True story: I once broke up with a guy because he made fun of me for listening to a Salt N Pepa song. I also broke up with a different guy for making fun of Michael Jackson, but that’s a different story all together. Granted, ‘Shoop‘ was probably not the most critically acclaimed song of it’s time, but I was in a 90s mood and more importantly: I really like Salt N Pepa. This man could not quite accept this fact. He laid into me immediately about my choices in music, scrolled through my iPod with judgement and disdain and told me he did not understand how someone who had such great taste in music could also have such bad taste at the same time. He berated me for a solid half hour, and I found myself defending something that didn’t need defending.
What was so perplexing to me at the time was that this man was a musician. I thought this meant that he understood the sacred bond of music, that people have different tastes. This was not the case. This musician frequently went to shows so he could say things to me like ‘What an unoriginal time signature that last song had‘ or ‘I mean, I guess you could like the song if you like 4-4 timing, which is what all terrible songs have in common, besides the fact that you have them all on your iPod’. I didn’t really know what a lot of his comments meant, as my only musical training is a few errant piano and violin lessons. But as soon as the Salt N Pepa debacle happened, I realized I couldn’t possibly spend time with that gentleman anymore and promptly broke up with him right there in my car and promised myself that I would never spend time defending my musical choices again.
The issue of course, was not Salt N Pepa or my love for any other so-called ’embarrassing decade’ of music. The issue was that I knew I could never be date or be friends with anyone who didn’t respect one of the biggest aspects of my life. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying : I can be very critical of music, I think there are terrible songs and awful bands and brutal albums. But no matter my opinion, I still respect that someone out there might think it’s the best thing they’ve ever heard. I think that’s a very important distinction to make, given how personal a choice music is. Very few things say more about a person than what they listen to. Even if I’m not into something, I understand that what makes music so magical is that we can’t always understand why it appeals to us. I’ve always been a member of the church of ‘if the beats alright, I’ll dance all night‘ and that means that the Black Keyes, Black Lungs and Black Sabbath all have a place in my eclectic and diverse collection.
Last week, I mentioned that I was never a huge Nirvana fan. That’s not just my opinion of them, I kind of missed the grunge rock boat at that time.When Nirvana became hugely popular in the 90s I was just branching out into my own away from my family’s preferred rock and Motown and I was such a happy go lucky kid it just never occurred to me to check out grunge rock at that time. Other than a brief foray into Soul Asylum, I never understood the full appeal of it. Even so, I always respected it. I always respected that it changed some of my friends lives and I remember knowing what it meant for people when Kurt Cobain died. I recall watching the mourners on tv and knowing they had lost the person who sang the most important music of their life.
But it wasn’t until I found myself in Seattle this past week that I fully understood the weight of what Nirvana did for entire generation and location. I went to the EMP museum where I saw instruments, original set lists and artifacts of their rise to fame. Handwritten notes about what kind of band they wanted be, original demos and even clothing they wore. But the thing that made the most impact for me was a huge map of all the bands in the Pacific Northwest that eventually found their way into formation after Nirvana paved the way for them. They really did change an entire landscape of music and built bridges in places that were stranded before.
Before we left, we visited the house where Cobain died and the small park beside it. There’s a memorial bench where fans still come from all over the world every day and scrawl messages of love, leave bracelets and light candles. That’s me sitting on it in the photo above. It takes a special kind of legend to become the voice of an entire group of people, and the love that his city and fans still show him was very sad and touching. The museum and that bench made me realize how much gratitude I have for this man and his band that I never really listened to. Because it was through them that other musicians in that area and the years following found the courage to come forward and give their gifts, and for that I will always be thankful.
So today I’m sharing with you one of my favorite songs from the Seattle grunge period, from a band that may or may not have risen to their fame without the success of Nirvana. Alice in Chains needs no introduction here, but this song does. Nutshell has been one of my favorite songs for as long as I can remember, it reminds me of a dear friend I used to have. I love the grunge-y solo, the haunting vocals and the lyrics about wanting to be yourself. So here’s my songs and my lesson for you today, readers. Don’t ever feel the need to defend what you listen to. Love what you love, but don’t forget to respect what you don’t.
“Yet I find repeating in my head, If I can’t be my own, I’d feel better dead…………”