There’s no easier way to experience time travel than to listen to music. I mean, what else can recreate memories so vividly that you feel that indescribable combination of nostalgia and joy? Who needs Stephen Hawking and Neil DeGrasse Tyson when you have Kurt Cobain and Robert Plant?
Defining what was my first album is kind of tricky. In the fifth grade, I bought (and listened to many times) a Rolling Stones greatest hits album called Hot Rocks, which I eventually gave to my dad as a Father’s Day present. Yet, I don’t consider this to be my first album; it was something I knew he wanted, so it served as a gently-used gift. My guitar teacher from when I lived in Boston suggested it to me, so I didn’t really pick it.
My actual first album was Nevermind, by Nirvana. My parents, my cousin Matt (who is my age), and I were in a record store in Berkeley, CA. In an attempt to not seem entirely clueless, I decided to buy a CD that had a recognizable cover. (I mean, who hasn’t seen the picture the baby with the penis in the swimming pool?) Feeling badass as I left the Telegraph Avenue shop, my dad took me back down to reality, asking me, “What’s your favorite song from that album?” while the CD was, conveniently, in the shopping bag my mom was holding. I stammered a bit, and he, picking up on what had just happened, changed the subject, pointing out the man urinating in the alleyway to our right. (Confession: this isn’t true; the homeless guy peeing was in San Francisco the following night.) A few days later, as we drove to Yosemite, we played the album in the car.
Five years later, having purchased multiple other Nirvana albums and visited their museum exhibit in Seattle, I can proudly call myself a fan. If you don’t agree that Nevermind was one of the greatest rock albums of all time,
then we’re gonna have to take this outside then you simply haven’t listened closely enough. The passion — the strange, ugly beauty — is indescribable. If you want a quick taste of Nirvana’s best, listen to this cover of a famous blues song titled Where Did You Sleep Last Night (approx. 4 min. long). Cobain’s pain and expression in this song is what makes this, to me, the most haunting piece of music I know. I hope you enjoy it, too.
A couple minutes ago, as I brought up this memory with my parents, my dad suggested that I look up a particularly dark song by Lou Reed, titled “Heroin”. My mom promptly left the room. Apparently, my dad used to listen to the album that contained that track in the car, but my mom wouldn’t let him play it when I was in the car as a baby. I guess you can see who I take after more when it comes to taste in music.