Smells Like Teen Spirit: How I Found Myself (and Feminism) by Listening to Nirvana

by Kathryn Hensch

The first time I heard Nirvana, it was a hot summer day and I was en route to Home Depot with my dad. I was probably six or seven years old. The classic rock station played Nirvana’s “All Apologies” and my mind was blown. Something about it seemed magical; the repetition of “all in all is are we are” mesmerized me.

That trip shaped who I am today.

I’ve always been obsessed with music. My favorite childhood memories are dancing to my dad’s record collection in my living room. He may be the world’s biggest Rolling Stones fan; such passion for the group led to six year-old me believing that Mick Jagger might be some sort of deity. After we got home that day, I scoured his CD rack in hopes of finding out which album “All Apologies” was on. I finally came across In Utero and popped it in to my ridiculous, metallic red boom box.

As I grew older, my taste aligned with the mainstream out of convenience. It was cool to like The Pussycat Dolls. I exchanged the guitar riffs I grew up on for cliché pop beats… until I received my first iPod for Christmas. All of my friends had thousands of (illegally downloaded) songs on theirs, while mine offered one, properly purchased song: “Wind It Up” by Gwen Stefani.

My sixth grade income and my fear that the government would take me away in handcuffs if I dared install LimeWire on my computer didn’t allow me to add many other songs. Just for show—and to beef up my song count—I started to put some of my dad’s CDs onto my silver Nano. I found my way back to In Utero and the magic I felt when I first heard it.

I delved deeper: Though my love for Krist Novoselic runs deep and my Dave Grohl obsession is rampant, Kurt Cobain is everything to me. Recently, the documentary Montage of Heck chronicled who he really was in an attempt to debunk his messianic aura. I’m guilty of putting him on such a high pedestal. He was human and he had flaws, something rather hard to remember when he’s given the image of a creative genius. Still, his words, philosophy, and music spoke to me like nothing did before, and nothing has since.

Kurt Cobain is how I found feminism. I once looked up why “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is called what it is and found out it was because Kathleen Hanna wrote the words on his wall. After a Google search to find out who that was, I became immersed in Riot Grrrl culture. In addition to this, his journal is filled with musings on his hatred for sexism, racism, and homophobia. These excerpts made me think about society in a way I never had before:

Image via Lip Mag

Image via Rebloggy

Image via Lip Mag

It’s because I held him in such a high regard that I read feminist literature and invested time in learning as much about the movement as I could. Not because I wanted to be him, but because I valued his thought and creativity so much that I was curious about its source. Soon, however, I was reading more about feminism for my own knowledge and interest. 

When Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, one of my best friends bought us tickets to see it happen at the Barclays Center. Women I look up to, such as Joan Jett and Annie Clark, filled in for Kurt as the band performed. I couldn’t help but think that Kurt would have wanted it this way: Strong and powerful women singing his words. Because of him, I counted myself as one, too.

Top image c/o: Lavenderrtea on Tumblr


Girls Rock! Lorde, St. Vincent, Kim Gordon, Joan Jett Perform with Nirvana at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

World’s Coolest Dad Chronicles Nirvana Like Never Before

Frances Bean Talks Kurt, Courtney, & Finding Her Own Path

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