The song must have stuck in my head, because I went on to discover what everyone of my generation already knew. Embarrassingly enough, I was seven years too late. As a seven-year-old living in a small town in New Jersey I didn't listen to music, and at age eleven, when I did start listening, it was solely classical music, with a nose upturned toward "noise pollution."
I never really associated "Teen Spirit" with the hordes of popular bullies and snobs to which MTV catered. I realized only later that Cobain was upset his song had become an anthem for the very people he'd despised in school. But it never seemed to me that he was one of the unapproachable elite every bullied teen and nerd and outcast looked upon with a strange mixture of envy, disdain, and irony.
In high school I was never popular, more often than not for being what people considered arrogant, proud, recalcitrant, and simply impossible. But neither was I one of the artsy snobs who listened to the Cure and dressed in flannel or black. I did not have any friends; I remember wandering around the school during lunch whenever the media center was closed. I simply refused to compromise because I realized that the nerds formed their own groups, smaller than that of the popular kids but even more exclusive and elitist. I did not believe in the dichotomy that divided the world into those who conformed and those who did not.
Now I am seventeen years old and, a decade after his death, Cobain still has an impact on me. When I went to France last summer I saw his picture on a T-shirt a teenager was wearing. Every day on the radio there they play "Heart-Shaped Box," "Lithium," "In Bloom," and "Teen Spirit."
I am not alone in regretting that he killed himself. But if you had read his lyrics and listened to the songs, it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. Today many hundreds of teenagers each year never make it past high school or college. Their deaths are a testament to something deeply disturbing. We all seem caught up in an intellectual Catch-22 that has us always pretending to be something. And no matter what we do, it seems we can never take off our masks in front of others. But when we are alone, we have to face the truth that, as Cobain wrote, "all in all is all we are." Perhaps that's why my favorite song of his is "Something in the Way."
The voice in the song is that of a homeless person, "underneath the bridge," where "the tarp has sprung a leak." I read that Cobain wanted to be homeless and I can understand why, because I too have felt a fascination with such a rootless existence. In modern society the homeless person is a sort of nomad who survives on instinct and guts, a life stripped bare. That homeless guy is the one who has stopped pretending.