“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 Head’s 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 pissed off about this. I wanted to be getting bigger for God’s 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 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 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. 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 all right 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 barbecue 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!’
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 crawl 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? Worthless piece of shit, blowing his own head off when he has a wife and a baby daughter!’
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. 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. My mouth fell open and I reached out with one hand, placing it shakily on top of the television 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 Christ 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 sad, as if that was all it came down to. And it made me feel angry the flippant way they discussed the loss of this genius young man.
‘Don’t get it,’ Howard announced. ‘Do you Jack? Don’t get all the fuss. It’s not like when Elvis died for God’s 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 there, 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. 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. In the kitchen, or outside, they were 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 come on then, 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 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.
The snivelling gave way to a hicuppy sob. ‘Danny…have you heard it?’
‘Yeah. I 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.
‘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 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 fit 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, and 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 heart-breaking 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 God’s 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, 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.” (Extract from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side by Chantelle Atkins) RIP Kurt Cobain xx
2 thoughts on “RIP Kurt Cobain; Extract from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side”
Wow. I couldn’t stop reading until I got to the end. So well written. And yes, I remember that day too. I was at sixth form college, back in the UK, and everyone was wearing black. So sad. RIP Kurt Cobain x
Thank you so much Eleanor!
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