Everyone and their mother on Twitter is talking about how today is the anniversary of Kurt Kobain’s death. Half of those people probably weren’t even aware of music in 1994. I wasn’t going to just send some comment in a Tweet about it because Kurt Cobain’s death was probably the single most important event of my life.
In 1990 I found out about Nirvana through my friends older brother. I heard Bleach and I hated it. I only listened to hip hop and hair metal. I was 10 years old. Nevermind came out a year later and I liked it but I always sort of liked Weird Al’s version of Nirvana a little bit better. It wasn’t until 1992 and the release of Incesticide that I really became a big Nirvana fan. But once it took hold it took hold hard. By 1994 Nirvana was pretty much the only band I listened to. They at least informed all my musical choices. I liked Hole and I liked the Meat Puppets and stuff but Nirvana was pretty much my world. I was as obsessed as you could be with a band. I never in my life fell half as love with a band as I did Nirvana.
When Kurt Cobain died I was 13 years old, about to turn 14. I would enter high school a few months later so that summer was a pretty important time for me. I was in this guy Mikey Banks van when I found out. He had a TV in his van and we were watching MTv. I thought was pretty sweet to be watching TV in a van until Kurt Loder came on and told the world that Kurt Kobain was dead. Cobain had been in a coma a few weeks before and came out of it okay. Somehow I was hoping this would all be okay too. Maybe he was faking his death. We drove back to Mikey’s house right away. I was never really friends with that guy even though I went to school with him for 9 years. My only real memory of him is sitting at his house watching MTV totally in shock. My friend Keith went to the bathroom and cried. I just stared blankly. I didn’t fucking know what to do.
I was never going to see Nirvana live. I couldn’t fucking get over that. I wasn’t surprised that Kurt Cobain killed himself. He had so many people in his family kill themselves and the Nirvana poster above my bead that said “I hate myself and I want to die” was a pretty big warning sign so I wasn’t surprised. But I was angry. I was never going to get to see Nirvana play and I was never going to have any new music to listen to. I was fucking blown.
The thing about Nirvana was that for a 14 year old kid who didn’t know shit about music outside of the radio Nirvana was underground. Yeah they were this huge band and all but they were alternative. They were non conformist and as punk rock as top 40 got back then. So when Nirvana died and everyone in my school acted like they were these huge Nirvana fans it really fucking got to me. When Unplugged came out and everyone was listening to it I was pissed. These kids never listened to Bleach. They only cared about this watered down acoustic Nirvana. So I said fuck it.
I was done with Nirvana now. These poseurs could have Kurt. The only problem was I didn’t know what else to listen to. I had to get some new music. So I went back and reread Michael Azerrad’s book “Come As You Are”. I went through it page by page looking up every band that Kurt mentioned listening to in it and I went out and bought CDs. I tried out Flipper, Mudhoney, the Melvins and the Vaselines. I didn’t like any of it. I eventually grew to love Mudhoney couldn’t fucking believe how bad the Vaselines were and how much better the Nirvana versions of their songs were. But I kept buying albums and on May 29th, 1994 on my 14th birthday my friend Eric Dahlberg bought me a Black Flag album and it changed my life in an instant.
That summer all I listened to was punk rock. Black Flag instantly changed my life but I was listening to bands like the Sex Pistols and the Misfits and Fear and the Circle Jerks. Rancid came out around that time so I was listening to them and some popy shit like NOFX and Bad Religion. I loved the Descendants, the Dead Milkman and the fucking Ramones. This new punk rock shit opened my eyes.
My freshman year in high school my friend Tom and I started the punk rock club. We had these meetings at school that were totally pointless because no one else liked the music. It was just the two of us and this senior girl named Mary. The school made us actually do something so we decided we would start a magazine. The first issue was the most embarrassing fucking thing ever. But Mary started taking us to shows. My mom would let me go into DC with Mary cause she knew her mom and Mary was 18. A few months later my parents were letting me take the subway into the worst neighborhoods in DC to see local punk bands.
As we met these bands we came up with and idea to put out a record. We hit up our favorite bands and then borrowed money from our friends and parents until we had raised about $1600 to put out a record. And in July 1996 just over a month after my 16th birthday Raise The Flag: harDCore Volume 1 came out on our very own record label. It sold 900 copies in about 3 months just in DC and with no distribution other than a couple record stores. Pretty much every single copy was sold personally by Tom or I.
Over the next two years Tom and I put out four more issues of our zine. We released some tapes and a CD and started booking shows. We were big names in the DC punk scene at 17 years old. I started photography to shoot the bands on our label and it turned out I was pretty good at it.
By the time I graduated high school Tom and I had dissolved our partnership. We became close friends again later in life but for a while we hated each other. I wanted to skip college and keep working on the record label but Tom spent all our money and my parents were ready to kill me if I didn’t go to school. So I went to school and I majored in photography.
In 2003 I met a band called The Gaskets and I spent 5 years managing them. I booked their shows, got their music pressed, took all their photos, had their t-shirts, buttons and stickers made and ran their company. When they broke up I started taking Driven By Boredom seriously and started my own business. And for the last two years I have been making a full time living running my site and taking photos and I couldn’t have done any of that without punk rock.
Punk rock was the best education I ever had. It taught me so many skills from photography to event planning. It taught me that even a 15 year old kid could run a business and do it successfully. It taught me how to make stickers, buttons, t-shirts, zines and records. It taught me how to talk to people and network and promote. It instilled in me the love of photography. And above all it ingrained in me the do it yourself, DIY or die mentality that has lasted me my entire life.
So Kurt, wherever you are, I fucking love you and your music, but if it wasn’t for your death I wouldn’t be half the person I am today.
Kurdt D Cobain rest in peace.