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Volume 2, Issue 1: The One About Nirvana

Because Tinyletter is mostly for mail, it’s nearly impossible to find old newsletters. So I’m posting all my old newsletters here so they can be searched, indexed, all that. You’re still better off just subscribing.

Illustration for article titled Volume 2, Issue 1: The One About Nirvana

Jesus Christ died on April 7, 30, at the age of 30.

So, 101 issues of the newsletters in, I finally ran out of Nirvana songs.

They didn’t make precisely 101 songs. I think I reused a couple, and I might have missed one or two. But as (I hope) you noticed, every one of these newsletters was titled with a Nirvana song. So I might as well talk about Nirvana a little bit as we switch over to the next conceit of nomenclature.

The first time I ever heard Nirvana was on 94.5 WLRW, the pop music station in Champaign, Illinois. I was 16 years old, and I was at last hitting the age where I was starting to be a lot more curious about music. It took me far too long: We were only two years removed from “Ice Ice Baby” and Nelson on my Walkmabn. But thanks to Grierson and my friend Andy Kuhns, who were both smarter and more interesting than I was, I’d started to get into In Living Color, and U2, and even Public Enemy. I began to look at music as something more than just played in the background while you washed your car. But I was still stuck with WLRW, which played a lot of Whitney Houston, and Wilson Phillips, and Bon Jovi.

They had this show, called The Top Five at Nine, in which they compiled all the phone requests they got from listeners all day and counted them down, Casey Kasem-style, at 9 p.m. every night. This was as close as I could come to capturing the pulse of America. We had a satellite dish that got MTV, but I didn’t have a TV in my room; the Top Five at Nine was as close to a window on America as I had. One night, the No. 5 song was from a band I’d never heard of, singing a song called, apparently, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The DJ seemed bemused to announce it, as if it had been a novelty song that sneaked into the top five as a prank. And then they played the song and it was the most outrageous, mind-blowing shit I’d ever heard. It was a metal song, except it was weirdly pretty; this guy was screaming, but it sounded melodic; I had no idea what he was saying, but it felt like he was saying it specifically to me. It felt, immediately, like being beamed out of my room and into the rest of the planet, a brief visit to a world I’d had no idea existed. I’d barely been out of Mattoon in my life. This is what the rest of the world had to offer? I’d need to check that shit out.

Illustration for article titled Volume 2, Issue 1: The One About Nirvana

I immediately bought “Nevermind” and listened to it for the first of roughly 36,000 times. God, it sounded perfect. I know that to people who knew Nirvana before that album thought it was too clean, too scrubbed, too produced. But for a 16-year-old kid who didn’t know anything, and surely would have never gotten the chance to hear it if it had been all grimy and distorted as Steve Albini’s (also perfect) production of “In Utero,” it was exactly right. I fell asleep listening to it in my headphones, “Breed”’s solo wrapping around my head, essentially every night for the next year, or maybe the next 25.

Nirvana was immediately my favorite band, and they’ve pretty much been ever since. Every other band and artist I fell in love with after that — from Bob Dylan to R.E.M. to The White Stripes to Band of Horses to all the rest — all sprung from that obsession with Nirvana, with the need to explore the rest of the world so I could see what produced that. Nirvana laid down the groundwork for everything. They truly opened my brain. I’m not sure there’s any of this without them.

I have a million stories I could tell about my history with Nirvana, how I was supposed to see them at the Aragon in Chicago but everybody in my dorm bailed at the last second, how I know that people like me discovering Nirvana was probably part of the problem in the first place, how I collected every bootleg I could find for about 15 years, how the songs just seemed like an axe that exploded out of the middle of your skull, how I truly do not understand how any sentient human being could argue with a straight face for Pearl Jam over Nirvana (and I kind of like Pearl Jam, sometimes!), how terrible “Last Days” is, how Grierson and I once visited the place he died when we were in Seattle, how I found out about Kurt’s death, how much more differently feel about it now than I did when it happened. But those are all their own stories, to surely be told on their own, individually, at some point. Besides, my history with Nirvana is the history of my whole life: There are times I wonder if the person I am really began with them, with that cold night in Mattoon, listening to a lousy radio station, my brain only barely processing what it was hearing. I still listen to “Nevermind” and “In Utero” as much as any album that has come out in the last near 30 years since. That’s a sign of my own arrested development, I am sure. But I can live with that. Every generation gets only one of those bands. That was ours. I find myself just lucky I got to be a part of it.

Illustration for article titled Volume 2, Issue 1: The One About Nirvana

(I haven’t figured out what the next motif I’ll use for these newsletter subheads. Frankly, I want to use Woody Allen film titles, if just because I’ve seen them all so many times and find the titles evocative enough to cover a lot of different column topics. But ... you know. Still, there aren’t that many, and I might even finally do my Let’s Talk About Woody Allen piece I’ve been toying writing for a few years when we run out of them. But we’ll see.)

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

1. Pham’s Frustrations Are Justified, But the Cardinals Were Right Too, My favorite types of pieces are when it’s my job to tell two sorts of people who are on opposites sides of an issue, yelling at each other, that they’re both right and they’re both wrong. Everybody is always both right and wrong.

2. Al Pacino Movies, Ranked, Vulture. Al Pacino has been in a lot of movies. Too many, frankly.

3. In Defense of Gabe Kapler, I would never want to be a manager in Boston, Philadelphia or New York. There’s no way it’s worth it.

4. The NBA and Its Glorious Beefs, New York. Been a long time since I had pieces in three consecutive issues of the magazine.

5. The 10 Most Fun Former Major Leaguers Still Hanging Around in the Minors, Poor Allen Craig.

6. Debate Club: Superman Movie Villains, SYFY Wire. Nuclear Man!

7. Tortured College Basketball Fanbase Rankings, Medium. Just continuing the tradition, with a lot less work now, I’ll confess.


No show this week, but on Thursday, we taped two episodes and a new movie show I’m also hosting. Stay tuned, as they say.


Grierson & Leitch, the big new movie is “Ready Player One,” and we stay on the ‘80s theme with “Real Genius” and “Labyrinth”

Seeing Red, Bernie Miklasz and I look back at the first three games of the season. MUCH to discuss this week.

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, no show this week.

This was the fun crew from the movie show we taped this week.

Illustration for article titled Volume 2, Issue 1: The One About Nirvana

Eventually there will be more! Have a great weekend, all.


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