Walking around campus, I inevitably see students wearing Nirvana, Sublime, and other 90s band t-shirts. Whenever I see these shirts, I have an tinge of nostalgia, and almost immediately, I start thinking about specific songs. Yet, I also think, “Does this student even know the band they are representing?” The answer to this question, usually, is a resounding, “No!”
One day, I saw a student wearing a Sublime shirt, and I specifically asked, before even thinking about what songs the student may like, “Have you listened to them?” The student looked at me and replied, “No.” I then proceeded to ask why the student would buy and wear a shirt from a band that they did not know about and had never listened to. The student said, “It’s a cool design.”
Every time I saw that student since that interaction, I asked whether or not they had at least queued up Sublime on Spotify or some other streaming service and given them a listen. Eventually, they did, and they determined that they didn’t like Sublime’s music. However, they still wear the shirt.
While I see Sublime shirts here and there on campus, they pale in comparison to the number of Nirvana shirts that students wear. Everyday, without fail, I’ll see a Nirvana shirt on campus, typically either the In Utero cover or the drunken smily face logo. Sometimes I’ll ask students about the shirts, again asking them whether or not they listen to Nirvana. Some have listened to Nirvana; others haven’t. If they have listened to Nirvana, I ask them their favorite song. Sometimes they have a specific one; sometimes they don’t.
These questions feel, I know, like gotcha questions, like I’m the person calling these students posers because they’re “faking” an interest in something. On some level, that may be the case, as Leslie Stein wrote about in “We Need to Talk About Your Nirvana Shirt.” However, that’s not the case. When I ask these questions, I’m not thinking about my own inflated sense of ownership over music that I had in high school where me and a few other people even knew or cared about most of these bands. No, I think about it more as an opportunity to introduce students to music that had a generational impact on our culture.