Kurt Cobain died when I was a senior in high school. I was burning incense (I was in high school, as I said), and the incense caught my calendar on fire, burning it up to the date that he died. It was spooky.
And I was sad. I had heard about a lot of artists who had died young because they weren’t healthy. I liked his work, and he had died very young. It was sad, but not unexpected.
Seattle was the place to be when I was an adolescent. Seattle was slouchy, moody, worn, and rainy, so we tried to be, too. I recently got a letter from a friend postmarked “Seattle,” and it felt like getting a letter from Oz. I’ve still never been there. And my friend is young, so grunge wasn’t his music. Not at all. I wonder what it feels like to him. Does he feel an ooze of coolness from underneath every drafty door? I thought I would have, when I was his age.
Some people say middle class kids don’t have anything to be angry about. That it’s embarrassing for kids with plenty of money to rebel and act like they’ve been cheated. That all their angry music has to come from economic frustration or political repression, or it’s not real. I don’t think so. Part of the anger of adolescence is coming to terms with the heartbreak of the world.
Growing up to know that everything is not the way you hoped. Having your first real disappointments. Responding to the horror of the randomness of fate. Accepting how big the world is, and how you are about to be thrown out in it, with nothing to protect you. School ends (for most of us), and somewhere you have to make yourself a person. It’s not easy. Whether you’re rich, poor, or in between, it’s scary.
You’d like to think, when you’re an adolescent, that your anger is about the war in Vietnam or world trade or feminism or environmental catastrophes. It is about those things. But adolescents are also, continuously, showing us our own broken hearts about how we wish things were, and how they are. The terrors of having a human body, the fear that is in love, and the hunger for places that may not be real.