I remember exactly where I was when I found out about Cobain's passing; walking past the Galaxy record shop in Christchurch with my partner on a sunny afternoon and seeing 'RIP Kurt' scrawled on their sandwich board.
We were surprised. It's difficult to imagine now, amid all the nostalgia-soaked hindsight, that no one outside Kurt's circle and certainly no average fan on the street knew what the fuck was going on with him, aside from the fact that he'd taken up with Courtney Love, and that was possibly not the trajectory we would have chosen for ourselves. Things were different back then; despite Cobain's protestations, his private activities were probably more obscure than he believed.
I googled some images. He was more... handsome- that is perhaps not the word- than I remembered, but then everyone was busy rejecting conventional notions of beauty at the time, fucking with their hair, blacking out their eyes, flipping off the lens.
It's hard to lose an intimate companion but that shit doesn't make you a toxic waste dump; more often than not it just tears away the tarpaulin. That's not to say that surcease beatifies Cobain in my personal estimation. I'm sure he was a selfish cunt and a perverse interpersonal scientist with far more power than was good for anyone involved. It could be argued that he was just as much a stunt queen as the dreadful Love; that he was so intelligent and cynical makes me strongly suspect him of this, and also of allowing her thirsty antics to catch the flak that should have been due to them both. Femme terrible/longsuffering boyfriend is an immortal theme. Suicide has nullified the test of time that would have outed him either way and that will always play in his favour.
Neither the Lovely R nor I really cared too much for Nirvana. The idea that they or even grunge per se defined alt music in the 90's is completely untrue and a product of the (admittedly fond) revisionism that has gathered pace ever since. They were pretty fucking commercial and no one with extra-mainstream taste would have admitted to buying their shit back in the day. I don't mean that disrespectfully, since Cobain's legacy has definitely been pervasive since then, but I feel it's more honest to say that most indie/freaky bands and fans expended far more effort attempting to distance themselves from and define themselves against Nirvana than identifying with them. Like it or not, The Cure were far more fundamentally influential; I mean, prove me wrong.
Kurt's life and death have always moved me, though, from a misted remove. Who doesn't empathise with an overactive IQ and intrinsic liberal militancy born into post-industrial sludgetowns and societal herniation? We're all his brothers and sisters in that ambient respect. I defy anyone to sit through the doc About a Son and find no moment of associative melancholy. Cobain's personal struggles and intractable despair are far more emblematic of the time and generation than his music. They are still my own companions, for worse or better, and had he lived to see his daughter enter her own third decade, I am sure Kurt would have reflected on how little really changes in the course of a lifetime. I once dreamt I had a long conversation with him in which he expressed regret at his own death and the loss of fatherhood and I don't bear anything like as much judgment of his suicide as I did at the time. There but for the smallest twist of fortune go so many more. As I may have said before, it's unspeakably strange to have gotten old enough to be the mother of all these lost young men we knew and loved and spectated and embraced or deliberately ignored. So much of our collective potential has been extinguished.
These days we don't roll so many eyes at or fast-forward through Nirvana tracks the way we used to. I'm not entirely sure why that is. I've only ever really enjoyed Smells Like, Polly and the unplugged version of Man Who Stole etc and my appreciation of them has remained largely static rather than garnering any especial retrospective glow. Nirvana were and still are overrated and I don't think Kurt would disagree. He seemed to have had a gutfull of the whole shebang by the time he died and who can blame him?
RIP. Here's Polly for your consideration.