On my breaks from Loehman’s, I would walk up to the same Chinese spot y and order what tasted good, then go up to the arcade about a half a block up from there and play NBA Jam the rest of the time. It was enough to satisfy me. Most of the people who worked there just brought lunch or went out and brought their lunch back to the break room. I could never understand that – how people could eat in the place they worked. Wasn’t the whole pleasure of working a job spending time outside and reflecting on your life? That moment of being tired and dreaming about what you would do if you didn’t have to work was always amazing to me. Still is.
There was a radio that played lightly in the background at Loehman’s and I remember waiting for the moments when the awful music would stop and the DJ would talk. I thought that he must be talking to ma and letting me know that at some point I wouldn’t have to be walking around under these unnatural lights and putting clothes back on the rack. On this day, the music just kind of stop and the DJ came on. It wasn’t one of those Rock N’ Roll DJs, but more like those mellow jams for the old folks home kind of station. She came on.
Rock N’ Roll Icon Kurt Cobain died today of an apparent suicide attempt…
I didn’t hear anything more after that. I wasn’t a giant Nirvana fan, but you couldn’t be alive and young back then and not have their songs someway entrenched in your world. I needed to call Douglas right away – that kid loved him. He had been following them from the start of their Bleach days and knew what kind of talent they were. That he was. No cell phones back then. I went to the street and found a pay phone, my stomach still badly filled with Orange Chicken. I reached him and told him. There was no reaction on the other side of the receiver. I felt the dirt of thousands of other people on my ear – how many conversations and deaths and loves and starts of romances and calls of desperation must have been made right there on that very phone. The age of objects still having some relevance was slipping away quickly.
“You okay,” I asked. “I thought you should hear from me and not the radio. It’s colder if you hear it that way.”
“No worries,” he replied surprisingly. “I knew it was going to happen – just that – not now. Strange. I gotta go. Catch you at the Horseshoe, yeah?”
“Somewhere around there,” I told him, hanging up the phone.
The girl from the hair cutting school walked by with a pink haircut and didn’t say a word – but walked a little different to get notice. I did but didn’t care. Kurt Cobain killed himself. It reverberated right there. I think now, looking back, and even then I knew, it was the end of Rock N’Roll. They’d get somebody to take his place, but that person would have only been created. Hip Hop was primed to take over the music industry at that point anyway – what with Wu Tang Clan, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, Biggie on the way, and Tupac Following him – there would be no torch for Rock to hold. Now all the kids who laughed at their parents for only listening to Oldies of the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin would understand. They would be playing their Nirvana tapes and their kids would either be covering their ears or reading about what it was in history books and retro issued of Rolling Stone.
San Francisco at that time had a huge Punk Scene – well, most of it was actually in the East Bay. At that time, Jawbreaker and Greenday were battling to see who would be the band that would break out from the Northern California music scene and take the world. Once Cobain died, MTV came calling and they took the prettier of the two.
After work, I met up with Douglas at the Horseshoe. He was inside of himself, but I could see in his eyes he wasn’t planning on doing anything stupid. He wasn’t the kind of guy followed people or joined movements, but Cobain was big for him. It was a show that you can succeed in the world by being yourself and living life your way, on your own terms.
“Mother fucker,” he said, drinking his coffee that had just been mixed with some low-end whiskey. “He couldn’t take it? Or he was just scared? Maybe he just wanted to go out on top?”
Franklyn and Mike rolled up right then. They’d heard as well, but Mike could care less and saw it as an opportunity to get in on the early suicide jokes. Douglas never let it show it bother him.
“School’s starting next week,” Franklyn said. “Should make things a little better for everyone. Get you knuckleheads into the classroom. Franklyn and Mike looked at each other and smiled.
“Yeah – that’s kind of true,” Mike said, making MY NAME IS stickers with his tag on it. “Kind of. Thing is, we’re not going back. Got kicked out. Flunked out actually. That’s just not right.”
Franklyn tried to charm smile his way out of that reality, but it didn’t really work.
“What they hell are you going to do?” Douglas yelled. “Can’t do anything without a college degree. You just going to sit in front of here tagging on stickers all day long for the rest of your life. That’s nasty – we’re too old to be doing half the shit we’re doing anyway. There’s no place to go without a degree.”
“There’s one place to go,” Frankly said. “One place.”
“Where’s that?” I asked.
Everything was ending right there. I looked around at who I was sitting with and who I was friends with and felt a shift in the way things were about to be. The graffiti cover tables and living with vampires and bullshitting around drinking too harsh irish coffee was coming to a close. It was the door of youth shutting on us – and the people left on the wrong side of that close have a nasty awakening at some point because their choices have been made for them.
The day Kurt Cobain died, I learned that two of my best friends were leaving town.