With the Lights Out
Fifteen years ago today, I was shopping for new school clothes with my Mom and sister. It was my sophomore year of high school and we were out for spring break. It was a typically overcast spring day in Michigan.
Around 4pm ET, we were on our way home; I was in the front seat of my Mom's crimson 1989 Honda Accord, and my Mom was driving and my sister was in the back seat, but with her head propped in between the two front seats so should could gab with us appropriately. Naturally, I was manning the radio and I turned it to the Flint pop station, CK105 (WWCK 105.5FM) only to hear DJ Heidi say something about Kurt Cobain. It wasn't exactly clear what happened, so I immediately switched it to the Detroit alternative station that I worshipped, 89X (CIMX 88.7FM) to hear resident afternoon deejay Vince Cannova announce that Nirvana's Kurt Cobain was dead. He was 27. I was 16.
Once I got home, the phone calls from all of my friends were non-stop. My BFF and rock & roll partner-in-crime, Alyssa, called me from vacation in Hilton Head. We probably talked 10 different times that evening. She was stunned. Nirvana was her favorite band. Kurt Cobain was her favorite artist. I just remember standing in my parents' bedroom, with the television turned to MTV, talking to Alyssa about how insane all of this was. We watched in unison, over the phone, as Kurt Loder informed our generation that Cobain had died of a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head, most likely three days before he was found. We watched in horror as his wife, Hole frontwoman, Courtney Love, sobbed over the phone, reading her husband's suicide letter to the countless fans who gathered outside his Seattle home ("Peace, Love, Empathy ... Kurt Cobain"). This wasn't happening.
Over the next couple of weeks, Alyssa and I stayed obsessively close to MTV and 89X, both of our ears and eyes glued to any information regarding our alterna-rock hero. We bought every magazine, and Alyssa taped every tribute special on TV. But just three years before, when Alyssa and I were in 7th grade, we, like many of our peers across America, heard the angst-filled brilliance of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." As cliche as it might sound today, our rock & roll hearts were never the same. I taped the song off 89X and listened to it repeatedly for days on end in my room, while Alyssa taped the video from MTV, rewinding over and over each morning before we caught the bus to school. We LOVED this!
I also remember a cassette of Nevermind being passed around my 8th grade band class. I, of course, grabbed it, took it home and made myself a copy. That same year, some kid had the CD box (remember when CDs came in elongated boxes?) for Bleach hung up in in his locker, which was across from mine. Another fun story is when Alyssa saved up her $2-a-day allowance for lunch to buy In Utero on the day it was released (she did this for Pearl Jam's Vs and Suede's self-titled album). And, during MTV's 1993 New Year's Eve special, I had to babysit. But once I put the kids to bed, Alyssa came over so we could freak out over Nirvana's performance.
Twenty-seven seemed so much older back then. All of my and Alyssa's favorite rock artists seemed to be 27 at the same time, too: Evan Dando, Billy Corgan, Liz Phair, Lush's Miki Berenyi, Dave Navarro, Juliana Hatfield. Twenty-seven was just too young. It was just too bizarre that he was gone, and that our favorite band, wasn't going to be around anymore. I remember watching Pearl Jam on Saturday Night Live shortly thereafter, and after their performance, Eddie Vedder opened his jacket to show the letter "K" over the heart of his green shirt. Yeah ... there's a part in each of us that still knows what that feels like.
Kurt Cobain, we hardly knew you. R.I.P. Kurt Donald Cobain (1967-1994)
**This Friday, April 10, Nevermind, the only Nirvana cover band officially endorsed by the Cobain family, will play an all-ages show at Motor in Seattle. A third of the proceeds from the show will go to the Kurt Cobain Memorial Committee, whose mission is to build a youth center and memorial park in Cobain's hometown of Aberdeen. For more info, check out the Kurt Cobain Memorial site. [From The Seattle Times]