Telling my kids about Kurt Cobain

MTV Unplugged: Nirvana

Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

It fell, drifted, slid almost silently across the cold tile floor covered with patchwork carpet remnants. Somehow I noticed the quiet fall of the poster from the wall as I pulled my dorm room door shut. I stopped, unlocked the door, and looked back inside my small room – bunkbeds, two desks, two dressers, clothes on the floor, my Nirvana poster lying facedown.

Later that day I learned that Kurt Cobain was dead. I thought about my poster falling from the wall and power of coincidence. I held on to it.

It may sound silly, but I’ve always held on to his death for some reason. There are times when I honestly miss him, though I never really knew him.

I think it came at a fragile time in my life. When I wasn’t sure who I was – or what the future held – or how I might cope with the reality of life beyond being a star athlete, campus parties, alcohol, the punk music I’d grown up on  – and the new heavy plodding music from the mysterious Pacific Northwest. The teenage angst still seething just below the surface in me. The never really knowing why it was there to begin with.

I grew my hair long. Brooded. Played guitar. Drew pictures on my walls.  It’s what you did in early 90s.

Nana and Papaw didn’t like it. Just like I’m sure I won’t like it when you go through something I can’t understand.

The rage Kurt let out and the confusion he expressed was how I felt. Everything I’d thought I wanted was mine, but I was deeply sad and unsure why. I saw a kid from Aberdeen, WA who said what I wished I could say. Screamed what I wanted to scream. Smashed his guitar. Mocked the popular culture that made him famous.

I wasn’t like him. I was firmly, desperately, middle class. I’d been successful athlete. But I had also always drifted towards the center where the colors blurred, the punk kid intermingled with the athlete. The frustration I felt at the polarity of it on each end.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reminded of Kurt Cobain again. A friend sent me an article about a trip across Europe a young Kurt and his band mates took, before their real fame set in and things changed. I happened upon a showing of Nirvana: Live at the Paramount in Seattle from 1991.

I don’t know if he was a good person. He was a drug addict. A kid who slept under bridges and on front porches. With people like Kurt I’ve always pictured them as a child though, in their mother’s arms. Before everything in our broken world went haywire for them. I still wonder why it does. Faith is my hope that it may all make sense eventually.

Like Marco Pantani and cycling fame, mountain top finishes, and pressure, and drugs and bitter – cold – lonely – endings. Like Kurt’s broken home, and guitars, and dreary rain soaked streets, and crowds that screamed with delight when he sang about his hurt and loneliness and addiction, and too much money when you can’t stop thinking about your brokeness – and drugs – and that same cold lonely ending.

I actually shed a tear when I watched the concert footage a few days ago when Kurt said: “After dinner I had icecream, I fell asleep and watched TV, I woke up in my mother’s arms.” Benign lyrics about visiting his grandma’s house. The pain in those words never crossed my mind until recently, now that I’m a parent I guess. The image of the kid eating ice cream, falling asleep, and waking up in the safety of his mother’s arms haunted me.


I didn’t know Kurt Cobain. I want to believe he was a good person who couldn’t cope with his sickness. At the end he was a father. So it’s hard for me to understand or accept his ending. But  I also know that once he was a child who lost his way and couldn’t be found. And that breaks my heart.

I used to hold onto his death because I didn’t understand it. I wanted my voice back. I think I hold onto it still because now I’ve learned how precious life and relationships and community and simple quiet words for each other are. I think I see the depth beyond the surface now and wish someone could have pulled Kurt out of deep.

Tell people you love them for who they are. Hug them. Don’t applaud their desperation. Love can indeed save us from ourselves.

I love you,

– Daddy