The New York Times Magazine had a fascinating story yesterday about Jason Everman, erstwhile guitarist for two of the biggest rock bands of the past two decades, Nirvana and Soundgarden. Author Clay Tarver, himself a former rock musician, traces Everman’s story, one of the more unusual I’ve read in a while. From moody, angry young musician to U.S. Army Special Forces combat veteran, Everman trod a path that seems made for a Lifetime movie: redemption, peace of mind, and perseverance. What makes the story so intriguing is that Everman wasn’t just a member of any band; had he stayed with either group (he was fired by both), he would have become one of the biggest names in youth entertainment, and a multi-millionaire many times over. As Tarver points out, Everman was Pete Best (original drummer for the Beatles) doubled. How many would not have craved the fame and riches that he was on the cusp of attaining, and how many would have spent their lives bitterly resentful of what they had missed? Of course, as even a casual music listener knows, the lead singer of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, who did achieve all that, killed himself in 1994, obviously not sating his demons with success.
Everman, on the other hand, found his way to the Army in 1994, then the Rangers, then, finally, Special Forces, fighting in both Afghanistan and Iraq before retiring in 2006. He notes that he never doubted he would stick with the military, unlike his dissatisfaction with the rock life. Everman excelled enough in his military career to become well-known to General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who wrote a letter of recommendation for Everman for admission to Columbia. Not for an MBA or law school, but for undergraduate studies. Everman had never gone to college, and in yet another phase of his life just finished his bachelor’s degree, at the age of 45, having lived at least two full lives already.
Maybe it’s the novelty of the story, but I found it one of the more uplifting things I’ve run across lately. Everman was strong enough, and lucky enough, to find his place in the world. He did so in the most honorable and most dangerous way a man can, and there seems no hint in his words that he would ever have traded what he did for the fantasy life that he almost had. In a culture that continues to celebrate crassness, ignorance, animus, and gluttony, Jason Everman is at the least a counter-example and a pillar of the true strength that undergirds our country. Happy Fourth of July.