Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Gen Xer Reflects On Kurt Cobain's Birthday

Nirvana in their fullest glory at the Reading Festival

When I got into my car this morning I was listening, as I usually do, to Clay Pigeon on WFMU. His morning show, which you can stream if you are unlucky enough not to live in north Jersey, takes a lot of the old morning show conventions (school lunches, this day in history, etc.) and has fun with them between spinning righteous tunes. When he got to famous birthdays he mentioned that today would have been Kurt Cobain's, then dropped the needle on "Very Ape."

This got me thinking about my generation. We were born in the Baby Bust amidst skyrocketing divorce and Reagan era reaction against the youth. In a one-two punch our society wanted to shackle us (for poor kids of color this was literal) while our families had less time for us. To be blunt, we weren't wanted. For someone born in the mid-1970s, the early to mid 90s promised deliverance. This was especially the case in terms of music. Punk and rap, two genres once kept in the basement, burst forth into the mainstream. By the late 90s both had been homogenized and drained of much of their thrill. Cobain and Tupac were both dead by gunfire, one a suicide the other murdered. In the late 90s stupid pop music, godawful Limp Bizkit rock and hip-hop drained of political consciousness ruled the charts.

This reflected a general feeling, at least by me, of missed opportunity. There are three days in what I would call the "long 1990s" where I felt my hope for the future die. The first was April 8, 1994, the day Cobain's body was found. The second was April 20, 1999: Columbine. The third was September 11, 2001, when I knew the bloodshed of that day was going to unleash far worse.

You may have your own days, mine are definitely contingent on me being a midwestern cishetero white guy. The other days I mourned with others who were also shaken, but Cobain's death I mourned alone.

Other students at my high school were just confused. Why had someone who had it all, who was rich and famous, killed himself? Their stupidity and lack of depth on that day made me insane with sadness and fury. I was, shall we say, not the happiest person in high school, and prone to depression. I fully understood why someone would take their own life, because the thought had crossed my own mind a few times. I idolized Cobain not only for his music, but for his sarcastic wit, his lack of rock star macho bullshit, his obvious humanity. I was an outcast and a weirdo and he was to me the weirdo messiah. Because other people thought an outcast like him was cool, that meant perhaps an outcast like me could somehow be cool, too. He was to me a sign as well that my generation was capable of making something new under the sun. His death seemed to tell me I was wrong, both about outcasts and my generation. For this reason I have a hard time listening to Nirvana and a lot of the loud indie rock I loved back in the 90s. It reminds me too much of the death of my youthful hopes for the world.

It's with this in mind that I am thinking of the Parkland students, who are filled with the same zeal I had at their age for wanting to become an adult in a better world than the one I was raised in. I'm middle-aged now, but I will be following their lead and getting my protesting shoes on. My generation was derided as complacent, now the media pretends we don't exist. It's time to prove them wrong on both counts.

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