Pop Culture History and its Aftermath

By Jeff Henson
  This year is the 20th anniversary of the release of "Nervermind" by Nirvana, hailed on the recent cover of Spin magazine as "The Album That Changed Everything." It might arguably stand as the defining album of my gerneration - "Generation X" - and standing as its icon is pioneering singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain.  


    Cobain's gift was merging punk with pop. He transformed the rage of the Sex Pistols and The Clash and married it to Beatles-esque melodies. At times the angriest man in rock, he could sound cynical, disoriented and deeply pained. Other times, he sounded like a sweet, lost boy who needed a thousand hugs.  

    The first time I heard "Nervermind" I was 25 and living in Portsmouth, Ohio, working as a reporter at the daily newspaper there. My best friend from college, Bridget Mooney, who lived in Philadelphia, sent me a copy of the album on cassette.  

    When I heard the first song, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," I felt like things had become very different very quickly. It was earth shattering. It seized me. At the time, I was an unhappy man, feeling angry and confused. "Nevermind" was the official soundtrack of the period. When Cobain raged, he sounded like a version of me I heard in my head. Listening to his music was cathartic.  

    Three years later, I worked as managing editor of a weekly newspaper in Oxford, Ohio when Bridget called me with horrible news: Cobain had committed suicide. And she said "I'm sorry," like he was a member of my family. My sister, Stefanie, called from Charleston to extend her condolences.

         That's how much he meant to me.  

    Cobain was a hardcore drug addict, and heroin was his drug of choice. I didn't fully appreciate the severity of his addiction until I read a Cobain biography, "Heavier Than Heaven," by Charles R. Cross. It was devastating.  

    In fairness, I should add that for 20 years I failed at overcoming my addiction to alcohol. So I'm in no position to judge him. And I can't say I know what he must have felt like. I don't. I know how I felt, however, and, in some respects, we had a lot in common. I was blessed to catch a break he didn't, or couldn't.  

    Before my oldest daughter, Jordan, started her freshman year in college, we had a long, frank talk about my alcoholism and substance abuse in general. Already she knew most of my story. To reinforce our talk, I sent her a copy of "Heavier Than Heaven." I told her that if after reading it she wanted to talk about it, we certainly could.  

    Just a couple of days after reading the Spin story on "Nevermind," I was sad to learn about the death of British singer Amy Winehouse.  

   Her album "Back to Black" established her as "The Next Great Star," for which she received several awards celebrating her gift. But her battles with addiction and the sick drama of her life overshadowed her formidable talent.       She was 27 when she died.       Cobain was 27 when he died.       The other night I played "Back to Black," and I was as blown away by it as I was after first listening to it. And I thought, "What a waste. What a loss. How sad."  

    I'm 45 now. Cobain would have been 44. When I think of him, I wonder "What could have been?"

         But, sadly, the answer is "Never mind."

      (Jeff Henson once lived and worked in Huntington. He can be reached at slimhenson@yahoo.com)
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