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Losing Nirvana: Measuring Life in Kurt Cobains

I was standing in the exact same space, next to my bed, when I learned that my most valuable friendship at the time was over and that Kurt Cobain had died.  Actually, only the physical space was the same.  The friendship ended in the fall.  Kurt died in the spring.  In between, we continued to live with one another to ride out the end of our lease.

But I was standing, both times, on the same side of my bed to receive the bad news.  And both times, it was my friend who delivered the news: that our friendship was over and that Kurt Cobain was dead.

Lightning is not supposed to hit the same space twice.

In my head, the end of my friendship and Kurt Cobain’s death always goes together despite the two events being many months apart.  The day he died, we sank down onto the sofa together and watched hours and hours of MTV’s coverage.  At some point, I popped a tape in the VCR.  I still have 6 hours of MTV footage from the day that Kurt Cobain died.

He died — they think — on April 5th, but his body wasn’t found until April 8th, which is when the rest of the world learned about it.  This April will mark 20 years — 20 years! — since I sat on that junky sofa and stared at Kurt Loder telling me over and over again that Kurt Cobain was dead.  20 years since my best friend told me that our friendship was dead.  We’ve long passed that tipping point when we’ve been not-friends longer than we were friends.  But two decades: that feels like an ocean of time.

It is always odd when your personal monumental moments get mixed up in larger world-scale events.  Our wedding intersected with September 11th, the twins’ birth coincided with the Olympics.  Since humans like to keep marking anniversaries, coverage of these world-scale events keep reminding you over and over again of the distance time has taken you from the personal.  We’ve been married twelve years.  The Olympics has rolled around yet again.  It has been 20 years since I lost that friendship.

I’m sure that next month will bring a plethora of Kurt Cobain memorial articles; a re-airing of MTV’s Unplugged concert.  We’ll keep thinking about him again and again; his music will start playing in all these spaces where his music hasn’t played in years.  Every time I hear a Nirvana song, I’ll think of her and sitting on that sofa together, the desire to watch the coverage transcending the fact that our friendship was dead, too.

I’m thinking of getting myself the Unplugged album off iTunes next month as a 40th birthday gift to myself — it’s the only one I don’t own.  I deserve it, right, for getting through 40 years?  In the meantime, I can keep watching the concert off the VHS tape, or on YouTube.  If you’ve never seen it, it’s probably my favourite performance of their songs:


1 Denise { 03.16.14 at 9:11 am }

The unplugged album is amazing. I love it. It’s my favorite Nirvana album and it’s also my favorite of the unplugged series.

And yes, I know what you mean about personal anniversaries and monumental moments being mixed up with world events. It happens to me all of the time.

2 loribeth { 03.16.14 at 9:32 am }

I was into my 30s by the time Nirvana & Kurt Cobain were in their heyday. I know a few of their songs, & I knew when we drove through Aberdeen, Washington, in 1993 that it was his hometown, and I thought it was tragic that he died so young, by his own hand — but it just didn’t have that kind of impact on me. But I can relate, in that I can certainly tell you about exactly where I was & what I was doing when I heard about the deaths of Elvis Presley (when I was 16) & even more so, John Lennon, when I was 19 & in my second year of university. With Elvis, I had an out-of-town girlfriend over for the weekend, & we spent it glued to the radio (believe it or not). We only got a few TV channels then, & there just wasn’t the sort of wall to wall news coverage we have today.

3 JustHeather { 03.16.14 at 2:54 pm }

There are some events in my life that are lumped or paralleled with other events, but I don’t think many are at the same time as world events. The biggest one that did happen on a “world” event was my mom dying on Father’s day. But since the exact date of Father’s day is different each year, I refuse to let it color my saying happy Father’s day to my dad (and hubby).

As for this being 20 years since Cobain died, sure it sad and I did/do like their music, I am just thankful we don’t have a TV (and I’m not in the US). I know his death will be played over and over and they’ll immortalize him or make him out to be a god-figure…for what? Killing himself? Seriously, it is sad, but it is nothing to glorify.

4 Justine { 03.16.14 at 9:55 pm }

I don’t have too many coincidental anniversaries in my life, except for the glut of things that happened in February, and which pretty much leave me in various stages of absence. But I’ve known other people who experience that all the time.

I think you are definitely entitled to Unplugged, and I’ll look forward to celebrating your milestone! 🙂

5 Heather { 03.17.14 at 8:31 am }

Has it really been 20 years? Wow, that makes me feel old. We are the same age so I was standing in my bedroom as well when I heard the news of his death. I was painting my room at the time and just, stopped. Turned on MTV and watched some of the coverage. I do remember talking with my ex-boyfriend and him saying, “I feel like this is some stupid publicity stunt and he’ll come on the air saying it was all a middle finger to coverage of celebrities when they die”. But, nope, not a publicity stunt.
Interestingly there are no real worldly milestones that took place close to or around most of the events in my life. I do remember what was happening at that time but it was nothing significant that others would remember.

6 Tiara { 03.17.14 at 9:43 am }

Wow…this post, going back over the posts you link, bring up so many feelings about friendships lost.

Also marking time by aniversaries of major events I do this.

Definitely get the album for yourself for your birthday. You most definitely deserve it.

7 Mrs T (missohkay) { 03.17.14 at 12:11 pm }

Like other notable events, I know where I was when I received that news. In high school lit class – a kid named Jeremy told me and he thought it was funny. I still have a cassette tape where I taped a Kurt Cobain tribute off the radio a couple of days after his death was announced. (And somewhat off-topic, I am not a conspiracy theorist, except in matters of Kurt Cobain’s death.) You should definitely buy that album – it’s my favorite.

8 deathstar { 03.17.14 at 6:12 pm }

When well known musicians or actors died from drug overdoses, I used to be amazed that anyone that successful or rich would throw their lives away. They had talent, money and admiration and still they had huge holes in their lives that they still couldn’t heal. They had everything I ever wanted – what high on earth was worth losing all of that? Eventually I came to a different understanding; that having those wonderful things in life did not make one happy or whole or believing that your life was precious. I connect moments of my life with the music I used to listen to. Usually they were moments of feeling free and sweetly inebriated and always, always longing for more than I had. I actually adore Smells Like Teen Spirit and Come As You Are. I still have one friend that I’ve known since I was a child. We live in different cities and yet when I talk to her, I feel tethered to this world because she remembers the girl I used to be. And really, how many people in this world have that info?

9 a { 03.18.14 at 3:22 pm }

The only things that really stand out for me are the death of my father (Labor Day (9-2) 1991), the birth of my daughter, and the death of my mother. I can also sort of pinpoint the deaths of 2 of my grandparents, but just the years that they occurred. Actually, now that I think about it, my first job out of college was bookmarked on the front by the death of my father and on the back by the death of my grandmother. Strange.

Even stranger…I have a lot of trouble remembering my wedding anniversary. I know the year and the month, but when the month comes up, I rarely think “Hey – my anniversary is this month!” And when that does occur to me, I have to stop and work out our actual marriage date. Every year. Going on 11 years now… For the first 5 or so, we relied on my husband’s mother’s friend to send us a card to remember our anniversary. It’s so romantic around our house. For our 10th anniversary, my husband remembered first – best gift ever!

I liked Nirvana, but the only thing I remember about Kurt Cobain’s death is that my friend, who was from outside Seattle, was telling me about her coworker who was completely distraught about it.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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