As I sat back staring deep into the screen I couldn’t stop the emotional swirl percolating inside. Last Sunday I, and my lovely wife-to-be Saskia, strapped myself in for a ride back in time, and the time line was something very personal to your humble writer. The life of Kurt Cobain, as personified in the recent documentary of his life titled Montage of Heck, was somewhat of a mystery to the young me. His life struggles for recognition and love cut me like a knife, and like many of his, and his seminal work, I wondered if i ever really knew who Kurt Cobain really was? Or as shown through the many archives and mouth-watering artifacts that it was also a documentary about my early teenage years. That was my life post-Israel living, and pre-United States loving. The documentary was an emotional ride for us all, but it opened the box of memories harking back to my youth, and infatuation with his art.
In order to give you the full story of how I stumbled upon the music of St. Kurt and the holy trinity known as Nirvana, I need to go back. My parents were both born and bred in the county of Kings, also known as Brooklyn. By the late 1970’s they caught the Zionist bug, which was far more of a secular calling back then, and decided to move to the state of Israel along with my older brother, who was three at the time. My father, being an accomplished percussionist, got a gig with the Be’er Sheva orchestra, and would eventually land various concerts across the country and the world. So, they settled in Israel, and would move to the heart of the booming city of Tel-Aviv. I was born in a suburban of the area, but we lived most of my life in Israel, in the center of Tel Aviv. My parents, along with me and my two brothers, were an atypical typical couple, who were progressive thinkers and extremely open to new and foreign sounds and cultures. That is why our house was always brimming with loud music from quite a range of artists and genres, as well as genre busters. It was happy, but at the same time like most families we had issues. Unfortunately, like Kurt Cobain’s story, the rug was pulled from under our feet as our world came to a halt! This was the time of my parents’ divorce. This led us, especially my older brother and myself, to a precarious position with regards to our parents, to meaning, and to our purpose. Divorce, although very common by the end of the 20th Century, was still new for a lad like myself about to reach puberty, oh the awkward phases and how we both hate and relish in them at the same bout.
The divorce also meant a complete change of venue for my mother and brothers. We were informed in the Spring of 1992 that we’ll be moving to the U.S. of A!!!, which my mother had left for, leaving our father behind in Israel. The divorce and the move was traumatic and would affect us each differently. Each of the three brothers dealt the best he could, and I dug deep into my music, as did my brothers. It was that last summer when we were in Israel where my older brother played me Nirvana’s first major label single, “Lithium.”
My brother got the single from a bunch of nice Dutch girls who were working in the north of Israel where my father performed. Thank G-d for these lovely Dutch maiden because I found a sound, a voice, a look that I wanted for myself. The lyrics made no sense to me, but the music spoke volumes in its raging apex of guitar, bass, and drum mayhem. However, what really struck me the most, and this wasn’t until I saw the video, was Kurt’s look. Kurt Cobain wore torn jeans, as I did, a hand-me-down sweater, which I adapted thanks to my father’s old green sweater that got me much grief in Middle School, and of course the lower than shoulder length blond hair. That was it! Since that moment I decided to grow my hair our long, and let it cover parts of my face in order to obscure all the falsity of people and the machine.
Nirvana, along with plenty of other artists and musical groups began to be my coping mechanism, They helped me cope with the end of my parents marriage, and the ensuing battle between them, They helped me cope when my older brother went off on countless evenings leaving me to fend for my younger brother. They helped me cope with the utter change of scenery and people, as Israelis are their own breed of people, and American Jews are very different. They helped me cope with the fact that I just sat through bombardments as Scud missiles were falling on us the previous year. They helped me cope with the fact that being one of the few poor white boys, I had to attend the local underfunded and mostly African-American Middle School. All these things could have driven me to other paths of violence, mischief, and countless other hypotheticals I dare not tread. Even though I was picked on at times because of my hair and fashion sense I never gave a shit. Why? Because Kurt said it in his music, and after seeing the documentary I felt much closer to his ordeal and pain. His pain of displacement, loneliness, and depressing desperation to be heard were mine to burden.
Because the majority of my Middle School was bumping Hip-Hop I listened to that as well. However, it was interesting that very few people I knew listened to them in my school. I would band with one of the few white, and funny thing also Jewish, kids who went to the same school. My buddy, Sam, and I would listen to the music and think of the many mischievous things we could try to get away with. I distinctly remember the day he got the new Nirvana album, In Utero, and we heard it for the first time. All the way from “Serve the Servants” to “All Apologies,” the album remained flawless. The arc of the songs were disparate by ranging from the decrying of automatons, to the screed against the media’s attack on him and Courtney, to abortion, excess, speed, etc. etc. was powerful to say the least. After the album dropped I listened to it on constant rotation while following the news of Nirvana’s European tour, and the many ups and downs, including the false reporting by guess who CNN!!! that Kurt overdosed and died in Rome. He didn’t, but that would happen a month later.
Then a month later my, and the rest of the world’s, world would change forever. Sam and I heard the news, but we didn’t want to believe it at first due to past false reports. We ran back to my place, switched on MTV, and in front sat Kurt Loder’s solemn face declaring that Kurt was dead, long live the king! We were stunned, and in a bizarre way I still remain stunned by the loss of such an artist, However, being a practical Jew who tries his hardest to believe that all has a purpose must rack his brain around this. Kurt, along with many great tortured artists of the past to the present, had succumbed to his demons. But it was a plan that made sense because I needed to move on. Kurt shot himself in 1994, so the steady stream of music began to wane for me, and by 1995/1996 I turned whole-heartedly to the next authentic sound to me, which was Hip-Hop.
Tears of joy, tears of anger, tears of love, and tears of the dangers all came streaming. It was a stream down my eyes, but also inside my heart as I watched this bitter-sweet memory of a friend, and lost love gone so long ago. I still love Nirvana, and no one comes close. I was enraged when a commentator from NPR compared Nirvana to Lorde?!? which made me cringe with anger. But, it passed because I’m 33 years old, and have gone through other traumas. Still, I have to thank St. Kurt and the Holy Trinity of Nirvana for helping me deal in such a volatile time of my life, in such a volatile space. At least we had seasons in the sun!!!
RIP and Z’L Kurt! Thanks for the years and thanks for the tears.