Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Music & Memory

I am so old and boring that I almost always listen to the news/talk station when I'm in the car. There's traffic every ten minutes on the fours, people! You really can't argue with that.

But this morning I took my husband's car to the dentist and he had left the station on 107.7. I think it's the alternative rock station. It was when it first started up, when I was young. Maybe now its the oldies station. I don't know. They were playing Man in the Box by Alice In Chains when I first flicked the radio on and I hadn't heard that song in SO MANY years. I'd forgotten how cool that band was for their first few albums.

I saw them live only once. It was at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds in the pavilion area. It was five bucks. There were maybe 40 people there. I remember thinking they were okay, then being shocked months later (literally, it was only a few months, maybe a year) when they hit it BIG. I guess their record label had them out touring constantly playing any place they could find, trying to drum up a following. Well, mission accomplished.

The next song up was an *awesome* cover of Boyz in the Hood (originally by Eazy E...or was it N.W.A.? Maybe it was NWA and Eazy E remixed it for Eazy Duz It. Oh who knows. Wikipedia. Wikipedia would know) by a band called Dynamite Hack. It was a soft rock style treatment of what was one of the hardest of the hardcore rap songs at the time it was released. This cover was so intentionally bland, and the words were so violent...the juxtaposition of the melody with the message was really wild. I'm losing track of myself as I write. That sentence probably didn't make much sense. I started it at about 4:20 (420, hah!! OMG I'm fifteen) and picked it back up just now post flow-meeting. So why was I listening to hardcore rap as a teenage girl? I hope no one saw me, I must have looked pretty stupid. It was really awesome stuff though...totally different. My dad didn't like it. He listened to a lot of rap when he was younger. He was the only white guy in an all black national guard regiment back in the 60s so he had a lot of friends that were black, at a time when that wasn't the norm. Isn't that sad and weird that so recently things were so segregated? But anyway, his friends took rap VERY seriously. At parties people would rap and everyone knew the songs and they rarely changed, but when someone did change a line they would either be cheered on or booed down, and that's how the music evolved. At least, according to him. I'm not claiming that because my dad was the token white guy in his unit as a nod to desegregation that he's like, an expert on all things black culture. But according to dad, the guys in the 60s would have hated gangsta rap. But in the mid-80s, I liked it. But I moved on, and that brings me to the song that was up next on the radio.

Smells Like Teen Spirit, by Nirvana. Oh my gosh. That song brings back so many memories for me, but mostly it brings back the feeling of being young and free and wild. I have so many stories wrapped up in that fact, in one of my scenes in Blink, one girl shouts to my main character, as she is almost crushed in the hallway "It sucks for girls!" That was what a girl shouted to me when I nearly got crushed at a Nirvana show at the Melody Ballroom in Portland way back about a billion years ago. They were opening for Dinosaur Jr. I had pushed my way up to the front, finally making it up to the black iron waist high rails when some dudes in front of me smelled pot and decided tracking down where that was coming from was much preferred to staying right up front at the show. I lasted all of half a song before I wordlessly signaled a big giant beefy guy to lift me up and toss me back over the crowd so that I would not die. I seriously thought I was going to die. My friend Sandy got the shit beat out of her at that show. She's the one who was in the Smells Like Teen Spirit video. You can see her for like a split second, she's one of the kids in the bleachers rocking out.

It makes me think how small Washington used to be. That was back before the grunge explosion changed our music scene. It was before Microsoft gave jobs to I don't know how many thousands of people. Back when there was a billboard in Seattle that said "Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn out the lights?" It really was a small community. Everyone who was of a certain age at that time has their own Kurt Cobain story. I have several. My best is when he stumbled into me at a Melvins show in Olympia and vomited on my shoes. No, I did NOT save them. He wasn't that famous at the time. I don't think anyone could be famous enough for me to save their vomit though. That's just disgusting.

My brother gave me a tape that his friend Jerome had smuggled out of Sub Pop, where he worked. It was a rough set of songs that Nirvana had recorded, and I was all over it. My copy of Bleach was on its last legs. I loved those songs so much, I listened to it all spring and summer. The songs were amazing. When I first heard Smells Like Teen Spirit on the radio in 1991 I literally screamed, I couldn't believe that song was being played on the air. It was a different version than the one I had, but it was instantly recognizable. Then Nevermind came out, and nothing was ever the same really. Those songs on that bootleg tape were awesome though. I liked most of them better than what eventually made it to the recording. There was one song that was never issued that I know of. It was my favorite song ever. It was incredible. I have no idea what it was called, because bootleg tapes have no names. I have listened to Nirvana boxed sets with "previously unreleased!!!" all over the labels and have still never heard the song. Someone stole my tape from me though, and my brother's copy is long gone. I haven't heard that song in almost 20 years, but I still ache for it sometimes.

My husband is acquainted with Krist Novoselic, the former bassist, for reasons wholly unassociated with music. I've met with him a couple of times, and of course told him what a profound effect his band's music had on me as a teenager. He was very nice about it, but I got the feeling that he was probably tired of hearing that from people. I overheard someone ask him what his favorite Nirvana song was, and he kind of sighed and said "I guess Smells Like Teen Spirit. It bought my house." Then he totally changed the subject and turned away. I have been tempted, very tempted to ask him if he has any old studio recordings from the time they were laying down tracks at SubPop for what eventually was released as Nevermind (I think on Geffen records maybe?) But I never have. Who wants to admit that they were in possession of a stolen bootleg copy of someone's work like that? Did I steal it myself? No. Did I love it dearly? Yes. Would that matter to him? Probably not. I can't imagine, as a writer, if someone said to me "Oh my god, my brother's friend was over at your house, and he printed out your novel Blink and gave it to my brother, who gave it to me, and I read if over and over and I really loved it, but my copy's gone. I was really excited when you were published, but the book had totally changed, and I liked it better before. Do you still have an old copy, dated around about July 2009 that you could email me? I'd love to read it again." Yeah. When I put it that way, that's really fucking lame. I'm glad I haven't mentioned it.

Wow. This post sure did ramble.


  1. Alice in Chains and Nirvana are "oldies" for you? I'm LOL-ing so loud the arthritis in my knees is creaking!

  2. When I was young the oldies were Jim Croce, The Lovin Spoonful, and the Beatles. Y'know, anything my parents listened to. I wonder what those are now...or are oldies just in the eye of the beholder?

  3. Oh Penny.... This post is totally a pitchfork fluffing the musty straw in my brain... I miss Washington so much sometimes, even the "alternative gold" on the End!

  4. I miss you SO much Lisa!!! Why don't you move back? :)

  5. Great post....and great memories. I was more into the whole Brit synth pop thing and so all the old Depeche Mode, Erasure, and OMD songs bring back a lot of teenage memories for me. Alas, I was too young to enjoy the most awesome concert ever that Depeche Mode did--101 at the Rosebowl in Pasadena, in 1988 (I think). OMD opened for them. Brilliant. Although I did manage to cram in like four concerts on their Songs of Faith and Devotion tour, which wasn't nearly as good but still brings back memories. Sadly, they've faded for me now but I still love the old stuff.

    On another note, U2 just played the Rosebowl in Pasadena last weekend and they have 900,000 fans. 900,000. Not a typo. Shiver me timbers!