Teenage Angst has Paid Off Well
I will never bother you.
I will never promise to.
I will never follow you.
I will never bother you
In the fall of 1992, my love for Nirvana earned me a terrific beatdown from a group of fratboys. I was younger and skinnier but my hair was just as long.
I had fewer tattoos.
It started simple enough, with a group of people I barely knew but thought could new friends. I was in college, working music at the local “alternative music” club. In between sets I sat down next to my friend, Nate, who was rushing a local fraternity. He had brought his new fraternity brothers out to see the “freaks and weirdos”.
As was common, we got to talking about music. One of Nate’s new friends was a big fan of Morrissey. Being young and stupid, I jokingly made fun of him for his musical choices. I remember what I said:
“The age of whining is over. It’s time to embrace the age of action.”
Nirvana, I said, was who he should look to. Kurt Cobain had come along and kicked the doors down and we didn’t have to cry in our rooms anymore.
At the time I was full of self-righteousness about these things. We, the disenfranchised youth, suffered. We’d been getting stepped on for years; it was time to complain.
I honestly didn’t think anything of it. Five minutes later I walked out to my car to get a pack of smokes.
As I returned to the club, I ran my fingers along the side of the small medical clinic that I had parked my car behind. Its exterior was made of pebbled concrete and the texture was something I found pleasing in my drunken state.
They found me there, three of them. They were cooking, had been cooking.
I said, “Hey guys!”
He mumbled, “Don’t you ever fucking say shit like that about Morrissey again.”
He lurked a moment, silhouetted by the clinic’s buzzing security light. He lurched, and I thought he was stumbling drunkenly, but no: his right arm thrust forward, grabbing my jaw, and bashed my head into the pebbles of the clinic’s walls.
The attack was furious and knocked the fight out of me instantly. He slammed my head into the wall twice more before letting me go. I slumped down to the sidewalk,
His friends kicked me a couple more times for good measure before leaving.
Later, my friends would tend to my wounds in Bryan’s dorm room, gingerly picking pebbles from the flesh of my skull. Nothing ever happened to those chaps; the fraternity closed ranks around them and the incident passed.
Never speak a word again,
I will crawl away for good.
This was a defining moment in my life. I would turn it over and over in my memory, wondering what could have happened differently, what I could have said or not said. Could I have defended myself in that instant? Would it have been better or worse?
I made this exact comment earlier today. My friend Eva replied, asking, “Do you ever wonder how come we’re still talking?”
That’s a good question.
I will move away from here.
You wont be afraid of fear.
No thought was put in to this.
I always knew it would come to this.
On April 8th, 1994, the era of grunge rock was over.
Many people say that “grunge” is a genre of music but I believe that incorrect. What people think of as “grunge” is really “punk rock” dressed in flannel instead of leather. No. Grunge is not a style of music; it is an era of music.
An era that came to a close with Cobain’s death.
The year 1994 was a major turning point in my life. It was the year I stopped being a child, really. I cannot say that I became a man – this would not be for many years later.
Months after the beatdown, a pit of dissatisfaction had been gnawing within me. I had been depressed for months, without purpose, aimless.
News of Cobain’s death came singing to me across the digital divide: an email sent to my school’s VAX/VMS server. I sat, pondered, and remembered.
Sitting in front of an aging VT100 terminal, my thoughts turned to the argument and the beating. I turned it over in my mind once again.
I came to the conclusion that, in that argument so many months before, I had been right: the time for whining was over. It was time for action.
I stopped being a child at that moment because I decided to take charge of my own destiny. I began making my first real “life decisions” – things that I wanted to do rather than what had been expected of me.
One of these decisions was to move out of the womb of West Virginia to the farthest place I could imagine at the time, San Francisco.
Things have never been so swell.
I have never failed to feel
Was Kurt Cobain the voice of my “generation”? Not for all of Generation X, obviously. I can’t speak to the experiences of others.
But for me? Yes: he was the voice of my generation – the generation of me at that moment. The voice of that man-child, dressed in flannel, laying on the sidewalk, covered in blood and rock, wondering what had just happened to him. The boy who wondered how many more beatdowns he had yet to receive (five, to be exact) and how many more he would give (three).
The one who realized that his life fucking sucked and it needed changing, and that no one but him was going to effect that change.
You know you’re right
You know you’re right
You know you’re right
Today’s teenagers relate to Nirvana in the same way I related to Led Zeppelin when I was their age. I am certain that the thoughts evoked when they listen to Smells Like Teen Spirit and Heart Shaped Box are not too dissimilar to mine own.
Does that make Kurt the voice of their generation? Possibly.
I like to think that the poetry and color of music transcends its moment of birth.
I’m so warm and calm inside
I no longer have to hide
Let’s talk about someone else
Steaming soup against her mouth
Nothing really bothers her
She just wants to love herself
The first musician who really spoke to me and for me was Billy Joel, actually. One of his singles, Pressure, wormed its way into my brain. I couldn’t have been older than twelve at the time, but the music consumed me: not the literal meaning of the words themselves (I was probably too young for that) but the unbridled meaning behind them.
I understood it, you see. At least, in my way. My mother still remembers this time in my life, and I still listen to The Nylon Curtain; it is one of my favorite albums.
Billy Joel would later become muted and the voices of John, Paul, George, and Ringo would grow ever louder, expressing my teenage doubts and triumphs, sadnesses and joys. The Beatles were the voice of The Generation I Was Then.
These people – these musicians – they were my voice.
Because I didn’t have the words, you see.
I have not been the Generation those people spoke for in many years. They still exist, mind you – Nagasaki ghost-shadows embedded in the walls of memory. I can examine them from time to time.
I compare the generation I am Now to the generation I was Then.
Things have changed. My ethics have gotten both sharper and more grey, for instance. I understand better what it is to love and be loved. I see the future with a more focused idealism.
I have a lot more tattoos.
But the biggest difference is that now I am the Voice of My Generation.
I will move away from here
You wont be afraid of fear
No thought was put into this
I always knew to come like this
K. D. C., February 20, 1967 – c. April 5, 1994