Confessions of the Uncool: Kurt, we hardly knew you

Originally published in The Daily World of Grays Harbor, Wash. on June 10, 2009

I must confess I was not a Nirvana fan while Grays Harbor native Kurt Cobain still walked this earth.

This most famous of grunge rock bands burst onto the national music scene a decade too late for me. You see, I was a child of the seventies. By the early 1990’s as the band hit the zenith of its live performing and record sales popularity, I was already thirty-something and well on my way to being a 9-5, Monday though Friday, workaholic husband and father of two living in the Midwestern suburbs. While Rolling Stone magazine and MTV were heaping praise upon Cobain’s musical genius, the rock n’ roll golden boy, I was blissfully unaware of the drama and ultimate tragedy of his abbreviated life.

On April 8, 1994, when Cobain’s body was found three days after his death — officially ruled as a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head — at his Seattle home, I barely gave the news reports any notice. I didn’t know him. I didn’t know the band or its music.

To put it simply, I was no longer hip. Any measure of “coolness” that I may have once possessed in my teens and early twenties was long gone.

The name Courtney Love, Cobain’s wife and the subject of endless tabloid fascination, barely registered with me at the time.

To an older generation, mostly over age 45 now, I suspect Cobain may have come and gone without much notice, just another rock ’n roll legend who came to a tragic end while still in the prime of life and creative abilities.

However, to those who consider themselves members of “Generation X,” the post Baby Boom generation, Cobain and Nirvana appealed and entertained mightily. He belonged to them. The proof is the almost reverent spirit in which fans, now 15 years after his death, still seek out all things Kurt — books, music, merchandise. Some even make a pilgrimage of sorts right here to his hometown to see where the young Cobain lived, walked, and developed his music in the early years. It’s a phenomenon that many of us have still not come to terms with.

But that may be changing.

Now in my late forties, and living in the middle of the very town that help mold and shape Cobain and band mate Krist Novoselic before they achieved legendary musical stardom, I feel almost like an archaeologist trying to assemble and decipher clues from a bygone era. I’m playing catch-up. I’ve scanned some of the many books and articles circulating about Cobain and his life, Nirvana and the grunge rock movement. I’ve pulled up YouTube to see and listen to the music videos — Smells Like Teen Spirit, Come as You Are, and the 1993 live performance on MTV Unplugged.

I get it.

So the question is, why is there no official recognition of Kurt Cobain — his life, his music, his stardom — here on Grays Harbor? Where is the museum or youth center or interpretive walk, or any other evidence of his life here?

If the sleepy little town of Forks can lay claim to the phenomenon that is the “Twilight” books — works of pure fiction — then why can’t (or won’t) Aberdeen lay similar claim and ownership of the very non-fictional life of Kurt Cobain?

There are a few theories floating around. One is the generational thing I alluded to before. Some folks my age and older just never got into bands like Nirvana. It wasn’t our music.
But I also suspect something else is at work here. Cobain’s brief life came to a tragic and, apparently, self-inflicted end.

He was certainly not the first musical icon to die in mysterious circumstances that were related or attributed to substance abuse — Elvis, Seattle native Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and seemingly every other rock band drummer from the 1970s. He will not be the last. For this reason, many are hesitant to fully embrace this native son whose life was marred by admitted drug abuse and whose death carries the stigma of suicide.

The community must come to terms with its own feelings about the life and death of its most famous product — the late, great Kurt Cobain.

Will his meteoric life and career, and all the untidy things that came with it, be examined, discussed openly and ultimately embraced, or will his memory be allowed to slowly fade away?

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