Sunday, April 04, 2004

I THINK I TRIED THE NIGHT KURT COBAIN DIED: It was an odd night in lots of ways - for some reason I’d wandered halfway across town for no real reason to call in on some friends; for some reason, rather than the usual non-stop Byrdsfest that was their usual listening, they’d tuned into the Friday night dance show on Radio One, so when the story came through that a body had been found in Kurt’s garage, and it was probably him, everyone wondered if the odd choices we’d made that evening had somehow been driven by a subconscious force, bringing us together to be in front of the radio at that time. Then - and this is where my recollections start to come apart from the standard line that this was our Lennon, our Elvis - we all shrugged and went off to watch Coronation Street. After all, the news was a bit vague, and it wasn’t like we’d not been on the Cobain deathwatch before.

Of course, by the end of Corrie, they’d become pretty sure that it was Kurt’s head that police were trying to reassmble in evidence bags, but even then there wasn’t any great feeling of shock or loss. The shock was blunted because, honestly, you’d not have got great odds on Kurt making it through to Christmas 94, the ways things had been for the last couple of weeks. And loss takes a while to hit you.

It creeps up on you in strange ways, and for me it wasn’t until the following morning that I felt the dizzyness of the way Kurt had chosen to become fixed as the definitive voice of his generation, edging out Douglas Coupland and leaving Eddie Vedder desperately trying to claw back through the release of vinyl records and powerlifting. I was wandering down Liverpool’s busy Utting Avenue - the sheer amount of time provided by glorious unemployment made a daily trip to buy catfood part of my routine - and noticed the newsagents had got Kurt Cobain poster magazines, smiling (okay, scowling - this was Kurt, after all) from the window.

You know the sort of thing, not quite as commonplace now, but for a while you’d get a slightly out-of-focus poster version of a bog standard press shot on one side of a glossy A2 sheet, folded into four with usually poorly-written cuttings jobs and quotes pulled from other sources making up the editorial input. In the 80s they’d thrived on the back of Duran and Wham! and A-ha, but the 90s were proving harder times for the companies and they were being forced to try and sell to more tricky markets. It was a tribute to how well that Nirvana were doing that they’d been judged to be attractive to the teenage market; it was clear how ill-formed that judgement had been that the Nirvana poster magazines had spent quite a long time sitting on shelves in shops across the country: When Kurt had had a face, fan-sector teenagers had been less than keen on having it on their bedroom walls.

Suddenly seeing Kurt in the window made me catch my breath and hit me in a way the news reports hadn’t: Kurt, the stupid sod, had killed himself. It made me feel queasy. And here was a shop that had poster magazines in the window, waiting to leap out on other unsuspecting indie kids and making them dizzy in public, too. Obviously the shopkeeper hadn’t heard the news from Seattle. I decided to perform a public service, to help the other long haired, black jeans wearers of Anfield come to terms in their own time. It didn’t occur to me at this point that, had there been any other long haired, black jeans wearing indie kids in Anfield, the magazine would have sold out six months beforehand and I probably wouldn’t have had rocks thrown at me and the “Hippy hippy shake” sung at me when I ventured out during daylight, but this was a day without much in the way of clear thinking.

I strode into the shop, and the newsagent looked up, saying nothing.

“Erm... I just noticed you have Nirvana poster magazines in your window...”

The newsagent nodded, puzzled - where was this going?

“I don’t suppose you’ve heard, but he killed himself last night.”

By now, puzzlement had disappeared. He nodded, blank-faced. “You want one?”

“No... no, I just thought you might want to move them. You know, it might... upset people.”

“They’ll want to buy them” he replied, in a tone that appeared to be fusing boredom with hostility.

I looked at him. He looked at me. But he was looking at me in the more frightening way, so I turned and left, picking up my catfood mission.

It was only as I walked back past the shop carrying a tin of KatKins that it suddenly struck me: the day before, the newsagent hadn’t had the Nirvana magazines in the window. Far from being unaware of the suicide, he’d seen it as an opportunity. Of course, other people would go on to milk the corpse for all it was worth, but I like to think that newsagent was the first person to try and turn a profit out of the death.

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