When I was 16 I spent quite a bit of time in the college refectory, gazing out of the windows. In Autumn 1991, I heard a song on their radio that sounded like nothing before. Metallic guitar tones, sonorous bass, and drums like a smack round the head.I quickly discovered that the band was Nirvana and the song – Smells Like Teen Spirit.
They were a breath of fresh air. Smells Like Teen Spirits lyrics are an intriguing collection of sentences and sometimes half sentences that make little sense but present a series of scattershot and sometimes interconnected thoughts. I was never entirely comfortable with the agenda of Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses – their extreme sexism seemed stupid and there was something clearly a bit lacking in the grey matter department.
In my late teens I almost always had one foot firmly in and one foot firmly out of a lot of musical camps. This was reflected in both my record collection and my appearance: longish hair one month, short the next, facial hair or no facial hair, depending on the week. Even when I decided to pitch a tent in a camp I was always on the perimeter, outside, looking in.
There was a guy at college who was about ten years older than me. He was a bit like the Ace Face in Quadrophenia and I looked up to him from a distance. One day on the stairs I saw him wearing an Anthrax t-shirt. At this point the thrash metal bands were just about spent and I think we both knew it. My faded Metallica t-shirt was starting to look a bit sad. A week later I was looking up the stairwell at college and I saw the Ace Face looking down at me. His long hair, now chin-length, wearing a string of beads, a Mudhoney t-shirt and a thrift shop leather jacket. Change was in the air and I readily embraced it,
Nirvana had the energy of metal with indie cred, a gift for a dweeby caterpillar trying to emerge as a cool butterfly.
Of course looking back it was a storm in a tiny teacup. All youth culture movements are but the next few years were my time: ultra vivid and new. Grunge was part of that soundtrack and whenever I hear Teen Spirit I taste dry ice and my first instinct is still to jump up and down.
Photos and text sent by Christian, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear