Editor’s note: This story was originally published on April 17, 1994 in The Sacramento Bee. Here is a republished version.
To say that Kurt Cobain changed my life would be an understatement. Hearing Nirvana play live left me with permanent hearing damage.
At one concert, Kurt jumped off the stage during a rendition of "Negative Creep" and landed directly on top of me. As is customary, my friends and I threw him back on stage. But no sooner was he back in the spotlight than he inexplicably jumped on top of us again.
"He's a wimp for doing it, " a friend remarked of Cobain's equally inexplicable suicide, disgusted at Cobain's irresponsibility in leaving behind a wife, child, and legions of fans. "It just goes to show what a complete jerk he was all along."
But what did we really expect from this self-proclaimed "Negative Creep"? Public screw-ups and an unforgiving stance were Nirvana and Cobain trademarks. And that's why his truest fans loved him.
The adult media have called Cobain the "voice of a generation, " and tied themselves in knots trying to explain how his songs reflect the angst of the disaffected twenty-somethings. But Cobain's was the voice of the angry INDIVIDUAL. Cobain's truest fans would reject the idea that he "represented" them. If isolation is your mantra, how can anyone be your leader?
The Cobain's death was announced, the 11 o'clock news tried to explain his significance through clips from "slacker" films like "Reality Bites" and "Threesome." I felt offended watching the older generation struggle to tie Cobain's suicide to media constructs like "Generation X, " while promoting Hollywood co-optations of youth culture at the same time.
Meanwhile, when the news of Cobain's death broke, groups of kids all over the country refused to go to class. Instead of pontificating about the meaning of it all, those who did go to school mourned Cobain's death by singing Nirvana songs like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "School" aloud in the campus hallways. At a loss for words myself, I took to yelling "Love Buzz" to anyone who would listen to me.
What else could I do? I loved Cobain for the music, not the "message". It was great rock 'n roll, that's all. The Nirvana sound - totally inaccessible to those who crave subtlety and restraint - affected me like a primal scream. When those pounding drums and distorted guitar reached critical mass, I felt myself become free.
But the minute Nirvana - nasty and bad-tempered to begin with - entered the high profile world of MTV and People magazine, I knew it would end badly. They became icons of what I call "Entropy Rock": a brand of music in which fans watch in fascination as the self-destructive band falls apart as inevitably as their own thrift-store clothes. The appeal is partly morbid: News of internal strife or drug addiction becomes as exciting and noteworthy as a new record release.
Still we mourn Cobain's death, and wonder what we can do when the so-called "voice of a generation" dies by his own hand. Maybe take it as a warning about the wastefulness of our own cynicism. Can our generation really afford another quitter?
Maybe we should make our peace with Cobain's spirit and turn our eyes to the youth of Paris, who marched in the streets over lowered minimum wages, instead of languishing in coffee houses and modeling themselves after rock stars.
Of course, that's not what Cobain and Nirvana were about. For me they were about pure energy, bodies flying from the stage, losing my hearing and getting a stiff neck.
Kurt the "Negative Creep" is dead, and we'll miss him. My brother puts the feeling best: "No more Nirvana! No more Kurt! That just plain sucks!"
Nothing matters; we're all alone; turn up the volume.
Patrick Macias is on the staff of YO! (Youth Outlook), a journal of Bay Area teen life produced by Pacific News Service.