Obama paying tribute to Led Zeppelin a couple days back. Its the fate of all history to be softened, sugared, reduced to soundbites – it’s intriguing that Nirvana’s career hasn’t really undergone that reduction to family-friendly status given the self-inflicted brutality of its ending. When I mentioned Nirvana or Kurt Cobain to people the responses are fairly uniform; “he’s the one who shot himself?” “Wasn’t he a massive drug addict – did he die of an overdose?” “He was married to that mad woman wasn’t he?” and then, increasingly regularly, “who’s Kurt Cobain?” There’s too much darkness surrounding the collective memory to be eased away and made fit for a Presidential tribute.
I’ve been asking, when people ask to be placed on the pre-order list, how/when people first got into Nirvana – what’s their story? As a personal part of my own, Kurt Cobain was my first experience of death. It seems strange but I was fourteen years old, I’d been at most three years old when my last major relative died, other family deaths were off too far in the extended network for me to really notice. Kurt Cobain was the first time death had penetrated my existence as anything other than a cartoon element in action films, comics, play fighting. Suddenly it was a real presence. I didn’t know the guy, I live thousands of miles from Seattle, but that didn’t stop it being a knife wound. Something I cared about so deeply had been unexpectedly and sharply severed.
This weekend I spent sat with my grandfather. Until as recently as three years ago he was a powerful, immaculately dressed gentleman with a raft of stories always worth a retelling. He’d been a sportsman for most of the first part of his life, then a professional rugby referee, then a coach of professional rugby referees, only retiring from his involvement in his late Seventies. This was a guy who at age 72 bought an x-type Jaguar and had the most gleeful look on his face as he showed me he could kick it to 125mph without even touching the Sports Button. At age 76 a drunk tried to attack him in a newspaper shop – my grandfather decked him with a single punch then stuffed the guy over the top of the shop counter. You’ve never seen a happier ‘bad boy’, he was so chuffed with himself, a permanent suppressed grin for the next week.
Quadruple heart bypass in between the death of his wife and one of his two daughters , my grandmother and aunt respectively and truly one of the worst years I’ve ever heard of. He came back from that, began living again and its a joy to see someone restored, realising how they hadn’t been themselves in so long. He had the cartilege kicked out of his kneecaps during his playing career leading to a knee replacement operation he never really recovered from. Then cancer shut down one of his kidneys, all dormant but requiring regular observation – untreatable, inoperable, just sits inside there. Meanwhile his hips had been compensating for his knees so hip pain resulted, then his back began to go. The drugs that keep his blood thin mean he can’t be treated for the cancer, nor for the frozen shoulder that is causing him immense pain. The diabetes killed the circulation to his feet while the back problem made him walk less and less. Gangrene set in this year and ended with a toe being amputated and weeks of treatment to drain the feet. There’s a hole where the bone had to come out of. This weekend was the first time I’ve ever, in my entire life, seen him unshaven. I lived with him a year and there was never a day when he didn’t spend his morning preening himself ready to face the world. This weekend it was, as always, a pleasure and an honour to spend time in his company. He sat dozing with his head resting on his chest for most of the two days, he won’t wear the hearing aid so conversations are shouted over a TV with the volume dial up on fifty. The heating is up so high I get headaches but he’s still cold.
And there’s nothing to be done for it. He’s enduring a bad death. A drawn out three years of mounting problems making this great man a prisoner in his home. All we can do is make him comfortable, show him he’s cared for, find ways to reduce the burdens on him and keep him happy – bare witness.
So I didn’t post yesterday. I love Nirvana, Kurt Cobain is a hero, but real life and those I love will always be more important. It makes me wonder how hard 1992 was for Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl; forcing smiles to avoid media intrusion while being able to visibly see their friend reduced to a skeleton. What do you do? Most of the time all you can do is witness. It saddens me he couldn’t find a way back to life, I can’t even begin to understand what its like to carry so much physical and mental pain around though so I don’t give much credit to those who suggest he just needed to pull himself together, get over it. I’m watching a man die and I can see he hurts, but I can’t share in that pain, only acknowledge it. Pain is private, it can’t be passed from one body to another, ultimately Kurt Cobain endured alone.
Oh. And the bloody draft book still hasn’t shown up – delay is driving me nutty. It’ll be here today/tomorrow and then, with my say so, the full print run will be returned to me at the end of the week.