Monday, 15 October 2012

Music Monday: Smells like middle-age reminiscence

My first guest post in the Music Monday slot is from Graham.  This is his first foray into blogging but as soon as Leanne had the idea for inviting other people to write for Music Monday, I thought of him.  Graham was the DJ at the indie/rock club I worked in from 1997 to 1999 and his choice of music was always impeccable; moving seamlessly from Soul Coughing to Britney to Nine Inch Nails.  We've actually not seen each other for years (although I keep trying to make it to some of the gigs his workplace - Leicester Central Library - put on, something always comes up), but the wonder of Facebook means that we have many a dialogue about music and books.  He very kindly agreed to write something, and has chosen Smells Like Teen Spirit.

It was the first anniversary of my Mam’s death when I heard that Kurt Cobain had died. We’d put the news on to find out the result of the Grand National (my brother-in-law had put bets on for us, even though I didn’t really approve of the race). Not everyone that afternoon at my house even knew who Kurt Cobain was; I did. I’d also been following the grim events & media circus of the previous months every Wednesday in the NME.  I wasn’t a massive fan. I didn’t have any T-shirts or posters, and never saw them live, though I did once see an Australian tribute band called Teen Spirit.

In 1991 I went to the Reading Festival on the Saturday/Sunday, mainly to see James, Carter USM, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, & the Sisters of Mercy. I didn’t even consider going on the Friday, but looking back at the line-up I really should have. Plus, there’s a chance I would’ve watched this new band from Seattle, on in the afternoon sandwiched between Chapterhouse and Silverfish.
I might not have been a massive fan, but I liked them a hell of a lot. I remember first seeing them on ‘The Word’, blowing me away with my first hearing of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, but at the same time being convinced that it was a Pixies cover.
The news item didn’t send shockwaves that far among my family; they looked at me slightly oddly, not really getting why it had had an impact on me. After all, we were there feeling real grief for someone that we’d all known and loved; not some rock star junkie joining the sad and infamous ‘27 Club’.
Twenty years on, it still amazes me. It’s been over-played, over-analysed, ripped off and covered. But, just stop for a moment, put the boredom or familiarity aside, and listen to it; just listen to it.


  1. It's funny, i was a little too young to remember the day Kurt Cobain died (I was ten at the time so hadn't really heard Nirvana yet) but I remember watching a home video a few years ago. It was filmed around that time and my Dad is doing gardening in my Nan's garden, whilst whistling Smells Like Teen Spirit to himself. He gave guitar lessons and one of his students had brought in Nevermind on tape to learn some of the songs. A few years later I 'borrowed' my dad's copy of the album and never gave it back. So I have my dad to thank for getting me into grunge! This song still sounds as powerful to me as it did when i was a teenager.

  2. I can remember exactly where I was when I heard Kurt had died - at a church camp at Butlins in North Wales. Yep, as unlikely as it sounds, what with that whole 'being an athiest' thing, I was a teenage Christian. I was 15, but not 15 like the teenagers I see nowadays - savvy and confident and fashionable - but an early-90s version of 15; awkward and unsure. I was totally in awe of a group of grunge kids, who wore the same patchwork trousers I did (I know, I know), who had Pearl Jam t-shirts like I did, but seemed to carry it all off with more panache. Maybe it was just that they didn't get threats to have their head kicked in for dressing like a freak where they lived, but they just seemed so cool. So one morning, when I saw them crying in the short break between breakfast and morning worship (I KNOW!), I earwigged and that's how I found out. I was late for the morning service because I had to go back to my room and listen to In Utero on my walkman, and the trendy, young, 'call me Dave' vicar gave me evils when I walked in during prayers. That, my friends, is a rock and roll story.