Seventeen years ago today, Nirvana frontman and arguably the last
relevant rock star, Kurt Cobain killed himself. He was found dead on April 8,
and MTV turned into NTV for the rest of the day. Kurt Loder broke the news
every chance he got, and Nirvana performances were all up on the channel.
Nirvana was pretty much the center of my musical world up until that point.
Cobain's definition of punk rock as freedom is one I've
adopted for myself. It isn't a genre based on pick slides and mohawks -- it's an
attitude and a lifestyle without rules. It's a place where a band can have a
completely atonal abrasive song and sugary pop gem on the same album. Guns 'N
Roses made me want to play guitar, but it seemed kind of hard, the Ramones
taught me how to strum my power chords, but Nirvana made it
seem like anyone could play a guitar.
If I remember correctly, it was spring break during my sophomore year of Catholic High
School. I was hanging out in my friend Robbie's pool, we were reminiscing about
the time when we were nine years old and we were playing some sort of X-Men-inspired Marco Polo in the same pool. I was Colossus and he was Magneto, which
naturally led to him acting like he choking me, and my dad arriving mid-chokehold.
Super hard to explain, "Dad, it's ok, I was Colossus, and I am made of metal.
Magneto has no choice but to have his hands stuck on my neck like that, that's
how magnets work."
We were listening to a pirated Nirvana concert on his boom
box, as usual. Nirvana was almost always playing, I'd heard some Fugazi, Minor
Threat and Ramones by then, the Beastie Boys, Beck and the Pixies were
sometimes played; but, what I really wanted to hear was Nirvana. We came in to
the house, and Kurt Loder's voice was saying "self-inflicted gunshot wound to
the head," while a picture of Cobain and his baby flashed on the screen. We
were shocked and confused.
Later that day, I rode with another friend's older
sister to a show at the Cameo in Miami. We were going to see Seven Year Bitch, Babes in
Toyland and Jack Off Jill. My slightly older chaperone was poking fun at my
kind of long hair and sadness about Cobain's death. "What are you going to do now
that Nirvana's over?" she asked, mockingly. I really had no answer, but WVUM
started talking about his death, and she turned up the radio.
This was the first show I'd ever been to, that wasn't at
someone's house. So, as I was wondering if people were bummed by his death like
I was, I was taking in a slew of new visuals. I saw a few clusters of kids in
goth makeup, carrying lunchboxes and wearing Marilyn Manson's Satanic Army T-shirts. I saw a bunch of scary older gentlemen and ladies with tattoos and
pierces and ripped clothes. Cobain's death wasn't on their minds at all;
getting wasted, slam-dancing and making out was.
Not one of the bands mentioned his passing, which came as a
surprise, as my friend's older sister told me that when Seven Year Bitch's
original guitarist Stefanie Sargent died in '92, that Cobain had attended her
funeral. Whether that was true or not, these bands were definitely part of something
different than Nirvana -- even though Courtney Love was Babes in Toyland's original bassist. They were playing small clubs, and even though Nirvana's
popularity had rubbed off on the entire
indie-punk-grunge-experimental-post-punk scene, they had to work hard for their
gas money. Plus, not every band knows every other, and maybe they hadn't heard yet.
I'm glad I went to that show the same day he died, because I
realized Nirvana was a rare case. Just because a band is good, that doesn't
mean they're going to become rock stars. For me, his death was a sad moment, but it was also a
watershed moment. I immediately started researching all the lesser-known bands that
influenced Nirvana and the ones who influenced them and the ones who influenced
them. Without Nirvana, I wouldn't have played guitar and if they kept going as
a band, I might have not bothered to find out who the Sonics were.