Smells Like a Teen’s Pants Are on Fire

So it’s afternoon, and I’m moving heavy things from one room to another, trying to talk myself into hitting the treadmill downstairs, and my iPod shuffle kicks on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” This in turn kicks on a memory. 

About six months ago, a combination of mp3 technology and space constraints necessitated the purging of our enormous household CD collection. For the most part, it was easy, but there were about a half-shelf of discs that we couldn’t bear to part with for sentimental reasons. Included in this collection is I Told You So, the one and only album by National B, because they’re an amazingly talented local band from Hastings, Nebraska that had long ago collapsed under the weight of the frontman’s ego. There is the rare single, “Jesus Build My Hotrod,” by Ministry, because it’s my favorite song. There’s Pearl Jam’s Ten, because it’s the first CD I ever bought. There’s Satanicide’s Heather, because it’s fucking Satanicide. 

And then there’s my copy of Nevermind, which is unique. Like every other copy of this groundbreaking album, the cover art is an image of a baby in a swimming pool, hypnotized by a dollar bill on a hook. On my copy, this iconic image is marred by a Sharpie scrawl that reads “Kurt Cobain.” This, incidentally, is not Kurt Cobain’s signature, and I’ve whiled away many an hour having to explain this to friends and dates. 

Once upon a time, a new acquaintance had given this disc to me, along with a story about a phone call from Kurt Cobain himself. Mr. Cobain, according to the tale, was the cousin of a friend (or a friend of a cousin—I doubt anyone remembers which). Since the storyteller had once lived in Washington State, it had to be true, as everyone in the Pacific Northwest clearly knew each other. Anyway, Mr. Cobain took it upon himself to mail to the storyteller four autographed copies of the hit album, which he could distribute to his friends and family as he saw fit. The details of the story were so perfect that it was clearly bullshit. But hey, free CD. 

Nearly twenty years later, the storyteller in question is still mortified by his behavior. There are a ton of reasons to be embarrassed, and lord knows that, had I done it, I would be too. Hell, I’ve got plenty to be embarrassed about, so one more event wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway. See, back then, hormones, budding mental illness, and being a teenager in general made me one of the more unpleasant people I’ve ever met. I’d undergone so many changes in my personality in such a short period of time that I had no idea who I was anymore. I had friends, but most of them were going through the same crises as I, and so they were no particular help. 

And yet, here was this kid who looked up to me so much he was willing to do something so nakedly phony to get my attention. And even though I knew immediately that this was fake, and even though my mercurial moods led me to take advantage of and sometimes resent his desire to impress, I carried this album with me through countless moves across the country. Even when I first moved out East, when I could only afford to carry the clothing on my back and a handful of small items in a box, I made sure that my copy of Nevermind was among these. 

Thousands own this album. Of these, dozens own copies signed by any member of the band. But I’m one of four people who owns a copy forged by Jonathan, and that makes me so much cooler than everybody else. 

I wish there was a way I could possibly communicate how sincere I am about this, but alas, all I can say is “Thanks, dude,” and hope he’s listening. 


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