Over the last decade or so of my life, there has been a lie that I have occasionally told myself, and it is this: you would be a better person if you liked grunge. The logic goes as follows: I’m an overthinker, not very good at letting go of things, always good at caring a bit too much, most at ease in a quiet room. How much more interesting would it be to be adaptable, to like music for reasons other than the lyrics, to have any appreciation at all of the kind of music one might at least vaguely describe as "heavy"? Variety is good, and it is a good thing to try out things that are outside your comfort zone. And what is very much outside of my comfort zone? Nirvana.
And yet somehow, before this week, I had never really got around to it. That's not strictly true, of course, because I have in fact both been eighteen years old and to a student party in my life, and I didn’t so much miss that kind of rebellious alt-rock-loving phase so much as sit next to other people on the bus while they did it. Listening to it now, it feels like Kurt Cobain's voice has been in my peripheral vision for a very long time. I don't know about Nevermind "changing the course of popular music", but the feel of it is certainly pervasive. And you know that occasional song, where you hear it, and even though you've heard it plenty of times before, this is the first time you can put a name to a face? "On a Plain" is like that for me. The whole album is like something I’ve always known, in a way. It's like it's a fact.
I hope this doesn't spoil the story for you, reader, but it turns out that I do not like grunge. I sat down to listen to Nevermind, and I came away with a list of the tracks I could make out the words to. Ninety seconds into the last track (which in my version was the bonus track, "Endless, Nameless"), the notes from my first listen read in their entirety: "IT JUST SOUNDS LIKE THEY'RE VOMITING." I'm not averse to music about mental health issues, about brutality, about people being bored or disillusioned with the world and the people around them. It just feels like Cobain and I are on completely different wavelengths. I'm sure I'm missing the point, but that's fine - we're interested in different things, from different angles, and if you stuck us in a room together we'd have nothing to say to each other. On top of which, there's something about this yelling-over-rocky-guitars business that brings out my do-nots and shall-nots, and makes me feel terribly uncool – like someone's about to ask me to dance in public and all my limbs have locked up.
I'm calling them "limbs", for god's sake. Somebody give me a smack.
So here we are: I actually quite liked "Lithium" after two listens. I liked "Polly" first time around, til I found out what it was about, and then I didn't want to try and hum it any more. "Something in the Way" was probably the closest thing here to my comfort zone, and the one I'm most likely to deliberately listen to again. You can keep "Territorial Pissing", and "In Bloom", and all the other famous ones like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Come As You Are". I bet they were electric live, and I'm equally sure that's a room I'd have had no interest in being in.
They say you shouldn't knock a thing until you've tried it. Well, I have tried it now, and I'm afraid the verdict is Get Off My Lawn.