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Smells Like the 90s

I’ve already written about my love for grunge. I told you about Nirvana, my favorite band, about the events I witnessed during some of the grunge concerts I’ve been to, and about the outfits, I was wearing at the time. However, I don’t think I’ve ever talked about the actual grunge clubs and concerts I frequented during the 90s. You know, Nirvana had a song called “Smells like teen spirit”, but have you heard of the phrase “smells like the 90s”? Well, let me tell you what that meant for the grunge clubs.    

Grunge clubs were dark, not sanitized, and salacious. If you measure them by today’s standards, they were not very technically equipped and they were very, and I mean VERY smoky and dim. Everybody was smoking in clubs back then. When you’d enter the club, you’d had to maneuver through a heavy white curtain of cigarette smoke before you could find somebody you know. A cigarette for most people was a part of their outfit and style. Standing or sitting in the corner and enjoying the music with a fresh cigarette in the mouth was part of our allure. The smoke was so heavy that the clothes we were wearing stank of cigarettes mixed with spilled alcoholic beverages. You had to wash the clothes immediately cause the stink was unbearable. But this is something that we rarely did back then.

On the stage, you could see a band, mainly guys, playing guitars and drums. The guys had long hair, they usually wore button-up shirts, baggy jeans, boots, or old sneakers. The shirts were in a different color, but the most dominant colors were different nuances of green, black, and red. And yes, we all had incidental (or not) cigarette burns on our clothes. The girls were in the front, dancing with their long hair and watching the band do their thing while waiting for a hookup. Everybody was in their own fantasy land, but we all tried to emulate Nirvana. That’s why the death of our idol was such a heavy hit. 

Quite opposite from now, isn’t it? Now we have well-rounded clubs, equipped with the newest sound systems. Cigarettes are not allowed, or if they are, the room is equipped with air purifier devices for cigarette smoke. Now we have our indie bands who sing about romantic failures. The clubs smell like synthetic perfumes with notes of strawberries, vanilla, and coffee. Everybody wears branded clothing. Everybody is nice and dandy. Everybody is well behaved. There is no smell of cigarettes and cheap alcohol. And it definitely doesn’t smell like the 90s. It’s the 2020s.   

Nirvana: Fun Facts Little Known Things About the Band


When you’re a die-hard fan of Nirvana, like I am, you learn some behind the scenes info that most people don’t know.  I was, and still am, consumed with Nirvana and have scoured through the net, hard copy magazines and every other available records in order to find out all I can about the band and its members.

Did you know that Kurt Cobain and Kourtney Love had a little girl?  Yep!  Her name is Frances Bean.  She was born in 1992.  She was named after the Scottish guitarist of the The Vaselines, Frances McKee.
“Bean” came about because Kurt thought she looked like a kidney bean in her ultra-sound debut photo.  Kurt died in 1994.

The group wasn’t always called Nirvana.  At first they were the ‘Angry Samoans’.   Then, Kurt decided to pick a name that was serene and beautiful instead of angry and mean.  Thus, the name ‘Nirvana’.

Something else I find kind of cool is that Kurt thought that the name of his band, “Nirvana”, should be spelled in all caps.  Wonder if he knew that stands for yelling.  Probably he did!

Kurt’s name was once misspelled as ‘Kurdt’.  Kurt liked it and adopted it as the spelling of his name as a reinventing of himself of sorts.  Some think it was also to put a bit of distance between his on stage personality and his private life.  Looking back at the way things ended, I am inclined to think that might be so.

Kurt’s funny looking guitars were patterned after a group that was popular during the 60’s surf era.  He also had a nickname for his Fender Jaguar.  It was named “Little Baby” and as you can guess, he was quite fond of it.

Krist Novoselic is Croatian.  Although some people think it’s like ‘Kurdt’ and is just a tweak of his name, it’s the real deal.

Kurt and Krist attended the MTV Headbanger’s Ball in elaborate yellow robes.  They were quite a hit and seemed to have had a blast at the affair.

And last but certainly not least, do you happen to know Kurt’s middle name?  It’s ‘Donald’, of course.

It’s the inside information that reminds me that Nirvana was just a group of guys who bled red blood, just like me.  They were great, alright, but they were human too.  Kurt went through a good bit of problems with his marriage and fatherhood too.  His little girl was temporarily taken away due to his and Kourtney’s bout with drugs.  That’s pretty human.

Sometimes I wonder if Kurt had realized that it was those human things we have in common that fans love about him, if he would have stuck life out.  I think it was a lot of pressure to live up to the pedestal we all put him on.

I keep digging and digging, hoping to find more out about the band and the lead singer who went to rest way too early in his life.  The music lives and from time to time a new fact surfaces that gives us yet another piece to the puzzle and another look into the lives of the humans who made up the superhuman sounds of Nirvana.

Green Day: Remembering the Times of My Life


I make no bones about saying Nirvana is my favorite band ever.  I am quick to tell how they wrote the songs about the story of my life.  But somewhere in the mix I have to give credit where credit is due to Green Day too.  They have done a great job of my life story too.

Back when Grunge came out, I was a lost kid.  I was, like most of my “Generation X”, going nowhere fast.  The music was as dirty as our clothes and hair.  It was a careless time when nothing much seemed to matter.

I was a loser and heard it all the time.  No one had to say it, it was just an understood fact.  My parents held hope that I would become a renowned criminal attorney like my dad.  But I think they knew better.  I sure did.  I wasn’t attorney material and didn’t care to be.  My one and only passion was music and not just any music, Grunge was my thing.

I spent a lot of time writing music.  I even wrote blogs before blogs were cool.  In fact, I’m not even sure the entries had the name, “blog”, yet.  But I wrote on much to the chagrin of my teachers and parents.  They thought it was a waste of time being so obsessed with the bands who they said had “serious undertones”.

That’s where Green Day comes in.  They caught a lot of flak too.  In fact, that’s how they got their name or at least that was the word back then.  It was said that the boys were told by a school principal that it would be a cold day in hell before they made anything of themselves.   Thus, the name Green Day.  I held to that in some really hard times, especially regarding my love for music as a career.

Turns out the story wasn’t true.  The name came about because they liked smoking weed.  They were puffing away, watching Sesame Street one day and the kid song “Today is a Green Day” came on and the name stuck.  It’s funny and typical of the era but I like to believe the original story instead.

The group has done well through the years.  “When I Come Around” is a great song and catchy like many of their tunes.  “Time of Your Life” is another classic.  It was even chosen as the closing song for the last Seinfeld show.  It is a great song for a slide show, wedding or just to reflect upon life like I do when it plays.

Their musical rock opera, American Idiot, hit Broadway.  That’s something, for sure.  They’ve had other cool endeavors too like the documentary at South by Southwest Film Festival. Billie Joe Armstrong’s new work “Like Sunday, Like Rain” which is an independent film.

Billie Joe Armstrong has been quoted as saying, “You can take us out of a punk rock environment, but you can’t take the punk rock out of us.”  I happen to feel the same way.  I am a bit cleaner now and more motivated for sure, but a punk rock Grunger I will always be!

Too Much Grunge

Just let me hear some of that rock and roll music
Any old way you choose it
It’s got a back beat, you can’t blues it
Any old time you use it
Gotta be rock ‘n’ roll music
If you wanna dance with me…

So said the Beatles, who spouted eternal truths. I know they were referring to the fifties, but for me it’s all about 90’s grunge with Nirvana in the front seat. Remember back in the day…

I was a teenager then in looks, age, and spirit–dirty hair, ragged clothes, not a care in the world. Unkempt meant cool. What, after all, was grunge? It didn’t boil down to things as simple as a poor appearance. It was a philosophy about life and music that suited a disenfranchised group on the edge of adulthood and all its alleged disappointments. It was rebellious, ingenious, threatening, and anti-social. In other words, it was awesome.

You couldn’t just stop washing and cutting your hair. It was deeper than that, which is while it still lingers in my soul. Thank God the toenail fungus I had isn’t still there. It was a mark of my social rejection and downtrodden lifestyle. In that regard, it was too much grunge!

Nirvana was the first great band I ever heard, and it may be the last. As fans, we know who we are. It hit you in the face as a kid and dug deep into your soul. Michael Jackson and Madonna couldn’t touch the feeling it evoked. Heavy metal was just sound—too polished and laden with eyeliner and sequins. It was all party music, nothing emotionally introspective like what was to come.

Reminiscing is great. I don’t have to reach too far back since for me the era is still part of my current reality. It was a landmark musical style that almost became too popular for its own good. I kind of like to be underground, not mainstream. I suppose it comes with the territory. The new and avant-garde are always pre-empted eventually by mass taste. It’s a good thing, however, as it keeps the music alive. No matter that it became inaccessible to some in the long run, too edgy and too abrasive.

The media spotlight was always on Kurt Cobain when he was alive, and still is in death. He was the exemplar of grunge critical success. It is like yesterday in my mind. Kids retain what truly impacts them forever. Now you can ironically call me old-fashioned since I hark back so far in the past. These were formative years for rock, which had much deeper roots, but nothing at this level of distortion and novel dynamics—and it came out of Seattle. Trends wax and wane no matter how important they are.

So the kid with the toenail fungus has a memory for that great alternative music in his younger years. He keeps it going and moving forward as the epitome of youth, aggression, non-theatrical authenticity, and raw emotion.

Grunge: What It Is and Why I Like It


Grunge was the first music I ever really got into.  I could relate to it.  It was the music of my generation and it summed up how I was feeling, what I was thinking and what I was doing…or not doing, you might say.

To me, Grunge was kind of like the hippy movement, revisited in a way.  The dirty guitar and distorted sounds of Grunge tells the tale of “Generation X”, unsettled and rebellious.  I dressed the part with holey jeans and clothes that looked like they hadn’t been washed in a week.  It didn’t matter.  I wasn’t going to be doing anything or going anywhere anyway.  That was part of the deal too.  I was totally unmotivated, except for getting down with my Grunge music, that is.

Times have changed a bit.  I finally got up off my butt and went to school, got a job and grew up some.  But I never have outgrown Grunge.  I probably never will.

Nirvana is King of Grunge as far as I’m concerned.  Love the way they put their own touch to the movement and made it their own.  To me, that’s what it’s all about.

Soundgarden is another favorite.  They were and still are the Seattle sound.  Nirvana somewhat stole the show when they came onboard but they have an undeniable presence too.  “Black Hole Sun” is their best song in my opinion but “Outshined” was a good one too.  I think “Outshined” summed up the way Nirvana did exactly that, outshined them.  Their crisp sound with awesome range set them apart though and the fact that they broke up and got back together showed they really were about giving fans what they wanted.

Pearl Jam, Green Day, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains…I could go on and on about the Grunge groups I grew up with.  They understood my lost generation and in some weird way, I think they helped us find ourselves in the darkness or at least kept us entertained through it all.

Looking back, Grunge music was something we could hold on to.  Lots of it, especially Nirvana tunes, were about despair and depression but that was where we were.  Happily, the bands have progressed to a more upbeat message, or maybe it’s just me.

Some Grunge has weathered the storm right along with us.  Green Day is one.  They just came out with a new album, “Demolicious”.  Love the acoustics of “Stay the Night” in Billie Joe Armstrong’s solo performance on the record.  Some of the content is the old stuff and some has progressed but Green Day has been around since I can remember so they’ve been like a rock for me, I guess.

Grunge and alternative music defines who I am now and who I used to be.  It was there with me when I was nobody doing nothing.  At that time, the most passionate I got about anything was when it came to my music.  But, at least something made me come alive.  I have grown up a lot as many of my generation have.  Still, I like to go back to the glory days where everything was dirty from our clothes and hair right down to the music we listened to.  I wouldn’t trade those days, nor the music, for anything.   They helped make me who I am today.

My First Halloween: Thanks Mom

Halloween strikes a chord in everyone’s nostalgic heart. The kid in the most staid adult comes out grinning widely at the memory of being a scary zombie, a punk rocker with a Mohawk do, or a pirate (old school but still popular due to Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack). Mom could whip up anything on her trusty Singer sewing machine—a marvel of technology. No store bought stuff adorned my pampered body. I was her precious son and she could spend hours making costumes year after year.

She didn’t get to make school clothes as I grew so fast, so had to express her creativity with Halloween garb. My first one was awesome—thanks mom. I remember every stitch and seam. She designed it herself, cut her own pattern, bought the fabric and accessories, and it fit, as they say, to a t. You will never guess what it was.

No, not a cowboy outfit or a spaceman. Too run of the mill. It was not an alien of any kind, nor was it an animal of an exotic nature like the Lion King. Mom knew I liked music and dressed me as Gene Simmons from Kiss, her personal favorite. Ok, it was before my prime time, but I knew all the guys well—those weird painted faces, wild hair dos, studded leather vests, and black very high platform boots. Mom wanted to make a wide triangular collar. You can see it in old photos. She made it out of cardboard that she covered with fabric and painted metallic silver. All the details were there. It had a zigzag design in the front and went over some kind of black shirt. That was the easiest thing she had to make but it soon turned into a project as she appliqued shiny silver stars on the sleeves. The leather skinny pants were tougher, even if it was done in a small child’s size.

You couldn’t get the boots easily online then—such a unique item—but she found a movie studio outlet store and bought some outer space-looking punk ones in a diminutive size. I think they were adult shoes made for a little person who might have been a transvestite. She made them almost knee height with a row of silver leather at the top. The sewing machine had met its match with these heavy fabrics.

I admire her efforts and photos show I looked pretty good, a miniature Kiss band member in all my tiny glory. I had a painted cardboard guitar that looked like an ancient silver arrow. It had sharp edges that flared out on both sides. So cool. She told me to stick out my tongue as I went trick or treating and hoped I would get a lot of laughs and extra candy.

I actually did that first Halloween. It was a landmark event and my mother’s supreme triumph. All her costumes in later years were great, but that one stood out as very special. I have a nostalgic feeling about it and great love for her loving care (and fabulous sewing machine).

Lose Yourself To Find Yourself


Interestingly, sometimes when we try to lose ourselves, we end up finding ourselves.  Such was the case for Kurt Cobain.  I am a huge fan of Nirvana’s.  They represent my generation in so many ways.  One of the things I like most about them is that they just couldn’t run from their uniqueness and ended up embracing it.  That is what makes Nirvana, Nirvana, the best band ever if you ask me.

You see, grunge had just taken off.  Kurt and the rest of the band felt obligated to sound grungy.  They did for the most part but they also had a one of a kind sound that some describe as “arty”.  I am not sure how to describe it.  It’s just…Nirvana to me.

Finally, the true colors of the band kept shining through.  Kurt was then encouraged to write songs as he naturally did with his personal touches in the mix.  The band was celebrated for its uniqueness rather than scolded for it…eventually.  It was something that was in them that couldn’t be squashed.  But that was what set them apart and made them great.

The more they tried to hide their unique sound, the more it seemed to come out.  I can relate.  It seemed to me in those days that the more I tried to do things that were expected of me, the less I became what was expected and the more I became the person I would be.

My parents wanted me to go to law school.  My dad is an attorney, a pretty well-known one at that.  He was just sure I would be one too.  What made it worse is that he is a criminal attorney so he knew when my friends got in trouble and…when I did too.  That made him furious but he did defend us and eventually we grew out of the getting into trouble phase.

But I never found it in me to go into law.  In fact, far from it.  I chose to go into first one thing and then another.  I bounced from electronics to being an electrician, all in the name of NOT being an attorney.  I knew my parents would totally freak if I sold my soul to music.

But in trying to avoid law and avoid doing what I love which is music, I finally found myself having tried darn near everything but those two things.  I would not, could not bring myself to be an attorney so I conceded to music and found my love.

I’m not a singer or a musician although I wish I were.  I am a writer so I write about music and actually write music as well.  My parents are probably disappointed that I am not in the court room defending some criminal but they have accepted who I am.  And the best thing is that so have I.

Like Kurt and the rest of Nirvana, I bucked being who I was but failed.  I am who I am and am who I am still becoming.  Thanks, guys…you taught me well!

Finding Nirvana In Life and in Death

I get it all the time.  People (who don’t get it) are always telling me that it’s crazy to be so obsessed with Nirvana.  They go so far as to tell me, “Nivana’s dead.”  I’ve got news.  Nirvana will never die!

The funny thing is that the people telling me this actually listen to Nirvana.  They just do it in moderation.  Me, I am consumed by Nirvana.  I believe they were the greatest band there ever was and that through their music, they live on.

Nirvana did to me what Elvis, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones did to the older generation.  Although I was young, I was instantly mesmerized and changed forever.  They were singing my song, my life song.  I could so easily relate to each and every word of the lyrics and the music itself was like heaven to my ears.   And…it still is!

Do you know what nirvana is?  That’s ok, most people just think it’s a cool name for a band.  It is a cool name for a band but partly because of the true meaning of the word.  By definition, nirvana is a place of freedom that has no pain.  Wow!

The funny thing is that the success of the group really took them by surprise.  “Nevermind” was the big one.  Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic didn’t know how to handle it all, if you ask me.  They were not only suddenly rock stars, they were the leaders of my generation, generation “X” and pretty much were responsible for kicking off the grunge movement and inventing alternative rock as we know it.  That was huge.

I think I liked the songs that weren’t big hits even better than the ones that were like “On a Plain” and “Stay Away” which many overlook and go for “Heart Shaped Box” instead.  There’s no song done by Nirvana that I don’t like.  I would give anything to hear more.  But…I never will.

I remember finding out about Kurt’s first overdose.  It was on prescription drugs and alcohol.  I wanted to shake him to his senses.  I was young and many of my friends did the same stupid thing but it was different hearing that Kurt did it.  He was my idol and I looked up to him.

Then the news came that he had overdosed on heroin.  I couldn’t believe it.  I felt sick.  It was such as senseless loss it made me mad for quite some time and actually…it still does.

The band was great.  Kurt was great.  I think that perhaps, he was too great for his own good.  I think he just wasn’t prepared for all that would go with how fast the band got popular and for what it meant to the generation.  That’s a lot to live up to.

When I listen to Nirvana, which I do most every day.  I think about Kurt and what brought him to stardom…and what brought him to his knees and eventually, his demise.  But he lives on through the music.  Nirvana lives on.  Nirvana will never die.