Nirvana’s Nevermind was one of the first two records that introduced me to the alternative scene (the other being The Offspring’s Smash) and almost overnight I started wearing Doc Martens and leather jackets and formed the first of my many bands.
These days, it’s a cliché to say that Nirvana changed my life. And it’s probably wrong. To trace back the millions of choices since that first exposure and decide that it was the root cause behind where I find myself now is taking fatalism to the extreme.
If it wasn’t Nevermind, it probably would have been something else. It was likely that my mind was primed and ready to receive alternative ideas and different points of view in the form of loud rebellion to those provided by my conservative Catholic school (of which some of the credit for this has to go to my Dad, though it would be many years later before I “discovered” Pink Floyd for myself).
But the fact is that it was Nevermind. Cobain’s overwrought, angst-ridden, oblique wails spoke to the confusion of my socially awkward pubescence; the punk rock messiness of his guitars stood in stark contrast to the hyper-produced, lovesick pop-rock ballads of the early nineties; Grohl’s immense drums were so thick and loud and primal compared to the vapid synth-pop snares of popular R’n’B; and Butch Vig’s masterful production showed that, just because you wanted to be loud and gritty and messy, didn’t mean you had to sound bad doing it.
My nascent fourteen year old psyche was ready to be blown open and it could have been any number of albums that lit the fuse. It just happened to be this one.
This alone, however, is enough for it to secure a sacred place in the still-unfolding narrative of my life.
As I’ve grown, I’ve become a little more ambivalent about Cobain’s suicide, and I imagine the value of Nirvana’s legacy will be debated by people who think too much about these things for a long time yet, but Nevermind has a place in one of those holes in my soul that only get filled a few times in one’s lifetime; those lightning bolt moments that we experience rarely in the areas of our spirit that have not yet been calcified by cynicism and disappointment.
The wonderful thing about art is that, when it does touch you like this, it can never be taken away. The arguments about whether or not Nevermind holds up could not be less relevant to me. Nothing that anyone else says will ever remove this feeling burned so deep in my brain that, when I’m old and decrepit, I imagine I’ll recognise the loose, jangling opening chords and that tremendous syncopated drum fill quicker than I’ll recognise my own name, instantly taking my frail, failing self back to that place where I first discovered that there were other people who felt like me.
Sadly, we don’t get to experiment with our own lives, so there’s no control version of Simon who didn’t get exposed to Nirvana that we can use to measure the impact of this particular album on my life. This is Kundera’s unbearable lightness of being, or Frost’s road not taken. I don’t get to see what my life would be like if Nevermind and its peers didn’t arrive when they did and any statements I make about their lasting impact are no more than guesses and wishful thinking.
But I can’t help feeling that finding myself here, living out of a backpack on a beach in Thailand at thirty-three years old, spending my days drawing, building apps, writing short stories, and barely breaking even is, in some small part, thanks to the influence of their music.