Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Me, myself and Kurt Cobain

All over the internet and across social networking sites there is a plethora of tributes, memories and stories being shared in tribute to the death of Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana who took his life on April 5th 1994. It was a shot that was heard right around the world and marked the end of what was deemed the Grunge generation.

I was 12 years old when I first heard Nirvana. I had heard some songs off Bleach through a high school friend and the first few bass lines in Blew hit me like a tonne of bricks. I was interested by this angelic looking blonde man who appeared to be in as much internal pain as I myself had always felt. He could be my outcast romeo.

The week Nevermind came out my friends and I went to the local record store and bought a copy and then we raced over to my friend's house and we sat there in silence while we listened to it at least 4/5 times all the way through. I had never heard anything like it. The lyrics were so tormented and poignant and honest. I think like many people I was jealous I hadn't wrote it.

So here I was, this confused girl in her early teens from a poor white family in an isolating small town full of jocks and rednecks and for once in my life I was hearing something that I truly understood. An unsettling family life, an apathetic nature, very few friends... and I'd finally found a voice that expressed the inner anguish I had felt. 

I now had somewhere to displace all my anger, all my sadness and all my angst against my mother, the popular kids, my town and myself.  And now, not only did I have a role model for my shitty life I  now had something to connect with others. All the outcasts and the strange kids came out of the woodwork and it became our own kind of surrogate family. 

My obsession with Nirvana lead to an obsession with the 'Grunge' generation. I started to listen to all of Kurt's peers in the music scene..Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, L7, Babes in Toyland and of course Hole. 

I remember the exact moment I heard Kurt had died. It was 12:30am  and I was watching a late night music program. Mid song, an obituary flashed on the screen. I sat there and I thought this must be a joke, right? It's a joke. I didn't sleep well that night. First thing the next day I went to the supermarket and a copy of 'Who' Magazine was on every stand with his face on it and that haunting picture inside of his lifeless leg on the floor where he shot himself. Shit got real, real fast.
This was the first time I had ever been effected by a celebrity's death. I felt betrayed and I felt angry but mostly I just felt incredibly sad. I knew what it felt like to want to die but he was supposed to be the example... if he could make it then so could we. But he didn't make it. What the hell was I supposed to do now? Kristen Pfaff soon followed, then Shannon Hoon, then Layne Staley. Grunge was self-destructing.

My attention had always been more on Courtney and her band Hole and after Kurt's death I clung to it and all the emotional carnage that followed. My mother always told me boys don't like outspoken girls or strong girls. Kurt proved her wrong and this made me even more fixated on his relationship with Courtney Love. He spoke with such honesty and respect about his wife and his view of women was so different to the general consensus I grew up around. 

By the time I turned 13 I had my first electric guitar and was taking guitar lessons. The meek little long haired skinny girl who always looked at the ground and couldn't look people in the eye was starting to speak up. I can't remember the exact moment it happened but there was this moment where I decided that if people were going to pick on me and hate me then I was going to do whatever the hell I liked and let them have something to really hate me for. The bullies left me alone, the jocks avoided me and the popular girls wanted me to help them with their homework. I was for the first time feeling like I belonged somewhere and that I could do anything I wanted.

My interest in Kurt and Nirvana introduced me to 'riot grrrl' music and the ideology behind it. Bands like Babes in Toyland, L7, Bikini Kill, Sonic Youth and Hole all had smart strong independent women in the forefront. I became passionate  and motivated about women's rights and feminism and I wanted to rule the world. I felt more empowered than I ever had and riot grrrl proved that you didn't have to give up your femininity to achieve it. 

Every which way I look at it the music of Nirvana and Kurt's influence shaped a lot of who I am today. Music, art and literature became my teenage life and I worked my ass off to get out of that small piss ant town in the country and out of what was a very turbulent family situation. In college I majored in Psychology and Sociology and I was accepted into the Honours degree and majored in  Sociology and my dissertation was on DIY feminism and the function of the riot grrrl music scene (in basic terms). All while living alone, working 4 shifts a week and dealing with mental illness and alcohol & prescription pill addiction. I went on and studied film and photography and made my first short film which was picked by a panel of Film Elite judges and was played at the Australian Centre of Moving Image in the cinema next to Malcolm McDowell talking about Clockwork Orange mind you!

I have never compromised who I am or what I stand for.  I have always been honest about who am I and what I'm about. I credit this to the flames that fueled Kurt's passion for music. His music, his pain and his death inevitably motivated me to make the most of what I could. I never thought I would make it to 20 years old and here I am at 30. 17 years on after Kurt's death and I can still remember everything from that time in my life, that comfort and that escapism his words and music gave me. All I hope is that Kurt has found his own peace and his own relief in death.

RIP Kurt Cobain (February 20, 1967 – c. April 5, 1994)