Memory Lane: Nevermind

A co-worker walked up to my desk.

“Kurt Cobain killed himself,” she said.

“Uh-huh,” I said. “Right.” She looked uncertain.

This was a rumor that had been circulating for a couple of years at this point. That Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, who struggled so publicly with heroin addiction, fame, his wife and fellow addict Courtney Love, and Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder, had committed suicide.

My co-worker looked doubtful. “They’re saying they found his body. He shot himself.”

“‘They’ve’ been saying that for, like, the past two years,” I responded.

It was April 8, 2004.

++

I came late to Nirvana. Like, say, summer of 1992 late.

After my Pearl Jam revelation, I made my way through Seattle-area grunge: Screaming Trees (lead singer of which, Mark Lanegan, was clearly Vedder’s voice coach), Soundgarden, Alice and Chains, and so on.

Why yes, I was a sunny, happy post college graduate. (Not.) Why do you ask?

Although Nirvana’s single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” had caught my ear, it wasn’t until I saw the video with the tattooed cheerleaders that I decided to pick up the CD. I distinctly remember hoping that it wasn’t just that one song.

To this day, Nevermind resides in my top five albums of all time.

++

I know Pearl Jam and Nirvana were lumped together in the “grunge” music category. Out of the necessity that we have for labeling and categorization. I tend toward seeing their differences, though, especially these many years later.

Pearl Jam had a dark romance to them. Nirvana were nihilists.

Pearl Jam’s music was tightly focused, driven, while Nirvana’s hovered at the near edge of chaos.

Both bands knew their music history — they truly sensed their roots. PJ were rooted in Neil Young and other ’70s-era bands, plus the Ramones; for Nirvana, it was classic rock, and punk and alternative rock forerunners (The Stooges, Pixies). While both groups seemingly struggled with their sudden fame, where Pearl Jam and especially Vedder learned to channel and use the spotlight, Cobain simply turned into a deer in the headlights. Then imploded.

Pearl Jam went from angst to activism; Nirvana, although they made an amazing third album (In Utero) (counting Bleach as their first) and an amazing MTV Unplugged episode, didn’t go farther than 1994.

++

Once upon a time, WYEP had a Friday night show that focused on very new music, a lot less Joni Mitchell and a lot more… well, at that time, Nirvana. An acquaintance of mine, Don, was the DJ.

And when, that evening on the air, Don announced Kurt Cobain’s body was found, I believed him. Don’s voice was hushed, serious, that of a fan already mourning a dead star.

I called him.

“Are you okay?” I blurted.

We talked for a while before he had to get back to DJ’ing. I told him about what my co-worker had said earlier in the day. “I didn’t believe her,” I said.

“I don’t blame you for not believing her. Cobain would be dead a hundred times over if every rumor of his death were true.” He went back to his shift.

I went to the bar.

++

I’m not proud of this, but when Don announced Cobain’s death, the first thought that went through my head was, “Now I’ll never get to see Nirvana live!”

My second thought was for his baby girl.

++

Although I never bought into the idea of Kurt Cobain as “the voice of a generation”, it’s not as if he didn’t have anything to say. He was an artist of his era trying to capture, if nothing else, his own intense experience. He was troubled, plagued by chronic pain, tortured by his fame, and, ultimately, not strong enough to take on the weight of his own world. But Nevermind — along with Ten — launched a thousand alternative rock ships.

And if I can be nothing else, I can be grateful for that.

Wilco (The Concert)

Speaking of music, we went to go see Wilco last Sunday.

Due to the very gracious Uncle Crappy, Dan and I got pre-sale Wilco tickets.

I hadn’t seen Wilco since their last visit to the Three Rivers Arts Festival, which was in the summer of 2004, and I recall that because I was pregnant with Flora. (No wonder she loves their music so much!) But UC and his wife have seen them several times in the intervening years, and he talked about their shows often on his blog.

I knew this was an opportunity not to be missed.

And, holy cats, am I glad I jumped at the chance.

First of all, Jeff Tweedy has just gotten better as he’s, er, well, not to put too fine a point on it, aged. His voice is richer, his on-stage patter is more entertaining, and he is the undisputed leader of Wilco. It was good to see him up there, center stage, the faithful and extremely talented John Stirrat to his right (our view).

Second: Nils Cline is a guitar virtuoso. Which is something I probably should have figured out because I DO have the albums, but seeing it live is another thing altogether. Their rendition of “Impossible Germany” was gorgeous.

Third: The venue was also gorgeous. Wilco played The Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, which is a lovely building. It was filled to capacity, and the acoustics were perfect. It wasn’t too loud at all — I didn’t leave with that post-concert ear buzzing I’m so used to. At one point, I think during “Poor Places”, I took a seat (note to self: flip flops are not appropriate footwear for standing for THREE HOURS), and just stared at the ceiling. The sound was delectable.

Fourth: This band is TIGHT. They play live a lot, which I’m sure has plenty to do with it. Even when they launched into their jams/controlled chaos (which was often) they reigned it in and continued a song just beautifully. It was acoustic choreography — Dan says, on this point, “They can all count. They’re musicians.” But I was impressed by this.

Fifth: Did I mention they played for THREE HOURS? At one point, Tweedy said, “You’ll have to pay the babysitter a little extra tonight.” That was okay with me. (My exhaustion made Monday last forever, but we all survived.)

Sixth: The company was awesome.

Dan, too, enjoyed it. Wilco is one of “my” bands that he digs (some of the time). He likes the more straightforward stuff, and is a huge fan of their Mermaid Avenue material. Their version of “California Stars”, which was incredibly upbeat, made him very happy. In his opinion, they “hit the chaos button” too often, but he still really liked the show.

His other observations: The musicians on the right side of the stage (Tweedy, Stirrat, and Pat Sansone) “took their meds”. Those on the left (Cline, Mikael Jorgensen, and drummer Glenn Kotche) “did not”. This referred to the, er, thrashing about on one side of the stage. After six songs, he observed that Tweedy hadn’t even said hi yet, but I assured him Tweedy would have plenty to say. We were not disappointed.

I think I’ll try to see them again before six years passes. Just a thought.

Music, Please

I have a long week of typing at work — we are paginating the new catalog, and typing paginations to a copy writer is like data entry to whomever does data entry. When I get to rote typing, I need good music. And I am at the point where I need some new stuff for my iPod.

A few guidelines:

1. Should be pretty rocking and/or upbeat.
2. I like a lot of different kinds of music, but here’s what I don’t like: classic rock; classical music (I’m completely uncultured in my husband’s eyes); reggae; jam bands; death metal; heavy metal; soul music.
3. My current top ten artists: Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Wilco, Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Green Day, Pearl Jam, The Raconteurs, Sheryl Crow, M.I.A.

Hit me with your best shot.

Artist of the Year: Lady Gaga

I don’t know when I first heard her name, but it wasn’t until I read this article in Slate that I thought to myself, “Hm. Wonder if I should look into that.”

I’m am no pop music aficionado. The last time I listened to Top 40 radio, cassette tapes were the cutting-edge technology, okay? In high school I discovered college radio, punk rock, the B-52s and Depeche Mode. The Pixies are easily my favorite band ever, ranked right up there with Nirvana, Radiohead, Tori Amos, and Green Day. Before her, the music that was turning me on in 2009 included The Decemberists, The Arcade Fire, and M.I.A.

Then — and this is the weirdest story ever — I went to my niece’s first dance recital, and a group of 6-year-olds (I know, I don’t know who picked the music, either) did a routine to this funky song that wormed its way into my brain. And I said to myself, that’s her, and I have to find out more.

An obsession was born.

I YouTube’d her — a lot. I read about her in Rolling Stone and on Wikipedia. I was intrigued by her image, and completely hooked by her hooks. After listening to “Poker Face” and “Love Game” about a thousand times, I got the album from the library and burned it to my iTunes.

And it made me wish I were a 22-year-old club-hopping hottie in New York City. (I can’t even chair dance without looking like I’m seizing.) I was still enjoying The Fame on a nearly daily basis (and my kids were too — sometimes the girls spontaneously break into “Paparazzi” and there is nothing funnier than two little girls singing “pa-pa, pa-pa, paparazzi”… unless it’s watching an almost 3yo shake her bootie to “Poker Face”) when I heard “Bad Romance”.

I checked You Tube to see if there was a video for the single. When I first viewed it, my thought was: “It’s Madonna meets the Borg. Also? Cher.” And I watched it five times in a row. I couldn’t get enough of “I want your love/ and I want your revenge/ I want your love/ I don’t want to be friends”. (And if someone can translate that French bit for me, I will happily kiss you — on the cheek. Hey, I’m married.)

(I want to know how much that mosiac dress weighs, too.)

I downloaded The Fame Monster, and I get chills listening to “Speechless”, “Teeth”, and “Dancing in the Dark.” “Teeth” is by far the freakiest thing I have heard in years — I mean, “take a bite of my bad-girl meat”, and I don’t want to giggle when Gaga sings it. It scares me.

And the power ballad “Speechless”. “Could we fix you if you broke?” Girl wails it. Chills. Pop music doesn’t give me chills.

The Fame was uber pop fun, with some sexual twists; The Fame Monster is many shades darker. Although “Telephone” is an upbeat dance number, and “Alejandro” is a bit of an ABBA shout-out (a spoof all in good fun), here is the other side of Gaga — the flip side of “Boys Boys Boys” is “Monster.”

It’s not just the music, of course, it’s the spectacle. Lady Gaga wears bizarre costumes; she played piano while wearing a gyroscope on SNL; she set fire to a piano on the American Music Awards. “Bad Romance” puts her squarely in the beautiful freak camp: those wonderfully weird costumes, dance moves, video enhancements (super round eyes, alien spines).

And yet, when she talks to Ellen or Barbara Walters (who should have stopped about two facelifts ago), Lady Gaga seems so sweet and down to earth. She took her sunglasses off when she talked to Babs. She shook hands with the Queen of England! (Also, did not set anything on fire or touch herself while performing for Her Majesty.)

Lady Gaga, I’m yours. I don’t have any idea what you’re going to do next, and that’s probably why. I’m going to have to explain a lot of stuff to my girls (for example, if a relationship they are in ever reminds them of “Bad Romance” get the eff out! And the difference between love and sex — which I have to do anyway), but that’s okay. If they want to shake their booties to “Just Dance” when they are young and free, I am going to totally get behind that. Because, Gaga, you make me want to shake my bootie, too. And I’m not generally what you would call a bootie shaker.

Cranky aside: Why in the hell did iTunes censor The Fame Monster? If I had known that Lady Gaga was going to be declaring herself a “free bit” I would have looked elsewhere for the uncensored version of the album. Actually, I probably will. In the meantime, I won’t have to tell my kids why a lovely young lady like Gaga is referring to herself as a female dog.

Here’s another article from Slate, A Defense of Lady Gaga, that probably articulates what I am trying to say much, much better than I am doing here.

The Mouse is in the House

(Actually, he’s in the car.)

Recently, I discovered Radio Disney.

Before you judge, understand something: I don’t enjoy Radio Disney. I stumbled across it on the AM radio dial during a pledge drive on my usual station of choice (WDUQ, of which I am a supporter. At the lowest level possible, but still).

The CD player in my car is trashed. We don’t (yet) own an iPod. The portable CD player we used on our Cape Cod trip has bitten the dust.

I’m out of options.

I have two daughters who love music. When I pick them up from daycare, they clamor from the back seat: “Song! Song!” They even request certain songs: “Kids song, Mommy.” “Do you have the Broken Song in this car?” (Me: “No.”)

Switching between radio stations in Pittsburgh is untenable. Slow songs are unacceptable to my girls; I can’t handle classic rock or Mark Madden. Bob FM sometimes gets our votes.

Radio Disney is the default.

Now, I also want you to know this: I assume that all female artists on Radio Disney are Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana and that all male artists are The Jonas Brothers.

And if that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.

The clear advantage of Radio Disney is that I don’t have to edit for content. Yes, “Party in the USA” may be stuck in my head (at least until the Imagination Movers theme song is), but I’m not going to have to explain what a disco stick is.

Get me?

Cool No More

I know that my age, marital status, and number of children preclude me from the cool kids’ club. And I’m okay with that.

There are probably cool parents’ clubs, or even cool mommy blogging clubs, but I doubt I qualify for those either. I strongly suspect that there’s a minimum salary requirement that we don’t reach. An income level that enables laptops, plus childcare and housekeeping help. Or an attention level concerning online ads and stats that I haven’t a clue about.

And I’m okay with all of that too. (Although I would kill someone under the conditions that 1. I wouldn’t get caught and 2. Someone would come thoroughly clean my house for me twice a week — even just for a couple of months. And/or organize my office.)

With all of this in mind, I went to go see Green Day last night.

And it was awesome.

Honestly, I don’t even know if Green Day is cool anymore. And I don’t care. The audience last night certainly thought they were — I have never been to a show where the audience could sing the ENTIRE first verse of a song (“Boulevard of Broken Dreams”) on their own. Or where a teenage girl was called upon to come up on the stage and play guitar for a song (“Jesus of Suburbia”).

I just know that going to a loud (and it was freaking loud) rock concert was something I really needed to do. Not because it made me feel cool (again). It made me feel care-free. All that mattered was the music, for about three hours.

The Green Day show was a big barrel of rollicking fun, as well as bombastic loud rock and roll music. The threesome from California has transformed into a six-piece arena band, complete with confetti cannons, pyrotechnics, and crowd singalongs. (For a review that pretty much says the stuff I would say if I were actually reviewing the show, see Scott Mervis’ review in the PG.)

The energy was non stop, the music was loud as hell, and I felt cleansed. Cleansed of my worries. Free, just for a tiny space of time. Ageless (although neither child-free or single, curiously enough — well, DearDR did come with me, so that probably explains the not-feeling-single thing).

I’m back in the real world today, feeling like I’m facing more than ever.

Going to Green Day taught me something, though (aside from the fact that Billie Joe Armstrong has a fantastic laugh). It taught me that I have access to something that can make me utterly forget about my cares for awhile. Something I had forgotten.

Countdown to Spa Day: Two days.

ABBA-esque

I learned a few things yesterday:

1. Monkey knows all the words to “Kids” by MGMT.
2. Monkey really hates Louis Armstrong’s version of “It’s a Wonderful World”. “It’s not a wonderful world,” she cried in response when I wouldn’t skip it. “It’s just not.”
3. ABBA, the original group, isn’t together anymore. Although, contrary to rumor, they are not dead.
4. I was clearly spoiled by Mamma Mia! I expected some fabulous dance numbers. But the costumes were disco-licious.
5. Clearly, I will go to just about any lengths to spend time with my best friends.

Okay, I already knew that.

When the Steelers won the Super Bowl one year in the ’70s, the montage afterward was set to ABBA’s “Winner Takes it All”. Does anyone else remember this? N says it was 1979, after the Steelers beat the L.A. Rams. I’m inclined to believe her because N has a memory like a photo album. I remember feeling bad for the losing team because of that song. That’s the video I was looking to put here. Instead, you get “Dancing Queen”. Feel free to picture me dancing ecstatically to it — wearing black.

The More About Me Meme!

Allison at Allison Says was kind enough to hit me with a pretty flattering meme — two weeks ago. I’m finally getting around to it.

The Honest Scrap award is given by other bloggers who consider a blog’s content or design to be brilliant (geez, can you feel me blushing?). The awardee must then post ten honest things about him-/herself and pass the award on to other bloggers who fit the bill — in other words, whose blog is brilliant.

1. I have never, ever watched an episode of American Idol. I eschew “reality” television in general; I watched a season of The Apprentice (the original one with Omarosa on it), and I watched a couple of seasons of Last Comic Standing — I even voted for one of them once (John H… something). Otherwise: nada.

2. Actually, when it comes to television, I watch exactly one network show (“Lost”), Steelers football, and Penguins hockey. That may change now that we have cable. If I were to pick up one show (or maybe two), what would you suggest?

3. I still do not own an iPod. I would like to own an iPod, if for no other reason than because then I wouldn’t have to get the CD player in my car fixed. Although I suppose I should get those stuck CDs out of there, eh?

4. I am oddly intrigued by Lady Gaga. I blame this Slate article. Wanting to add a Lady Gaga station to my Pandora put me on a slippery slope. I did it anyway. As a result, I voluntarily listened to a whole Brittany Spears song — “Womanizer” — my first one ever (unless you count Fountain of Wayne’s version of “…Baby, One More Time”).

5. I am still smoking my daily cigarette. I’ve missed a day or two since quitting for 47 days at the beginning of this year. But haven’t really tried to give it up again. Yet.

6. Pursuant to the hair discussion: I had long, straight, auburn hair as a child. I wore it with bangs (occasionally feathered, of course) until 8th grade. Then, reading a YM (Young Miss, at the time) magazine, I stumbled across a photo of a girl with a very short hairstyle that I realized would look great on me. When I brought it to my mom and asked to cut all my hair off, I could see her heart break a little bit. But she let me do it. It was oddly liberating — that and getting contact lenses at the same time. I felt freed from the four-eyed, braces-wearing geek I had been until then. (Which doesn’t/didn’t make me less of a geek. Just less self-conscious about being one.)

7. I love sharing my bed with Bun (on occasion). I love to wake up and study her sleeping face. My Bun is never still — she runs, she jumps, she hops, she runs. In repose, her beauty — the smooth baby-cheeks, pink mouth, long lashes — is fascinating to me. (I love the way Monkey sleeps, but I don’t like bed-sharing so much with her — she steals the covers, and sleeps with her hair in her face. So, hard to study at rest.)

8. I don’t have anything to say about Michael Jackson. I was never a fan. I didn’t watch or listen to any coverage of his circus. I mean, funeral. This isn’t bragging — hell, I just admitted to being intrigued by someone who counts him as an influence. The two best things I did read about him — and the media coverage — are here and here. I feel both ways at the same time.

9. The mess in my house is starting to wear me out. And piss me off. And I don’t know what to do about it. It is too cluttered; we have too much stuff; mice keeping coming to visit, which means the stuff that usually lives in our bottom kitchen cupboards lives on our dining room table instead; DearDR suspects mold is lurking somewhere (basement or upstairs bathroom, in the wall); and the office… Don’t let’s start on the damn office. Short of taking time off work to clean and/or shipping my children out for a weekend, I’m not sure what my options are, really.

10. I am currently considering — seriously considering — going to see ABBA in Chatauqua in New York. It would be for the purpose of seeing my two best friends in the world, of course. But let’s face it: ABBA. And I would probably dance. And sing “Dancing Queen”.

Where do I turn in my punk rock card?

My nominees for Honest Scrap awards are:
Gina at My Very Last Nerve: Brilliantly funny. Gina already did these — twice! 10 Honest Things and 10 Horrible Secret Confessions.
Uncle Crappy: Brilliantly matter-of-fact.
Ethel at Mom’s Brain: A brilliant glimpse of being a caretaker for a parent. This is like a glimpse into my mother’s life with her mother.
Looky, Daddy!: Just brilliant.