I was 16, but I didn't have my license yet. I was riding in the backseat of my parents' Ford Taurus. I forget where we had been or what we were talking about, but just before we got home the conversation turned in the direction of Evil Rock Music. I'm sure I wasn't listening.
But I remember hitting that *dip* at the end of our driveway at the precise moment my mom said, "And just today, that singer of that group went and killed himself."
I was listening now. "Who? Which singer?"
My parents didn't know, and were probably a bit disturbed at the way I made a beeline for the TV inside and started flipping through the channels. My mom brought it up as a cautionary tale—one of the many reasons I was not allowed to listen to "secular" music. Singers went and killed themselves all the time and sometimes took their unsuspecting teenage fans with them.
I still find it odd that I couldn't find anything about his death on TV that night. I still didn't know it was him. There were so many grunge rockers teetering on the edge of self destruction back then: Scott Weiland, Shannon Hoon. I asked my parents where they had heard the news.
Rush Limbaugh. RUSH. LIMBAUGH.
My dad taped Rush Limbaugh every single day, filling entire VHS tapes with his rantings. I popped in the latest tape and hit play. I kneeled in front of the VCR and hit fast-forward. It was near the end. It was about a 15-second spot. Kurt Cobain killed himself. Shotgun to the head. They played a clip of Heart Shaped Box and Rush mocked the unintelligible lyrics. (Just a few days later Rush would call Kurt "a worthless shred of human debris." Because he's so fucking perfect.)
I watched the clip a couple times and then went to my room, trying to act like I didn't care. I turned on my radio and heard Smells Like Teen Spirit. I put my hand over my month and stood there, frozen.
I remembered staying over at my friend Donna's house, listening to Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone. The sheer deviancy of her CD collection shook me to my very core. We would listen to song after song and work ourselves into the cocaine-like frenzy that only sleep-deprived 16-year-olds can achieve naturally. One night the artwork from Nirvana's In Utero scared us and we blacked it out with a Sharpie and then colored black streaks in our hair with it. I was too scared to buy any CDs of my own but instead commissioned Donna to record a bootleg collection of grunge rock cassettes of epic proportions. My favorite Nirvana song was Sliver from Incesticide but I could never remember the title.
Donna really got the music, I didn't. We both wore black the day after Kurt's death but I washed my hair and wore makeup. I spent most of the day trying to wipe it off and look more desolate. I listened to grunge but owned Mariah Carey's Christmas CD. Later, Donna and I would watch a recording of Courtney Love reading Kurt's suicide note to fans on MTV. Donna bought a new copy of In Utero and gave me the defaced one. I kept it under my bed with my contraband Rolling Stones until Donna asked for it back. Her mom had listened to some of her CDs and threw her entire collection out.
But back in my room, the night he died, I stood frozen, entranced. For the first time I think I actually heard Kurt sing. I understood, but it was too late. My mom walked in and I jolted back to reality and turned the volume down, fast. My mom was concerned. Did I really like that singer? Was I just saying I didn't to make them happy? Did I listen to his music?
Three questions. I denied each one. No! NO! No.
Outside, the cock crowed, and Kurt was still dead, never to rise again.