My self-indulgent Kurt Cobain Story
Ten years ago. I lived in an apartment, alone, on Lake Washington Boulevard in Seattle. A few blocks north of me, on that same street, Kurt Cobain climbed into a room above his garage, pulled out his heroin kit, fixed one last time, and took himself out of this world with a shotgun. He was 27, one year older than me, and as old as he'd ever get. He grew up in rural Washington State, like I did, and moved to the big city of Seattle, as I did too. We even moved into the same Lake Washington neighborhood (I discovered he lived up the road after I'd moved in) - though my rent was probably a fraction of his. We both wore flannel, jeans, listened to the Pixies, liked Sub Pop Bands and had an appreciation for pointing out hypocrisy and a tendency towards nihilism. That's about where the comparison ends.
I did not know him, but I knew many people our age who were dealing with the world in a very similar manner. I was not as disaffected as Cobain, but was far from happy with the world. I was completely untalented musically (still am), though I have a love and appreciation for all types of music. I was single and searching for my place in the world. He was married, with a child, a hit album and a life full of fame and fortune. I was sober and had just escaped a series of destructive relationships. He appeared to be trapped in several bad relationships - including one with himself, and was dealing with it badly.
When I read the newspaper the day his body was found and did the quick math, I realized that the day he shot himself, I was just hanging around my apartment, doing nothing - just a few blocks away. It's presumptive and a bit stupid, but my first thought was - I could have done something, I could have been there. We all feel connections to artists we appreciate, and feel even closer to those who are most like ourselves. I felt as if I had gone to college with Kurt, had been to parties with him, had argued with him, had tolerated his shit, and in the end, appreciated him. I had had enough post-adolescent relationships with Angry Young Men in the Pacific Northwest by that time, that I felt as if I knew him.
I felt a real kinship to the underlying anger and irony that runs through a lot of the music later labeled Grunge. I still listen to a lot of music from that time, still wear the flannel shirts that I had worn for years before then as well - it's probably where a lot of my tastes will remain stuck in a cultural freeze-frame. Along similar lines, I also think about Layne Staley (Lead singer of Alice in Chains, now dead from overdose) from time to time. Staley also killed himself, two years ago today, in a Seattle apartment in the same building as a good friend of mine.
I just read a great article
about the tenth anniversary of Cobain's Death. In it, there is a line:
"Countless fans of a certain age can tell you where they were when they first heard 'Smells Like Teen Spirit.' It was the sort of time-stopping event that triggers a flashbulb memory, like the news of an assassination or a national disaster. You heard 'Teen Spirit' and knew that something had changed, that the future in some small but important way was going to be different than what you'd imagined."
That really hits the nail on the head for me. I remember hearing it on the radio, sitting in a friend's truck at a Seattle gas station - we were preparing for a cross-country road trip. The song really hit me like a bomb - and stuck with me so much. I sought out a CD and found one a couple weeks later, in Pennsylvania. By the time we were on the East Coast, the song was an MTV phenomenon and the Grunge Explosion was on the way. It was so bizarre. When I bought the CD, I thought of them as a local band - like Soundgarden, or the Dwarves or Mudhoney. By the time I was in Florida, I could hear "Teen Spirit" blasting out of the cars of kids all over the state. It was like I was riding the crest of some weird cultural wave, spreading eastward from Seattle. Of course, it all blew up and blew over quickly afterwards, but the entire experience was a very personal one, and it's hard to convey to others how amazing the sound was, how exciting it was to have others appreciate something that you'd appreciated for a long time - and then how pathetic it was to see it commercialized and rendered inert.
Ten years have passed. In that time, Kurt Cobain has not grown one bit, he removed himself from the game. I'm now 36, and in the years since our mutual time on Lake Washington, I have met and married the love of my life, discovered a career and skills I never knew I had, brought two fantastic children into the world, and have learned a tremendous amount in the process. I've also had a lot of fun, and shed some tears in the process. In short, I've lived my life.
There is no particular moral here. I'm not a number-one fan of Nirvana, though I do like most of their music. Kurt was usually full of shit, and a overly tragic/ironic most of the time, but that's okay - I knew a lot of people like that and still liked them anyway. This is just my story, my personal relationship to the suicide ten years ago, of someone I could very well have known, and who many people in the world feel some kinship to.
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