I strode in front of four-hundred eighth graders with my arm slung over a Fender Stratocaster guitar and launched into the first few chords of Nirvana’s “Lithium.” My hair dangled so low over my face that I could not see the crowd in front of me as I shouted “Yeah, yeah” in a squeaky teenage voice. I had almost forgotten that less than a year before I had been a skinny geek whose excitement came from waiting for the next History Channel documentary.
It was in the awkward, hormonal summer between seventh and eighth grade when I first heard Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” “Smells Like Teen Spirit” shocked my senses out of a bland existence–until this point in my life my musical hunger had been fed mainly by my father’s Beatles CDs. I’m not sure if it was Kurt Cobain’s gravelly vocals, the driving, sloppy drum beats, or the punching wail of the electric guitar that consumed me, but as eighth grade began I had taken on the appearance of a brooding rock star.
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My transition into a miniature version of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was almost complete as I entered eighth grade: my hair was greasy and hung down to my shoulders, I alternated wearing three Nirvana shirts daily, and I looked down on my friends’ inferior music taste. Only one aspect of my rock star persona was missing–I had no musical talent whatsoever.
Lack of musical talent, however, did not keep me out of a rock band. Being in a rock band afforded me a kind of popularity. Despite the fact that no one had ever heard my band perform—our weekly practices quickly deteriorated into weekly video gaming sessions?my peers knew by my appearance that we had to be good. If my experience in a rock band taught me nothing else, it taught me that appearance is everything when impersonating a musician.
My band took last place in the eighth grade talent show. I forced myself to make a slow and painful transition back to the real world and I entered high school as inconspicuously as the rest of my peers. Nirvana was the gateway that had opened my ears to everything from the Beatles to Bach. I even took music theory classes in high school. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” had released fourteen years of a pent up love for music within me. Perhaps the world simply had not been ready for an eighth grade Nirvana cover band.