When I was 16, I discovered secular music. I don’t mean to say that my childhood was devoid of The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, InSync, and, of course, Smashmouth. It just wasn’t until I was 16, driving in my car, feeling that euphoria that comes with the freedom of first operating one’s own automobile, when a song came on the radio that spoke to me.
The song was “How you Remind Me” by Nickelback. Did this song apply to my somewhat privileged, Papillion Nebraska life? Not in the slightest. But it somehow called out to the teenage angst I was experiencing. You know, the I’m-mad-because-somebody-told-me-I-shouldn’t-be-so-happy-and-the-girl-I-like-in-social-studies-class-doesn’t-know-I-exist angst. I was immediately hooked on Nickelback and alternative rock in general.
It wasn’t long before I discovered Nirvana. Nevermind, with the naked baby on the cover, became one of the first secular albums I purchased. I plucked it from the stack of jewel cases amongst the retro concert posters and incense smell of Homers record shop in Downtown Omaha (Either that, or I got it at Super Target in Papillion…). “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became my anthem. I immediately set about trying to learn to play it on my guitar. “Lithium” with its religious theme told me that my new musical taste was alright with God.
It is safe to say that I didn’t really get Nirvana or grunge rock back then. It did not occur to me that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is not a tribute to teenagers, but rather one of the most epic caricatures of teenage angst of all time. Nor did I realize that “Lithium” was never intended to be a Christian song, but rather just Cobain’s twisted sense of humor as he observed a friend become a born-again.
My love for alternative rock and pop punk continued to grow through high school. I grew my hair out and tried to learn guitar, dreaming of becoming a rock star. When I went to college, in an effort to express myself, I got a Kurt Cobain poster to hang on my dorm room wall.
One day, a friend, (I’ll use her actual name because this is no doubt one of her proudest moments) Amanda, was hanging out in our room and she noticed my Cobain poster. A conversation started about Nirvana, and I was about to find out in the most embarrassing possible way that the artist I’d been idolizing for the past several years had been dead since long before I even knew who he was.
I don’t recall the specifics of how it happened. If Amanda leaked it or if my roommate Dusty had overheard the conversation and started it, but the gossip immediately went viral and soon everybody knew. I don’t know how I missed such a blatant fact about one of my favorite bands, but to my credit, this was before Youtube and Wikipedia, so one actually had to work to study up on social doctrine. Licking my wounds, I vowed to never again be the fool that doesn’t know an obvious fact about the music scene.
When Wikipedia became popular, I spent hours reading about my favorite bands. My taste matured as well. The summer after my sophomore year of college, I discovered Pink Floyd. I listened to them so heavily that summer that hearing the music now brings back crystal clear memories of events and people. My dad and brothers were also obsessed and we used to quiz each other on band facts while waiting in line at the super market.
The Floyd was my gateway drug to classic rock. I took History of Rock as an elective and paid more attention and took better notes than any of my engineering classes. Naturally, The Beatles would become my next obsession. Sure I was brought up on Rubber Soul, dancing to “Drive my Car” in my undies and knock-off Ray Bans, but I had never experienced Magical Mystery Tour or the White Album.
When Tara graduated, we planned a road trip to California just the two of us. The morning we left, Isaac solidified himself as best roommate ever by giving us the entire Beatles discology. We drove over 3,000 miles on that trip, and I’m not sure if we listened to anything but the Beatles. I remember driving through rolling pastures and green hills on our way to Rifle Falls in Colorado while listening to some of the earlier takes of “Strawberry Fields Forever” on Beatles Anthology.
A few years later, after moving to Utah, I was out at lunch with a group of coworkers and Crosby Still Nash & Young’s “Ohio” came on the radio. One of the guys who hired on about the same time as me felt a certain allegiance as we had similar tastes in music and turned to me and said: “I bet you’re the only one here who knows who this is”. I reeled, remembering that fateful moment Freshman year, but as the guitar riff came in, I immediately knew and answered with confidence while my colleagues looked on in awe. In that moment, I realized I’d made it.