Music is arguably the most important part of my life. Like many people, I need to indulge in it daily. It has shaped my personality, impacted my world view, inspired my writing, influenced my dress code, and most importantly, helped strengthen my bonds with friends, family, and sometimes, complete strangers.
My taste is nearly universal. Rock, blues, reggae, rap/hip-hop, jazz, metal, and who can't get down with that funk?! Yet, my earliest memories of music go back to summer car rides to day camp, accompanied by the sounds of overdriven, dreary guitars, aching, brooding vocals, and guttural bass lines.
I wasn't sure what these noises were, but there was something about them that I liked. My mom cycled mostly through three albums: Ten by Pearl Jam, Unplugged in New York by Nirvana, and Nothing Safe: Best of the Box by Alice in Chains. Yes, this was the late 90's, and grunge had been pushed off the charts by boy bands and rap-metal, but what did a 5-year-old like me know about that? Looking back on it now, I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to music.
There was, of course, the brief phase where I "fell victim" to the pop music trends of the early 2000's. Yet, I had always loved grunge and alternative music. It wasn't until my teen years that I truly rediscovered the two genres. Expanding my knowledge of the bands and their own musical influences reignited by appreciation for the music that came out of the 1990's.
Of course, this past Tuesday marked a somber date in rock history: April 5. The world lost two giants of the grunge scene that day. In 1994, Nirvana's leader, Kurt Cobain, met an untimely death at the age of 27. Eight years later, in 2002, Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley passed away at the age of 34.
No one can deny that these two titans influenced millions around the world as leaders of two seminal bands from that decade. However, I can only speak to how they have influenced my own life in the post-90's society.
Although Cobain and Staley led different bands and separate lives, their music impacted me in similar ways. I made my first of many mix tape CDs when I was 8 years old. It contained almost entirely Nirvana and Alice in Chains songs. I couldn't get enough of Nirvana's loud-quiet-loud dynamic on tunes like "Lithium," "In Bloom" "All Apologies" and "Heart-Shaped Box." I would mimic the "cry-baby" wah pedal sound on the hook to Alice in Chains' "Man in the Box" and sing along (albeit off-key) to "No Excuses."
Did I know what Lithium was? Or the identity of this mysterious "Man in in the Box?" No. Did I care? Not really, at least at the time. The songs were catchy and the voices that propelled them were amazingly powerful.
Even when I began learning guitar the following year, the first chords I asked to learn were those that made up the iconic opening of "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
My love for Cobain and Staley's music inspired me to look deeper into other aspects of their lives, and how the 90's culture influenced their personalities and personas. I bought Cobain's Journals, and looked deeper into the lyrical themes in both his and Staley's most famous compositions. I gained a new understanding of depression, longing, friendship, denial, acceptance, and, especially with Cobain, sarcasm.
I began wearing flannel shirts in high school, growing my hair longer, and going to rock concerts more often. I also learned more about other 90's groups, such as Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Green Day, and Rage Against The Machine. To this day, 90's alternative remains my favorite genre of music, and it all goes back to Nirvana and Alice in Chains, to Cobain and Staley's achingly honest lyrics and powerful vocal delivery. Nevermind remains my favorite album, and Staley, my favorite singer.
So, while April 5 is a somber date for music fans, it reminds me of how important the songs of Cobain and Staley were, are, and will continue to be in my life. So, thank you, Kurt and Layne. Now, I think I'll go for a nice drive with the windows down and the radio up.