he influenced me the most.  After all, he was the one that got me to start wearing old, thrift store cardigans (see above photo) after seeing him wear one for the MTV Unplugged performance.  And he was the one who couldn’t fake it, couldn’t bring himself to perform when he wasn’t feeling it because playing music was like making art for him, and one cannot perform art on a schedule.  And he was left-handed.  And though I haven’t worn my cardigans in years, I think I will again when the cool of autumn returns.  And I think I’ll continue to feel things are, with the lights out, less dangerous.  

That’s what Nirvana and NEVERMIND means to me.

Please share your experience of hearing Nirvana or NEVERMIND for the first time in the comments below.


11 Responses to “What Nirvana and NEVERMIND mean to me”

  1. on July 8th, 2008 1:24 AM

    Tiffany wrote on Facebook regarding this post:

    Awesome!…… Personally, my favorite of the album is Breed….. and Territorial Pissings the second.

    “The weight of music for me comes from its level of desperation. If it has none, then the music has no weight at all.”

    “Some die just to live.”

    So right and so agreeable. Yet, a lot of time I find your thoughts are quite dark and depressing. I think it’s because you value the dark side so much. I’m a little optimistic about life (No, wrong) I try hard to stay away from desperation and depression. I rather choose to stay close to happiness and passion. I work hard, I play hard. I despise depression if yu know what I mean….


  2. on July 8th, 2008 1:26 AM

    Yoko wrote via e-mail about this post:

    I didn’t meant to, but finally read your long
    entry about NEVERMIND. I can belieave now that
    you are a good poet. It was a fun read. Thanks!


  3. on July 8th, 2008 1:44 AM

    Thanks for your comments Tiffany.

    I should elaborate by what I mean by desperation. I don’t cite it for only its negative meaning. The desperation in music doesn’t have to be out of negativeness. It just has to be out of intense feeling. Feeling for something you want very badly. So that when the words come out of the singers mouth, they almost hurt coming out because they mean so much to the singer.

    Examples of this are:

    –one time I saw Janis Joplin sing a song on the old Dick Cavet show (1970s), and I was just blown away by how sincere and desperately she sang, as compared to performances I usually see now on variety or late night shows.

    –Almost every song by The Replacements on their albums LET IT BE and TIM

    –Every single last song on Joni Mitchell’s album BLUE

    @Yoko Thanks for taking the time to read this long post!
    So desperation to me means, or involves, passion and earnestness, and real-ness as well.


  4. Dy
    on July 11th, 2008 11:33 AM

    How come you’re calling Kurt, “Curt?”


    Jason Collin Reply:

    Whoops! I’m used to writing to a friend in Japan and his name is spelled Curt! I’ll fix that now. Thanks for pointing that out.


  5. Yoshio
    on July 11th, 2008 5:21 PM

    hey, enjoyed the well-written NEVERMIND article. i was in 9th grade
    when it came out, i remember getting very excited listening to it, a
    young kind of restless and a bit confused by everything excitement. i
    still get that rush, although not as strong.

    i don’t identify with NEVERMIND or nirvana the way you do, but i agree
    that of all bands/groups they were/are the most influential of our
    generation. i had a very mild “grunge” stage myself, and recognize it
    was inspired by nirvana. looking forward to the cardigan this autumn.


    Jason Collin Reply:

    Thanks Yoshio. I used to have a “Smurf blue” cardigan as well, but that may either be lost or in storage in Florida.


  6. Brady
    on July 15th, 2008 7:58 AM

    Nice post on the NEVERMIND article. That album also brings me to a time of new beginnings and new ways of thinking and discovery. I don’t think I was ever as moved or inspired with emotion as you were Jason, but I was certainly taken by the album and the expression, attitude and grungy revolution that was started by Nirvana and others. I had just moved from my parents house in the country and was just starting university in the big city….living on my own, working a part time job…. The music of this album was the soundtrack to that amazing time of newly found freedom and discovery, mixed in with youthful restlessness and social anxiety. It’s nice to hear your personal connection to the music and that moment it time as well..



    Jason Collin Reply:

    Thanks for sharing your NEVERMIND experience Brady. I like how you said the album was a soundtrack for a particular time for you. I often feel that way about various albums.


  7. Pranav
    on September 26th, 2011 5:48 PM

    Great write-up!!
    agree with so many things in there
    personally i love lithium,come as u are and something in the way
    im 19 now……started listening 2 nirvana 2 yrs ago
    love them more n more evrytym i put them on
    and only nevermind can get me out of a bad state
    Kurt speaks 2 every teen……the generation doesnt matter


    Jason Collin Reply:

    Thanks for the comment Pranav….I am very glad to hear that Nirvana means a lot to you in 2011.


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