Sometimes fate steps in. Sounds like a fantasy story right? Well it’s true. I have never been a what if kind of person. What if John had never met Yoko? What if Brian Jones hadn’t been a drug addict? What if Morrison had not gone to Paris? What if what if what if. There are hundreds maybe even thousands of them but sometimes things happen that make no sense and the void they create resonates through time until someone fills it up, Maybe that’s a little too Eastern for you. All I know is that throughout history the right person seems to come along when you least expect them and at just the right most opportune moment.
He seemed like an unlikely figure to become the voice of a generation. In fact, if someone had come upon him and offered him the opportunity to go to art school and that it was fully paid for he would have jumped at the opportunity. He didn’t even spend a lot of time in Seattle, spending most of his time in Olympia. He came from a broken home and had trouble connecting to either of his parents and he got into trouble with the law more than once. At times, he was homeless, and even slept in the car of one of his friends. He shopped thrift stores looking for old board games so that he could paint on them because he could not afford canvas. He lacked confidence and direction. Somehow, through some strange twist of fate, this unlikely hero became a musical genius, a voice of a generation and one of the most troubled human beings to ever walk the planet. He can’t be understood by any book, or any recollection, cannot be defined by the lyrics or songs he wrote. He was more than that. Even looking at all those things combined he remains enigmatic. He is judged, constantly judged, even today people think that because of his actions they know him, they think that because he wrote a beloved song or even a dozen that they have the right. They believe they know everything there is to know about his wife and that its really her to blame for everything and so they do, They call her vile names, a horrible mother a horrible wife a horrible human being who only wanted him for his money, The world is full of sick people who think they have the right to judge others.
Musically he had a few lessons on the guitar, but they were difficult lessons as he was left handed and like many left handed guitarists before him he had to figure out many things on his own. He had a tendency in shows as the band developed to smash his guitar, his only guitar and so he would put it back together only to do it all over again. He loved punk music, the music of the Melvins, and the U-Men and later in his life would still go and see live punk acts when he could, when he had the time. He loved the Gits and after Mia Zapata’s death would play a benefit concert so that a private investigator could be hired to work the investigation that had grown cold. He was generous to his friends, not so much with money but with himself and valued people who could love him for who he was not who he was portrayed to be. He suffered with horrible pain wracking stomach ailments which no doctor could find a source and so they all dubbed him a hypochondriac. Who knows? He was unlikely in every single sense of the word.
I truly believe that Andrew Wood’s death caused a ripple through time. Mother Love Bone would have been and even should have been the first big band out of Seattle since Heart. After Wood’s death someone needed to pick up that torch. Chris Cornell had everything, great looks, a great voice and Soundgarden had been together since 1985. They were poised and ready but I don’t believe they had the kind of music that was going to change the world. For that matter Mother Love Bone’s music harkened back to the days of arena rock. Neither band was ready to represent an entire movement, an entire generation. The same could be said for Alice in Chains who were not quite ready anyway and Pearl Jam had barely formed. Nirvana hardly seemed to be the answer. They had been signed by SubPop and had already put out the album Bleach on that label. They had traveled the world with the band Tad but they didn’t seem a likely candidate to be the next big thing. There was also considerable conflict over their record deal. SubPop had signed them to a three record deal and now Nirvana wanted out of that deal and so negotiations were ongoing for their next album. They had also changed drummers because Kurt hated drummers and their previous drummer was too rock and roll and not enough punk. It had nothing to do with skill. Kurt was surly and most of the time seemed disinterested in a music career, in any career. He really just wanted to paint.
Nevermind might have gone the way of Bleach a good album without airplay, but the music world was tired, the same old hairbands the same old music and more and more bands were merely duplicating what they had done before to sell records. AC/DC sang it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll but it’s really tough to stay there. Smells Like Teen Spirit had so many things that people were looking for. The song is not sung so much as it is growled. It’s an attack on the mundane rock bands, here we are now entertainers but it was also typical Kurt I feel stupid and contagious. It is played with the honest hard hitting intensity of a punk song, with the melody of a rock song and it was like nothing ever heard before. That can be said for the entire album Nevermind. It was an entire album that spoke to a generation about all of their frustration and it changed music forever. It also helped that the band put out well done videos that got massive airplay which only helped to generate and sustain energy for the album.
Kurt was flawed and he had problems. Courtney Love had to manage those more than any other person. She has been vilified by media and by fans and mostly by Dave Grohl. She had a different vision for Kurt’s legacy than Grohl which she had every right to have as his surviving widow. Media and fans claim that she abandoned Kurt when he most needed her. She had tried to intervene, taking his access to money and credit cards away and forcing him into rehab. She knew about the recent suicide attempt In March of 1994 and she wanted Kurt to get help. Krist Novoselic, Nirvana bandmate and one of his best friends said that Kurt had stopped connecting to anyone and was distant. Kurt walked out of rehab on April 1, 1994 after calling Courtney and leaving her a message that he loved her no matter what and made his way to Seattle without money or resources. He had a friend buy a shotgun for him so as not to alert the police. On April 5, 1994 Kurt committed suicide using the shotgun in the greenhouse of the home he shared with his wife and child. Courtney was in rehab herself at the time. She had hired a private investigator to find Kurt after sightings put him in Seattle after April 1.
I worked on a psychiatric unit in a hospital and it was there that I first heard the news. My office was outside the locked unit door in a hallway and throughout the day nearly everyone who passed my door and knew that I loved music stopped to ask how I was. I was numb and a little in shock honestly not knowing how I felt because all the signs were there and I had been worried that something like this would happen. A psychiatrist who used to talk to me about music every time he saw me stopped and closed the door and was the first to say that he knew how hard it was and to let me know that he was around if I needed someone to talk to, Over the next few years the blame game took a toll on me with Dave Grohl writing his songs about Courtney and Courtney not having anything nice to say about the band. They were all hurting. Mostly the social worker that I was, worried about a child with a famous father who would grow up without him. I still get angry when people bash Courtney, because there is no greater testimony to who she is than how her daughter has grown up. She is a pretty damn good human being and that’s Courtney’s doing, not the music of Nirvana, not Krist Novaselic and certainly not Dave Grohl.
Stop blaming Courtney, stop blaming anyone including Kurt. He’s gone and Courtney has raised a pretty amazing daughter who has had to grow up in strange circumstances. While he was alive I would often get frustrated with Kurt for throwing so much away. With everything to live for, why be so unhappy? Happiness though is not wrapped up in success and money. Mostly now I am thankful for the short time Kurt graced the world with his music. The rest is like looking at tea leaves to somehow divine the future. Think on that if you will.
My favorite performance from Kurt was the 1992 Saturday Night Live performance of Nirvana. Up until the moment he walked on stage no one in the cast or the band knew that he was going to be able to perform and there was some scramble as to how they were going to fill the time. Kurt was miserable in his dressing room horribly dope sick. He was also complaining of the botched hair dye attempt he had made to change his hair color to purple. Instead it came out as some sick shade of red not even covering all of his hair. Everyone was nervous and then he walked out of his dressing room, terribly frail and pale and prepared to walk on stage. Nirvana delivered a live blasting of Smells Like Teen Spirit. I like to think of him that way. I like to hear the live MTV Unplugged concert where he shows so much dry humor between songs. I wish the world had been kinder to him. I wish the world would be kinder to him today and I hope he is at peace. That’s all I can do, all anyone can do. As time as gone by I do something I somehow couldn’t at the time of his death, I cry. So maybe for today or whenever you read this, try and think about a kind thought to him, a kind thought to any that were close to him and try not to judge anyone. There is a void when a musical genius leaves us, as much for those that knew him best as those who knew him through a few songs. Peaceful rest Kurt.