Twas 25 years ago when grunge grabbed me by the neck and shook me hard



Highlights

grunge: A style of rock music characterized by a raucous guitar sound and lazy vocal delivery.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes in life something arises from the doldrums of pop culture that shakes you to the core and makes you want to stand up and scream: “Finally! It’s about effing time!”

For me, that was “grunge.”

And it was just what a young man living in Southern California in the early 1990s needed at the time.

Those who lived in the 1980s know that the “rock” music scene back then was painful. Aside from mainstream big acts like U2 and Bruce Springsteen, the rock scene was all glam, glitter and little soul.

Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, Poison. I know art is in the eye of the beholder, but, please.

Big hair, makeup, gaudy outfits were what you constantly saw on MTV (yes, they used to air music videos).

Then this little runt of a guy in torn jeans, messy hair and a flannel shirt shows up with a band out of Seattle called Nirvana … and literally screams the silliness away. “HERE WE ARE NOW! ENTERTAIN US!”

That line from lead singer Kurt Cobain is from “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” on the band’s second album, Nevermind. The song, which debuted 25 years ago this month, torpedoed the band to stardom, and introduced the grunge genre to the world.

Soon, it seemed, everyone in my Carlsbad, Calif., neighborhood – a little surf town north of San Diego – was wearing flannel shirts and religiously following other grunge bands, like Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.

We’d go to see grunge cover bands at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach and everyone seemed to have a story about meeting Eddie Vedder, a little dude who surfed in nearby Encinitas before he moved to Seattle to front Pearl Jam.

Grunge seemed liberating, an anti-establishment scream, an antithesis to those glam and boy bands of the day.

Grunge, and Nirvana in particular, were rough around the edges, and I liked that.

But when a friend offered me a ticket to see Nirvana late in 1993 in San Diego, I almost hesitated. I’d been to enough concerts in which the live version was a huge disappointment from the “studio” version and I wasn’t sure I wanted to see that with this band. Plus Cobain didn’t have what you’d call a melodic style, so I was thinking: this could be a disaster.

But I couldn’t pass up, so I went.

Whatever powerful emotions I felt the first time I heard those first few riffs of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on MTV were magnified tenfold in person. True to form, Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl (yes, Foo Fighter fans, that Grohl), didn’t move on stage much, but they were never about showmanship anyway. It was the raw emotion in the songs that shook your core, from “Come As You Are,” “Lithium,” to “All Apologies” and, yes, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

I left a bigger fan of the band, and grunge.

Four months later, Cobain died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

No long after, grunge would fall out of favor.

But sometimes I’ll catch a Nirvana song, and it brings me back. There I am, hanging out in Carlsbad with friends, sipping a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, sporting a flannel and silently screaming to myself: “Here we are now! Entertain us!”



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