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Brushing Your Teeth With Apples

Life lessons to mark the death of Kurt Cobain

By Kate Reid 9 Apr 2009 |

Kate Reid is a freelance writer and illustrator who lives in Vancouver. She's the co-founder of Narwhal magazine and interns at Geist.

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Kurt Cobain and the next generation.

I was nine years old when Kurt Cobain killed himself. I only knew his face because it was emblazoned across t-shirts worn by my friend's older brother, and I heard Weird Al's parody "Smells Like Nirvana" before I saw the video for "Teen Spirit." I plastered a Nirvana poster on my wall because it was conveniently saddle-stitched between pinups of Boyz II Men and All-4-One in my Bop magazine. I grew up clueless in a cushy suburb, yet I still identified with the disaffected music of Nirvana -- Kurt Cobain hated fans like me.

Last summer, a co-worker lent me Heavier Than Heaven, the Kurt Cobain biography by Charles R. Cross. I hadn't thought of Cobain much since 2002 when, during the last persisting days of high school, I'd found solace in his recently published journals.

Despite the baby fat and braces, I managed to get through those four years with relative ease -- I worked at a photo developing store, got drunk in my backyard pool, stole nail polish from Walmart -- it was only during the tail end of my high school career, with an impending move out West, that I decided to fashion myself into an outsider. Cobain's journals reveal the central paradox of his life: how to reconcile an intense desire for fame with the codes of punk rock. For all the whining, his journal entries are suffused with a rude, absurdist humour and he and I seemed to hate the same things -- I was smitten.

The first boy I ever kissed dressed up as Cobain for Halloween. He was the one who told me Kurt Cobain ate apples instead of brushing his teeth. He introduced me to Sebadoh and Pavement and started me down the road toward indie rock pretension. My memories of that boy and that whole anxious chapter of my life are still mixed up with my feelings for Kurt Cobain, as I'm sure they are for many people who grew up in the '90s. I didn't care about Nirvana until my late teens, but with the angst of adolescence comes the craving for a leader and Cobain filled that role for me. His journals provide a record of a mercurial mind at odds with itself -- and Holy Scripture for every small town girl with restless feet clad in battered Chuck Taylors. I'm not sure his music still affects young people the way it did 15 years ago and perhaps the newest batch of suburban kids haven't heard Nirvana, but knowing Kurt Cobain -- he'd probably prefer it that way.

Kurt Cobain died 15 years ago on April 5, 1994.

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