Travel back in time to your favorite concert memory. Did you see the show live or on television? What did the band play? Who were you focused on? How did the music make you feel?
Any music lover can probably answer these questions easily as they travel into the time machine of their mind to re-live that feeling that can’t be duplicated. Many of those memories are likely to contain an instrument—perhaps a shiny guitar in a distinctive shape or a handsome piano their star’s fingers cascaded across in the moment.
Now rock ‘n’ roll fans have a chance to see some of the most famous instruments, played by music legends in landmark performances.
Through Oct. 1, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibit “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll,” guests can gawk at guitars, pianos, drums and more from the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, U2, The Who, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Jerry Lee Lewis and more.
When I visited, I entered the gallery quite late—just over an hour until closing time—and stumbled into the first room where I was immediately stopped in my tracks by Ringo’s iconic drum set.
After I snapped this quick photo, I gravitated toward John Lennon’s famed Rickenbacker. Just as I got to it, the loop of music that was playing overhead cycled to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and everyone in the crowded room began singing along. Old, young, different ethnicities—we were all on the same spiritual page in those moments. I got emotional and felt, just based on those few precious minutes of harmonizing with strangers, that everything in our world was going to be okay.
And that’s just the kind of powerful thing that happens spontaneously when we share music.
As I continued through the exhibit, taking the longest time with The Edge’s guitar (he used it during The Joshua Tree, after all), I focused on absorbing the energies surrounding these relics. I tried to picture Kurt Cobain smashing the guitar that was in fragments behind a pane of glass and could almost hear Jerry Lee Lewis pounding the keys of his old piano, displayed just a few feet away.
Toward the end of the experience there is a screening room that allows you to view some of the performances that feature these very instruments. I watched the loop three times.
Though to some, these items are just pieces of wood and metal that happen to make noise when placed in the right hands, to me they’re living, breathing remnants of a time and space that can never be replicated.
So how do we prevent bullies from becoming abusers in the first place and comfort those affected by abuse? It starts with awareness, which is what singer/songwriter Andrew Cole hopes to increase with the project he founded, #IAmNoJoke.
The project, which includes both a song and a documentary, brings together icons from music, film and television to address issues they had in their past with bullying—whether they were the victim or the abuser. The movement aims to let victims know they are not alone and inspire change on a global scale.
An event Friday night during the Live@SunsetMarquis Summer Concert Series featured performances by Cole accompanied by George Pajon, Jr. from the Black Eyed Peas and Stu Hamm on bass, along with headliner Rachel Lorin, to officially launch the forthcoming song. In addition, sponsor Creative Visions spoke about the campaign’s importance and a raffle featuring a PRS electric guitar, legendary photographs from the Morrison Hotel Gallery and other amazing prizes, was held to benefit the cause.
I’m proud to volunteer for the project and look forward to sharing its progress along the way.
Together we can change the conversation and prevent the pain of others. Join us to use social media as a positive agent for change to spread awareness and emphasize empathy.
There’s a TV, equipped with thousands of channels and a box that streams content from a dozen more.
There’s a picture window, where I can see the squirrels chase birds.
There’s a fireplace that crackles to life and candles that glow on its screen.
There’s a kitchen that helps invent grand meals.
There’s a record player with a stack of vinyls that beg often to be played.
Like many writers, home isn’t the greatest place for me to spill ink.
But it’s not just getting out of my own space that sparks creativity, it’s being in the right space. And that space for me for several months has been the Sunset Marquis.
Every few Fridays, I take a beautiful flight down the coast to my second home right off the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. My ritual is to unpack, eat a piece of fruit from the basket that greets me and fire up the laptop to meet my first self-imposed deadline.
I take my shoes off, slide my feet into a pair of the plush slippers provided by the hotel and begin to write. And I write until I’ve reached my pre-determined page count, for it’s only then I’m allowed to head down to the bar. So I always make my deadline.
Bar 1200 is too classy to be called a watering hole; too intimate to be cold. The bartenders are friendly, the drinks are strong and the playlist is perfect.
It’s small, cozy, dark, safe and full of stories. Have I mentioned that I love stories?
In my visits after midnight, I’ve met aspiring actresses, former bar owners, fellow writers, rock stars, filmmakers, mystics, fashion designers and photographers. None of them shy; all of them warm. A community of creatives who all feel an unspoken kinship.
When I first read Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, years ago, I was fascinated by a story he told about the Italian people of Roseto, who ate unhealthy foods, smoked and drank, yet had remarkably less heart issues than their American counterparts. The only explanation? They had a strong sense of community.
Writing is a fairly solitary sport unless you’re a member of a boisterous writers’ room or participating in a class or workshop. Since I’m in neither situation, writing alone is my default. Until I discovered the Marquis, I didn’t realize how much I needed a sense of belonging to perfect my craft.
It’s nice that the reservation desk remembers I sometimes need a late check-in (depending on my flight’s arrival); that the bar manager knows without a doubt I’ll start with a lemon drop; that the restaurant seats me under the heaters in the wintertime since I easily get cold.
And it’s not just great service—it’s the overall vibe. The welcoming feeling when I wander into the on-site art gallery to gaze at images of my favorite bands; the chats I have about pop culture with the bell hop I consider a true friend.
The Marquis manages to have the luxuries and clientele of the most prestigious properties but lacks the pretension.
And I may not be a household name like many of the guests, or have scripted the Great American Novel (yet), but I do always feel like I fit in when I’m there.
Not yet a week ago, my friend Jill and I had a delicious Italian dinner followed by a visit to the Walter Kerr Theatre for Springsteen on Broadway.
I’ve seen Bruce before—twice—but only accompanying my favorite living band (U2). He was phenomenal, but on those occasions he was playing their songs, so I was especially excited to hear him sing his own stuff on this night. Even more excited because I read his exceptional memoir last year.
I thought, because I’d read the book, I knew what I was in for … but I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I expected was a pleasant night of songs with a few anecdotal introductions. What I got was something I keep calling ‘transcendent’ because that’s really the only word I can find that comes close. All of this came free of cell phones blocking views (thanks to the theater’s strict policy) and courtesy of well-behaved guests (you could hear a pin drop).
For two hours (with no intermission), I experienced perpetual goosebumps as The Boss shared his soul by way of beautiful prose, quiet song rendition, theatrical storytelling, stand-up comedy, monologue delivery and rousing acoustic versions of his most famous tunes.
The whole thing was mind-blowing, but if I had to identify highlights, I’d say the joy with which he spoke of his 92-year-old mother (who currently battles Alzheimer’s); the crowd enthusiasm in response to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”; the first few piano tickles of “Tougher Than The Rest” and the duration of the time his wife, Patti, joined him on stage (two songs, near the middle).
His self-deprecating tone shows a man more humble than necessary, yet eternally endearing. Though he may never have worked in the factories (as he points out early in the show), he’s done his time for America a million times over.
I feel incredibly grateful I got to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event, which still simmers to life in my subconscious this many days later.
I could read at age 2 and 1/2; I could write at age 4. Writing was always my retreat—what I did when I was excited or confused or sad or angry or not wanting to do something less fun.
Cleaning out boxes several months back, I discovered so many of my own writings that gave me pause. Here are just a few of the things I found:
Poems about my stuffed animals, created before I was enrolled in school (so I must have been 4).
Lists of names for my future children (I was dead set on a daughter named Abigail Rhode so I could call her “Abbey Road” for short; and a son named Lincoln Paul, after my favorite president and my Grandfather/favorite rock stars).
Lists of names for the pets I’d have if I wasn’t allergic (the somewhat basic “Champ” for a dog; “Drama” for a llama; “Buttermilk” for a bunny, named for a favorite book). Hilariously, there are no names for cats. I always hated them, even as a kid.
Stories about my Sea Wees having all kinds of oceanic adventures after they “escaped” the bath through the drain (Sea Wees were bath toys—little mermaids that floated on sponge lily pads).
Lists of the fireworks my dad bought for the 4th of July one year, and the order in which I thought he should set them off (not sure he listened, but he was probably glad the writing kept me busy while he barbecued).
Lists of my favorite Beatles songs (divided by lead singer).
Transcriptions of favorite TV shows and film scenes. These came only when we finally got a VCR and I could pause and rewind what I missed—I wasn’t typing; I was hand writing every word.
Fan mail (I kept copies of what I sent, so I could match up replies and see if the celebrities actually read them before responding).
… and the “list” goes on. As you can see from above, it wasn’t all narrative work. Much of what I was doing was putting things in their place. Sorting something mundane or hypothetical, just so I could keep it organized. I’ve always been creative, but I also came out of the womb very “Type A.” I’m a planner. I like to bring order to chaos. I like to fold laundry and organize my closet by color; I get perverse joy from making agendas and researching trips and watching everything fall into place.
So, as often as I wrote stories or essays about my experiences—especially when I was younger—I also made lists. I don’t remember ever doing anything with these lists, other than feeling an immense satisfaction at their completion. And from the dust that’s gathered on them, once I finished them, I must have just tucked them away, or wrote another list a few pages later in the same notebook.
On a cleaning spree when I last moved in 2013, I remember ripping out pages of notebooks that were gibberish or outdated so I could utilize any remaining blank pages. Start fresh.
One of those notebooks I shoved in my hall closet only to be discovered again today. What was inside? The photo you see above. The first week of MTV, catalogued by hand, complete with time stamps.
I have no idea what compelled me to do this nor do I have much practical use for it (I’m sure the VHS that must have contained these gems is long gone by now), but it was a kick to see after all these years.
It’s interesting to look back on my younger self and wonder what she was thinking.
Perhaps the most mainstream fan-girl thing I’ve ever done is to visit the legendary road where The Beatles shot the cover for their famous album of the same title.
The first time I saw it was in May of 1998. I was a recent college grad and went on a literary tour of England, Ireland and Wales with a bunch of classmates and my two favorite English professors. On one of our last days in London, my roommate (Trinn) and I journeyed out for a Beatles walking tour led by the “Biggest Beatle Brain in Britain” and had a wonderful time. The last stop on the tour was Abbey Road. Walking up the steps to the studio was like entering a sacred church. I was shaking in disbelief that I was on the land that sparked such amazing masterpieces. It didn’t disappoint.
The second time was July of 2005. I was reporting live from Live 8 in London for @U2. Paul McCartney and U2 had opened the show with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, which thrilled my sister and me to no end. We had the time of our lives in Hyde Park with all the music and fanfare, then later at Harrod’s and other city hot spots. The next day with no “work” to do, we ventured on to a Beatles walk similar to the one Trinn and I went on in 1998. It was a wonderful year only made better by this trip and I’m glad I could share this great place with the person who made me a Beatles fan as a young child (my big sis).
In September 2016, my Mother and I ventured to San Francisco to celebrate her 76th birthday. While there we wandered into an art gallery that featured several band images. After the docent saw me gravitate toward the Beatles section, she asked if I was a fan. I replied I was a super-fan who had visited Abbey Road twice. She then led my Mother and I upstairs, out of the area the public was allowed, and showed us the original prints taken on the day of the shoot. There were only a handful, and every take was represented. I was speechless. It was part of a special series that would be shown at a later time, after we’d left the city. I was so grateful for that special sneak preview.
Last week I saw a documentary that rocked my world. It was called Alive Inside, and it shared the true stories of elderly patients in nursing homes (some suffering from dementia, schizophrenia and other ailments) who were awakened from their dormant states by music.
I’ve always thought that music had the power to get to parts of our soul that regular words couldn’t reach, but it was nice to be validated by famed neurologist Oliver Sacks, who explains in the film why that is true.
The magic of seeing these individuals burst with life after just a few notes of songs that they once had a connection to made me remember hearing stories of coma patients waking after hearing songs that meant something to them. And then it dawned on me: would my friends and family know what to play for me if I was in a horrible accident that resulted in a coma; or if I live to be 100 and become unresponsive, will my nephews’ children or grandchildren know what to play to revive me?
I spoke about this with my mother the next day and she said she’d probably respond best to Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” because she danced to it incessantly in her youth. It brings nothing but good memories for her (many of which she began spilling out to me that very moment) so she’s sure she’d recognize it.
She guessed right that songs by U2 and The Beatles would be my strongest triggers, but we both agreed that we should make lists that represent different parts of our lives if the unthinkable should happen. So, that’s just what I did.
Here’s a key to unlock the reasoning behind my playlist titled “A Coma,” presented in chronological order, from birth to present. I chose songs that I still have a visceral reaction to when I hear them, no matter what the context. It’s a solid list that I plan on adding to as the years go by.
Let’s hope you never have to use it.
Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles is my first music memory. When buying my first Beatles cassette, I chose Revolver, and my sister and I listened to it start to finish, over and over. I could not have been more than 6 years old. She taught me how to sing melodies with this song (me taking the high parts as she sang the lower ones). I developed such a clear vision of Eleanor in my mind’s eye, I can still see her when I hear this haunting, tragic, beautiful tune. Cue the violins.
On One One by Cheap Trick is the title track of a great album by a great band that my sister and her friends listened to ad nauseam when they were in high school. Because I did my best to tag along, I also became a fan and developed a mad crush on lead singer Robin Zander. I love them (and him) to this day.
I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues by Elton John represents the first time I ever remember yelling at my mother. MTV was a few years old and VCRs were not yet in every household (including ours), so if you missed a video when it came on, chances were you may not see it again for a few days. I heard the first notes of this song playing on the TV no one was watching and ran into the living room to see it. My mom had been calling for me to clean something up or help her in the kitchen and I shushed her, which she did not appreciate, so she marched over to the TV and turned it off. I got so angry I shouted at her as tears welled up in my eyes. “I’m gonna miss it! Dang it, mom! Turn it back on!!!” Being that I was just 8 years old at the time, she looked at me with a mixture of horror and amazement and told me to calm down. By the time I convinced her to turn it back on and promised to do whatever she wanted me to do immediately after, it was over. I held a grudge. And she began to understand what music meant to me.
Hair — The Original Broadway Cast Recording represents one of the first plays I ever remember seeing my sister in, at her (our) high school. She had to bring home a cassette tape and play back the songs to learn them, and since we shared a room, I learned them too. I was glued to the musical and energized by the actors, fantasizing that I’d play Sheila someday. I didn’t really have the desire to act, but I could sing, so I figured I could pull it off. I still dream of seeing the production on Broadway.
The Seventh Stranger by Duran Duran features Simon’s voice hitting some very low, sexy notes. I’ve been in lust with Simon for many years, and this song is one that stayed with me long after childhood, even becoming the basis for my first screenplay. I play it mostly on rainy Sundays.
Back to the Future by Alan Silvestri reminds me of my favorite childhood movie, and it’s the film to this day I’ve seen more than any other (at last count it was something like 122 times, no joke). It was the first movie I saw more than once in the theater (movies were a luxury, after all) and my warmest memory of it was when we went to see it for a third time on my 10th birthday. It was my mom, my grandma, me and a friend, and we all enjoyed every minute, then when we left the theater a light dusting of snow covered the ground. It was nothing short of magic. The crisp, beautiful air acting as nature’s coda to a perfect evening.
One More Try by George Michael represents my middle school years, the hardest of my life, when my sister had gone off to college and married, and my dad decided we had to move away from the house I’d grown up in to a rougher area where we could afford property. I was devastated and every night to try to put myself to sleep, I listened to the album Faith. This was usually the song that I finally drifted off to, on the nights I actually slept.
Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2 was a song that I knew as a small child, but didn’t fully grasp until high school. For nearly a year, every day on the way to and from school, I listened to the War album, and this was of course, the first song. It seemed to bring out the good (strong) Irish part of me.
Travelin’ Man by Ricky Nelson was pure joy. When my best friend Jen got her driver’s license, we made regular trips to Dairy Queen and TCBY for treats, always laughing and singing along the way. We did a hula car dance to this song, which was part of Jen’s regular car stereo repertoire.
Squeeze Box by The Who will always remind me of my first taste of independence. On a hot July day in 1992, I packed my things and ‘relocated’ to Washington, D.C. for a summer journalism workshop that taught me so much more than AP style. I made lifelong friends, discovered the thrill of air travel alone and realized that I needed to broaden my horizon farther than Portland. On one of the late nights in the dorms at GW University where we stayed, Jeff hosted Aaron, Lauren and I in his room for a blast through what was on his stereo at the time and this is one we all sang along to, not caring if we woke the neighbors.
Sea of Love by The Honeydrippers came out when I was in elementary school, but like so many other songs, I had to grow up before it hit me. On a dreary day in high school when I was daydreaming about the wedding I was going to have, I decided that this would be the song I walked down the aisle to because of its perfect intro. Though I haven’t married (yet), I hold out hope that someday I will and I still think it would be ideal.
Cowboys and Angels by George Michael is another song with an amazing intro. There is so much to it, yet it always seems to be over too soon. This song is calming and healing in so many ways, I pull it out of my arsenal whenever I need to reflect.
Dear Prudence by The Beatles was the song I was listening to the first day I was free. The day after my mom and her cousin dropped me off at the University of Missouri-Columbia to start my new life, and the afternoon that Lauren and I separated to go shopping and run errands before classes began the following week. The first time I was all by myself without anyone expecting me to check in and report my whereabouts, I put on my headphones and started walking across campus to learn about my new surroundings. The sun was out, the sky was blue, I was thrilled and I was terrified.
#9 Dream by John Lennon was playing the day Brendan and I went with David and Ann, his friends visiting from Kansas City, to Finger Lakes State Park in Columbia. The conversation was lively and lighthearted, but with Brendan driving and the sun beaming in on my passenger seat, I was content in a way that I had never been before. I was all grown up. I fell into somewhat of a trance as I listened to Lennon above the din of our happy outing and had to be snapped out of it upon arrival to the little patch of nature where we spent the afternoon. It was divine.
Wintertime Love by The Doors holds another good memory of my time with Brendan at MU. We had gone to the movies late one night in the winter of 1994 and were waiting for the shuttle back to our dorm from the parking lot where we left his car. We heard a loud sound and looked toward the woods to see at least 20 or 30 deer leaping in unison across the way. We both froze and watched them, looking at each other to confirm what we’d seen. It was one of the most majestic scenes I’ve ever witnessed; these amazing animals charging across the backdrop of a dark purple sky, disappearing into a cluster of bushes and low trees. We said nothing on the way back, and as we landed back in his room, he played this song as we sipped hot drinks to warm up.
It’s All Too Much by The Beatles reminds me of my 20th birthday. I spent it with Brendan at his parents’ house in Kansas City, and since it was Thanksgiving weekend, we were around his extended family for most of the time, but he made sure that one night we got to celebrate, just the two of us. He took me to my favorite Japanese steakhouse where I (illegally) sipped a Mai Tai (he could order it because he was a year older) and then we drove around and looked at Christmas lights. When we returned home, I stayed upstairs with his parents while he and his brother wrapped my gift in the basement, carrying it up the stairs to me ceremoniously. This song was playing as I opened his mom’s laundry basket (a trick to make me think it was something huge) to find the Sgt. Pepper watch I’d been coveting at the bottom, tucked into its wooden guitar-shaped case. I practically burst with happiness.
Heart-Shaped Box by Nirvana doesn’t bring up happy memories, but it’s a moment in time I’ll never forget. I’d come home from class at MU and heard Nirvana playing as I passed several rooms to get to my own. I went downstairs to Nick and Brendan’s floor (where we all hung out) and people were crying, watching MTV. I ducked into my friend Scott’s room and saw Kurt Loder break down and pronounce Kurt Cobain dead. I went across the street to where Brendan was working to see how he took the news (he was upset, but not surprised); I called Jeff in his room at Brandeis, as I knew he’d be affected as well. He was in shock. I went back downstairs to be near friends and watched the biggest Nirvana fan I knew completely melt down and slam his door to the world in a fit of tears. This song was playing. It would continue to play in the weeks that followed.
The Unforgettable Fire by U2 symbolizes the first time I left the country by myself. At age 25 I ventured to Ireland to see the band perform at Slane Castle and had somewhat of a religious experience. Because U2 had recorded this album there so many years ago, it was the one I listened to most in preparation for the trip, and the one that helped me heal when I returned, after losing my beloved Grandmother and enduring 9/11 just a few days after I landed on American soil.
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant is my favorite Billy Joel song. In the early 2000s my life was taking a new shape in Seattle and I often daydreamed my way out of my problems. I listened to this song almost daily on my bus ride to work and its characters came alive so vividly for me that when I saw them represented in the theatrical production of Movin’ Out in 2004, I felt like they got them all wrong. I’ve itched to write a screenplay about them ever since. Brenda and Eddie would be played by Bobby Cannavale and Annabeth Gish. Stay tuned.
Where The Streets Have No Name (Live Version) by U2 is the song that gives everyone goosebumps. I was never a big fan of the studio version (still am not, to be frank), but there is something about feeling the opening notes of this song live, and absorbing the energy of the crowd, that raises the hairs on the back of my neck. It’s something that shouldn’t be described; only experienced.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (Live 8 Version) by Paul McCartney and U2 brings back one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. My sister and I were in Hyde Park in London, watching the monitors as our favorite living band, along with a Beatle, ascended the stage to perform together. The crowd was electric, the vibe was peaceful and I was about as sonically happy as I’ll ever be. Brilliant, as the Brits say.
First Day Of My Life by Bright Eyes was the first time a man had ever chosen “a song” for me, to represent us as a couple. The sincere lyrics, the unassuming guitar, the gorgeous voice — all meant to symbolize our feelings, which were more intense than anything I’d ever experienced up to that point. My love for said boy soared, my joy became euphoric; my tears stung like a thousand wasps when he broke my heart months later. I couldn’t listen to it for years, and I still prefer not to, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still feel it to the core.
Hero by Family of the Year is the song I presently can’t stop listening to, the main theme from the film Boyhood. Though the narrator of the song is male, it’s stayed with me as I’ve struggled with some decisions about how to move my life forward. Its themes universal, its chords simple, its message profound.
Each year I wake up at dawn and head to one of my favorite indie music stores to participate in the annual holiday known as Record Store Day.
I’ve never been injured myself, but I have witnessed entire bins being knocked over (back in the glory days of the Queen Anne Easy Street) and have definitely gone home almost empty handed because I haven’t been aggressive enough fighting for what I came to buy.
And there’s always a list.
I check the final release announcement about 48 hours prior to the event, then prioritize my top three. For the rest, I group them into alphabetized lumps so while I’m looking for a priority find (i.e. this morning’s Soundgarden) I can also grab a second choice (Regina Spektor) since they’ll be in the same bin.
After my list is solidified, I begin calling around to see who has what stock of each. This morning, I went for the location with the largest Nirvana supply, assuming that’s what most would be in line to get. I was smart to do that.
I also try to focus on the suburban stores because the crowd is almost always lighter, but this morning, that wasn’t the case. I arrived 90 minutes before store’s open and I was #49 in line. It’s a wonder I got anything.
When they let us in, I made a fatal mistake by going around to the other side of the bin, thinking the alphabet would start closest to the window. It was the opposite. This blunder cost me the last copy of the glow-in-the-dark “Ghostbusters” single I saw being snatched up as I realized my error. Dammit!
Luckily, I wedged my way into the ‘N’ bin, and grabbed my precious Nirvana, while those around me shoved and won the last few Soundgarden sets.
Defeated, I shouted out “Anyone seen Regina Spektor?!” and a little guy, no more than 12, pointed right to them, just arm’s length out of my way. Someone handed me a copy of it in exchange for me passing over a sacred Nirvana before I got knocked out of that section completely.
Next was an entire shelf of CDs that tumbled over in the battle. Really, the store should have known not to place them anywhere close to the action, but still it was exciting.
The crowd was a 50/50 mix of helpful “I’ll find this for you if you’ll find this for me” music lovers and jackass collectors that have no music love whatsoever and will be heading to eBay directly after the event.
Though I’m disappointed I didn’t get the “Ghostbusters” and Soundgarden specials, stupidly thinking they wouldn’t be as popular as they were, I’m thrilled I went for Nirvana first and was able to score it.
My group of college friends at the University of Missouri-Columbia were very music and film savvy. Most of us were journalism or psychology majors, and shared a lot of artistic commonalities. My freshman year, there were three albums seemingly on constant rotation in our dorm: Check Your Head by the Beastie Boys; the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack and Nirvana’s In Utero.
As a Portland native, my flannel outfits didn’t always seamlessly translate to my new Midwestern lifestyle, but my friends respected the Pacific Northwest, primarily because of Soundgarden and Nirvana, so I got along okay. Even though I only began truly embracing the bands after I moved to Missouri.
Around Christmastime in 1993, about six of us gathered in my friend Nick’s room to watch the first showing of MTV Unplugged in New York, featuring Nirvana. He was one of my only friends that had a VCR in his room, and he graciously let me tape the performance as we watched it.
The room fell silent at the first sounds of “About a Girl” and none of us spoke until the first commercial break. We were speechless. It was so beautiful, and Kurt seemed to be in good spirits.
Predictably, we watched my tape of the show repeatedly the rest of the winter. It became the tonic for breakups, college exam fatigue and general teenage discontent (yes, as freshmen, we were all still teens).
As spring emerged, we began making summer plans—most of us would go back to our respective cities for three months, but we were all committed to meet up for Lollapalooza, which was the concert festival of the 90s. It was our Woodstock. And Nirvana was headlining.
When Kurt Cobain attempted suicide in Rome on March 3, we were horrified. The man was the most successful musician on the planet. He was happily married to his grunge Goddess. He had a beautiful little girl he seemed to adore. Drinking beer as we discussed it, we all blamed the drugs and were thankful his attempt was unsuccessful. I remember us debating how long he’d be out of commission in rehab, etc. and my friend Matt saying they had better string him up like a puppet with his guitar if he’s not ‘present’ enough to perform at Lollapalooza. We all laughed because it was so absurd to imagine—Lollapalooza wasn’t until July and he had four months to get his act together. Surely his wife and band would see to it that he got well.
On a sunny April day in Columbia, I came back from an early class to our usually boisterous dorm, stopping on the boys’ floor to say ‘hi’ when I realized no one was in the hallway. There were doors open, but there was no one out chatting; no frisbees being tossed; no music playing except a few rooms which all coincidentally had “Something in the Way” watfting out of them.
I peeked into my friend Scott’s room, and two other friends were gathered with stunned looks and tears in their eyes, facing the TV set. What on earth was going on?
I quickly saw the loop of the MTV clip of a shaken Kurt Loder announcing that Kurt Cobain was dead. I was stunned; too in shock to cry, too sad to know what to do.
I immediately went across the street to the dining hall where Brendan was in the middle of his work study shift. He’d already heard the news by the time I arrived, so as he wiped down counters, I filled him in on all the details. He was sad, but not at all surprised.
From there, I went to my own room and talked with Lauren about what had been on the news since I’d been gone. She said they were still not formally identifying the body, but the news outlets in Seattle were sure it was him, so it probably was.
I called Jeff, who was at Brandeis back then, to see how he was taking the news. He said everyone around him was also in shock and they were following the story as closely as we were.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had reacted as if one of my own family members or friends had passed. I was in denial, in a haze of sadness, making phone calls and seeking community to deal with it.
I returned to the boys’ dorm as evening approached, and we all gathered in the hallway to collectively grieve. Bursts of Nevermind and the Unplugged album permeated the building, but none of us wanted to hear “Come As You Are.” The lyrics about Kurt swearing not to have a gun were too haunting in the moment.
One gentleman who was as obsessed with Nirvana as I was (am) with U2 came home from a work shift sobbing, stormed past all of us and slammed his door. Another friend went after him. Copycat suicides were inevitable and we didn’t want him to become one.
Soon we were watching footage of the spontaneous memorial at The Seattle Center and listening to Courtney recite his suicide note. That’s when the tears came. I wished so badly I could be there, amongst my people, to grieve properly under the Space Needle.
That June, during a visit to my sister (who lived in Seattle at the time), I went to his house to pay my respects. I left a bouquet of flowers at the entrance to his home, feeling nauseous as I caught a glimpse of the room where he passed.
I continued to love Nirvana, buying every ounce of music the studios could resurrect from the Cobain legacy, wearing black Converse sneakers like the pair he was found in, and absorbing every book that was written about his life.
My favorite among the biographies was Heavier Than Heaven by Charles Cross, a Seattle author who appeared regularly on shows discussing Nirvana.
And here’s where life gets interesting:
I moved to Seattle in 1999, and eight years later began working for an independent school north of the city. Each year, that school hosts a fundraising auction that boasts impressive ‘experience’ items to purchase, such as once-in-a-lifetime trips and meet-and-greets with famous celebrities. Though I enjoyed attending the annual event as a staff member, I was never completely comfortable when the bidding began because the items were always well outside of my price range.
In 2010, the volunteers needed some help cleaning up after the event, so I stayed the course and assisted them in carrying box after box of decorations and supplies out to their cars. As a result, I ended up being the last person out of the venue, well after midnight, which did not go unnoticed by some of my colleagues. When I arrived at work the following week, they surprised me with the ultimate “thank you” gift for my extra efforts: lunch with Seattle author Charles R. Cross. One of the auction prizes.
I was incredibly touched by their kind gesture and ridiculously excited about the upcoming meal. I exchanged many e-mails with him to set up the lunch and within a month was meeting him at a local supper club. I have to admit, I don’t remember a thing about the food.
After the usual pleasantries, Charles indulged me with many stories about his rock-and-roll reporting and I peppered him with U2 groupie tales. There was never a dull moment.
Following the fantastic meet-up, I blasted Nirvana as loud as I could from my car stereo all the way home. Hosting California friends many months later, I noticed a promotional poster as we strolled past the Seattle Art Museum. There was an exhibition called “Kurt” in tribute to Mr. Cobain.
I visited that display the following weekend, alone, in the quiet of a gloomy Seattle morning.
As I walked about the classic photographs and fan art, I was content, but not impressed. I had more of a reaction years ago when I saw his cardigan at EMP. Something about the essence of Kurt was missing.
I vowed to look at each and every piece of artwork no matter how silly (one “modern” display consisted of a woman who had filmed herself dancing to Nirvana music—oh, Seattle). I sat through footage of a concert I was sure I’d seen before. I had to read the description closely for another picture: it was a confusing representation of angel hair and baby’s breath in honor of the lyrics from “Heart-Shaped Box”.
Then, as I entered the final room of the exhibit, it hit me. At the farthest end of the space was a painting of the evidence photo that was taken of Kurt’s body as he lay dead in that Seattle greenhouse. His hand was in a fist; his denim jeans ending above a neatly tied sneaker that so many of us at the time wore. I burst into tears.
I’d stared at that crime scene photo for hours when it was repeatedly published in a parade of magazines in 1994. I was never okay with how alone he appeared.
Fast forward to a few days ago—I happened to read my Town Hall calendar of events and noticed that Charles R. Cross would be appearing in conversation with KEXP’s John Richards. It was 48 hours before the 20th anniversary of Kurt’s death. I had to be there.
The room was packed. The sense of community as we all sat there, glued to their heartfelt commentary, was palpable. Nervous laughter erupted when Cross made a joke about the God-awful Tori Amos cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”; many of us teared up at the sweet story of Kurt bringing his demo of “Love Buzz” to the Seattle radio station and then driving south, stopping at a gas station to call in and request they play the song from a pay phone. They did.
After the Q & A, I bought Cross’s most recent book and stood in line for him to sign it. Before I could get out the words, “You probably don’t remember me…” he was telling me that he did, and he specifically recalled my passion for U2. I told him I’d happily volunteer some PR time for a project he mentioned on stage, to bring proper honor to Kurt’s memory here in Seattle. He asked if I had the same email address. Luckily, I do. Writers, of course, keep everything, so I still had his too.
As I rode home that night, listening to In Utero, I reflected on some of the things the men had spoke about. Some of the last places Cobain had been in Seattle. The recording studio where his final song was made; the sketchy motel where he used to shoot up; the gun store where he bought the fatal bullet. Sadly, I live very near to all of them.
Today, as I was taking a break from voiceover work, I decided to get in the car and drive around, listening only to Nirvana music. I thought perhaps the car would take me back to his house, but I decided against it. I was still in my pajamas and there was certain to be a crowd—possibly also press—there. And besides, the greenhouse is gone anyway.
I drove South and ended up at the sketchy motel you see in the photo above. Seattle’s own Marco Polo, which is very much still a functioning establishment. As I saw the maids working their way down their route, I resisted walking up to room 226. Cobain’s favorite.
Heck, there were probably guests in it at that moment, and it was doubtful they realized they were in the shadows of rock royalty’s heroin den of choice.
I instead snapped a photo of the sign (it’s been updated since ‘94) and sat in the parking lot for a moment, sulking at the grey rainy day. The mood still somber after all of these years.