Friday, 19 August 2011

About a girl

At the Nirvana exhibition in Seattle there was a booth in which you could be filmed sharing your personal 'Nirvana story'. Unfortunately, as my camera phobia extends to video cameras, I didn't go in, but my story's been buzzing round my brain ever since, so here it is.

Me at 16.  As you can see from the pissed-off look on my face, I was pretty camera phobic even then.  This was pretty much my go-to outfit for a whole summer: band t-shirt, grandad cardigan from M&S (but actually from a charity shop), satin nightdress from a jumble sale that I wore as a skirt, handmade bead necklaces and dyed red hair (a la Angela Chase from My So-Called Life).  Just off-camera: Doc Martens with rainbow laces.

I was thirteen and living in an insular working class suburb of Bradford when Nevermind was released.  I was the oldest child, so no elder sibling to pass on tapes to me.  Bradford was lacking any alternative culture, so no band t-shirts to spy on the streets. And my school was utterly filled with what we later termed 'sheep'  or 'townies'; kids who listened to house music and for whom a couple of years on the dole followed by a stint in Armley jail was about the best to hope for.  So it was about two years later, just prior to the release of In Utero, that I first actually heard Nirvana. 

Remember The Chart Show?  If you do, you're showing your age.  But it was on this Saturday morning ITV show that I was first exposed to The Breeders, Belly, The Lemonheads and, of course, Nirvana.  Already an outcast for so many things - my southern accent that eight years of living in Yorkshire hadn't softened, my habit of coming top of the class in every subject, the shyness I couldn't shake and which came across as aloofness - I had reached the point of deciding to stop trying to fit in.  Grunge music was the music that said it was ok to be different, ok (desirable, even) to be an outcast.  I began listening to Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins and, on constant repeat, the Nevermind and Bleach albums.

Out went my baggy denim shirts and leggings and in came long floral skirts, Doc Marten boots and flannel shirts.  I kid you not, the first day I went into school with my 'new look' (the day we went for sixth form induction in August 1994) was like a scene from a film.  Jaws dropped, insults were shouted in the corridor but the comments didn't hurt like they used to.  I felt insulated from the bullies because now I knew how lame they were and how cool my music was.  Even coming to it late, grunge changed my life because it empowered me to be myself and revel in my differences.

Interestingly, of all the bands from that time Nirvana are probably the one I listen to least now.  Smashing Pumpkins are still my all-time favourite band and on constant rotation on my iPod and CD player.  The Lemonheads and The Pixies get regular plays, as do Hole.  But Nirvana, who meant so much to me then, barely get a look-in.  In some senses, their music was so of it's time that it hasn't stood the test of time, but as the press-appointed figureheads of the 'grunge' movement they will always be important.  And when I hear Breed I still feel like that 16 year old, screaming along in her Bradford bedroom to the one thing that made being in that godforsaken town feel ok.

What about your Nirvana memories?  Or is there another band who were key to your development as a teenager?


  1. Ah, my so called life hair still rules.

    Interesting to read the effect nirvana had on you (can imagine what things would be like in bradford too at that time!)

    Thought you may enjoy this article i read the other day on a similar subject :)

  2. That article was really interesting, cheers for pointing me in it's direction.
    "Suddenly it was cool to be poor. It was cool to wear cheap clothes that were falling apart. It was cool to be sarcastic. It was cool to believe you were doomed." So true!

    Yeah, Bradford was a delight for an indie girl in the 90s (sarcastic voice to be added by reader).