16 years ago today, Kurt Cobain put a bullet in his brain and robbed us all of everything that spoke to MY generation at a time when we were so fucking confused about what mattered.
We were tired of the fluff and pop of the ’80s, sickened by the everlasting everywhereness of the Oliver Stone Wall Street mentality and the increasing loss of meaning in the modern world.
Then there they were — Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder… specifically Kurt.
Cutting through the bullshit, discarding the pretty-boy rock images that commandeered ’80s MTV, throwing down their rage and speaking to the discontent that’d been hidden by pop-hooks and plastic performances for too long now, the posterboys of the grunge-rock movement gave the establishment the finger and we roared in approval as we lined up in droves for Lollapalooza and other epic events of festival rock that brought us all together for bodysurfing, moshing, and community.
What made Nirvana’s brand of electric-pop grunge-rock so eponymous for my generation was that it could BE EVERYTHING all at once — it could be funny, hard, soft, loud, bouncy, moody, angry, and exuberant simultaneously. It was OUR existential noise put to a bouncy beat, and it GOT us. It took our insides and folded it out, and made it fun to act out and scream along to.
Few bands can push the cathartic-heart-restart button for me like Nirvana. Maybe the Replacements or the Butthole Surfers… but nobody put a finger on it like Nirvana did, and I still feel robbed today. ROBBED. Robbed, motherfucker.
Fucking hell. I’d like to beat depression and addiction to death with a tire iron for all the people and things it has robbed me of in life, and Kurt Cobain makes that list.
I’d like to say we’ve made lots of advances in the areas of addiction and death since news of Cobain’s death sent everyone in my age group (I was 20) into a depressive funk for days — even non-fans who felt he somehow had a message worth hearing that encapsulated why our generation felt so lost, even if they weren’t into him…
I’d like to say we’ve made advances, but we haven’t. We’re going backwards — losing more soul, losing style, losing voice, losing control.
Just today are reports that more people than ever before are overdosing on prescription drugs. We’re oblivioning ourselves to death. It’s so tragically ironic. Where’s our Kurt Cobain for today? Who’s trying to snap our apathy now?
For me, Nirvana woke me up about how having more than one emotion at one time could be all right, even be a good thing, that life could be felt in different ways at any moment. I could be happy and angry, glad but resentful. I could be overjoyed but despondent. I could just feel it all. I was human and it was how we rolled — Kurt Cobain said so.
And his death? I was 20. He was my Lennon, man. I remember where I was, I remember hoping it was another hoax.
Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.
My friends and I suddenly dreaded aging — 27 was the age of death now. Him, Morrison, Hendrix — all dead at 27. But Cobain was different from the others.
Cobain gave up. It wasn’t just stupidity, it was a shotgun blast. It was a willful choice that life was too much. This unassuming anti-hero we all put our hopes in, blam. Gone, dead, done. He was our voice and he just fucked off.
We had hopes for Cobain. He was like that fucked-up friend with incredible soul that you know is a beautiful person through to the core, and even in their sadness a soft sunlight pours from their insides.
Cobain was kinda like that, the tragically-beautiful big-hearted broken-souled rebel we all understood in a small way, who spoke of beauty while ripping at his existential scabs, who mostly fucked up but sometimes didn’t and THAT was awesome? Kurt was THAT guy.
Lennon was stolen by a madman.
Cobain was taken by madness.
In nearly 30 years, we’ve done nothing to change the isolation and hopelessness felt by those with mental illness. The lonely are alone by design, even now. Increasingly, now.
Medication is doled out by the fistfuls because it’s easier to mask the symptoms than it is to solve them. To solve them would be to admit that everything about our modern life — the pace, the technology, the goals, the ambition — is a sham. We can’t have that. Not now. We’re so awesomely tech-dependent that we can’t possibly admit it might not be helpful to us on some deeply emotional/spiritual level.
Technology didn’t solve your life, so, here, this pill can help you — and if that pill doesn’t work, take this pill, but don’t worry about turning in those other not-working pills, and never mind about all those processed foods you’re eating or the lack of life you live, or the fact that you think your Wii exercises you. Don’t worry about solving what really ails you — turn on Glee and take this pretty pink pill and enjoy that tasty beverage, because nothing really matters anyhow. Hey, is that a text message? Hold that thought.
We ARE the soulless society Kurt Cobain railed against… times ten. We’re so empty and vapid as we all walk distractedly through our days that Cobain’s existence seems almost a cutesy little ironic footnote in my generation’s life.
WE rebelled against it all and now we’re the expense-account smart-phone motherfuckers micromanaging our lives in a desperate attempt at the illusion of power over a very real powerlessness. We want to pretend we control our lives. It’s all a sham, but it’s one that’s just so PRETTY, and LOOK it’s so SHINY.
I’m 36. I’m not a rebel these days, per se, but I sure as shit didn’t drink the social Kool-aid yet, either. I’m not the anti-establishment type some still are, but I’m enough of one that I’m a little more broken-hearted on this anniversary.
Even today, I don’t fit squarely on the right or left, but I speak truth to power and I don’t hide behind or excuse-away my ideas.
I own how I feel, I put it out there and I don’t apologize for it. I say it like it is so SOMEONE hears what oughta be said, or at least I know I tried to speak the truth to power.
I’d like to think much of who I am ideologically comes from those early heroes I had — especially the rock’n’roll types, ones who made me realize being multi-faceted wasn’t a contradiction in terms — it was a lesson in humanity.
Cobain taught me, along with a few other antiheroes of mine, that my emotions and my anger were an important part of who I am, that they drove the art I wanted to create, that they made me a more complete person than I was when I lived under the veneer of good’n’happy little citizen. They taught me that my word choices were my weapons, and I could be more at one time than I thought I could be.
Yeah. I still feel robbed. And I’m angry Cobain’s death feels in vain. I’m angry I have so little of him to draw on after all the years that have passed — that I’ve grown in my world-view and never got to see Kurt do that in his.
Some small part of who I am today, though, was in large a part of what Nirvana tried to do. And I thank them for that contribution.
Fuck you, depression and addiction. Fuck you hard.