Slovenian radio is like a time capsule. I suppose this can be said for most European radio, but I find this to be especially so in Slovenia. This is the first place I’ve lived where you can hear a Simple Minds song while walking down the street that is not ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’. It is a place where everyone knows the words to the Tina Turner version of ‘Proud Mary’ and strangers will gladly accompany you in singing ‘Country Road’. In a word: awesome-sauce (yes, the hyphen magically makes it one word, and if that logic bothers you then you should check out German sometime and get yourself in a real huff).
And yet, this is not the kind of time capsule that is in any way leak-proof or uncontaminated/enriched by the passage of time. Slovenian radio is like a drawer in an enormous filing cabinet, and everything that needs to be moved to make room for new stuff gets dumped unceremoniously into said drawer. Europe itself, in many ways, is that drawer. All of the culturally irrelevant movies, music, celebrities etc are placed into a drawer marked ‘Europe’ once we in the US are finished with being obsessed with them (i.e. after about six months), and then it’s Europe’s turn to be obsessed. Meanwhile, all of Europe’s old furniture and interior design motifs got placed in a drawer marked ‘The United States’ a while back, causing us to go nuts over wrought-iron anything, antique tables, chairs and sofas with little brass tacks that visibly hold on the fabric and basically any piece of furniture with a ‘patina’. For its turn, European decorators appear to have shaken hands on a job well done and retired shortly after the discovery of Formica.
But all of this has led us terribly astray from the drawer that is Slovenian radio, the drawer that files Britney Spears next to Jon Bon Jovi next to Robert Plant. It’s cute, really. Me, I’ve gotten used to it, though I do miss antique furniture. In any event, Nirvana recently wafted over Slovenia’s eclectic radio waves, and this set me thinking about a most important day back in 2003, which was just as likely a day in 2004. I served in the Peace Corps (it sounds regal when I say it that way, doesn’t it?) from ’03-’05, and I’m honestly not sure which year most events during that time of my life occurred in. But it was nevertheless an important day, and like many important days it was made so by a dream that I had had the night before. It was a dream that would change the way I looked at music forever, and I am eternally grateful to Kurt Cobain for taking the time to visit me in it.
What was strangest about the dream (‘strange’ being a relative term already in the most pedestrian of situations, yielding all concrete meaning and frame of reference in the dream world, of course) was that as I sat in a circle in my high school library, which looked nothing like my high school library, and warmed my hands in front of the bonfire that we or someone else had inexplicably built there…I say, as I sat there in this circle, I knew already that the gentleman on my right was a man long dead. I also knew that he did not look at all like Kurt Cobain, but rather like a friend and fellow member of the Alternative Board of Programming (ABP) from my college days, a guy we called ‘Bad Motherfucker’, who himself looked a lot like super smooth Stephen Hyde of ‘That 70’s Show’. Interesting fact: if you type the word ‘that’ into Google quick search here in Slovenia, the first thing that pops up is ‘That 70’s Show’. No lie. Give it a shot.
Tangents aside, at least for the moment, we are all aware that there is little sense in quibbling about an individual’s outward appearance when we see them in a dream. It was Kurt Cobain, y’all. I knew it, and he knew it. So we sat there talking, all of us together encircling this crazy bonfire, and at some point Kurt Cobain and I got to chatting just the two of us. And, man, did we hit it off! It wasn’t long before everyone else had disappeared (or ceased to exist, as the case very well may have been), and it was just Peter Woods and Kurt Cobain, chilling out and chewing the fat. Eventually, I even worked up the nerve to tell him what I thought about his band. In retrospect, I feel that there must have been copious amounts of alcohol present because I basically just came right out and said that I had never liked their music.
‘Kurt,’ I says, ‘I’m sorry, but I gotta tell ya, I never liked your music.’
See? And I somehow expected, in spite of the friendship that the two of us had struck up in the thousand or so hours that we had spent talking, that he would be angry. Oh no, not Kurt Cobain. He looked at me with a soft smile and answered with words I will never forget.
‘That’s alright,’ he replied. ‘We made music for ourselves, the way we wanted to. If other people liked it, fine. If not, no big deal. We just wanted to make music.’
Okay, so maybe I forgot his exact words, but it was something very close to that. Now I didn’t know Kurt Cobain when he was alive, and I didn’t clip articles about him out of Spin magazine or pay attention to his posture and body language in performances and interviews. You might be thinking to yourself, ‘That doesn’t sound like anything Kurt Cobain would say!’ If you feel that you are a Kurt Cobain authority and know him better than his own mother, well then I say great. But being dead is likely to have a profound effect on a person, and all I can tell you is that this was his attitude when we met.
This response, I must add, was not only wholly unexpected, but also deeply meaningful to me. Here was this guy that I had never shown an ounce of respect telling me he honestly didn’t care if I liked his music because it wasn’t for me in the first place. Wow. It could have made me feel small and insignificant, but since I am incapable of doubting my own importance to the universe it merely made me very impressed that Kurt Cobain had enough confidence not to be bothered with my opinion. And had the dream stopped there, I likely would have woken up thinking that this guy deserved a fairer shake than I’d given him, but the dream did not stop there.
No, friends, it did not, and how kind both Kurt Cobain and my subconscious were to continue their Jacob Marley-like intervention. And yes, Dickensian is precisely what it was, as I will explain later. I was a miser of music, and that had to stop for the sake of my very own soul. It was shortly after my realization that Kurt Cobain wasn’t half-bad after all that the dream took an unexpected turn, as dreams are wont to do. Now I don’t recall precisely how it started or what motivated the attack, but suddenly there were bad guys everywhere (you know how ‘bad guys’ get, cropping up out of no place in particular and then filling every nook and cranny like butter on an English muffin). We fought our way, Kurt Cobain and I, from the place that was not my high school library and into a place that was not my grandfather’s kitchen, but that did have one of those cool islands for extra counter space like my grandfather had, and that’s where we made our stand. We suddenly had guns because guns were what we needed, and we vanquished those bad guys like Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis, like Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, like Danny Glover and M-…like old pros.
As you know, the bond that comes from fighting bad guys together is truly remarkable, and that is the bond that Kurt Cobain and I now share. I don’t remember quite how the dream ended, but we celebrated our victory somehow, probably in a very manly way. I’m just going to imagine that there was chest-bumping involved. In any event, I woke from this dream with the crazy notion that not only was Kurt Cobain way awesome-er than I had ever imagined, but also that I had perhaps misjudged his band. I decided that I’d have to give Nirvana another shot.
Allow to explain something about my taste in music at the time. In 1991 I purchased what were to be my last albums of new music (my continually growing Weird Al collection notwithstanding) until 2005 (I’m counting Depeche Mode’s ‘Playing the Angel’ album I bought in Russia as new music, but in 2006 came Morcheeba and Postal Service!). What did 1991 Peter Woods buy, you ask? Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’ and MC Hammer’s ‘Too Legit 2 Quit’. Awww yeah. I’m pretty sure, anyway, that U2’s cassingle of ‘Mysterious Ways’ came before that, but I digress. As far as I was concerned those were the last new albums worth buying, which will give you enormous insight into my seventh grade mind. I couldn’t stand the music of my day, and sequestered myself in a world devoted to pre-1991 artists. Among the music I most frequently listened to up until 2003, some of those worth mentioning are: The Doors, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Electric Light Orchestra, Steely Dan, The Moody Blues, Yes, The Who, Three Dog Night and of course lots and lots of The Beatles.
Granted, my self-imposed exile from contemporary music (oh, I listened to Exile, too!) came at a time when Blues Traveler, Counting Crows and Dave Matthews Band ruled the airwaves, so I don’t feel like I’m entirely to blame for locking my dial on Oldies 98.1. Be that as it may, I was missing out. Aside from enjoying Frank Black and most of Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’ when my friends played them, I rejected all new music and refused to acknowledge that there were diamonds among the dog shit. It has made sifting them out later much much harder, I can tell you.
So after I had this dream I was confronted with a potential fallacy and decided that I needed to investigate. At the next oppourtunity, which was sooner than I had expected as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I listened to a few of the Nirvana ‘favourites’ in hopes of finding something I had missed back in junior high. I figured that I must not have given them a chance and was anxious to correct that mistake. So a had a listen, and I still didn’t like it. It sounded no different than I remembered it from before, but at that moment I did notice one small change: although I didn’t enjoy listening to Nirvana any more then than I ever had, I suddenly found that I could appreciate it as a style of music I didn’t like. Now, that might sound like no great leap, but for me this was a pivotal moment in my life as it relates to music. For the first time, I respected Nirvana and was open to their contribution to music-at-large. I was able to accept their influence and recognize the impact that they had had on a new generation of sound and expression. And it was like Dorothy landing in Oz, people. Less witches, no lollipop guild, but otherwise exactly the same.
Since this revolution of the mind I have experienced a brilliant new pallet of musical variety. I don’t like everything I hear, but I do give it a shot. Sometimes even more than one. Again, it might not sound all that incredible, but it has opened up a new world to me, and like Scrooge, I’m so glad that I didn’t miss it after all. Do I still listen to The Beatles? Of course I do. When I discovered the Double Down at Kentucky Fried Chicken I didn’t stop eating regular chicken. I supplemented. I’ve done the same with music, and there’s no going back. I’m happy to say that for the last 8-9 years I’ve been a changed man, and I’m a lot better off for it. I still can’t stand Nirvana, though…