Smells Like Teen Spirit

I passed a teenager on my street this morning wearing a ‘Corporate Magazines Still Suck’ shirt. His homage to Kurt Cobain was, ironically, handmade with a Sharpie and a Planet Hollywood T-shirt.

I had to laugh. This is a kid who was about 8-years-old when Cobain stuck a shotgun barrel in his mouth and ended his tortured life. It was the death knell of a movement, and for many in ‘Generation X’ — well, for me, at least — a harbinger of things to come; a signal that one has a choice: give up or grow up.

I was 22-years-old at the time. I’d just stepped behind the counter at Uncommon Grounds, the coffee shop in Saratoga Springs, New York, at which I worked for a few years after college. One of my coworkers opened with, “Didja’ hear? And closed with, “Serves him right,” as if he had nothing to do with it.

I wasn’t a huge fan. I owned ‘Nevermind.’ Smokey Junglefrog covered ‘Drain You’ a few times. Most venues at which we performed had “No ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit'” signs posted in the wings. I wore ratty jeans and flannel. It was that pervasive.

I was excited for what was yet to come. REM front man Michael Stipe had befriended Cobain, and the two had spoken widely of working together. Cobain admired Stipe, and REM’s Baroque acoustic arrangements. It seemed as if he would turn down his guitar, and seek solace in beauty, not rage. But he didn’t.

We had a discussion about the value of the one-stop teen punk shop Hot Topic at The MTV yesterday. Some, like Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin, advocated the malling of punk as a good thing in that exposed more kids to those which came before Good Charlotte, Yellowcard, and the like. Others, like New Found Glory’s Jordan Pundik, decried it as dis genuine. I argued that a conversation about what is genuine or not in regards punk, or hip hop, or rock, is superfluous. Or at least an argument for the young.

What constitutes what is genuine? Pure intention? The absence of affect? Point of purchase? You don’t think The Ramones considered what they were wearing? They matched, for God’s sake! Or what their songs sounded like? They were all three minutes flat!

I’m not suggesting that the Katy Rose Cingular advertisement running on the TV behind me right now as anything but pure sell out. But why is it that musicians want their fame and fortune, and their credibility too? Why is it that the world hates America, but loves Big Macs? What does one’s ensemble have to do with one’s worth?

One of my proudest achievement in my brief 32 years here on Earth is having freed myself from the bonds of what is credible, hip, and cool. I’m a doofus. I wear really bright sneakers. I sing unapologetic love (and lack-of-love) songs. And I feel fine.

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