I was laid out on the couch today, with strep throat. Todd took the kids to R’s baseball game, and I was flipping through Netflix, trying to find something interesting. The good thing about being sick is that I can watch tv that I wouldn’t normally watch. Guilt free. Because i’m sick. I can watch four episodes of British teen dramas. (Skins. I can’t quit you.) Then, I can totally decide to switch over and watch music documentaries, which I used to watch all the time, but never seem to find time for these days. Because of the aforementioned guilt.
And yeah, the music is early 90s. Got all nostalgic after seeing facebook photos posted by college pal Jasonaut. Black and white photos, fresh faces, wrinkled, lived-in clothes that didn’t really fit, Athens porches. Beautiful photos that make me think of the past with wistfulness, even as I realize that photos don’t capture heartbreak, heat, humidity, night breezes, the smell of smoke, or the feel of old couches, or what it feels like to have so. much. time. to. think. About everything. To death.
So, there i was, laid out on the couch, watching a documentary about Nevermind, and the kids walk in from post-game pizza at Felini’s and Tiller is looking all cute, with a pony tail on her head, wearing mary janes, polka-dot leggings, a madras plaid patchwork skirt, and a shirt that can only be described as “riotous” (it had a zebra print, at least five colors, including hot pink, and sequins) – she is Belinda Carlisle on acid. And she walks in, puts her hand on hip, and says definitively, “This is my favorite song.”
It’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” And i though to myself, “novice.”
And then I said, “Really? I didn’t know you liked this song.”
And she said, “Yes,” her hands out to me, palms up, making a point, and cocked her head to the right, nodding. “We listened to the Nirvana in the car with Daddy.” Weird. Synchronicity. Also, this is good, because it means he might have been actually listening to me when I was saying that it was sad the kids don’t hear full albums more often.
“Oh. Okay, well, would you like to watch a documentary about the album?” And I totally thought they would say no, while giving me that “fuck no, i want to play. Why would I want to watch this boring shit?” look, but instead, they both said, “Sure!” in unison, and curled up on the chairs, and there wasn’t even a fight about who would sit where.
And then they started asking questions:
Tiller: “Who’s that? Is he the dead one?”
Me: “Uh, did daddy tell you he died?
Tiller: “Yeah. How did he die?”
Rollie: “He got old, Tiller.”
Me: “Well, actually, no, it’s sad. He killed himself. Have you heard of that?”
In unison: “No.”
Me: “Well, he did. It was v. sad. Always remember that no matter how bad it might get, Mama and daddy are here, and you can always talk to us, and it’s never bad enough to kill yourself. It is a selfish, terrible, heartbreaking, sad thing.”
Rollie: “How did he do it?”
Me: “Uh, i don’t remember.” Total lie.
Tiller: “Why?” Uh, shit. Too early to discuss drugs and depression.
Me: “Sometimes people are in pain, physically, or they are so sad that it hurts, and they don’t know what else to do.” SHIT.
Rollie: “Was it a gun?” Shit.
Me: “I don’t know baby. Let’s watch. maybe they will tell us what happened.”
And then, my stomach kind of clenched, because they had Butch Vig talking about recording the song “Something in the Way,” which is just depressing-as-hell, a haunting song, and i was thinking, why am i letting them watch this? Crap!
Rollie: “This one is not so loud.” He says this, not with distaste, but with thoughtfulness.
Butch Vig talks about how he recorded it with Kurt Cobain laying on a couch in the room with the soundboard, and he was just lying on the couch, playing the guitar, and singing, and it was so quiet, and so moving. I was waiting for the kids to get bored and start fidgeting, but they are both staring at Butch Vig, talking about doubling up vocal tracks, like Lennon did, and i see R. jerk his head towards me, like, “Lennon! I know him!” but he turns back to the tv. And they just . . . listen.
Rollie whispers, eyes not leaving the screen: “I like that song.”
Tiller: “Me too.”
And then they start talking about Smells Like Teen Spirit and how they made the video, which, well, you know. You’ve seen it. And Tiller says, in a Barbara Walters-gonna-get-you-to-fess-up-voice: “Mom, were you there?” And I laugh and say no.
And then the documentary starts talking about Nirvana playing live. They show all sorts of footage that makes me smile: Cobain wearing a white coat, beating his head into his amp, and Novoselic throwing his bass in the air, and Cobain leaping into the drum set. I am smiling and I look over at my kids, and they are looking at me, like, “Why are you smiling? Aren’t they gonna get in trouble? Isn’t that bad?”
Tiller: “Why are they making that mess?
Me, smiling a HUGE, guilty grin: “For fun. For entertainment.”
R: “Are those people on stage dancing in the band?
I laugh. “No,” more laughter, “they are people in the crowd stage diving.”
R: “What’s that?”
Me, with a lot more laughter. “It’s stupid. People got so excited and they would jump on stage and dance with bands, and then they would jump into the crowd, and the crowd would catch them, usually, and then they might carry them around. And that’s “crowd surfing.”
Complete silence in the room, as they both sit watching this footage of . . . what i remember going to see bands like that was like. And i realized that they are watching people at a Nirvana show, and it must seem like a fairy tale to them, like my dad telling me he met the Rolling Stones, or if my mom up and told me she was at Woodstock.
Tiller: “Were you there, mom?”
Me, more laughter. Laugh out loud laughter. A happy laughter. “Not there, baby. But i saw them twice. One time in a really big place, like the Georgia Dome, but it was called the Omni. But the first time I saw them, i was in Athens and I saw them in a little small place, smaller than the place where we took you to see They Might Be Giants.” The crowd on TV is pushing and shoving.
Tiller: “Was Daddy there?
Me: “No, baby, i didn’t know Daddy yet. I was there with my roommate and another friend.”
Rollie: “Did you get pushed down?”
Rollie: “Did you get pushed?”
Tiller: “Were you scared?”
Me: “No. It was fun.”
Rollie: “Did you get up on stage and jump off?”
Me: “Oh, no, baby. Not my style. Remember I don’t like heights or being the center of attention.”
Rollie: “Did anyone jump off?”
Me: “Yes, Curt Cobain did! But not with his guitar like that.” On the TV, Curt is jumping off a huge stage, with his guitar, at some festival into a sea of people. “And there were not that many people there.”
Tiller: “did you catch him?”
Me: “Yes, everyone caught him. He jumped off, and people caught him, and he grabbed a hold of this movie screen, you know the kind they set up for movies at school? That pull out of the ceiling? And he grabbed hold of it, and he pulled it down, while the crowd was holding him, and it came right out of the ceiling and he wrapped himself up in the screen while the people held him up.”
Tiller, eyes as big as saucers: “Did you touch him?”
Me: “Uh, yeah, i guess so.”
And they both just stared at me.
And I gotta admit . . . I felt like a complete and total bad ass. I really did have a life. Back in the day. And what’s more? I’m pretty sure they thought i was a badass. That will probably never happen again. At least until they have children of their own. And then they will know that keeping a kid alive for 8 years is pretty badass in and of itself.
p.s. Mom? Dad? Y’all aren’t perfect, but I do think you’re pretty badass.
post-post script: Interestingly, i found this site, because I was curious if anyone else had written about the show online. I would have keeled over in happiness to find a photo of that night. Not even a complete setlist.
10/05/91 – 40 Watt Club, Athens, GA
Smells Like Teen Spirit • Breed • Endless, Nameless
The band was drunk and out of tune, but the show was apparently incredible, according to attendees.
During “Endless, Nameless,” Kurt vaulted up to the movie projection screen and ripped it out of the ceiling, inciting the crowd to get onstage with the band and trash everything. Meanwhile, Dave kicked his drums over, then piled them up in no particular order and played them with microphones. After the noise and destruction, the band piled their instruments onto the drums, wished the crowd a good night, and left the stage, according to an attendee.
So, yeah. . . i guess i didn’t totally dream it.