The first cassette I remember buying as a kid was Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’. There was a photo in the cassette insert of the band and Kurt was giving the camera the middle finger. I quickly tore that out so my mother wouldn’t see it, but I kept it hidden away with my Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and a deck of nude playing cards I secretly bought in NYC on a family trip, you know, coveted early teenage boy treasures. I listened to that tape over and over again. I’d even play it in the car for my mom but fast forward on the line “I’m so horny” from “Lithium” because I didn’t really know what that meant but was pretty sure it was bad.
The songs sounded like nothing else I had heard before up until that time. I had just started taking guitar lessons and immediately insisted that my guitar teacher teach me how to play “In Bloom”, “Come As You Are” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Those were some of the first songs I ever learned how to play on guitar like many guitarists my age that grew up with MTV. I don’t know what it was about the biting guitar sounds Kurt made or the way he sang his lyrics but something about it was so comforting in my early teens facing a new school and looming puberty. My favorite song was “Breed”. It was so fast and loud and just blew my mind. I fell in love with Nirvana instantly.
I remember the moment that Kurt Loder told the world of Kurt Cobain’s apparent suicide on MTV News. I was at my cousin Bruce’s house and we were watching MTV and that special report came on interrupting the programming and I was devastated but more than that I was angry and didn’t understand why he would do that to himself. Why someone who had achieved MY dream would throw it all away was beyond my comprehension. I felt abandoned by Kurt in a way. Here he was giving me the support I needed through his music to survive what felt like the toughest years of my life and he just leaves. I couldn’t understand it.
Later, I would learn what addiction and depression were and what kind of pain Kurt lived with. I learned what heroin was. I think his death had such a profound impact on my whole generation and I because it was one of the first times most of us were faced with death and more specifically - death by suicide; a “shotgun blast to the head” as Kurt Loder so eloquently put it. It wasn’t just about the loss of music, it was a marker to the end of childhood innocence for us all. We were thrust into the real world with one pull of a trigger quite literally.
I’ve never really reflected back on Nirvana or Kurt’s death quite like this but I felt like sharing given it’s been 20 years since his death (holy shit) and it is a definitive part of my musical journey and one I am happy to have experienced.
Thanks Kurt, Dave, and Krist for the tunes when I needed them most. You’ll always be my first favorite band and one of the reasons I fell in love with rock n roll.
RIP Kurt Donald Cobain (1967-1994)