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.