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Nevermind the Horlicks September 22, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Music, Thirtynumbthing.
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Last week what appeared to be a run-of-the-mill transmission of Newsnight ended with an unexpected bombshell, putting the Eurozone crisis into perspective. It was a moment when Thirtynumbthings of both sexes were sent into a tailspin and forced to reach first for the nearest calculator and then for gin and The Samaritans.

Emily Maitliss coquettishly announced in a message to ‘any teenage viewers’, ‘This is what your mum and dad used to listen to when they were your age’. What followed was not a grainy clip of T-Rex or The Clash, but Nirvana. Nirvana?! What the hell was the BBC playing at?

I had already drafted the letter of complaint to Points of View prior to fully completing the maths. By my calculations Nirvana, like Gazza’s tears and Britpop, happened ‘a little while ago’. No more, no less. Furthermore, not only did I not have any teenagers, but I was positively convinced I still was one (and I can bring forward many ex-girlfriends from the past two decades who will testify on oath to this point).

It appears that Newsnight hadn’t been trying to mess with our heads in homage to Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast. It really is twenty years since Smells Like Teen Spirit was released. Maitliss clearly wasn’t one of those touched by nihilistic, post-Cold-War Genration X angst: she inadvertently nailed her colours to the mast by referring, in plummish tones, to ‘Smells OF Teen Spirit’. Evidently the most angst she felt twenty years ago was whether she’d be able to fit Latin homework, lacrosse practice and an hour of oboe playing into the same evening.

Getting older is like being in a bad science fiction movie. You forget it is actually happening. Then you meet someone from your past who might have once passed for a Prada model but now resembles Michael MacIntyre. They could be talking to me about work, kids or IKEA, but I’m not listening. I’m looking them up and down and want to reach out, stroke their cheek, shake them and scream ‘What is happening to us!’ This is precisely the kind of thing that has seen me struck off the dinner party circuit.

Usually, when confronted with the reality of the passing of my youth, I need to spend a week or so in a foetal position listening to whale music in a darkened room. With working hours the way they are, that option was not possible on Nirvana night.

Instead I had to console myself the following morning by cornering colleagues too slow to get away. Given most of them are in their early 20s I merely reaffirmed just how old I actually was by raising the subject of Nirvana. Might as well have been talking about the Charleston. In a rare attempt at empathy I put myself in their pointed shoes. Would I have understood, at the age of 22, if the senior bod at work started lamenting the passing of music from his teenage years?  The answer would be no. By god, I’d have punched my way through walls – and indeed him – to escape that conversation.

But, inevitably, what goes around comes around. To any young buck, let me assure you, it’s only a matter of a few sleeps for twenty years to pass and someone to laugh in your face when you mention Tinie Tempah.

Here’s the rub: I didn’t like Nirvana at the time and to this day have never listened to Nevermind in full. ‘Unplugged’ is the only Nirvana CD I own – and there’s a statement revealing my redundant pre-digital lineage yet again. Go back 20 years and I was proactively anti-Nirvana, preferring instead The Cramps and Pixies. Grunge permitted a large proportion of my generation to indulge in self-absorbed poetry, bad personal hygiene, oversized jumpers, cumbersome footwear and stating that they were ‘on a down’ about practically everything. It was pretty horrific. The fact that it gave us Pearl Jam was another reason to abhor.

Nirvana weren’t to blame for this. The point being made by Cobain was the horror of conformity, not to put anyone on a pedestal or adulate them. As is inevitably the case, the fans took the point and missed it by a country mile, by imitating and idolising him in another form of conformity. He responded to this by killing himself. Although having Courtney Love as a wife would test even the strongest willed man, including those of us who have gne out with a French girl for any period of time.

So if Nevermind didn’t mean much to me then, why the adverse reaction now? It transpired that what I was mourning was neither the passing of something precious about my youth nor indeed the passing of someone else’s.

This week’s episode was yet another procrastination on my part to deflect reality and time passing with an introspective howl. That I chose to do so now, with an outpouring of self-absorbed prose whilst wearing a baggy jumper and in urgent need of a shower, has just reassured me that, 20 years late, I may still be young after all. I feel better already.

This article first appeared on Thirtynumbthing at Blokely.com