Thursday, April 05, 2007
Kurt Cobain: February 20, 1967 - April 5, 1994
Thirteen years ago today, Kurt Cobain, the infamous and very much legendary founding frontman of Nirvana shot himself in the upstairs of his suburban Seattle garage. The world did not know until April 8, when Cobain was found by an electric company employee. A begrudging icon of a generation, Cobain continues to inspire fans. As a new generation of music fans come up, and new bands appear, the influence of Cobain and Nirvana is apparent, whether in the sound of the band or their express statement of such influence.
I remember the day I heard about Kurt Cobain being gone. At that time I was, and I still remain, a huge Nirvana fan. I was working on a roof with my stepfather in Milton, Delaware. For whatever reason, I called my dad to talk about something (on a land line, this is before we all had cell phones), and he told me what had happened. I asked him to put a tape in the VCR (yeah, before DVDs, too) and record everything that was being played on MTV. I still have that tape. I still have newspapers and magazines covering the story (I didn't print out internet articles, because, believe it or not, we didn't have internet, either). Dad bought me Rolling Stone's book, Cobain, which featured the photo above as its cover. He always supported my love for music, whether he realizes it or not (see a previous post about my dad and music).
I was hammered by that phone call from my dad. Man, I cried for Kurt Cobain. I didn't know the guy. And somehow, I felt like my best friend was gone. I had been grinding In Utero for over six months (it came out September 21, 1993). I was still trying to convince people that Incesticide was the most representative sample of what Nirvana really was. "Aneurysm" was my favorite song. There was this kid in my school who drew cartoons of stick figures acting out Nirvana lyrics (which must have been really hard, because those lyrics were pretty vague and hard to understand at the time. . .remember MTV would do the 'bouncing ball' lyrics thing with "Smells Like Teen Spirit"?) and I thought it was the coolest thing, and was so jealous that I hadn't thought of it first.
Kurt Cobain, I'm pretty sure, was the incentive for me to start writing lyrics (well, poetry, because I didn't have a band) of my own. I eventually got to sing some of those as songs with a band, but that didn't last long for me. I wrote like a machine well into college. I don't know if it was good. But Nirvana brought it out in me. Nothing in music has done that to me since. Maybe it's because, as Kurt put it, "teenage angst has paid off well, now I'm bored and old." Right now, though, I'm convinced it's because no one since has struck at just the right time and place to break out and change the face of music, not just for me but the world, like Nirvana did. Sure, maybe Nirvana got lucky. Some A&R flack in Seattle caught them and made them huge. But their music was good. Even if Nirvana got a boost from a major label, they were talented. And it was from Kurt's liner notes in Incesticide that I realized how awesome truly obscure music was.
In fact, I think Kurt Cobain made the indie scene big, if not for Gen X, definitely for Gen Y. What was Sub Pop before Nirvana? Did you know who Bruce Pavitt was before 1991? And like I knew who The Vaselines were before then. Kurt put the underground in the foreground, and it suddenly became cool (at least to me) to find the coolest bands of which you had never heard.
Most importantly, Nirvana was my release. I was a teenager. I had angst. I could listen to Nirvana and feel like Kurt Cobain was singing about the same experiences I was having. I felt unliked, uncool, and most assuredly unlucky with love. Kurt was very transparent about his self-esteem problems. And Kurt's life was tumultuous, and I thought that was rad. He clearly didn't have it all figured out, and I know I sure didn't. In hindsight, I didn't have it all that bad, but at the time I was burning up inside about how things were and how lousy I felt about myself. Eventually I grew into my own skin, but my love for Nirvana never wore off. Even after the world lost Kurt Cobain, many of us were still listening, and still mourning. Kurt never did grow into his own skin. He always had unresolved issues.
As high school moved on, I hit the opposite end of the self-esteem spectrum. I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I was all kinds of cool. I rebelled against authority and anyone who tried to tell me or my friends what to do. Hey, that's what Kurt would do! Into my twenties and to now, I realized I'm not quite as cool as I thought I was. But right now, as things go, I've got a good balance. I feel just fine about my life. I love my wife, my cats, my family, and myself. And without Nirvana, I might never have had that. Because without Nirvana, I would never have had music in the way I do now. Sure, I would have listened to the radio. But music has, by and large, been the common denominator for me. From listening to creating to critiquing, it is the most important part of who I am.
So, it is with a heavy hand that I acknowledge this day in both the history of a family (the Cobains), music, and myself. And here's to hoping everyone, at some point in their life, feels the gravitational pull of good music and the good it can do in a listener's life.