Dear Mr Cobain

Dear Mr Cobain,

As I write this to you, the closing credits of NZ Idol are playing on my TV. The world has changed quite a bit since you’re gone. How ’bout that Belgium guy singing ‘Lithium’ on World Idol eh? I bet you liked it. I think you have a sense of humour. And when are they going to get rid of Robin? God I hate him. But I’m going off on a tangent now. I started this letter to you because now it’s been ten years exactly since you… you know.

What are you up to these days? I like to think that maybe you’ve seen the error of your ways, and that maybe you’re sitting around drinking cups of tea with Mr Hoon, Mr Wood and Mr Staley. The drugs are different down here nowadays, although heroin did make a comeback for a while. Antidepressants are better too – they might have helped you, but then again maybe not. Your wife certainly knows a lot about prescription drugs. I get the feeling she might be catching up with you pretty soon, and that really sucks because for a while, before I traded in my Riot Grrl slogans for the much easier “Girl Power” shtick, she meant almost more to me than you did.

There are so many things that I need to thank you for. I know you’ve had tributes a hundred times more eloquent penned by thousands of people. But this one comes from my heart, because I’m one of those people for whom your music – and the grunge scene that you brought attention to and symbolised – saved my life. In 1992 I was fucking miserable and alone at an American school I didn’t belong to. Much like any teenager, I suppose, I was full of pain and anger and sadness that I didn’t feel like I had any way of expressing. The music I listened to didn’t help. I hated all the Whitney Houston crap, and while sure, Mr Rose did look awful nice in that kilt, and the power ballads could make me cry, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe it was all a load of cheese. I?d only read that music could change the world but I?d never believed it until I heard Nirvana. Out the window went the bloated guitar solos, the on-stage posturing and the hairspray. In came this incredible sense of realism, of passion, truth and integrity. It was like you were playing just for me. Nirvana and the other bands that came to MTV with you had as much angst as I did. You were all disenfranchised freaks, and ironically, you were all accepted by the mainstream.

I guess something similar happened to me. Because of the ?grunge scene? I was able to finally find my niche as (the now so clich?d)?Alternative Girl? instead of just being a reject. It finally seemed like it didn’t matter that my hair was messy instead of in a perfect perky ponytail. I wore through two pairs of doc boots instead of wishing I had dockers. And I could take refuge in baggy flannel shirts. I found other people who liked your music and we made zines together. It was a glorious time for me, and for people like me all around the world. I’m sorry it turned out so shit for you. You didn’t deserve that.

Thank you for being a male artist who had a feminist background. Thank you for wearing a dress and admitting to being bisexual at a time when that just wasn’t done. Thank you for calling a song ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’. I’m sorry there were stupid assholefuckwits who took ‘Polly’ literally. I’m sorry that you felt so violated by people trying to interpret your songs, but thank you for expressing that in ‘Rape Me’ because I will never forget the look on my eighth grade English teacher’s face when a fellow doc-boot-wearer announced she’d be using that song for a class project on lyric interpretation.

Thank you for being wise enough to make sure your legal matters were well in hand before you went, so that ‘Teen Spirit’ will never be used on a deodorant ad. I wouldn’t trust that Mr “Yawn Rock” Grohl as far as I could throw him either. Thank you for inspiring all the bands whose cds in my collection aren’t quite as dusty as yours. Don’t worry – I’m not blaming you for Puddle of Mudd or Creed – I guess I know as well as you by now how big and consuming bandwagons can be (but if you’re friends with someone in power up there, could you please do something about Mr Durst?).

I’m sorry about how someone painted a great big bleeding hole onto your poster in our seventh form common room, but I figure you’d like that more than the spooky idolatry of the poster by itself. I’m also sorry I’m being cheap and cashing in on the Ten Year Anniversary as well, but I just had to pay some kind of tribute to you. I miss you. I was really angry with you for a while (what does it say when the ‘spokesperson for your generation’ kills himself? That my generation is doomed?), but can we put that behind us please? When they released ‘You Know You’re Right’ last year, I felt alive and passionate and excited about music and life again, just like how ‘Teen Spirit’ made me feel more than ten years ago. You changed music and lives for the better. You were important. I know that was too weighty for you, but thank you. You really meant something to an awful lot of people.

Joanna

(Originally published in Salient 2004.)

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