The Day Kurt Died

Han Vance on American music: I was working in a coffeehouse, the original such of the nationally so-called first-wave of indie coffeehouses in Athens, Ga., the day Kurt Cobain died:

April 5th, 1994.

I was in a bit of a malaise.

Waiting around the town for my felt-like-a-very-long-time at the time on, then off for almost half a year, then back-on-strong and even in full cohabitation with no exit strategy roommates you never saw place to fall back on, girlfriend, to find actual career work as a food scientist. She was older, divorced, worked for the school in a lab, but she’d finished up her Master’s as a Double Dawg, after running cross country for UGA and was going to be a corporate food scientist, somewhere.

I was a could-be fourth-year junior not taking any classes at all that year, since I was getting on into my UGA residency hours and a relocation, and college transfer, was seemingly on the horizon and imminent. I’d end up at UCF or UTEP it appeared, for my major course years.

Took her forever to find a job, in actuality. We’d end up in Orlando together, after another period of time apart when she moved down there before me. I’d stayed behind at first and dated a gorgeous and fashionable Malaysian diplomat’s daughter with a British accent I’d had my eyes on, who actually made me much happier and I even contemplated marrying. Perhaps should never have gone down to O-Town, but Tiff was all, “So, you’re going to break up with me again when I get a job? That’s great!” Then later, “I knew you were never going to come down here, man. …I miss you, and I have a pink house with teal shutters and orange and banana trees in the yard.”

Before the relocation, before the one that got away when I moved away from ATH to reconnect with Tiff, after Al and I (and Chris Rogers and JD and Rob) had done my first Golden State misadventures, adventure, I worked at ERC ~ Espresso Royale Cafe’ with this whiney CHD. There is mandatory at least one whiney CHD (coffeehouse dude) in every single coffeehouse of-note in America, to overcome, with my affability, my superior people skills and proven abilities to make things go.

While he bitches and moans and makes foam, I put the house in coffeehouse (which is always one word not two, a little jab at my former employers in ATL there, who were always too daft to listen).

Working with CHD when NPH – Evan called himself, no one ever called him that – NEW PROPHET HERO – broke the news. He was a spastic hyperactive local I used to play hoops with, and we shared a close friend but he was never one of my closer friends. We balled a whole lot, though. So, Evan bounded in all jaunty like he did, chirping joyfully, “Kurt Cobain just died. Suicide.”

I was stunned. I loved Kurt. CHD cogently noted, “Your buddy was too happy about that.”

I was surprised about this strong emotion for another dead rocker, but I actually cried on the inside, shaking my head, saying with a lump in my throat, “He’s like that. …He’s just a guy I play ball with [which I wanted to be truer then, even though we surely socialized some before (and after) that].

I cried for him as a great fallen poet, I know now.

One of my biggest concert-going regrets is that I never got to see Nirvana. The one time they played Athens I recall – and I was a big fan at the time and definitely wanted to go – the Georgia-Clemson game was moved to being a then ultrarare night game. I watched Garrison Hearst tame that Tiger, then we had people back at the house on Chase Street. No regrets there; we’d had a then ultrarare great season.

I just wish I’d seen Kurt play, sometime. He was more than an emblem of the Seattle, Washington, grunge scene. He was what had become of us, and he put an all-too-caring-actually 1990’s American nihilism dichotomy of angst, aggression and oblivion into international consciousness.

CHD’s band never made it, but he probably found a life beyond foam. NPH moved to Austin, same as that mutual friend I mentioned, before dying of suicide by masturbatory asphyxiation, like that guy from INXS. Tiff and I lasted 11 months in Orlando, where I liked living, then just as I was getting in-state residency soon and about to transfer to UCF, that ran its course. After an Olympic almost-full-year living in Marietta, bartending in Kennesaw and being a (named) club kid in Atlanta, I went back up to UGA. My lovely Malaysian companion had left the Classic City, by then. Few years later, I was in the Georgia Dome watching the Atlanta Falcons play the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL playoffs when Garrison Hearst blew out his ankle gruesomely, coming off a career year. He mounted a comeback two years later but was never close to the same player. We grow older and all fall down, yet Nirvana never fades.

If you have never seen “Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck” (2015), you should. Kurt rocks forever!

Another dude I worked with in other coffeehouses much later called the 1990s “The Last Decade.” I liked that so much. It was not the greatest decade and we were sure to heck no greatest generation.

But at least there was a lot to talk about.

I digress.