Wednesday, April 08, 2009

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]

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  • I just cried a little. I remember that day as well and didn't know how to handle the news.

    By Blogger Ed, at Wednesday, April 8, 2009 at 9:08:00 PM EDT  

  • I was such a dick. I was a HUGE Pearl Jam fan in high school, and while Nirvana was cool, they weren't as big a deal to me as they were to others. It was odd, and I remember thinking that at some point, it was going to seem like our generation had lost the equivalent of a Jim Morrison ... Still, though, as harsh as it is to recall, I was pretty much just happy that it wasn't Trent Reznor or Eddie Vedder.

    By Blogger Gary, at Wednesday, April 8, 2009 at 9:46:00 PM EDT  

  • Gary, you're funny. Hey, I was worshipping Morrissey at the same time, too. But still, this resonated with most people our age.

    By Blogger MK, at Wednesday, April 8, 2009 at 9:55:00 PM EDT  

  • Beautiful story. You had such great taste in music for a kid!!! I was 20, but I remember it very clearly. We were in the common room at my dorm and my musician friends and I were paralyzed as we watched Kurt Loder talk. Some other people were horsing around and everyone else screamed SHUT UP at the same time. It was just awful. And little did we all know that rock as a genre would suffer a setback we still haven't recovered from. After that, it was just more bad news for rock in general. Bands broke up. Artists got arrested. Artists went into rehab. More suicides and overdoses. And blue-chip bands had no idea what to do in a post-alternative music world, so nobody could pick up the mantle. I still talk to people who wonder how we could still be suffering from the same type of crap music that spawned in the late 1990s and I tell them it started with Kurt's suicide. That was truly "the day the music died".

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wednesday, April 8, 2009 at 10:27:00 PM EDT  

  • MK, Gary is talking about Jim Morrison, the frontman of The Doors. Feel free to stop me if you think you've heard this one before. ;-)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wednesday, April 8, 2009 at 10:33:00 PM EDT  

  • I wasn't disagreeing with Gary about the Jim Morrison ref. I was just saying he wasn't a jerk. We were kids.

    By Blogger MK, at Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 7:59:00 AM EDT  

  • Great post, MacKenzie! Hard to believe it's been 15 years already. I still remember every single detail about the moment when I found out he died, down to what I was wearing (my purple Smashing Pumpkins shirt.) Man, how our world was shook up! And strange how 27 seemed so "adult" at the time, yet we still feel like kids today, post 30. Who knows what the state of music would be like today had he lived. Also, I still have all of that MTV coverage on tape. If only I had a VCR, I'm sure that episode of "Week in Rock" is a gem!

    By Blogger Alyssa, at Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 12:21:00 PM EDT  

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