When I woke up this morning to the Internet telling me it was the 17th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death, the first thing I thought was how much he would have hated retrospectives. And Twitter trending? Forget about it.Then I figured that if he had to tolerate one, he'd pick an odd, random number like 17 to riff on, instead of of the usual 5 and 0-digit important anniversary years.
Then I listened to "Dumb" five times (his is a voice that almost always makes me hit repeat) and talked to my best friend about him on the phone.
Things change, and yet they don't. We didn't know each other then, but our recollections were oddly similar -- of the time, place and music, of what it meant to a generation, at least the part of it that we inhabited, for Kurt to go away so soon.
Unlike the Challenger explosion (in the hallway by my locker sophomore year) and Princess Diana spinning out in the Paris tunnel (sitting in my car at the shopping center in my neighborhood) I don't remember where I exactly was in space when I found out Kurt died. But I do know that it was a warm spring day here -- more like yesterday's sun than today's crazy rain. That afternoon, I know I watched MTV footage like Melissa has in her possession, and later that night into the next day I sat on my boyfriend's couch with a bunch of people in denim and flannel and listened to Nirvana for a long, long time.
I remember hours of conversation that must have centered around drugs and pain, about music and death, about what would make you kill yourself with a shotgun. Drugs and pain. At one point I made an ill-advised comment about hoping he hadn't had a romantic notion of dying young -- something I knew as soon as it came out of my mouth that I didn't really mean at all.
Kurt was 27. We were 22.
His death bummed me out hard, and it still does. If Dave Grohl was my pretend boyfriend, Kurt was my brother, or my guy best friend from high school, whose poetry I'd read and beer money I'd share. I'd pick up his Unplugged grandpa cardigan off of the floor and hand it to him, ask him please to wear his seatbelt, disapprove of Courtney but not say anything because I'd know there wasn't anything I could do about that situation.
I've always had a vivid imagination, obviously.
He was my pretend guy friend who released a few records, couldn't kick heroin, and died. He was also someone's father, son, and husband. What happened to him happened to too many guys from that time. Shannon Hoon, Layne Staley (eight years to the day after Kurt), Andrew Wood, and undoubtedly others less well known.
I hung out with people who would never admit to the single being the favorite song. My friends went for "Dive" and "Milk It" and "Aero Zeppelin." I've always been comfortable toeing the line between the mainstream and the gray vastness beyond it, though, and I loved "Nevermind." "In Utero" was good, sure, and "All Apologies" appealed to a people-pleasing twentysomething girl already far too familiar with the existential crisis.
But it speaks to the power of imprints that when I see that "Nevermind" baby swimming towards the dollar bill in the swimming pool, I know exactly how I felt about everything then, even if I can't pinpoint specific moments. Here we are now. Entertain us.
The particular sound that came out of the Pacific Northwest in the early '90s had a profound effect on American music, and on a more personal level, on me and many of my friends. So did the people who made it. It seems impossible that Kurt Cobain was only 27 when he died. I can't help wondering what would have happened if everything had gone differently for him, what his songs would be like now, where he'd fit.
Except things went the way they did, and it wasn't romantic at all, just sad. It still is, 17 years later. I've had his voice on repeat all day.
TuneGrape has some thoughts about Kurt.
Photo Credit: © Kathy Hutchins/ZUMA Press