It’s funny how memory works. Weird Al Yankovic is releasing new music videos. In honor of this, I watched some of his old ones, including his parody of Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit. Then I was compelled to watch the actual music video of the song. I remember Nirvana. I remembered the video. I remember Kurt Cobain.
Watching Kurt Cobain makes me feel nostalgia and opens up a fissure of pain inside me. You see, Kurt Cobain reminds me of my sister.
My sister loved Cobain and Nirvana. I remember being puzzled by the band; I thought they were ok. I couldn’t understand half the lyrics they sang. I was a lyrics kind of girl. At the time I was not a big fan. But my younger sister Megan had posters of Kurt Cobain, had his music, was attracted and fascinated with him in some way I could not access.
Now I get it. Both Kurt Cobain and my sister died hurting and alone. They died with a cistern of untapped talent and a haunting brokenness. When I watch videos of Kurt Cobain singing, especially during the Unplugged sessions, I search his features, I listen for the raw edge in his voice. I am searching for … connection? comprehension? Yes, both, and more.
I experienced sadness as a child and young adult. Who goes unscathed? Depression was alien to my younger self, however, just as my sister was to me. Her anger, her mood swings, her drug abuse, her flagrant instability, her depression.
Now that I am living years in the middle space between my birth and death, depression is no longer a stranger to me. We are now intimately acquainted. I’m not sure what happened exactly. Life, I guess.
I can sense depression coming to me like an outside force. It wraps around me, changes the very nature of the air I breathe, and narrows my field of vision. Intellectually I know the world I experience under its thrall is not the best reflection of reality, but the authenticity of the feel of it is undeniable.
So when I watch Kurt Cobain now, I come closer to the pain, the sorrow. I shiver when his voice breaks. He doesn’t just belong to my sister now; he belongs to me. I wish I could have had more empathy when she was struggling, but my fears of her fury and my own anger against her burnt away my capacities. I was not wise or patient or loving enough.
Music has a capacity to pierce those hidden parts we would rather ignore. Regrets, undone kindnesses. As Leonard Cohen roughly moans, there’s a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets through. Listening to Kurt Cobain’s music presses on a bruise but it also lets light in. Remembering can be an act of love and contrition.
I’ll never listen to Kurt Cobain without remembering the best and worst of my sister. And of myself. Ah Kurt, come as you are. As you were. As I want you to be. As a friend, as a friend, as an old enemy.