After Christmas, my mother and Howard talked about one thing and one thing only; the wedding. It seemed to cause them as much stress and tension as it did joy and excitement, and dominated nearly every conversation that I overheard. “It bores me so much I want to kill myself,” I complained to Terry in The Record Shop as the big day loomed ever closer. Terry was in his usual spot, perched on his high stool behind the counter, music magazine in one hand, large mug of tea in the other. He was, as ever, dressed in a band t-shirt, today it was Led Zeppelin, and a loose pair of bemuda shorts. He was a big man who moved as little as he could get away with. I had quickly discovered this was to my advantage. I could pass him things, you see. I could fetch him things, knock down spider webs and dust, carry about heavy boxes and run around the shop hunting records down for the rare customers that wandered in. I could do any of these things, and offered to on a regular basis just to avoid being shooed out of the shop for not buying anything.
“Weddings are for the female of the species,” Terry informed me with a yawn, barely looking up from his magazine. “I don’t think they interest men one little bit. I think men just go along with it all. I imagine she has a file, or a book? Everything organised down to the last detail?”
“Yes!” I cried, my arms folded on top of the counter. “She has this bloody ring-binder she nicked off me! Full of all this crap from magazines, about perfect hair and perfect nails and perfect bloody cakes!”
“Just like my sister,” Terry nodded curtly, his eyes down. “It’s like an infectious disease that runs rife among them. They’ll have a job getting you in a suit though, won’t they?”
I snorted, and cupped my chin in my hand. “I don’t even want to go Terry.”
“Are they having a honeymoon?” he inquired then. “Going anywhere nice?”
“I dunno,” I said, narrowing my eyes. The thought of them going away had not occurred to me before then. I suddenly saw myself, with the house to myself, with freedom! “I try not to listen to any of it.” I smiled. “She’s got my brother coming down,” I said then. I was really just plucking useless information out of the air to keep him talking. He bored of people easily and seemed to greatly prefer his own company to anyone else’s. I would have liked to have pointed this out to him whenever he moaned about business being slow, but I daren’t say anything to annoy him. Time in the record shop was my salvation and my hope. I tried not to give Terry any reasons to send me on my way.
“Brother eh?” He licked his thumb and finger and turned the page of the magazine. He sounded bored already. I was boring him.
“Yeah, he’s giving her away. I haven’t seen him in ages.”
“Haven’t you got somewhere you need to be?” He had looked up from his magazine and was eyeing me curiously. He had asked the question with a sigh, so I knew that my time was running out.
“I’ve nearly got enough money for another record,” I told him urgently. “So I was coming up with a shortlist you know? So I know what I’m getting. So you don’t let it go to anyone else.”
“Fat chance of that,” Terry huffed, turning another page. “You’re the only one keeping me in business, right now. Go for it. Have a hunt around. You can put a pile next to the record player and I’ll keep ‘em for you til you can pay for ‘em.”
I already had a record on the counter. I held it aloft, gripping it tightly with a smile stretched across my face. It was the single Loser by a guy called Beck. I’d seen it on MTV and really liked it. Terry made a face and laughed. “Getting tired of all that grunge I see,” he remarked. “Going for something different.”
“Never!” I retorted. “I just really like this, have you heard it?”
He nodded wearily. “Stick a record on will you. Not that one.”
I bit my lower lip. I felt a rush of childish delight that I knew I would be unable to explain to anyone, not even Billy. Putting a record on meant coming around the other side of the counter. It was a privilege that Terry, as far as I knew, had never bestowed on any other customer. It meant he trusted me. Coming around the corner of the counter, my heart rate quickened and my palms grew itchy with anticipation. I had to breathe in and squeeze past Terry on his stool to reach the record player. He had this long shelf set up against the wall, with this amazing 1950’s style player on it, and stacks of records to sit alongside. The pile was normally a mix of new stuff, and all of his favourites. Every Smiths and Dylan album going was always in the pile. I had to stand on tiptoe to reach properly, and I found myself holding my breath, biting down on my lip as I began to flick through his treasured LP’s. Next to the record player Terry kept a large radio cassette player plugged into the wall. He kept it tuned into the radio, but was never loyal to any one station. Instead he turned the dial incessantly, always on the lookout for something better, something worth his attention.
The last song had ended and a new one had begun. I sensed a change in the atmosphere that made me stop flicking through the records. Terry had lowered his magazine onto his rippling belly and was looking right at me. “You heard this?” he asked softly. “What do you think?” I waited and listened. I nodded. Yes, I had heard it before, on the radio at home, or somewhere, maybe on MTV. But I could not remember what the song was called, or who the band were. I turned slowly to inspect Terry’s own reaction, which was something I did a lot of in private, and I saw the fat man looking very intense. He had his eyes narrowed right down to slits, as he squinted through them, as if sight was something that hindered listening to music properly. I did not need to measure his reaction once my own had got underway. The opening lines growled into life, I need to be myself, I can’t be no one else, I’m feeling supersonic, give me gin and tonic, you can have it all, but how much do you want it? There was just something thrilling and unexpected about the words themselves and how they sneered into life, something wonderfully and unashamedly aggressive and challenging. It did that thing that happens sometimes when you hear music that effects you. It set all my hairs on end, made me shiver from head to toe, and I wanted to clap my hands and nod my head and bounce up and down and sing along.
“I’ve heard this,” I whispered excitedly to the fat man, who I knew would not speak again until the song had finished. I obeyed his rules and kept quiet after that. I found myself starting to move a little, just bobbing up and down, and it was amazing the way it shot this pure joy right through me, spinning me far away from my mothers’ impending marriage to a psycho. It made nothing matter, and yet everything did. The chorus kicked in and I nodded my head, remembering now why I had picked up on it the last time I head heard it, because it was just fucking brilliant; you need to find a way, for what you wanna’ say, but before tomorrow, ‘cause my friend said he’ll take you home…he sits in a corner all alone…he lives under a waterfall, nobody can see him, nobody can ever hear him call… And then the guitar, oh man, making me want to play along, even though I didn’t have a fucking clue.
As it drew to an end, I found myself gazing at my feet, scratching my head and grinning, wanting to hear it again and again. I was thinking about the words, like I always did, what they meant, what they were supposed to mean. Sometimes I imagined the friend in the song to be Anthony, because taking me home was saving me, and sitting in a corner was…well you know the rest. Like all good music, it smashed me with joy yet touched me with pain. It left me wanting more. I felt as high as a kite. I couldn’t say any of these things to Terry of course so I just pointed at him. “Put it on my list,” I insisted. “Soon as you get it in!”
“Oasis,” he remarked cooly, lifting his magazine back up. “Gonna’ be fucking massive, and just what we all fucking need, I’m telling you mate.” He didn’t need to tell me. I already knew.
People always say they can remember exactly where they were when a big news story broke. You know, like Kennedy being shot, or Martin Luther King being assassinated, or Elvis being found dead on his toilet. I didn’t used to care, or pay much attention, until it happened to me. I will remember forever and ever where I was, what I was doing, even what I was fucking wearing the day I heard that Kurt Cobain was dead.
I was in The Record Shop again. I had only been in about five minutes, brimming with excitement, clutching the money to pay for the stack of singles and albums I had piled up behind the counter. Beck’s Loser, Oasis’ Supersonic, Talking Heads’ Remain In Light and Pixies Surfer Rosa. See? Remember them all. I was wearing blue baggy jeans, and I had just been thinking that I must have lost a bit of weight because I had to keep hitching them up, and I was feeling just a tiny bit pissed off about this. I wanted to be getting bigger for fucks sake, not smaller. I had on an old Clash t-shirt I had picked up in a charity shop, and my beloved baseball boots which were coming apart at the soles. I went around the counter, and clutched the records to my chest, inhaling the musty smell of them while Terry chucked my money into the till. He was drooped over his stool, mug of tea steaming in front of him, and a stack of dusty cassettes to one side, waiting to be shelved. “You still don’t have a record player to play them on do you?” he asked, struggling to disguise his own amusement.
“Gonna’ ask for one for my next birthday.”
“You’re weird, you know that? All the other kids are getting into the fucking CD’s mate. That’s the new thing! You’re going bloody backwards!”
“I like old things,” I shrugged defensively. I stayed where I was, behind the counter, stalling for time by gazing longingly at my records and wondering if he would allow me to turn off the radio and put one on. We heard the news announcement at the same time. We both lifted our heads instantly when we heard the words being spoken. Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain has been found dead at his Washington home. It was a long, stretched out moment, dizzying and sick, and I felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world, just crashed on out under my feet. I was standing on nothing. Flailing. The fat man was staring at me and I was staring back at him. My mouth fell open in slow motion, registering the horror. Terry’s face seemed to twist in shock, his eyes becoming loaded with despair and disbelief. I was rigid and could not speak.
“Oh my god,” Terry whispered as the news reporter rattled on.
I held my records to my chest and shook my head. “Can’t be true,” I heard my voice croak. I walked stiffly then, around the counter and towards the door.
“Oh shit,” he was saying behind me. “Not another one. Jesus fucking Christ, it’s never fucking Michael Bolton or Phil Collins is it? Hey? Hey Danny, come on, you alright mate?”
“Can’t be true,” I said. I wrenched the door open and started running.
I ran all the way home. I stumbled up the driveway with my sweaty hair plastered to my face. I barely paid attention to the two cars parked in the drive as I dashed past them, still clutching my records, all my coherent thoughts commanding me to get to the television, to find out more. I ran into Howard and Freeman in the back garden. They had the barbeque going and were lounging in plastic garden chairs, smoking and drinking beers. There was an instant and undeniable light that leaped into Howard’s eyes when he saw me.
“Whoa look who it is! Our number one man!” Freeman greeted me as he often did, with just a silent nod of his head. “You heard the big news yet eh?” I scowled at the snake like smile that crawled across his face, and the delight that shone in his beady eyes, and turned away from them, into the house. There was a roar of laughter behind me. Their footsteps echoed mine. “Don’t you love this about Danny?” Howard was asking Freeman. “He’s so bloody talkative! So damn well mannered!”
I hurried into the lounge,placed my records on the sofa, turned the TV on and started to flick through the channels with the remote. They came into the room behind me, and ordinarily the fear would have started to prickle through me, crawling down my spine, but I was too absorbed, too desperate to hear it was all a joke, a mistake. “Ah looks like he already knows,” said Howard, drinking from his beer bottle. “Oh damn, I was looking forward to telling you. What a fucking loser eh Danny? That so called hero of yours, that idiot junkie? Fucking worthless piece of shit, blowing his own head off when he has a wife and a baby daughter to look after!”
I barely heard him, and I stopped flicking channels because I had found him. There he was, locked inside the TV set like so many times before, on Top Of The Pops and MTV. They were playing the video to Smells Like Teen Spirit, and there he was, in his striped top, peering through his blonde hair as he snarled the lyrics. He came up to the camera lens, shook his hair from his eyes, and I mouthed the words as he sung them; I found it hard, it’s hard to find…oh well, whatever, never mind. My eyes tracked down to the information that was running along the bottom of the screen. Kurt Cobain found dead in his Washington home. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I felt like there was no air to breathe and no point in trying. My mouth fell open and I reached out with one hand, placing it shakily on top of the television set to steady myself. I forced a deep breath of terrible, heart breaking shock. I listened, in mounting sorrow, as the reporter relayed the information that he had probably been dead for a few days, that it appeared he had died from a shotgun wound to the head, and that a suicide note had been found at the scene. But at the same time, there he was, alive and kicking, killing his guitar, thrashing the hell out of it, while the cheerleaders bounced up and down in slow motion. They started playing shots from their other videos and from live performances, Kurt destroying his guitar and hurling himself into the drum set.
I wanted to reach into the TV. I wanted someone to speak out, to voice a doubt, to suggest it was someone else, not him. The footage then went on to show the thousands of distraught and weeping fans that had already gathered outside his home. Howard made a disgusted sound from behind me. “Oh fucking hell look at them all! Pissing and moaning! What a bunch of babies. Christ, they all look like you Danny, like they’re fucking homeless! It’s a bloody uniform, the way you all dress.”
“Shut up,” I growled the word from the very back of my constricted throat. It was all so wrong. All of it. He was just a young man, just twenty-seven years old, how could he be dead? How could it be over? I pressed one hand to my mouth and became slowly aware of the icy silence behind me.
“You better not have told me to shut up.”
I didn’t reply. I chewed at my thumbnail and tried to take it all in. They were talking about drugs and depression now, showing clips of him looking ill, or angry, as if that was all it came down to. And it made me feel sick and angry, the flippant way they discussed the loss of this genius young man.
“Don’t get it,” Howard announced then. “Do you Jack? Don’t get all the fuss. It’s not like when Elvis died for fucks sake. Just some drugged up scruff who made whiny depressing music. You wait now, bloody hoards of ‘em will start topping themselves! Come on, turn that off now. We’ve had enough of that shit.”
“I want to listen,” I protested, not looking at him.
“Pathetic,” he sneered, coming closer. I stood my ground, spreading my legs and holding onto the TV. “Turn it off I said.”
I gestured in frustration. “It’s not finished, I just want to listen!”
“Don’t fucking argue with me, turn it off now, or I will!”
I gritted my teeth and stepped closer to the TV. “I just want to listen. You weren’t watching it.”
“What else do you need to hear for fucks sake? Your hero is dead, little man. There you go. Who gives a flying fuck anyway?”
“Shut up!” I pushed the words through my tightly clenched teeth as my eyes bored into the TV screen, both my hands now balled into fists at my sides. The thick hand crashed into my skull from behind, knocking me into the TV which rocked back slightly on its stand. Then the hand was closing on my neck, wrenching me backwards and hurling me down to the floor.
“Don’t you ever tell me to shut up you little prick!” The hateful face was right in mine, breathing beer and juicy fruit chewing gum into mine. I shuffled backwards, back towards the sofa, holding onto my head, and weeping. I pressed my eyes shut then. I didn’t want to see any of it anymore, didn’t want to hear it or believe it was true. Howard straightened up and stalked arrogantly around the back of the TV where he ripped the plug right out of the wall socket. There was only watchful silence from Jack Freeman in the doorway, and I didn’t care anyway, because nothing mattered, because everything was shit. They’d killed him, they’d taken him from me… “You better watch yourself,” Howard warned me softly before leaving the room.
I crossed my arms over my knees, buried my head in them and let the sobs wrack my body. I felt overwhelmed, by this gutting grief as it ripped right through me, and it felt like it would never stop, would never end. I heard them laughing at me then. In the kitchen, or outside, they were fucking laughing about it, so I jumped angrily to my feet and stormed recklessly into the hallway. I rubbed my hands viciously into my eyes and thought well fuck it, you might as well kill me you fucking bastard! “That’s right laugh!” I yelled at the kitchen. A stunned silence followed. I moved back, positioning myself against the front door, ready to run. I used each palm in turn to rub at my wet cheeks. “Just laugh then!”
Howard appeared in the kitchen doorway, his head slung low on his shoulders, while a deep frown hooded his stone like eyes. His expression was disbelieving and stunned. He could not fathom why I had shouted at him. “What did you just say?” he asked me, stepping into the hallway, and I could read him like a book. He was pissed off and worried, doubting his power all over again, losing his good boy.
“You wouldn’t understand anyway!” I cried at him. “You don’t even like any music! You have to have a soul to love music and you don’t fucking have one!”
The phone rang then. It was so sudden, so shrill and loud and unexpected in the shrinking space of the hallway, that I jumped about a foot in the air and Howard visibly flinched. I snatched it up before he could even move, pressing the receiver to my face with trembling tear stained hands. I heard a snivelling in my ear, and I let the air flow freely from my sagging lips. “Billy?”
The snivelling gave way to a hicuppy sob. “Danny…have you heard it?”
“Yeah. I’ve heard. I’ve just seen it.”
Howard backed off slowly, his expression wondering and pensive. He turned on his heel but paused to point one finger back at me. “Fucking pathetic,” he hissed and was gone. I immediately sank back against the door, my legs going weak on me, my spine folding in, as I dropped my head heavily into one hand.
“I don’t want to believe it…” Billy was saying, his voice small and dazed. “Why would he do that Danny?”
“I don’t know Bill. Don’t know.”
“Do you think it’s really true?”
“I don’t know…I think it is. It looks like it Billy.”
“I can’t believe it,” he sighed hopelessly into my ear. “I can’t. I fucking love that band man. I fucking love them…”
I could only nod. I knew exactly what Billy meant, and exactly how he was feeling, and yet there were no purposeful words to explain it. Later I wrote in my diary that it felt like we had been cheated, and stolen from. Something had been taken from us, something we would never be able to get back, no matter how hard we tried, no matter how much more music we fell in love with. It had been ours. We’d all loved it, all of us. It had united us like nothing ever would again. I lay on my bed for the rest of that heartbreaking day, with Nevermind on constantly. When Something In The Way played, the emotions got the better of me, floored me and battered me, and all I could do was cry.
My mother came up to see me when she arrived home. She viewed my swollen eyes from the safety of the doorway and sighed in sympathy. “I just heard, and I’m so sorry love,” she said. “I know how much you love that band.” She sighed again and gazed around at the posters that adorned my walls. “I know he was like a hero to you. I just don’t understand,” she said then, with a small and nervous shrug. “I don’t get it. I don’t get why they do it when they have all that money and success!”
“Maybe he hated his life,” I told her stonily from my bed. “Maybe he despised all that. Maybe he hated waking up every morning. Simple as that.”
“I expect it has more to do with drugs and depression,” she said knowingly, making me writhe with fury and contempt. “They all seem to go the same way. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison. Such a pity. And with all that money and fame you’d think they’d be happy!”
“For gods sake,” I spat at her then. “Money and fame don’t equal happiness mother, there is a lot more to it than that! Like maybe his parents did a really good job of fucking him up!”
“Oh that’s nice! That’s lovely! Why do the parents always have to get the blame?”
“Because you reap what you sow.”
She shook her head at me, edging away. “You what? What is that supposed to mean? You don’t half come up with some crap Danny!”
“I think it’s true.”
“Well I don’t know where you heard that nonsense, but one day you might be a parent and then you’ll find out how bloody hard it is young man!”
I rolled my eyes and laughed at her. “I’ll do a better job than mine!”
“What is your problem?” She made a stance that filled the doorway then, hands on hips, head cocked to one side, staring at me as if I were some kind of alien, not the very child she had grown inside her own fucking womb. Her eyes flashed at me angrily, so I tore mine away, found Kurt’s poster above my bed, and fixed them there.
“If I ever have kids,” I said, “I won’t disappear and never see them again, and I won’t let psychotic bastards come into their lives and wreck everything!”
“Oh,” she snapped. “So now we’re back to Lee are we? Well I don’t have to stand here and listen to this thank you very much, I’ve heard it enough times by now. I came up here to offer you some sympathy!”
“More like to gloat,” I grunted at her. “Just like he did. Yeah, he couldn’t wait to laugh at me and rub it in!”
“Danny, it’s called teasing, and it’s no surprise he’s not a fan of that music…”
“He’s not a fan of anything except himself! He stood there laughing and gloating, the bastard!”
“Danny, we are getting married next Sunday whether you like it or not…”
“Yeah, and that’s what you’re marrying mum,” I said bitterly, not taking my eyes from the poster. “Someone who makes fun of me being upset about something that really, really matters to me. But then you already know that don’t you? You just don’t care. Now just leave me alone and close the fucking door behind you.” I closed my eyes and dropped my arms across them so that I would not have to see whatever depressing look she gave me before she went away.