Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Kurt Cobain & Nirvana 20 Years Later

           20 years is a long time by any stretch of the imagination. I am finding it difficult to fathom that it has been 20 years since Kurt Cobain died.  He was the man, well, part of the band Nirvana, which influenced the direction of my life more than anyone.  I am a writer today because of him.  It’s been 20 years, I still remember like it was yesterday.  Forgive me if this all comes out in a rambling haphazard way, I do not like to write blogs like this in a structured way.  I like it to be free flowing from my mind to the screen with little if any editing.
            Before I can remember the end I choose to remember the beginning.  I’ll never forget that night in August 1991.  I was 13; heading into 8th Grade, summer was coming to a close.  I had been hanging out with my friend Matt and we were in his bedroom when he happened to turn on the radio.  Coming from the tiny speakers was this sound that was unlike anything I had heard before. 

            I only caught the final minute and a half of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ but that was all I needed.  I had to find out who made that sound.  It was as if that song in 90 seconds had tossed a brick through the window of my life revealing something amazing on the other side.  I carefully stepped through and never looked back.  Within a few weeks Nirvana’s Nevermind was released and I bought it.  This was one of the very first compact discs I had ever purchased.  I still have it; the thing was played so much that it is coated with scratches and ‘cd rot.’ It is pretty useless now, but the memories remain.
            Kurt Coabin’s angst in his lyrics spoke to me as to what was going on in my own life.  I was part of a divorced family setting with a stepfather who was not kind to me as I entered my teenage years.  I was not happy with who I was or where I was and thought nobody would understand.  Kurt was 10 years older so he was like a big brother sharing what he was dealt with.  I kept thinking if I followed his path I’d end up like him.  I wanted to be a singer/songwriter so I could find a way to express my own inner pain in a way that was creative and inspiring.  I hoped that maybe I could do for others what he did for me.  He made me make sense.
            I would eventually find out I was pretty much tone deaf and couldn’t play guitar worth a lick, but the writing part of the equation was actually quite good.  I would write song lyrics and poetry that were littered with real life raw emotion, things I didn’t like to share.  The poetry later became short stories and novels before evolving into the travel writing which landed me my first book deal.  It is easy to trace the steps back to that night in Matt’s bedroom where I heard that lovely ear-splitting music that changed my life.
            I remember in 1992 or 1993 trying to explain to my Dad that Kurt Cobain was my generation’s John Lennon.  Being a child of the 1960’s and a giant Beatles fan my Dad of course could not see how the scrawny, screeching, feedback blasting kid was anything like the man who sang ‘Imagine,’ ‘Give Peace A Chance,’ and ‘Instant Karma.’  I could not convince him back then maybe because it was still happening, Generation-X was current, not in the past.  These days it surprises me that my Dad can finally see what I was trying to say. 
            Nirvana was to me what The Beatles were to him. 
            Then in a flash it all ended.  The Grunge movement that killed hair metal, that knocked Michael Jackson off the top of the Billboard charts.  The Grunge movement that was so anti-mainstream that the mainstream had to go and find it.  It was over April 8, 1994.
            I remember coming home from school, Sophomore year.  I put on MTV, back when they were actually a music network.  There was the story: A body had been found in the room above Kurt Cobain’s garage.  Selfishly I hoped it was someone else, but deep down I knew better.  In short order it was confirmed who it was.  What made it worse was that he had ended his own life.  As the days and weeks and years passed I would learn so much more about what made Kurt Cobain tick, his stomach problems which led to drug addiction.  It made his suicide a little easier to swallow, maybe that’s just me making excuses for him. 
            In a snap his music and message were a part of history.  Now he is seen as a legend, a mythical figure, in the likes of Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix.  I actually get it now too since I was a part of the whole Grunge movement, but it is still a little weird to hear Kurt Cobain spoken of in that same way.  I remember needing to hear more of Kurt’s words so badly that I ended up purchasing every bootleg and B-Side filled disc, this was long before the With the Lights Out boxed set came out to make all of those songs easy to find.
            It’s funny now looking back at the videos and interviews and thinking that Kurt Cobain and Nirvana were larger than life figures but I am now actually older than he was when he died.  It’s weird that Dave Grohl’s band Foo Fighters have actually been together longer than Nirvana now.  I remember that my friend Rob and I had plans to go and see Nirvana as our very first concert during the summer of 1994.  They were supposed to headline Lollapalooza, but of course that never happened.
            I remember I tried to measure the impact Kurt Cobain had on music in general in the years after his death.  I made a chart for college that showed a list of the album sales of other grunge/alternative bands in the 5 years after Nirvana was finished.  It was as if Nirvana left such a hole in people’s musical lives that they scrambled to find the ‘next’ band like them.  There were some very deserving, awesomely talented bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains who got the recognition they should have.  Pearl Jam is a stretch since they are usually seen as The Rolling Stones to Nirvana’s Beatles; they were/are every bit as good as Nirvana.
            On the other side though there were some weaker ‘alternative’ bands that saw huge record sales in the same 5-year period, bands like Bush, Live, Collective Soul, and countless others.  Don’t get me wrong, those bands are good, but they only got as big as they did because of the gaping hole Nirvana left.
            I’m not going to turn this into complaining about music after Nirvana though.  I am just amazed that it’s been 20 years now.  April 5 is the actual date as Kurt’s body wasn’t found for 3 days.  So I choose to celebrate his life and music for those three days.  I might never have an album, or play guitar, but I am a writer now and it all goes back to that night I first heard ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on a little alarm clock radio.   
            I have celebrated his life and message basically since the moment I found out he died.  I think now a lot more people will figure out the impact of Nirvana thanks to it being a round number like 20 Years.  It also helps that there is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction coming up, plus numerous magazine covers out right now.  I am not saying that everyone has to recognize Kurt Cobain as my generation’s John Lennon, but maybe if you think of who had that kind of impact on your life maybe you would understand what I am saying.  That’s how it will make sense to you. 20 years is such a long time especially when it still seems like yesterday.

                    Lounge Act
                    About A Girl
                    All Apologies


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