Kurt Cobain. Kurt Cobain; Standing with Evian Bottle. Jesse Frohman 1993.
Kurt’s last photo shoot.
He stands hunched over, mouth gaping, cigarette in hand. He hides his pain behind large round glasses and the rockstar physique. He doesn’t smile. His baggy clothes are emblematic of his era; they capture the essence of the early 90s. The flaps of the winter hat he is wearing cover his locks of blonde hair. Evian? Why Evian? Does the name brand show his growing superficiality? Frohman recalls Cobain spitting the water out while being photographed as if he were a kid. What remained of his idealism.
This isn’t my story to tell. It’s the story of a young woman fresh out of college hooked on the sound of rebellion. Nirvana captured her mood, gave her an identity. Showed her who she could be. The music symbolized her independence and freedom of this new city. She became addicted to the feeling, the lyrics, the melody that resonated so well with her. She had never been this free in her life. By day she would run to it. The cassette tape that she loved so dearly and the walkman that changed her relationship with music. As she ran, the drum beats kept her tempo, and Kurt encouraged her to keep going. By night she would dance to it at all of DC’s finest clubs. It reminded her how young, wild and free she was, and still does many years later.
What was my first experience? Sitting in the bathtub with my sister, my mom plays “Come As You Are” on the stereo of my parents’ bathroom.
Many years later I hear it again on the radio. She tells me what suicide is. How Kurt shot himself in the head. And about the little girl he left behind. The car is where my mom and I always have the deepest conversations. It’s where I first learned my uncle was gay and what that meant. Or that my father’s best friend had also killed himself. Just like Kurt.
My dad never liked Nirvana. He is nine years older than my mom. It’s one of their cultural differences. My dad was a deadhead. My mom loved grunge at the height of its popularity. Everyone is different. Much of my current identity stems from those two conflicting aspects of my parents.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t always love Nirvana. For a period of my life, I loathed it. I hated the monotone voices and the intense guitar. I hated how other grunge bands like Pearl Jam would just wine into the microphone. I hated it. Growing up,
I always wanted to fit in. When I found that my music taste and the stuff I grew up listening to wasn’t what everyone else was listening too I began to reject the music my parents introduced me to so that I would be just like everyone else. I didn’t particularly like popular music everyone else was listening to but I was afraid of being ostracized. As I grew up I became a superficial follower obsessed with having all the right things and listening to the right songs so I come off as normal. But I was never normal and never will be even though I put up a front for the majority of my life.
Around 7th or 8th grade, I began to grow into my taste, influenced by my parents and others of course, but I had more freedom to be me and I focused less on what others were listening to and more on what I enjoyed listening to. Classic rock became my form of expression. Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Robert Plant became my idols and inspiration. I was fitting the mold of my father’s music taste. I became more comfortable with myself even if other girls I knew didn’t listen to the same music as I did.
Some of the best relationships I’ve had have been based on common music taste. My childhood best friend and I still bond over The Grateful Dead and Joe Walsh. Even though most girls don’t share a similar taste to mine, most boys do, or at least entry-level, basic knowledge of classic rock and grunge. Music opened up conversations and created friendships on a deeper level over shared taste. My best friend to date is the one who brought me back to Nirvana and challenged me to broaden my music taste. He showed me influences from Led Zeppelin on Nirvana and connected my favorites to music I had loathed in the past. He taught me a greater appreciation for art. I had always seen art in a more educated way because of my interest in art history, but he challenged me to find more in every painting, song or even article of clothing.
Walking down through a section of the Portrait Gallery I had walked through a thousand times, I looked up and was staring right at Kurt Cobain. I was instantly intrigued. Forgetting about everyone around me, I walk up eye to eye with the enlarged photograph. I see reality. Although this part of a photoshoot, his face is candid. I think of my mother wild and free. I think of Henry and how long he would have stood staring and analyzing the artwork. And I think about music. The music that I love so dearly. Nirvana that got me through those dark times. How Kurt was there for me telling me to keep going, just like my mom on her runs. I wish I could have been there for him so that the picture I see wouldn’t have been his last photo shoot.