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The Man Who Changed My World – Remembering Kurt Cobain

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I try to live life with as little regret as possible, but sometimes it’s just too much to ignore. It’s amazing to even myself how much regret I have as it pertains to one person. A person I never met. I’m not always sure how I feel about it myself. Sometimes I wonder if I should just let it go, but certain things hit you at a certain time in your life, and no matter what ups or downs you experience, they will be with you.

Thirteen years ago today, on April 5th, 1994, Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, and reluctant voice of a generation, died in his Lake Washington home due to a shotgun blast to the head. It would be three days until his body was discovered, three days until a legion of the most important music fans since the days of George, Paul, John, Ringo, Plant, Page, and Sabbath would be forever changed, three days until part of me would be dead, too.

At first, I thought it was a joke. I hoped it was a joke. It just couldn’t be true. When someone who has so much is no more, it just doesn’t seem real. I don’t remember much about the day his death was announced, because everything was a blur. My brain went numb. The only person I knew who understood was my friend Darett, who was as big a fan of Nirvana as I was at the time, if not bigger. Darett and I share a birthday. Same day, same year. But that day, we shared a soul, and it was not doing too well. And although both of us were experiencing the same pain and the same loss, neither of us said much about it. We just knew. We spent the rest of the day listening to Nirvana. That helped and made it worse at the same time.

That evening, we went to a little get together and watched somebody’s tape of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged performance while drinking cheap beer. It helped and made it worse at the same time. I remember just sitting in a leather chair trying not to cry, although my insides felt like a complete wreck. I hate to compare my pain to his, but I imagine the feeling in the pit of my stomach was similar to the feeling that Kurt spent a lot of his adult life experiencing. The same pain that may have led to his death. I remember a couple of people there laughing and ignoring the re-broadcast, impervious to anything and everything that was happening to Darett and me. I wondered how they could not appreciate the impact of what had just happened. Maybe Kurt was not your rock n’ roll savior, but couldn’t you relate to his absence?

In hindsight, I understand the ignorance of those individuals who did not share in my grief on that long, spring evening. Before Nirvana — singer/guitarist Cobain, bassist Chris Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl — came along, I did not put much stock into this sort of thing, either. I cared about art, but I was more about individual songs or events. I wasn’t aware of the impact an entire album could have on one’s life until Nevermind became a part of my permanent playlist.

Kurt and Nirvana came along at the perfect time in my life. And unfortunately, they were taken away from me while I was still going through that magical period. But had this happened three years earlier, it would have meant nothing to me. I was just lucky enough to collide with my would-be and should-be heroes just when I was looking for something more in life. I was always wondering what life had in store for me, but when I started falling for Nirvana and other bands of the like, that didn’t matter anymore, because I was happy.

I found a group of people who genuinely shared the love for the music. I found the bands that would change my life. I found something to believe in. Even if I didn’t know exactly where I was going, at least I knew I had a companion. Even when I was going nowhere in particular. During the Nirvana era, everything felt right. As soon as it was over, I was lost again. I still had the music. I had Nirvana’s music and countless new bands who I had grown to love along the way, but I felt so alone once Kurt was gone. Because I had come to realize that Kurt had become one of my best friends, even though he — nor my parents or most of my friends and family — never knew anything about it.

I believe I was just about to be a junior in high school when music started to become more important to me. I had always loved and lived for it, but now I found these bands who felt like they were mine, and of course, it all started with Nirvana. Nirvana opened the door to my personal renaissance, and even in their wake, they still hold the door open for me and keep out all the riff-raff. I was now into albums. I was learning. I was going to concerts. I was living. I was sharing art with friends. We knew we had each other, and we thought we’d have Nirvana for a real long time, too. On April 8th, 1994, I was nearly a year out of high school. I was trying to find myself. In some ways, I still am. But I remember being happy and carefree.

I had just finished working a graveyard shift and for some reason, I hadn’t gone to sleep yet, although in Hawaii, it was nearly 10am, if memory serves me correctly. When I heard the news, even the dj was skeptical. The station I was listening to was the greatest radio station of all-time, Radio Free Hawaii. It was an independent station that did not have the support of any industry executives, but had enormous support from fans that were tired of top 40, and artists who were tired of starving, yet did not want to be embraced by the wrong audience, ironically, one of the possible downfalls of Cobain and Nirvana. Most of the djs were regular music fans with no experience in broadcasting.

The playlist for Radio Free Hawaii was voted for in ballot boxes across the island chain by the listeners. The djs would pull out random ballots throughout the day and pick one song off of each one to play. The dj’s had no say in what they would play, and that’s the way they liked it. When that morning’s dj, whose name escapes me now, announced the possible demise of the mighty K.C. and became increasingly more confident that the news was indeed true, he sounded just as hurt, lost and bewildered as I was, and that was the reason I was listening to that channel. I will never forget at that moment how close I felt to him and everyone else in the world who was touched by the music of Nirvana. We were quite an impressive army, but our arsenal was gone. We had nothing to fight for that day. It was a day of infamy. A day we wish had never happened, but a day which we will never forget.

To this day, there are still so many questions. The most common one is simple: “Why?” If Kurt indeed killed himself, which I believe, but not beyond a shadow of a doubt, he did, why would he sacrifice so much promise to get rid of a little pain. Sure, he was going through some shit, but he was too young and too talented to give up. Then there are the people who are almost sure it wasn’t a suicide and those who won’t talk. I’ve even heard the rumor discussed that even Chris and Dave won’t say what they truly feel happened because of the possible backlash. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth has stated that she believes it was a homicide, and last time I checked, she is not what one would refer to as “batshit crazy”. She has also said that some people who were close to Kurt believe the same thing. I can’t help but wonder if she means Novoselic and Grohl. It’s still chilling to think about, but at this point, it hurts either way. The loss is still a heavy one. The music industry is still in search of a voice. A generation is still sleepwalking.

Then there’s the regret. It’s not really anything that weighs me down, but I can’t help but think about the night a classmate called me and offered me tickets to the sold out Nirvana concert. I don’t remember why, but I neglected to go, mainly because I was pretty sure I’d have the chance to see them again in the future, and I don’t believe I had fallen head over heels yet. I never got that chance again. Nirvana never came back to Hawaii, the place where Kurt married Courtney. I will never forgive myself for not going to that show. I often wonder how my life would be different if I had gone, but then I remember how much it changed based solely on their music, and though it still hurts, I can live with that.

Kurt Cobain would be 40 years old now. That’s hard to imagine, although I do subscribe to that generic thought process of 40 being the new 30. If Kurt were still here, he’d at the very least be living an interesting life. He’d be on our radar. He would not be Elvis. I don’t think he would have allowed that. Maybe he killed himself before he could become “Fat Kurt”, though I’m not sure if he was capable of being anything larger than 150 lbs.

I could’ve done this piece at any time, but I thought today would be a good day to pay tribute. It doesn’t take much for me to remember the legacy. Every time a Nirvana song shows up on my MP3 player, it takes me right back. But it doesn’t really feel that way, because I sort of feel like I’m still there, which sounds a lot sadder than it actually is. I wouldn’t say I’m living in the past, but there are definitely certain things that will never get old, and the music of Nirvana and the influence and inspiration left behind by Cobain definitely fall into that category.

A lot of people ask me who my favorite band is, and I often hesitate. I want to say Nirvana most of the time, but I know people will think it’s an easy answer. But I will not hesitate anymore, because it is the truth. There are other bands who are a hair behind them on my personal favorites list, but Nirvana meant too much to me to ever ignore. I don’t care if you say they only released a handful of albums and that they were around for such a short time. That doesn’t take away from the impact. I don’t care if you disapprove with the way Kurt lived his life. It doesn’t take away from his beauty. I don’t care if you think they were too influenced by other bands. It doesn’t take away from the way they executed it so flawlessly. If it were so easy, there would’ve been a thousand other Nirvana’s by now. But there aren’t. There’s only one Nirvana. And only one Kurt Cobain, and goddamn it, I miss that son of a bitch.

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About Dare to Be Human

  • Toni

    Thank you Jonathan. That was very beautifully written. You get it. Kurt Cobain is missed terribly….

    Thank you again.

    Toni

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    And a few years later, Layne followed him in the same yet different way. Nirvana was huge for me – still is. Alice may have actually been a tinge huger.

    Fuck. This just turned my day upside down, but it’s really well written.

  • http://culturesalad.blogspot.com Ray Ellis

    I have to tell you, Jonathan–that was a beautifully moving piece. Anything I might add would be meaningless. Well done!

  • http://heyawesomepins.com russ

    i really identified with this. i hoped it was a joke. i cried. nirvana did so much for me, and youre right, nowadays, its hard to go “yeah nirvana is my favorite band”, even though nirvana is solely responsible for at least 72% of who i am today.

    well done.

  • http://www.betaparticle.com/blog/ Matt

    Kurt was Generation X’s John Lennon.

    I know why Kurt killed himself b/c he told us, sort of. In a extremely abridged nutshell:

    He was born into a horribly dysfunctional family. He had general contempt for both his mother and father, which is very rare b/c most of us have guilt about even disliking our mother’s cooking. After divorce (traumatic enough) he lived mostly with his mother who, although we don’t know the exact details, probably abused him emotionally not unlike Courtney did. It’s not a coincidence that he would go with her, it’s all he knew.

    When children are abused their natural coping propensities come out. Unfortunately Kurt’s was suicide ideation, meaning whenever he had a traumatic event he relieved stress by imagining killing himself. Note that it’s just a stress releiver but if you’re 27 and on heroin and your wife is Courtney Love and you’re probably on anti-depressants (linked to psychosis) and other psychoactive drugs and bipolar – well, given that environment your fantasized stress relief can manifest itself in reality.

    Kurt was a true artist, he sublimated (in the Fruedian sense) his horrible anguish that was wordless and could only come out in Art. If had hadn’t had Art as an outlet he probably would’ve killed himself a lot younger. Kurt could never understand (based on biographical accounts) that his problems were emotional – meaning emotionally charged events and their associated feelings (like PTSD) kept trying to come out and he kept them at bay through heroin injected unsurprisingly directly into his stomach.

    He was as blind as a soldier coming back from Iraq who finds himself drinking incessantly or having homicidal thoughts after a period or relative calm. Psychotherapy might not have been able to save him but I think it could have. If he could just realize that the reason he hated himself is the reason why a lot of children hate themselves – because them blame themselves for not being loved adequately.

    Suicide NEVER happens in a vacuum. It’s not about blame – it’s about cause and effect.

  • http://www.gotuitmusic.com John

    I too have written a blog about Kurt Cobain and his impact on music. Check out The GotuitMusic Blog for it as well as Nirvana’s Music Videos!

  • vale

    siempre te recordaremos y te amaremos Kurt! Eres una gran inspiracion en mi vida!! grax x haber existido!!!!!!

  • Buzz

    Great ending! “If it were so easy, there would’ve been a thousand other Nirvana’s by now…” Excellent.

    Matt had a great post too. Not sure I’d ever here about him injecting into his stomach thoguh unless that’s a metaphor…

    Nirvana was the best concert I have ever seen, heard felt. A total transformational experience in that I neve thought RFUS could be pulled off live and it was the first song played and lifted me beyond expectation. After that moment the hypnotic condition just vibrated through my body for the entire show.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Outstanding thoughts, Jonathan. I was a sophomore at Binghamton University, lounging in a friend’s dorm room, when I learned of the news in 1994. “You’re lying,” I said. I didn’t want to believe it either. Nirvana had a profound influence on me as well, changed the way I looked at music and was a fantastic conduit for the pain and strangeness and alienation of growing up.

  • http://mondoproject.com Mark Saleski

    very nice jonathan. great to see others out there for whom music isn’t just entertainment.

  • http://vindicated13.spaces.live.com/ Vindi

    That was really beautifully written and certainly thoughtful and touching… I too love Nirvana and find their music so full of meaning and depth. Rest in Peace Kurt Cobain.

  • http://grungewillliveson... loc vu

    hi ….
    wonderfull memories u have…
    i was 18 when nirvana exploded big time..and to this day it still hurts when any nirvana songs are played and to hear a god- like voice in kurt cobain is to hear rock immortal. todays generation are so much about dreaming and hoping living a life of excess materials, bling bling and text messaging crap, young girls idolizeg pop tarts rather then the actual genuine artist to me is very dissappointing..kids today all they know about are video games, offensive materials, and car stuff..
    its sad how low society has drowned out..plp today dont want to fight and be a bigger cause then themselves…i guess they rather enjoy bling bling and pimp juice then representing a social changes. thus, the next nirvana will not happen ever again…plp are still enjoying so much craps…to ever appreciate kurt cobain artistic genuis and the like of nirvana.

    rip….kurt

  • Ben

    Yo, Broheim… you know full well that I am never full of shit. Keep that in mind when I say this is one of the BEST things you have ever written. I find myself shrugging off a tear or two. You have managed to capture the feeling of true devotion without delving into blind worship. I can honestly say this is you at your home. Keep working on the general music book, but seriously consider putting out a short collection of essays about Kurt… your passion is just so damn tangable, this is where you come alive.
    Living in the Seattle area, I can remember the footage of Courtney reading Kurts note at Seattle Center, looking like shit and crying through the whole thing on the local news. Then there were the candle light vigils. It was surreal.
    Your article is proffesional and honest. You are so very capable of making music journalism a career.
    I quote The Rough Guide To Rock, third eddition “Like nearly every other musical icon from Elvis to James Brown to John Lennon to Micheal Jackson to Madonna, Kurt Cobain had a psyche that was too big for one body.”
    Your reviews are on the same level.

  • http://randomjesse.blogspot.com Jesse

    Very nicely written, Jon.
    I can somewhat see where Matt is comingfrom but have to admit that it totally seems like a propaganda piece and kind of ignore it, in a sense.
    Vale speaks the truth, simply.
    I also missed a Nirvana show, and obviously, it was something that would never come to be.
    My grandmother passed on the 11th of April in 1194 when all of the Kurt stuff was still very much in the news and it was just… I don’t even know how to put it. Not many people would tie grandparents and Nirvana together, but I think of my grandma when I hear them. Weird, perhaps, but maybe healing in a way as well.
    Anyway, let me stop rambling. I really enjoyed this piece and it is quite obviously heartfelt… not that other stuff isn’t, but in this, you shine.

  • http://randomjesse.blogspot.com Jesse

    Gah! That was supposed to say 1994, not 1194, sorry!

  • I TOTALLY AGREE WITH YOU

    IM NOT FROM THE NIRVANA GENERATION IM A BIT YOUNGER BUT THEIR MUSIC SHOWED ME HOW PATHETIC THE MUSIC NOW A DAYS IS IN COMPARISON AND I HOPE THAT MY GENERATION WILL HAVE A PERSON 2 LOOK UP 2 HALF AS GOOD AS KURT THEN ID BE HAPPY, HE REALLY WAS PASSIONATE ABOUT HIS MUSIC.

    GOOD JOB

  • ClaWeD

    They (layne and kurt) will never come back…and we will always remember them…when we are alone…what else is there to say?

    Just feel….

    That’s it.

    maybe nietzsche was right…those whom the gods love…die early.

  • Sarah

    This.. Is Just amazing. The way you described your feelings. It’s all very real.. I Can feel the way you were feeling too.
    It brings a tear to my eye. Even though being sad is a bad thing.. Remembering Kurt is a good thing, right?
    Thankyou, It’s beautiful.

  • Chris.

    I feel the same way. This was well written. I too miss that son of a bitch.

  • andrew macmillan

    i think its really great that other people are affected by nirvana as much as i am. such a great band. ive been playing music since i was 14 and kurt is the reason i started singing and playing and writing songs. his passion for music makes me want to try my absolute best to make a change.