Oh look, it’s another guy in his late 30s with Kurt Cobain memories! Hopefully some of this is interesting.
1994 was a rough year for me. It was the year that full-on puberty break outs arrived and I haven’t had decent skin since, despite treatments that ran the full gamut and some that permanently changed my body chemistry (shout out to Accutane! Burn in Hell!). It was the year that one of my classmates started calling me gay “as a joke” and people liked it so much I was gay bashed into my Junior year in high school (shout out to Joel! I don’t care if you’re a youth minister, you’re a bad person!). As a result of these and other slights I was very receptive to songs about teenage angst, and luckily for me, 1994 was also a very formative year for me musically and culturally, so much so that I did an entire podcast about it (located in the podcasts section of this website). Green Day debuted on a major label, Pearl Jam released Vitalogy, Nine Inch Nails put out The Downward Spiral, and Nirvana was touring to promote the Fall 1993 release of their second major label full length, In Utero.
I still remember the first time I heard In Utero. I was an 8th grader, and we were in the stands before a high school football game. My friend Jeff had picked up the tape and we were passing a Walkman around. Upon first listen it hit just as hard as Nevermind had, and I needed to buy it.
November 1993 saw the debut of Nirvana Unplugged on MTV, and for myself and my 13-year-old friends it was a masterpiece, which a few months later took on a funereal air. The performance is perfect, and much like he had done with the t-shirts he wore and the inclusion of The Raincoats on Incesticide, Kurt introduced young fans to a new set of references: The Meat Puppets and Leadbelly. When the performance was released on CD in November 1994 I bought it immediately and was so excited about it I immediately brought it to school to show it to people.
In 1994 I received most of my music news from FM radio. That’s where I heard about Kurt’s overdose in Italy, and ultimately that’s where I found out that his body had been found on April 8 in his Seattle home. The news of Kurt’s death was devastating. At that point in my life I hadn’t lost anybody who I was particularly close to except for my great-aunt, and none of my celebrity heroes had died.
It’s difficult to assign impact to the death of somebody who I had never met and never seen in concert, but in a way it felt personal. I suppose it’s because I, like a lot of kids my age, had made grunge music my persona. Nirvana was a part of who I wanted to be and was to the extent that a fairly comfortable 13-year-old in sort of rural Ohio who had never touched alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs could be. I was one of the kids who sang along but didn’t know what it meant. All I knew was that one of my heroes was gone.
I hung that Spin magazine cover at the top of this article in my locker during Freshman year, where it remained for the entire school year. A lot of rednecks remarked on it over the course of the year, calling Kurt a pussy and using homosexual slurs, which just reinforced my belief that I was a part of something that these hicks didn’t understand.
Now I’m 38-years-old, and Kurt Cobain has been dead for a quarter century. From 18 until 24 I was into punk music, then I moved on to indie rock. In my 30s I returned to grunge. My wife and I have a grunge Spotify playlist for road trips, and our wedding reception soundtrack was mostly 90s music. She came down the aisle to The Lemonheads “Into Your Arms.”
I guess everybody eventually lands on the music they loved during their formative years, and everybody thinks that whatever they liked is the best thing to like. I’m no different. Those rednecks are probably still listening to George Strait and Alan Jackson. I always swore I would stay current with music, but in a way I’m glad I didn’t. It means that Pearl Jam, STP, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana are still vital to me.