Nothing makes you appreciate the ground like looking out the window of an airplane. It’s hard to ignore the fact there is less than 15cm of material separating me from the outside sky and at any moment technical difficulties can result in a lethal free fall. Is it always this bumpy? My god I miss the ground.
Instead of thinking about plummeting to my death I start contemplating about how much I love being alive. There’s a sense of purpose exacted while buying eggs or folding laundry, deciding to go to a movie, deciding anything. I took these freedoms for granted when I was a mere ant on earth, instead of being up here in this sky tank jetting towards the future like a spacecowboy.
I start listening to Nirvana’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” a song that’s conviction and sonic genius will hopefully bring me back to earth.My recent interest in Kurt Cobain is wholeheartedly unoriginal and probably a decade too late. I am well past my teenage angst years but listening to Cobain’s grainy voice makes me want to fringe my hair and watch a Sarsgaard movie.
About a month ago I was at a bar drinking overpriced cocktails listening to an accountant talk about how all his money wasn’t making him happy, just like Kurt Cobain. I couldn’t help but wonder if he knew his basis of comparison was completely misguided. Cobain was a rock star who was unhappy, not an accountant. In fact I’m sure you’d be hard pressed to find me an accountant who didn’t occasionally fantasise about putting a barrel to his brain.
And this melodramatic man made me remember the onslaught of Nirvana posters that inhabited male dorm rooms the way Che Guereva or Bob Marley or Tupac did. Somehow the beautiful blonde front man of a 90s grunge band represents unhappiness and disinterest in conventional success and acts as refuge for any young male who sucks at sport. Because even though Cobain is the archetype of antiestablishment, many men of middle class privilege identify with one of the most prolific heroin addicts in history. I suppose this is the highest accomplishment for any artist as their job is to make you feel something, which is exactly what Cobain did through his music; but also through his death. And I suspect more so than any notable figure in the late 20th century Kurt Cobain death altered the trajectory of his iconography.
And so my rudimentary interest in Cobain begins. My pondering’s lay not necessarily towards Cobain himself, but how the modern day man sees himself in him. My friend Anna says I have a habit of conveniently only listening to information that supports my preconceived opinion while disregarding anything else*. For the most part she is absolutely right, as I am ferociously unsatisfied with people’s answers when I attempt to casually discuss celebrity deaths that resulted in altering their public perception. Most people mention Elvis, Michael Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr, Robin Williams, as well as 27 club members Janis Joplin and Jimmi Hendrix.
But those are just examples of famous people who have died. For instance, Elvis was infinitely more popular and beloved and iconic than Kurt Cobain. But his death is impartial to how he is remembered. If Elvis died in a car crash or stampede or alcohol poisoning he’d still be remembered in his white studded suit all the same.
One woman mentions JFK… and I am very satisfied with her answer. She explains she knows little of American politics (she’s Australian) but knows about the JFK assassination. She asserts she only knows about JFK because of the way he died. Good anwer 19 year old woman I forced into a conversation about death. Good answer.
A major consensus in the influential death department is Princess Diana. Diana’s death certainly resulted in the most amount of public grief, partly due to the magnitude of her celebrity, the ubiquity of media, the way she died and how young she was. But I also suspect it had a lot to do with her haircut.Many women felt personal affections towards her because she was graceful and beautiful and gave them the confidence to wear shoulder pads and cut their hair and divorce their husbands. Diana was a beacon of hope for any woman coming to grips with independence and feathered bobs.
But the relationship that society has with JFK or Diana was not altered by their death, it simply immortalised them as the cultural figures they already were. Their deaths became historical events in and of themselves. Because no one references JFK or Diana or Elvis to describe how they feel.
When you see old Nirvana interviews it’s impossible not to view everything through the lens of “this man will one day shoot himself in the head”. That single act retroactively colours everything Cobain ever said or did to the point of perceived destiny. Because when someone tells you they’re huge fans of Nirvana, it is probably implicated they identify with Kurt Cobain. They’re telling you they know what it’s like to be depressed. They’re telling you they don’t find meaning in societal forms of status, and they’re asking you to love them for who they are and not what they achieve. And this would not be the case had Cobain died of a heroin overdose.
Perhaps this accountant is telling me he’s unsatisfied with what the future holds for him, or perhaps he’s informing me of his “disinterest” in money as a way to inform me he has a lot of it. Perhaps both. And like many men before him he will flash me his oversized watch the way a toddler shows you their toy, thinking you’ll be impressed. Men want you to know their piece is big and time valuable, and they probably compare watch sizes as a civilised form of arm wrestling. But R.Kelly just came on so we better go dance. God I love dancing. And we dance and dance and bounce bounce bounce.
But I will soon go home alone from this dance floor. No need for an accountant in this equation because I am so happy, so solid, and I’m not going to crack. I’ve built this from the ground up and I’m not going to play Jenga. I’m unmovable. I’m exactly where I should be soaring through the sky…wondering if Ill ever fall asleep or land safely.
* Danielle (Sister/Editor in Chief): I’m confused by this ending. What does crumbling have to do with anything like not wanting the accountant? And you use Jenga as a metaphor for why you are unmovable. Doesn’t work.
Me: The ending can be taken as a metaphor for the plane I was in at the beginning, which is actually my own head. “I’m so happy” and “I will not crack” are lines from Nirvana’s “Lithium” about bipolar disorder. The ending means I’ve finally learned to be happy, even if its only in my head. Once another piece is added (ie. an accountant) or removed (like, I don’t know, if I lost my Netflix) then EVERYTHING CRUMBLES. So I am unmovable
Danielle: Also I think you were off with the accountant’s intentions of telling you about his dissatisfaction with life. It’s a common tactic: they say money is not important, which leaves a vacancy for the girl to wonder what is important, and imagine that it is love, and that it is her.
Me: This isn’t an R.L. Stine choose your own adventure. I’m not changing anything. *Dammit Anna