Music has been incredibly important in my life. A huge source of joy. It showed me how to deal with the world, showed me a path, and gave me some answers. My novel, The Pursuit of Cool, has a protagonist named Lance Rally who has a similar relationship with music.
Every young man in America goes through a sports car phase. It’s required. And because they are broke and foolish, they buy aging sports cars with problematic engines, but with decent paint jobs and enough remaining animal luster to impress girls.
I was at a music venue in Atlanta called The Masquerade the week before an unknown band named Nirvana was to play there. I was there to see a band called The Grinning Plowman. They were mediocre. I picked up a flyer and said to myself: Nirvana? Who the hell is Nirvana?
The first time I saw “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on MTV, I thought: This is new, this is great, this will change things.
I was obsessed with listening to Nevermind for about six months. My favorite song on Nevermind is “In Bloom.” I can never get enough of that crunchy guitar hook. I like the musical changes from soft to loud, and the way Kurt’s vocals change from subdued to screaming. I also like that the lyrics refer to and gently make fun of their pre Dave Grohl drummer.
My sports car phase involved a used 1985 Toyota Supra (An extremely temperamental and expensive vehicle to operate; it chewed new tires bald in 20,000 miles). It’s a kind of badass Japanese Trans Am: V-6 overhead engine, sunroof, and a sport muffler that made the car unnecessarily loud. Clutch fluid was forever leaking onto the driver side floor mat, and this corrosive liquid dissolved the heels of an entire generation of my footwear. It never occurred to me fix the leak. I just kept pouring more Dot 3 fluid into the cylinder.
My first real job I hated with more vehemence and dread and loathing than you could imagine. I had a portable CD player hooked up in my Supra and every afternoon when I left work I cranked up “In Bloom” and shouted the lyrics while I ripped off my tie.
As a kid, Kurt Cobain was a Beatles fan. His idea with Nirvana was to take catchy melodic Beatles-style pop and give it heavy metal chords. I have an abstract writing goal. I always aspire to write short stories and novels like they are Beatles songs, meaning I want them to satisfy both the heart and mind (of course, nobody can touch the Beatles, but we can aspire). Beatles songs always have this combination. I want my fiction to be accessible and enjoyable, but leave something in your head.
At this job, in lieu of doing the work I was supposed to do, I wrote short stories on a secret file on my computer, feeling panic when people stepped into my office. The first short story I published was one of these stories.
I remember when I heard Kurt Cobain had died. I had just pulled my Supra into a parking spot in front of my apartment, listening to 99X, the “alternative” radio station in Atlanta. The DJ said they had a special announcement. Kurt Cobain had been found dead of an apparent suicide. Something dropped inside me. I sat in the car awhile, and shed a few tears. This was partly thinking about Kurt: as a human being, he didn’t make it. And also about his music, which I associated with irreverent youthful energy, and with wild, carefree joy. I knew this music would forever be associated much differently.