ten years ago
For some reason, the plethora of self-indulgent, “where were you when” ramblings that are bubbling up from the media are annoying me. They’re annoying me because I find them hollow and lightweight and insincere. I know people who were *profoundly* affected by Kurt’s death 10 years ago, kids whose hold on the planet was tenuous enough already, the girls and boys that Nirvana gave a voice to, the people who suddenly became less weird, because they dressed like Kurt did before he ended up on MTV for the first time. Friends who admitted to staying in their dorm room for days, lying in the dark, listening to “Negative Creep” or “About A Girl” and wondering what the FUCK they were going to do NOW, who was going to get up onstage for them and make them feel less alone in this world?
Where are those stories?
I mean, hell, yeah, it’s beyond righteous that Thurston Moore gets an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, defending the underground and making the point about Kurt that 99.9% of the rest of the mainstream media forgets. Sure, go up to Viretta Park and take photos of the kids sitting on the grass with their hair half-dyed red at the bottom (except that Kurt used cherry Kool-Aid, and I wonder if they a) know this and b) did that themselves? But why bother to be authentic, you can go into Hot Topic in the mall now and get that stuff). Write it off as – he lived, he was miserable, he was famous, he killed himself.
The real story isn’t Kurt so much as it is the fans, the ones whom he sang for, the people whose lives changed in a very real and very drastic fashion when he died, some for better, others for worse.
For the record: I wasn’t a huge Nirvana fan, although I was working for Geffen back in the day, and got to be a direct part of the entire Nevermind phenomenon. I remember getting the advance cassette (god, I wish I still had that now!) and thinking, “This is great, but it’s not going to sell more than 150,000 in the U.S., but it’s an important record to release.”
Kurt’s death touched me because the death of a musician will always affect me. And his in particular, there was part of the angst and the wailing and the joy that was there if you looked for it – that I did recognize and did identify with.
Mostly, I was angry. And mostly, I still am angry. At loss of life, loss of talent, loss of – one of us.
So, now I get to work in my one Nirvana story, albeit tangential: In 1996, I got to go to a party at the former Cobain mansion. A friend worked for a start-up whose owners had bought the house from Courtney. They realized that everyone and their mother was going to want to come visit, so they held a huge housewarming party before they moved in. The house was big and cavernous and echoey, and anything BUT warm. I couldn’t see Kurt being happy in that place, no matter how hard I tried to imagine it.
The owners thought it would be funny to blast Nirvana’s Unplugged all night, while random quasi-yuppie geek types clambered around the house as though it was their own private playground. Sure, we were curiosity-seekers too, we fully admitted it. But funnily enough, in a situation Kurt was probably grimacing at – the misfit bunch of current and former punks that my pal Delores had managed to wangle onto the guest list ended up feeling out of place and overruled by the yuppie faction. This was our fucking band, assholes, NOT YOURS, we all thought (okay, some of us said out loud).
So we retreated outside, away from the house, under a weeping willow tree. It took us a few minutes before someone pointed out that this was likely the tree Courtney was coming back to get, because she’d scattered part of Kurt’s ashes underneath.
We sat there in silence for a while, digesting that thought, wondering what to do – should we leave? Should we stay?
While we were sitting there, pondering, I had a flash of brilliance. Raising my glass into the air, I toasted in the direction of the sky, and then poured some gin and tonic onto the ground. With communal understanding and relief, everyone else followed suit. Then we settled in for the night, making fun of the drunk yuppie fucks running around the house and falling out the windows.
Now, *there’s* a tribute to Kurt I could live with.
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