Life, the Universe, and Kurt Cobain

New York City, New Year’s Day, 2017:

“Life is ephemeral,” I tell Jon, my aforementioned best friend from art college. We’re in a famous gay bar. Gus Van Sant is there. I’m destined to later have unsafe heterosexual sex with a stranger on the concrete stairs leading from the street to the kitchen while Jon lays some beer-fueled 19th century spiritualist shit on a different stranger back in the bar, channeling this dude’s dead friend, fooling even Jon himself, much to his discomfort the next morning. I will wake up with regret as well, specifically fear of herpes because the stairs were dark and while I didn’t feel anything funny with my tongue, I didn’t really give his dick the once over I should have. We, of course, don’t know about these shenanigans yet.

“I mean,” I say, “It happens, then it’s done. It isn’t especially sacred. It just is what it is, and for a short time, I might add.”

“No! We all owe each other. I owe you, you owe me…” By this, I assume he means it is my responsibility to him, and his to me, to continue living for each others mental comfort alone. As a Libertarian and occasional Buddhist, I believe this to be total crap.

“Speaking as a Libertarian, that’s total crap,” I say, more or less. I totally forget about the Buddhist part. I throw no less than twenty dollars worth of David Bowie songs into the jukebox and go outside for a cigarette.

 – – –

Pawtucket, Rhode Island, 2017:

It’s Saturday night. I’m simultaneously watching Primal Fear, testing the boundaries of a cheap portable speaker I bought at Rite Aid for the dual purpose of listening to music in my bedroom and playing DJ as I’ve always dreamed at the unsupervised RISD Open Draw, and working on a new novel.

I’m also poking through The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg, astounded at the author’s faith in the ultimate bullshitter’s insistence that life is grand despite writing song after song claiming it’s actually… whatever, something, some shit happens, then you die.

I wonder for a second why I value life so cheaply. I mean, it’s an awfully brutal view, in a way. I guess I’ve seen more death than Jon – young, tragic, random death at least, given that he is a responsible, productive member of society who socializes with such, and I am a punk rock degenerate. A close friend of mine who moved to New York was murdered for his credit cards. He went M.I.A. on Halloween, surfaced a week before Christmas as a charred corpse in a field in Pennsylvania. I watched footage of his killers using his card to buy smokes, shot from a security camera at a convenience store. Another friend lost his mind and became a murderer, stabbed a girl to death and maimed another for no apparent reason, even to him. To make matters worse, one of my dearest friends was his roommate, and the murderer’s family owned the building. A longtime family friend, he volunteered to scrub the blood from their building’s stairwell.

I can’t count the number of acquaintances who’ve overdosed. I mean, we had some local somebody come around to practice one night, I goofed with him over Joe Jackson, week later, dead. Heroin. Eddie from the Louvers, who couldn’t believe we, Drunk Robb and the Shots, could drink as much as they could without cocaine. Dead, heroin. An ex-girlfriend hung herself from a shower curtain rail, a nineteen year-old coke addict who used to be a precocious, wise beyond her years smart-ass. I still have one of her Bauhaus CDs, In the Flat Field, which I purchased immediately after she sold it for, yes, cocaine. Columbine happened senior year, and another friend was sent to the hospital for a month because the only jacket he owned was a black trench coat, it was raining that day, and the basketball team took issue. A close friend’s boyfriend hung himself off the bridge leading to my neighborhood that same year. They’d fought just before, and she blamed herself. The unofficial memorial was at IHOP.

And those are people who died, died… Those are people who died, died… They were all my friends. They just died.

– – –

Houston, 1994:

I’m twelve years old at a junior high after-school dance. Like, right after school. Like, four in the afternoon or something stupid. I’m dancing to Ace of Base. I don’t like Ace of Base, but that’s the song that’s playing, so, you know, fuck it. When in Rome.

The school has hired some goofy event DJ, poor sod’s probably getting paid seven dollars an hour (it’s 1994), and he’s actually rather chipper for such a pathetic character. After the song about seeing the sign – it’s in my head now, fuck – finishes, he asks, “Any of you kids Niiiiir-vaaana fans?”

My friends and I scream our heads off like Beatles fans at Shea.

“Well, I have some bad news. Lead singer Kurt Cobain was found dead today…”

“He’s making this shit up,” I said to a friend who may be dead now.

“You think?”

“Yeah, man. He’s gotta be fucking with us. Rome all over again, right? Hey, you got any ice left in your cup?”


“You got popcorn, though,” I say. “Come with me.”

We gather five or six other friends and pelt the DJ with ice and popcorn. We are eventually told to stop by the principal but not asked to apologize.

– – –

The dance ends, and I still don’t believe Kurt Cobain is dead. My mom picks me up, and I flip the dial to the alternative rock station without her permission, like it’s my car and she’s a chauffeur, like I’m an asshole teenager.

As penance, the first words I heard are, “Kurt Cobain was found dead…”

And so it is, real and true. My first rock hero is dead at the ripe age of twenty-seven. Fuck.

We arrive home, and I go straight to my bedroom. I put on Nevermind, the first grunge cassette I owned and also the first item I shoplifted at the age of ten or eleven. I ignore my homework and piano practice, and I’m not hounded by Mom and Dad on either obligation. I will, however, endure countless tirades on “that awful Kurt CO-bain,” but they’ll quickly be eclipsed by my mother angrily shutting off “Cracked Actor” on that same car stereo, muting the volume and ejecting the cassette with anxious, venomous adrenaline, muttering, “I never liked that David Bowie.”

Next week: A look inside the Blue House like never before! Live footage of The Inhumanoids MST3King the original “Star Trek!” The infamous Ed “Kid Bluefoot” Mooney throwing out random nouns to every question on Jeopardy! (Actually, we’ve talked about this, and it might happen. Cheers, folks!)