[posted 10.23.2001]


I GREW UP IN OHIO. I realize this isn’t particularly novel, but then, that’s exactly the point. Nothing happens in Ohio. Literally. As a 17-year-old Ohio loser in 1991, culture was synonymous with Super Nintendo, high school football games and masturbation. That’s personal life, social life and sex life in one extraordinarily pathetic nutshell. It’s important to understand this if you’re even going to begin to understand why I’m wasting my time writing about one of the most written about bands in the world.

To further illustrate, I have employed the 1991-1992 Jackson High School yearbook, which I stole from my parents’ house a few months ago to prove to my unbelieving friends that the Frolet on was in fact in my graduating class. Riddled with mullets, big hair towering above bad sweaters, one of the guys from Trixter(?) and other things not worth looking at, the yearbook is ironically titled “The Way WE See It.” I’m in the yearbook twice: once in a senior picture that looks nothing like me among people I couldn’t give a damn about, and again in a track picture that looks nothing like me among people I never knew. Odd that while a group of young journalists at my high school were deciding to make a statement for the ages about our ideological solidarity, I was alone at a lunchroom table sketching half-serious cartoons in my journal about blowing up the school.

Flipping to page 58, we see The Way WE See It with regard to culture. The two-page spread, entitled, uh?, “Culture” is 95 percent filled with posed pictures of popular kids pointing sheepishly at maps or staring perplexed at foreign language textbooks. Next to them are amusing captions that, I suppose, illuminate for posterity the state of culture in Jackson Township, Northeastern Ohio. From left to right:

Andy Huston points out the newly reunited Berlin. Kelly Gesaman exhibits her knowledge of Spain’s geography. Kyle Scheatzle is happy to find an article for the Sammelbuch, a German scrapbook. Senor Fradl enlightens Tiffany Jennings and Dave Thiel with his insight of Spanish culture. Adam Kuhn and Jill Plotner take a break from Spanish class to have a few laughs. Jamie Brown listens carefully to Senor Fradl during Spanish class. Studying Hello Deutschland, Carrie Felder improves her knowledge of German.

Germany, Spain, Germany, Spain, Spain, Spain, Germany: If you’re paying not-so-close attention you’ll notice a pattern here, accompanied by an interesting but unintended message. When it comes to culture in Northeastern Ohio, culture resides elsewhere.

Until Nirvana, that is. Say what you will about Nirvana’s cultural legacy, the quality of Kurt Cobain’s songwriting, Courtney Fucking Love or anything else, for me Nirvana represented an end to this so-called “culture” in which I had no part and the beginning of a culture in which I could participate — a culture that I loved. When I first heard Nevermind in December of 1991, I didn’t particularly like all of it, but I know now that it empowered me in my journey to discover what it means to be human, and what it means to be an artist.

Before Nevermind I thought that Shakespeare was entirely archaic and impossible to read, that the Old Masters were more old than masters, that so-called “Modern Art” or anything I could reproduce while comatose was worthless, and that the Cure or anything I could identify as “alternative music” at that time was for fags. Smart people were stupid, television was interesting, George Bush wasn’t so bad and Ronald McDonald was my friend.

Understand, this is not necessarily what I wanted, but what I knew. Never mind Nevermind‘s merits as an album, what I love most about it is that it introduced me to something unlike anything I had ever heard before in smalltown Ohio and made me hungry for more. Through the band’s constant name-dropping on familiar formats I was able to discover the Pixies, Sonic Youth, the Breeders, Dinosaur Jr., Screaming Trees, Leadbelly, the Beatles, the Vaselines and others. From there I went even further underground, exploring Nirvana’s influences’ influences, and ended up listening to honest, passionate bands with clever songs that I wouldn’t have been able to hear on MTV or any commercial radio station in Ohio. And it didn’t stop with rock. Through Nirvana I eventually found jazz, hip-hop, surf, blues and other experimental music that I probably wouldn’t have given a damn about if I even had the chance to hear it before Nevermind gave me the opportunity to do so. Ten years after its release, it’s abundantly clear to me that this album was more to me than what was contained within its jewel case. This album made me understand that there was a culture out there, outside of what I knew, and that it was my responsibility and my pleasure to find it.

Nirvana inspired a love of music, obviously, but also a love of art, and words, and ideas in general. I know it’s not very punk-rock to say this, but Nirvana made me a better student. Through Nirvana I was able to discover the humanities — a discipline filled with people like me who were more passionate about words and ideas and understanding than money for its own sake or entertainment without enlightenment. It was because I was fascinated with nonsensical lines like “Never met a wise man / if so it’s a woman” and “I’m so happy, ‘cause today I found my friends / they’re in my head” and countless others on Nevermind that I started reading philosophy, and poetry, and other things that I wouldn’t necessarily have been aware of or cared about before. Because of this album I started writing more and trying to locate what I loved about these lines in hopes of finding something in myself that could create something similar. I took this inspiration and newfound passion to school and went from C-average high school student to summa cum laude with distinction in English in just a couple of years. I finally got Shakespeare, and Old Masters, and Modern Art, and underground music, and this all-important idea of a living, internalized art — and I can trace it all back to this melodic punk-rock record made in 1991 by high school dropouts.


From Guitar World to Playboy to Rolling Stone to the new Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven, much has been written in recent weeks to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Nirvana’s watershed record. I’ve read it all. And with few exceptions I’ve been disappointed in the focus on Kurt Cobain’s heroin addiction and subsequent suicide. For what I remember about Nirvana, and what still lives in me, has little to do with shotguns and New York heroin. It’s about songs. And art. And ideas. This is what Kurt gave to me, whether he knew it or not; and while his heroin and shotgun use continue only in the dead articles of uninspired rock critics, what he gave me is as passionate and alive as ever. His music forever destroyed the culture that I knew and gave me something in life to be excited about.

So instead of buying a shotgun the summer after he died, I saved up some money from a summer job I had at a steel mill and bought a guitar. When his words were gone, I looked for others that might have a similar impact and eventually created words of my own. Ten years after the album’s release, and more than seven years after Kurt pulled the trigger, I’m no longer playing video games or walking around high school football games with hot pretzels half looking for girls. I know now what I care about, and that’s this living, breathing art. I’m doing my best today to participate in this culture that Nevermind introduced me to — to become the kind of artist that I think Kurt was and inspired me to be. I started a band about a year ago, and we’re recording a demo next week. I’m also working on my first novel, and trying to make it as good as the novels that have inspired me. Regardless of whether these things make me millions of dollars or make it possible for me to afford a rock star smack habit, if any part of them can ruin someone’s life the way Nirvana ruined mine, I’ll be happy.

Nirvana ruined my life, yes, but thank God for that. There wasn’t much worth keeping. And in return they gave me the arts, culture, ideas and basically everything I love today. Surely I’m not the only one? There are a lot of people in Ohio, and a lot of small towns everywhere, who must have similar stories. You coming out soon? George Bush is in office again, Michael Jackson’s touting another lifeless pop record and there are a lot of bored kids at football games just asking for catharsis. If we learned anything from Nirvana, I think, it’s that it’s up to us to promote the things we love, however unpopular. So let’s go. Stop reading and get to ruining. Kurt would have (and should have) wanted it that way.

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bryson meunier lives and works in chicago as a search marketing manager/seo guru for resolution media. which means he knows what you’re searching for even before you ask.