Sunday, December 16, 2012

Nirvana - In Utero

I'm thinking it's because my first year of college sucked fecal cheeseballs. I mostly had a great high school career and succeeded in large part because I had a very well-defined schedule at all times. Once I hit college, that framework vaporized, and I realized how little discipline and ambition I had on my own, and what had only supposedly been my antisocial tendencies suddenly came out loud and clear. I was, by my reckoning, supposed to land at the front door of college, and continue soaring. Instead, I freefell and crashed. Homesick, withdrawn, lonely, and feeling utterly out of place in the land of cows, colleges, and Midwestern Lutheran contentment, I felt like someone could say "boo" to me, and I'd fall apart in a million shards of broken glass.
Not one month after I began my freefall, Nirvana provided part of my soundtrack. No trainjumper, I, I was not a big fan of Nevermind. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was okay, but there was something about it that just didn't hit me the way it was hitting everyone around me, and the same went for the rest of the album. But since I was beginning my college DJ gig, I had to cater to the whims of college radio, and that required me to embrace Nirvana. As it turned out, In Utero was a pretty damned great album. As broken up as I was becoming, I at least knew someone who was suffering along with me, unafraid to put anger, anguish, self-destruction, brutality, defiance, and depression in such cathartic music. It provided a perverse foil to the good, wholesome Lutheran girls and boys around me, and I delighted in it.

The pop shit here didn't really grab me. You can take your "Heart Shaped Box" and your "All Apologies." Hell, even take "Rape Me." (And yeah, that's all "pop" in the harshest sense of the word.) The songs I really resonated with were the really soul-baring ones that went along with the most abrasive noise that Nirvana could come up with (with one exception). To wit:

Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle - Uh, okay Kurt. I'll indulge your loopy song title. Just howl "I miss the comfort in being sad" a half dozen or so times, so I know we're on the same wavelength, and all will be forgiven.

Milk It - This is kinda the musical equivalent of what was becoming my life mantra at the time: that which does not kill you warps you for life. I've never heard a 4/4 time signature be played so obliquely and unrecognizably. And Kurt slurs so badly here you can barely make out "I own my own pet virus/I get to pet and name her" before screaming out "DOLL! STEEEEAAAAK!" as loudly and derisively as he could. Whatever that all means.

Tourette's - Place this one up there with Sonic Youth's "Nic Fit" off of their nifty Dirty. You got a simple four-chord progression, drums that bludgeon you at breakneck speed, and some totally unintelligible yelling. What more do you need for a one-man mosh pit in an cinder block and glass shard room?

Radio Friendly Unit Shifter - God DAMN. THIS is, I'd argue, Nirvana's pinnacle. All the rage that Nirvana had to offer, spurting in all directions, suddenly became laser-focused, despite the deranged feedback undulating through the whole song. Kurt didn't scream out the lyrics for once; he dead-panned them in a truly frightening way, made all the scarier because they were just that side of inscrutable. Except for the chorus, a simple "what is wrong with me" repeated over and over again that echoed what I thought every day. And as loud as the rest of the song is, the ending is a seismic speedball that grows uncontrollably and threatens to demolish anything in its path.

Dumb - Here's the exception. Soul-baring, but lounge-intimate and quiet. I really, really got this one. For someone who prided himself so much on his brains, and for someone who had so successfully cultivated a close circle of friends in high school, I sure felt stupid and out of place my first year at college. So of course I was gonna identify when Kurt murmured "I'm not like them, but I can pretend." And like willful Chinese water torture to my psyche, I absorbed every iota of meaning when he droned "I think I'm dumb" over and over and over. It was self fulfilling destruction. At least for that first year.

(Nice bit of trivia I just saw, courtesy of our good friends over at Wikipedia: In Utero was recorded in Cannon Falls, Minnesota...just fifteen miles from my first home away from home. Somehow so apropos.)

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