Thursday, April 5, 2012

slow suicide's no way to go...

I can't believe he's dead!
Dude, you knew it was going to happen sometime. 

The Internets waxes poetic about Kurt Cobain, who will probably be viewed by the Kids of the Future with the same eye-rolling that accompanies Bob Dylan hagiography. It's cool to like grunge again I guess, now that the second-rate Vedders have been replaced by hipster-lites and Eddie's playing a ukulele instead of trying to be all about women's issues, and the kids who may or may not have listened to In Utero are snatching up fake vintage Nirvana shirts at Urban Outfitters and Topshop. This doesn't bother me much, since it was already marketed once and I came along to this in a time when it wasn't very cool.

I was ten years old when Kurt died, and I don't remember much, except that other people died too, like Biggie, Tupac, and Shannon Hoon. . The girl down the street that I rode bikes to the pool with had an older brother who had friends with long hair and black t-shirts who skateboarded and shoplifted and were listening to Dirt. They scared me and the cover looked freaky too and it sounded disturbing and messed up. I guess it kind of is. My love affair with heroin addicts with ethereally spooky harmonies and riffs that straddled that gap between the Sunset Strip and Seattle would come much later.

Fast forward five years, I didn't realize that my dad was into this "alternative rock" thing that seemed scary to my sheltered and uninterested ears and that these songs on the radio that spoke to a generation of middle schoolers who didn't know very much about heroin except that DARE said it was bad, failed to generate any memories until much later on, around the time I was 15 and suddenly things like God and rock and or roll went from being background noise to powerful entities in my subconscious and expression. I learned how to play "Heaven Beside You" from one of his old guitar magazines, and remember hearing it for the first time on the radio. It was storming and the swirling guitars in the coda and the blueness of the world just crystallized in this moment of father-daughter bonding.

I found that the 'scary kids' that seemed so intimidating were the people that tended to accept me and the splashy hand-me-downs of dorkness and florals gave way to an increasingly dark-toned wardrobe, baggy jeans and my dad's national guard army green pants hanging loose on my skinny frame and bony hips, baggy, often-black t-shirts from the thrift store, hair grown long like Jerry Cantrell's out of slackerness more than any fashion statement, heavy chain around my neck, converse all-stars that were once still a badge of subcultural tendencies, and one didn't have to try too hard.

I was smuggling home CDs from the library I worked at stashed in my backpack because while this was stuff my dad liked, it was something that would cause my mom to be even more concerned than she was, and these songs were reserved for times when no one was home and I'd run downstairs to turn off the stereo when I heard the garage door open. Someone stole 'Dirt' so I had to content myself with the self-titled, MTV Unplugged, and a greatest hits compilation no doubt to fulfill some recording contract. Some of my former bandmates gave me a hard time for still liking this band that they were "so over" by now, but they were into the Goo Goo Dolls so what did they know.

While we were waiting for our parents to pick us up my senior year, a skinny kid with long hair who looked like a dead ringer for Bender from the Breakfast Club asked me if I was into Nirvana because of those tattered black low-tops with the glitter and scribbles. Like me, he was an oddball among oddballs, a straight-and-narrow who grew up Catholic and still believed in something, reverberating to the tunes of stoners, junkies and freaks who waxed poetic over those otherworldly harmonies.

Our group of miscreants sat around outside, cut class at the community college where no one took attendance and you were still allowed to smoke, and no one had a social networking site outside of livejournal or a cell phone. It sounds utopian to say that it was a refuge for us weirdos of various stripes, because there was always some drama or other, but when Layne died, he came to school dressed in the usual flannels, a stocking cap with a blond wig, and a backpatch on his denim jacket vowing that we'd never forget. We cried in the basement next to the vending machines as the TV showed reruns of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and ended up bored at prom a few months later yelling out requests for Slayer. We're still friends to this day. Teenage angst has paid off well,I guess.

My first year of college was socially isolating and profoundly lonely, but my next door neighbor in the dorms grew up on the same records as me, and I did a painting with a bunch of little squares of Kurt Cobain and no one there knew who he was because it was a small town and somewhat conservative. Who's that guy and why's he wearing eyeliner? This painting hung in every house I lived in until I moved home.

I transferred schools and found that my beloved grunge figureheads made for great art-making music and my roommate and I would make trips to the Record Exchange in Canton for bargain bin CDs. I ended up with her Meat Puppets album and her copy of Jar of Flies that she didn't listen to much anymore. When we rented the church building that used to belong to the local fundie cult and began painting and cleaning it up, that album was in constant rotation along with Paul's Boutique and Nothing's Shocking.  My pastor remembers sitting in a cold apartment in Pittsburgh listening to Dirt as snow blew through a hole in the roof.  

What was once an adolescent subculture that involved the littlest sartorial effort is still my comfort music, my bad day music, my driving around with the windows down music, my cartharsis and creative fuel. I still wear the tattered jeans and flannels and black t-shirts around the house, though having to go and get a Real Office Job means that I've carried over the almost-monochrome to the world of academic peonage. My fellow peon and homie in all things literate and heavy Randal's writeup is pretty damn good, by the way, though he'd probably say otherwise. 

I've found that Alice has stuck with me way more than I thought it would, and Mad Season is definitely on my desert island disc list and makes me cry sometimes when I think about what could have been. I still want to ask God someday why Layne is dead and Dave Navarro is still alive.


  1. My theory that you're fucking mad is true. This document of actual life is way x9 better than my cocooned bitch-fest.