At the beginning of my sophomore year in high school, I had a friend who was - via his older sister and his predilection for blowing money on pot - more juiced-in with the older crowd (seniors!) than the rest of us. Between gravity bong hits, these older dudes were turning him on to some sweet music. We all had our ears to the ground, but he had enough expendable cash to actually buy these CDs (still a fairly new technology), and he was gracious enough to share from time to time. He had hipped me to Sonic Youth's Goo the previous year, and I was eternally grateful to him for that. The dubbed cassette he gave me was getting plenty of use.
He asked me at school one day if I'd heard Nirvana yet, and I admitted that I hadn't. He gave me a lift back to his parent's house after school, insisting that I had to hear it. I can't remember exactly how he prefaced the listening-to of the album, but I do know that he hyped it up immensely. Of course, I was skeptical, but I was more than game to give it a listen. His parents had a ridiculous sound system in their family room, and I saw him cranking the volume knob as he placed the disc in the tray. I waited.
I've romanticized the first time I heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to the point where I now usually end the story with me scooping handfuls of diarrhea of out of my underwear in my friend's guest bathroom while trying to get my boner to go away, but I'll spare you the hyperbole. But I can say, with complete conviction, that it just felt like something else. Like all this "alternative rock" that we'd been listening to for the past year or so had been building to something, and we didn't realize it until we heard it. But when we heard it, we knew, this was it.
The rest was a whirlwind. I immediately rushed out and bought the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" single on cassette (why didn't I buy the whole album?), and listened to it over and over and over. "Even In His Youth," a non-album track was on the b-side, and I rocked that hard, too. I mean, just repeatedly. Soon after that, I remember being in another friend's basement and seeing the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video for the first time. We couldn't believe it was on MTV. And then we couldn't believe that they were playing it every fucking hour. And then like a week later it was all of a sudden the biggest thing in the world.
And then in January they played on SNL, and my friends and I all got together to watch it. They played "Territorial Pissings" as their second song and wrecked their equipment. I wanted to stroke my teenage dong. By this time I had a proper cassette copy of the album, and it was all I listened to. We watched the "Teen Spirit" video every time it came on, and waited for the world premiere of the "Come As You Are" video. I bought the SPIN magazine with Nirvana on the cover and studied it like a textbook. I bought the Rolling Stone with the first article about Nirvana they did and took it to Kinko's and made a color copy of Kurt Cobain's face to hang on my wall. I grew my hair long and parted it down the middle. I bought a Nirvana smiley-face t-shirt from the local rock shop and wore it way too often.
I bought the "Come As You Are" CD single for the bonus live tracks, and the "Lithium" single for the unreleased cut "Curmudgeon" and the fact that it had all the lyrics to Nevermind on the inside. I found out that Cobain screams "God is gay" at the end of "Stay Away" and I thought that was fucking fantastic.
I bought the "Sliver" 12". I traveled to Portland to buy (the aforementioned) bootleg 7"'s which contained songs that no one had heard of. I combined these with dubbed cassette copies of other unreleased songs and made an entire mix of Nirvana songs that weren't on their proper albums. It sounded like shit but I didn't care. I even bought the Sassy magazine that Cobain was on the cover of. I wish I would have kept that.
And I listened to Nevermind until I thought I should have been sick of it, realized I wasn't, and kept listening to it. I eventually got a little tired of a few tracks on the first side, but I still contend that the second side of the album ("Territorial Pissings" - "Something in the Way") is one of the finest sides of a rock album ever. Songs like "Drain You," "Lounge Act," and "On a Plain" might never get old for me.
A guy I work with told me that he heard his nephew saying "What was that band Dave Grohl was in before Foo Fighters?" If I heard my kid saying that, I'd toss him out on the street. These fucking kids today.
I have an original U.S. pressing of this LP, and that's all I ever wanted. I found one many years ago in a record store, bought it, and I'll keep it forever.
When it comes to records that really played a huge part in my life, this might be at the top of the list. There's a few others, but if it really came down to it, it's this one. I feel like this album has fallen out of favor with critics over the years, and I'm not quite sure I get that. I listened to it today and it's still incredible. Every single song.
Nothing better could have come along for teenage me.