Come on over and do the twist

It's got to be close to twenty years since I first got my hands on a dubbed cassette of Nirvana's Nevermind, though don’t check my math, please. I'm not sure how big the band was at this time, but they were new to me and hearing them for the first time was like being let in on something. Not a secret exactly, but something that said life can be dangerous, that you can do what you want, that there’s power in creating how you want to. For a kid going to a private Christian K-12, this was an earth shaking revelation. Goodbye U2 and REM. Hello Kurt Cobain.

Finally, it was my turn to take it home and listen. Dan, one of the cool eighth graders, had stolen it from his older brother, and it had been making its way around to those guys deemed deserving enough, those guys who could really appreciate music. And to my surprise it ended up in my hands after school one afternoon. I can still see that black Maxell cassette with the masking tape label "N*I*R*V*A*N*A” hand-written across the top in Sharpie.

I’m listening to the album again right now, and it’s as if my seventh grade hands were setting the cassette into my mom's Walkman for the first time. I’d had to “borrow” her Walkman so I could listen to it alone in the garage where the anxiety of getting in trouble could be suppressed. Not too long before this, one of my friend’s dads, thinking they belonged to my friend, had backed his Buick over a stack of my prized, secret Guns N’ Roses cassettes and I couldn’t afford to let that happen to this tape. Had to be on guard.

What did any of us know about music? About anything? Not much. But by the time I heard the opening bars to Track 3, "Come as You Are," I was a goner. I guess these guys from Seattle were more or less my Beatles.

I grew my hair long. At some point later, I even went for the bowl cut and bleached it. I'd always worn Chucks, but now I tore holes in my jeans and patched them with shiny silver fabric. Just like Kurt. I bought a guitar and learned to read tablature so I could play along with the albums.

It's kind of annoying to read all the discussions of what Kurt Cobain's death meant for music and for youth culture. Yeah, we get it. We know. But at the same time, I have nothing new or of any great significance to add here about his impact, just that when people say he was the voice of a generation or that Nirvana was the most important band of a generation, I'm inclined to believe it on days like yesterday. And I think it's good to remember.


There's really only one poem about Nirvana or Kurt Cobain that I'm aware of, and it may as well be the last one anyone writes, as far as I'm concerned. It's by Jeff Newberry and I didn't have a copy of it, so I dropped him a line last night and asked his permission to reprint it here. He sent me a copy and also included this short "rant" (his word) about Kurt Cobain's legacy. Here's the rant and Jeff's poem.

The Cobain poems remain an ongoing project for me. I'm trying to figure out the best way to address a pop culture phenomenon without resorting to pop culture--if that makes any sense. In writing these poems, I'm trying to capture a feeling I had in the 90s, back when I was so young and so angry about so many things. Sure, Cobain became sort of a media clown there at the end; but his music meant something to me. It's trendy these days to bash and dismiss him because his work was accessible. Somebody recently told me, "On *Nevermind*, Cobain sold out." When I asked why, the person told me that the record sounded "pop" to him. My response: "Listen to 'Love Buzz' on *Bleach*. Tell me that's not melodic and poppy, too." I'm always amazed when people think accessible work cannot be profound or important.

Kurt Cobain

I can never forget finding Nevermind buried
in a bargain bin—K-Mart, 1998, late
century, Y2K two years away.
“Hits of the 90s” a glossed sign promised
& beneath half-priced Greatest Hits
lay an album still stuck to the gray-matter
stucco of my mind: A grained MTV buzz clip,
distortion retched through a Fender Jaguar.
Before work, after school, I listened
to your bloodied voice sieved through
pulsing speakers—a scream,
a slack-tuned guitar, power chords churned out
like chum for a circling school. Did you fall
for your own press? Did you see
the way your words coursed through me,
sermons I repeated babbling like a fire-eyed
acolyte, the holy writ burned into flesh like a brand?
Did you picture van-door tire covers,
your face & death dates, you on velvet
at swap-meets, the VH1 Behind the Music
narrative? Your face on Hot Topic t-shirts?
Tribute bands? Biographies & biopics?
I memorized every line, tried to tease the truth
from Hello, Hello, Hello, How Low? All apologies.
When you riddled words & clawed
the fretboard, did you see the thronged hoard,
the sharp-toothed flannelled chic?
The way we lined up outside the tour bus,
breathing your words: Here we are now. Entertain us.

Jeff Newberry
from Shaking Like a Mountain

Jeff Newberry is the author of A Visible Sign (Finishing Line 2008), and his work has appeared in a variety of print and online journals, including Anti-, The Florida Review, The Cortland Review, New South, Memorious, Hobble Creek Review and Barn Owl Review, as well as in the online anthology Best of the Net 2008. He teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia.

Here's a link to Jeff's website.


I'd thought about putting a playlist of favorite Nirvana songs together and posting it here, but for right now, there are just too many songs and I don't have the time. So, YouTube to the rescue!

Here are a couple videos of two all-time fav Nirvana tunes, "Scentless Apprentice" and "Aneurysm." Enjoy.