From the Muddy Banks of Rememberance

I wish I had something really deep to write, looking back upon seventeen years ago.

But the truth is, I only realized what anniversary it was today. I don’t even have a clever title (nostalgie de la boue? nah, keep it simple, dude).

In fact, I actually have a lot to write on the man, his music, and what it meant to me growing up.

For those many of you on the Planet who are Boomers; children who came of age in the 60s, you may not get it, but I think you can relate. You lost a lot of your own brightest voices. I can only think that this was like our generation’s version of losing John Lennon (though under different circumstances).

This was one of those seminal moments in my life. I lost one of the few “stars” (and I loved that he hated that) I could genuinely relate to personally, and geographically.

On April 5th, 1994, when I was in 8th grade, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana shot himself with a shotgun in his Lake Washington, Seattle home. On April 8th, his body was found. He had joined the 27 Club.

I don’t remember what I was doing in Seattle, if it was a pre-planned family trip to Seattle or my relatives north of there, but on April 10th  (Spring Break?) I distinctly remember the hotel room skyscraper we were staying in downtown, and being able to watch MTV while looking out the window to see this happening simultaneously:

I’m going to assume most of you don’t know Washington (the state goddamit!), but even though I lived most my life only 2½ hours away, there’s really no reason to go to the old lumber mill town of Aberdeen, and I hadn’t been until June of 2010 on a trip back to my native state. I figured this would be as fitting a time as any to share just one portion of that trip.

This is a bridge near Felony Flats in Aberdeen over the Wishkah River (from the Chehalis word hwish-kahl, “stinking water”). After school, Kurt and sometimes friends would hang hang out under it. The house where he grew up was a few blocks to the left of the bridge in this photo. I had the good sense of decency not to go looking for it. In any case, it was here that part of his ashes were spread.

It was like a bit of a pilgrimage. I spent a couple minutes in silence under that bridge. It was one of the closest moments I’ve had to something of a spiritual feeling–as silly as I know that sounds. It was like connecting with friend I never got to meet, but I could feel part of him there, someone who reminded me of, well, a bit of me.

 

 

 

 

There’s a funny story to this plaque. If you notice, a certain word among his quotes appears to be tampered with.

 

 

 

Out of the ground
Into the sky
Out of the sky
Into the dirt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The song “Something in the Way” was a reference to this spot.

 

(Preview pic courtesy Mïk Watson)

  1. Kurt was stone cold the best song writer of a generation. Even the songs he wrote for Courtney were decent. I still listen to Nirvana just because they’re awesome. I try not to assign anything beyond the fact that they were an excellent band with excellent songs.

    I feel the same way, more or less, about Jeff Buckley.

    I guess it’s better to have heard them and lost them than never to have heard them at all.

  2. How interesting, we went to a Foo Fighters movie last night and they talked a lot about Cobain for about the first 30 minutes of the movie.

    I saw Nirvana in the Salem Armory maybe five or six months before Cobain died. He looked terrible. He just stood in front of the mic barely moving and Pat Smear played most of his guitar parts. I know it’s easy to say now, but at the time, I thought, “that guy isn’t going to last much longer.”

    His death didn’t affect me as much as John Lennon’s or even Stevie Ray Vaughan’s. To be honest, at the time, my reaction was “another dumbshit rock star who couldn’t handle success.” I was actually angry about it. I was angry at him.

    Years afterward, I read his biography and I think I understood him a little better. He had a hard life; broken home, constantly moving and changing houses. He never really connected to anything, not to his family and not to Aberdeen. It sounded like for a brief time when he was sleeping on people’s couches in Olympia playing gigs for pocket money, he approached something nearing happiness. The only thing he connected to was music. I think he was completely lost, and in the end the music wasn’t enough. It was obvious he was deeply troubled and in a lot of pain (even physically, he had some painful condition with his gut), probably officially clinically depressed and maybe even bipolar, and instead of getting real help, he self-medicated with heroin. If you read Nirvana’s lyrics, most of their songs were pretty dark and grim, and you can see now the pain that drove those lyrics.

    The funny thing is, I have all of their CDs, but I can’t even listen to Nirvana anymore. I just find it too depressing, especially after reading his biography.

    • I actually haven’t listened to Nirvana for years, either. I mean, once in a while, but I moved on.

      Yet they’re still a part of me, if that makes sense.

      That being said, after putting this article up I did go through a few of my favorite songs (which are invariably not the singles-but those with more personal meaning to me and which take me back).

      I never had that reaction to his, death, ’cause I thought I understood it. On the other hand, I also understood that reaction and can’t blame one if they had it. It was quite natural in its own way.

      And yes, after you read a biography about him, that is the sense you get.

      What you witnessed at the Salem Armory (ugh, and to think I turned down a Nirvana concert there in ’91 — how was I to know my mom was that cool at eleven years of age?!) gels with what he said in his suicide note.

      He really was feeling horrible and not into it anymore.

      And, you totally echoed a few things I wrote in my reply to KT.

  3. I guess I’m about as gen-x as they come, ’cause I knew exactly what this article would be about as soon as I read the title. I even had “Something in the Way” playing in the back of my mind as I started reading.

    I was living up in Everett, WA at the time he died, having moved there from central Florida when I got out of high school in ’92. I really liked Nirvana, and owned all of their albums, but I wasn’t fanatical about them like so many others. They were just another foundational group in the realm of all things grunge, and I didn’t really fit in with any music scene at the time — though I’ve come to love that genre more and more as the years have past. The reactions to his death that I observed seemed to be very mixed. Some young people were ambivalent, saying that he was just another famous addict that didn’t make it out alive — while others showed a deep sadness and loss of direction. I’ve stayed somewhere in between. He was one of the most unique lyricists I’ve ever experienced. He could make a person question how they felt about the world without actually reminding them of anything cohesive. I remember driving around downtown Seattle with a friend a couple of years later, stoned out of our minds and listening to Cobain play noise guitar to William S. Burroughs insane spoken word on “The Priest They Called Him”, and really being affected by his unique musical style. I think he would be one of the most influential personalities in modern times, if he hadn’t had that terrible moment of desperation.

    • He could make a person question how they felt about the world without actually reminding them of anything cohesive

      I definitely don’t count myself as a Nirvana fanatic.

      But I also feel a deep link.

      Somewhere in between, to a greater extent than you, I guess; but I viewed Nirvana much the same as you. I knew people -- girls especially -- with a really unhealthy obsession.

      But totally, maybe Q has the vocabulary for it, but the lyrics were in a real Beat, Surrealist vein. Even if he hadn’t put much thought into them, the way they were strung together could be brilliant.

      “Nature is a whore” used to be one of my favorite such observations.

      AND “THE PRIEST”!!!

      YES!!!

      I have that CD!!!

      Really great comment. You must be as Gen X as they come, because that mirrors my own experience/opinions.

      And since you were in Everett, you’d probably know where Skagit County is. That’s where my relatives were north of Seattle. I was from SW Washington, like Cobain.

  4. Khirad, now I know how Gen Xers and other young people feel when they listen to Boomers talk about 60s music. I don’t know much about Nirvana and Cobain. I did enjoy a few bands in the 90s, like Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Melissa Etheridge.
    In the 90s, I was pretty heavy into blues bands. I didn’t have much to relate to with younger musicians, being older than them.
    Why did Cobain decide to, “make his exit?” Was it severe depression or something else?
    I have mixed feelings about suicide. I feel a person has a right to end their own life, if that is indeed what they want. But I also consider it to be the easy way out. (my father’s opinion passed on to me).
    I do know how you feel about losing a favorite artist though. Like anybody from the 60s must feel. I remember going to a candle light vigil in Boston Commons the day after Lennon was assassinated. Standing with hundreds of others, holding a candle in a slow, cold drizzle while singing some of the best of Lennon’s songs. I was truly stunned when I heard Howard Cosell announce it on Monday Night football. To this day, I still grieve at times when thinking about it or seeing a special on TV or whatever.

    • Kurt Cobain, from his early teens had chronic severe depression or was bipolar. He was also the classic outcast (allegedly joked that he would be the one voted Most Likely To Kill Everyone At A High School Dance). And unlike so many other music stars, he was genuinely discomfited by celebrity, he never came to terms with it--being painfully shy and really gentle; fragile, really. Of course, all this is recipe for drug abuse, and heroin was his drug of choice (also in part to chronic stomach pain he had).

      Prior to his suicide he had had an intervention from family and friends (which is ironic considering Courtney was involved in this). He was at a treatment rehab center, jumped the fence and disappeared (though how nobody thought to check the places he lived eludes me). An electrician is the one who found his body.

      While I think the intervention can’t be overlooked as a trigger (and how horrible for his loved ones to feel any guilt for doing the right thing, that’s not what I suggest), but this was really not a case where ‘no one saw it coming’. His lyrics are full of depression-related references. “I think I’m dumb, maybe just happy,” “I miss the comfort in feeling sad,” and of course the quasi-satirical song title “I Hate Myself and I want to Die” among others.

      Kurt Cobain’s last interview was with Rolling Stone magazine on January 27,1994. When the writer asked him, “One of your songs that you cut from In Utero at the last minute was I hate myself and I want to die. How literally did you mean it?” Cobain responded:

      “As literal as a joke can be. Nothing more than a joke. And that had a bit to do with why we decided to take it off. We knew people wouldn’t get it; they’d take it too seriously. It was totally satirical, making fun of ourselves. I’m thought of as this pissy, complaining, freaked out, schizophrenic who wants to kill himself all the time: ‘He isn’t satisfied with anything.’ And I thought it was a funny title. I wanted it to be the title for the album for along time. but I knew the majority wouldn’t get it.”

      I think one can joke about themselves and be self-aware, but that it still doesn’t mean there’s not any truth to it. He was obviously under no illusions about who he was or what he was like. He was also a very funny, silly, witty person. People get the wrong idea that depressed people are always forlorn with their wrist glued to their forehead.

      However he was under a sort of illusion. It was mental illness-induced.

      This brings me to suicide. I agree, in principle, that someone can’t “commit suicide” -- I’ve never understood how according to some it is technically a crime, to take one’s own life (although the distinction makes sense in terms of life insurance policy of accidental death, I guess).

      But philosophy aside, it hurts those around you. You believe you’re so worthless that they would be better off without you. Unless you’re an abusive asshole, this isn’t true. That is why the term mental illness is not just a cute play off of physical maladies--it is an illness. I’ve never understood the easy way out characterization, unless you are a criminal who cheats justice after killing another, etc. I also believe suicide can be honorable, in some cases. But I don’t understand how going against every biological instinct of survival is easy.

      You’re different (in that you’ve been there I think, and most people I’ve heard say that expression have had no clue what it’s like to even be sad), and I’m probably over-parsing a simple expression, but as someone with my own struggles who chickened out and only ever made half-hearted attempts — to stare death in the face, your own mortality--with one flash you are gone at your own hand--is anything but easy.

      In his case. I understand why he did it. But I don’t condone it. I don’t think he’s a bad person who selfishly deprived his daughter of a father. I believe he was someone with severe mental illness exacerbated by drug addiction.

      But to add to the tragedy was the crazy conspiracy.


      This is part of the reason why people hate Courtney (the Yoko Ono in some circles of Nirvana fans). Some actually blame her for his death -- whether by her own hand, or in driving him to it. Now, Courtney may be a crazy b*tch (and I’m not being sexist, she’d say the same thing), who is capable of the most bizarre, and irresponsible behavior; a trainwreck until very recently (if her rehab and Buddhism is still going well). But even if you thought Kurt could have done better (I likeed him also, that he never went out with models and actresses--he was an outcast to the end), they loved each other sincerely in their own mutually enabling, dysfunctional way, and you gotta respect that his feelings for her were genuine.

      Anyway, since you like Blues, one of Cobain’s favorite artists was Leadbelly -- and this is maybe one of under a handful of songs that can make me tear up (or sob, after a few drinks). Apparently I wasn’t alone:

      “Cobain was a marvelous singer…I heard his unplugged version of that Leadbelly song and it was such a perfect vocal that I was really moved.” -- Allen Ginsberg


      And to bring in some more voices you might recognize.

      “He had a touch most guitarists would kill for.” -- Chuck Berry

      “That kid had heart.” -- Bob Dylan

      “He was a genius.” -- Paul McCartney

      “He really, really inspired me. He was so great. Wonderful. One of the best, but more than that. Kurt was one of the absolute best of all time for me.” -- Neil Young

      “I mourn for Kurt. A once beautiful, then pathetic, lost and heroically stupid boy.” -- Pete Townsend

      • I never said one CAN’T commit suicide. Just the opposite, really. I said it is a person’s right to take their own life if that is what they really want. And I also relayed my dad’s and consequently my belief that suicide is the easy way out.
        Every situation is different. I know about depression and being bi-polar AND suffering from PTSD and addiction. I nearly offed myself more than once. I won’t go into my personal life beyond what I’ve said already. I don’t condemn Kurt for committing suicide. I’m sure he had his torments. Maybe what has kept me going, in spite of everything, is the fact that I have a daughter and I know what my suicide would do to her. It would wreck her, completely. Those with children don’t have the luxury of suicide.

        • I think you misunderstood my comment in part.

          My only disagreement with you is in that it is easy.

          Or that it is always done in a state where someone is thinking clearly about what they would do to their children.

          I used to think my parents would literally be better off without me--the perennial screw up--who was just a burden to them, like I was doing them a favor. Just wasting oxygen.

          That is mental illness. I don’t know what was in his head. But maybe he thought they’d be better off without him. That he could never be a good father, just mess things up. It’s not true--and would have been seriously flawed reasoning considering who he was leaving Francis Bean with.

          I don’t know your circumstance, but in mine I was clearly not seeing things as they really were--how it would devastate (in a sense it is selfish, or at least self-involved, in that you’re wrapped up in your own darkness)--it’s a very real illness that distorts reality. Add to that in Cobain’s case a whole lot of heroin.

          As a new father should he have killed himself? Or even been using drugs. Of course not. Can it be excused just with mental health issues? not completely.

          I’m just trying to say things are never black and white (and I get overly sensitive about metal illness issues), but we can probably agree on things being complicated in some degree or another.

          • Khirad, KT, It’s possible he felt he could never get off the junk, and realized that life wasn’t worth living while on the junk. If that were the case, then he would probably rationalize that he was doing his kid a favor. When you’re deep inside an addiction, life without the stuff (whatever it is) can seem unimaginable.

            • e’cat, that could very well have been the case. I don’t know really know what his reasoning was. I am just relating his experience to my own. (to a degree)

          • I know, from experience, that there are depths to which one can sink where suicide looks far easier than pressing on. Sometimes it seem the ONLY choice.
            I know what it’s like to sit on top of a skyscraper, at night, peering over the edge and being just a split second decision from jumping. Or what it’s like to have the barrel of a gun in my mouth, again being just a split second decision away from death. And neither time was I of clear mind.
            As I said, everybody is different. I don’t get overly sensitive about the subject of mental illness, but I can absolutely, without doubt, say that I know, from experience quite a lot about it. More than anyone would ever want to know.

  5. Excellent tribute to Kurt Cobain’s memory Khirad.

    I’m more in WTS’s generation as well but I thought the 90’s was an incredible decade for music. The rawness and angst of alternative and rap as well where just an incredible reflection of those times. Young people knew something was wrong but they didn’t quite have their finger on what was wrong yet.

    We were lucky enough to live in Jax Fl at the time near Five Points which if anyone knows the area is the tiny artsy area in Jax. We use to see members from Limp Bizkit, Everclear and other local bands all the time. Remind me to tell you a couple stories about Fred Durst and his antics. Though we lived there far after the golden age of Southern Rock bands like Molly Hatchet, The Allman Brothers Band, 38 Special, The Outlaws, and Lynyrd Skynyrd who recorded there.

    • Young people knew something was wrong but they didn’t quite have their finger on what was wrong yet.

      And you just put the finger on what I was having trouble expressing in reply to WTC. That did seem to be the whole mood of the time in a nutshell (especially as a teen!).

      I can only imagine with Fred Durst… oh lord.

      Everclear is Portland (and proud!) though, unless they had a period I’m not aware of after setting up there.

  6. Nicely done, Khirad.
    I’m not quite a boomer; my music was Zeppelin, Skynyrd, The Who, Bowie, and then later The Clash, The Pretenders, The Talking Heads, and REM. I only got into alt rock at all because I was living in Oakland at the time and drove a lot into S.F., so I had it on my radio. I remember hearing “Even Flow” by Pearl Jam, and totally getting into it, but at the same time thinking it was nothing new. It sounded like Mountain, a band from my generation that never quite made it.
    Nirvana, and Cobain’s significance, I have to admit, I just didn’t get. But then my generation didn’t really have anything comparable to Hendrix, Janis or Lennon and their tragic deaths. Keith Moon? A legend, yes, but hardly a poet. Ian Curtis, I suppose, but the great waves of mourning for him were mostly limited to the other side of the pond.

    Anyway, here’s to those whose flames burn only briefly!

    • Whats--Mountain was the first concert I ever went to, at age 13. Nantucket Sleigh Ride!! And I probably saw you at the Fab Mab (Mabuhey Gardens) in SF in the 80s, dancing to Romeo Void or the Dead Kennedys or Jim Carroll or Oingo Boingo.

      I didn’t hear much in the 90s that I was really crazy about. I think Dave Matthews is a great musician. But I also didn’t get Nirvana or Pearl Jam. My niece was obsessed with Pearl Jam. I always thought his voice — to quote Henry Miller — sounded like a goose farting.

      • Dave Matthews is an incredibly talented band, and I madly respect their craft, but I’ve never heard a song I related to.

        Different strokes for different folks. :-)

        Ya kinda had to grow up during the time is my point, I think. Although, c’mon, Dead Kennedys are cool.

        The early 90s were the best thing since the late 60s and early 70s and Punk to happen in music in the last few decades, I’m gonna stand by it. It was a brief golden age, and most critics would agree.

        I just don’t know what to say other than that. I’m kinda confused how anyone couldn’t find the Singles soundtrack epic. :-P

      • A goose farting? I have no idea what that sounds like, but I’m guessing not Eddie Vedder! :) Besides, like I said, his voice reminds me of the singer/guitarist of Mountain, Leslie West. Ditto the screaming, searing guitar leads. I’m surprised Vedder never mentions them as an influence, because he is never shy about naming, and covering, his idols.

        • Whats--Okay I confess. I’ve never heard a goose farting. :lol: It’s just a line from Henry Miller I’ve always wanted to use (he uses it to describe his father laughing, I think). So it’s how I imagine it would sound if a goose farted. Kind of like goose honking only … worse. I do seriously dislike Eddie Vedder’s voice, not sure why. I mean, I find it extremely irritating.

          I will have to listen to Mountain again because I can’t remember if they sound like P.J. or not. Anyway, I like Nirvana better than Pearl Jam but never understood the connection that Khirad describes. However…I felt that way about the Clash.

            • Khirad, do you mean you are confused about me not getting into Nirvana so much even though I like The Clash? It’s just that I wasn’t as into music, in general, during that time when I was living on the West Coast. I had my old familiars for home, and then I heard new stuff on the radio. I had other things on my mind then, like raising the baby, then moving to Japan, working, studying. So I never really gave Nirvana a chance, just because music was not a major priority then.

    • wts- interesting observation in the last paragraph.
      When my nephew was in his late teens, we had a very interesting conversation about Jimi Hendrix- and the others who died during his era, which could apply here as well..
      Would the star have burned as brightly, if those who died so young, had lived? Of course there was no conclusion, but it was fascinating!

      • Hey, jkk! Hendrix was heading into prog rock. One of the most interesting tidbits of Not Making This Up rock trivia I have ever come across was that he was all set to hook up with Keith Emerson and company and form a supergroup called H.E.L.P.
        The other guys carried on to become the E.L.P. that one either loves or loathes today.
        But if that had happened, prog rock would have been very different, I imagine. With his love for fashion, and his amazing guitar, he couldn’t have avoided the funk scene, so he either would have blown past prog after a short stint with HELP, or the two genres would have bridged somehow.
        Morrison was heading more and more into gruff blues. Janis probably couldn’t have sustained what she was doing. Pete Townshend could smash as many guitars as he wanted, but she only had ONE voice!
        One thing’s for sure. None of those three would have produced something as weeny as “Someone’s Knocking at the Door” or “The Doggone Girl is Mine”.

    • I actually take that as a compliment, because I kinda think Cobain was so uniquely Gen X, that it would be hard to get it if you weren’t--and I appreciate the blunt honesty (very Gen X of you, btw).

      The sound was both original in its rawness, inspired by both the pop and obscure, and indie alt music (before ‘alternative’ and ‘indie’ had been branded and lost all their meaning) of his large record collection, and finally, it was reactionary to 80s glam metal.

      I also think there was a lot of Aberdeen in it. Aberdeen defines grunge. Flannels and soaked grit were not fashion, they’re part lumber town, and Northwestern to the tee. I was both a little honored and annoyed when grunge fashion took off around the country. “Look, I just went to GAP and got this rad new flannel!” would produce such a look of derision in my face I couldn’t even describe it in the most acerbically sarcastic of tones. You think you’ve seen an eye-roll?

      I do think he and Ian Curtis shared many similarities, though. Both personality-wise, and music wise — not even counting their respective tragic ends.

      Pearl Jam was always more of the Classic Rock vein. And for a little trivia, Cobain thought they were corporate poseurs (“Radio Friendly Unit Shifters”, as it were).


      Eddie Vedder, being totally classy, never held it against him.

      For the record, the first CD I bought was Pearl Jam’s “Ten”, and I still like them, but just not to the same degree. They were sorta grunge-lite.

      That has to be the first time I’ve ever seen ‘Keith Moon’ and ‘poet’ in the same sentence! He was every bit the legendary drummer as Neil Peart is, but deep he was not (unless he was driving a car into a pool!). ;-)

      “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” -- Neil Young, as quoted in Cobain’s suicide note.

      I’m convinced he’d still be making music today, possibly with his daughter, Francis Bean--now grown up and also pursuing music. That’s what’s so sad. What’s the difference between a Trent Reznor, who cleans himself up, and a Kurt Cobain? Just a really bad day and succumbing to a moment of deepest, darkest despair, it seems…

      • The key thing about that Neil Young quote is that it had absolutely nothing to do with suicide, or even death, per se. He could have easily sang it about Jim Morrison or Hendrix, as they were buddies, or at least acquaintances, of his. But he sang it about Johnny Rotten (NOT Sid Vicious). He was singing about the statement the Sex Pistols made, even though they didn’t really have anything (such as talent, vision, or even the ability to create a song that didn’t sound like all their OTHER songs) to sustain it. If you’re going to be a flash in the pan, make sure the cook cries “Owch!”, in other words.

        Neil Young, even at that time, knew the whole rock scene backwards, forwards and sideways. He helped create it, and he knew all its victims personally. That song didn’t contain the message Kurt Cobain was hearing when he, as you write, succumbed to a moment of despair.