It was a Monday. I was over halfway through my first year of High School and I was loving it. From Kindergarten to Grade Nine, I went to the same small school, going from grade to grade with the same small group of about sixty kids. It was not a fun time for me and I ached to finish Grade Nine and then move on into High School.
High School was the largest of it's kind in Manitoba. It was a massive building where kids from all over the Red River Valley and Interlake descended. Starting High School was the beginning of something great for me - I really found myself. I made friends with a great group of people, I discovered literature and music and drugs...
Music and drugs - they seemed to go hand in hand back then for me. Many of my afternoons were spent skipping class and going with my friends to their house to smoke a joint and get lost in music. Even back then, I was still different from my friends - drawn to the old music I grew up listening to in the truck with my Dad. But my friends? They were into newer stuff. Our drug hazed afternoons were often spent listening to bands like Pearl Jam, Green Day (God, how I love Dookie back then), The Offspring, Stone Temple Pilots, The Tragically Hip, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana.
Everyone listened to Nirvana. They were a band that, at the time, seemed to defy High School Cliques. The Skaters, The Stoners, The Punks and The Preps all listened to Nirvana, whether they admitted it or not.
I first heard Nirvana on the radio - Smells Like Teen Spirt hit our small city like a ton of bricks. The music was rough, raw and angry. It instantly called to all of us who felt like we didn't fit in, like we didn't belong. It was the perfect soundtrack for a generation of young degenerates. We lapped it up with spoons and begged for more and more and more. My friends and I would listen to Nevermind and In Utero over and over again. We would scream ourselves hoarse along to the lyrics. Kurt Cobain wasn't just a great musician, he knew us. He understood us.
Back then, it was all about the music for me. I didn't spend much of my time reading about and following what Nirvana was or wasn't doing. The internet wasn't as accessible then as it is today. I was fifteen at the time and working a part time job after school. I'm positive I read about Nirvana in Rolling Stone or Spin magazine back then but I couldn't say for sure.
But I knew those songs. I got excited anytime one of their tracks came on the radio. We screamed the lyrics at the top of our lungs down the hall at school. We had found our sound. I didn't feel like I was quite so odd, so weird, so awkward. I felt like I belonged, like someone understood me.
April 5, 1994 I was was skipping class, as usual. It was a Monday afternoon and I'm sure some of my friends convinced me that sitting in the school common area (accurately called The Pit due to the fact it was a big, well, pit in the middle of our school - three shallow steps deep covered with the most burlap like brown carpet) was better than learning anything that afternoon. We were sitting near the back of The Pit, in our spot close to the Graphic Arts class room. All of the cliques had their own areas - The Skaters had the best spot next to the handicap elevator, the Drama Nerds had the spot closest to the theatre entrance, the Rockers and Punks could also be found sweating in leather jackets in a section close to the front doors and us, The Stoners, in the back somewhere between the Graphic Arts room and the Photo Lab.
It started as murmur, really. I remember The Pit was pretty quiet and that the noise level started to escalate over by The Punks. Soon, it spread to the Drama Nerds and then onto The Skaters. By the time the news reached us at the back of The Pit, the murmur had crescendoed and was accented with sobs, crying and swearing.
Kurt Cobain was dead.
It all came in pieces to us. Was he killed? No, not killed. What happened? Someone on the radio said he was shot. Someone shot him? No, he shot himself.
Kurt Cobain shot himself.
Kurt Cobain SHOT HIMSELF.
I don't really remember what I did after hearing that - Kurt Cobain shot himself. I remember looking at my friends and them looking back at me. Did we say anything to each other in that moment? Probably not. What would you say?
At home that evening, the story kept popping up on the news. There were few details, very few. I remember my mom asking me if I knew who Kurt Cobain was. I replied that I did.
There are things that help define a generation - whether they are good or bad. Both my parents remember exactly where they were and what they were doing whey they heard the news that John Lennon had been killed. I bet others remember with amazing clarity what they were doing when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, or when two airplanes smashed into the Twin Towers. We remember what we were doing when we heard the news that Kurt Cobain had killed himself.
It's been 23 years since Kurt Cobain left us. A lot has changed since then, hasn't it? I'm no longer the confused Stoner I was in 1994. I've morphed over the years into whatever it is that I am. The music is still with me - I'm as crazy about music now as I was back then, exploring different genres and subgeneras. I'm more aware of the world around me and how things seem to wax and wane as the years go by. I've grown - I've loved and lost love, I've been happy and I've experienced terrible aches.
We can speculate forever on why he did or even IF he did it. I don't think it's relevant in the grand scheme of things anymore. What is relevant are the things Kurt left us - an amazing body of music that one can get lost in over and over and an open door to talk about the pain and hurt of mental illness and depression, of drug use and addiction. We talked, we expressed, we felt and we did it together.