He came back into my mind today, so I played the great Nevermind again. And was struck again, forcefully (um, Nirvana was never exactly quiet, though it was subtle), by its genius. "Grunge rock" did not begin to capture anything central about this group; somehow, though, "human condition rock" does not quite cut it. But funny to think how this man--now dead, a suicide and a terrible cosmic mistake--captured so much that is scarily essential: how rage is the only appropriate response, and how clean it can be, paradoxically, when expressed head-on. And how almost achingly sentimental. The driving insistence of the tempo and the beat, the yelling of the guitar, combine with humor about sadness, and it all equals pretty much anything the best poets have been able to say about how sucky life is, how much it hurts to be with others, and our beautiful helplessness in the face of it. If music can be compared to water (and it can), Nirvana was the cenote of rock: clear, profound, and bracing.
("What the hell am I trying to say?")
He said everything about the impossibility of living. And since he was so allied with what he made, there he went. He couldn't do it the denial/suppression way, like the rest of us. That spared him coming to this mid-life point, where all around you people's lives start imploding: friendships, marriages, how much drink can be stood, mental equilibrium, all blown sky-high and falling to earth in bits, because people can't hold it together anymore with the chewing gum and twine they'd been using for the first fifty years--not when mortality starts pushing on the whole fragile construction, too. I can't tell you how much emotional destruction is going on now around me.
Why is it that I see something new on the path after I've turned around on it, now coming home? I missed that piece of fluorescent pink surveyor's tape lying in the middle of the road through the woods, but how? I missed the bright red cardinal flower--impossible--on the rail trail. Why did I not see that joe pye weed over there, magisterial as it is, the first time? Of course, that unearthly orange fungus wasn't there on the way out. Just in the past five minutes. (It's been raining a lot.)
Is it a metaphor for what we do in life? Or is it just that I'm a witless person, inclined to visual stupidity?
Probably. Then again, to a horse, say, it is a completely new path: the evil-bad mailbox has jumped to the other side and crouches, cunning, malevolent. Better run! Just like you did from that other scary mailbox a mile ago!
Maybe to us too it is actually a completely different path after all. It's different even when it is the same. Kurt missed something he was telling the rest of us. But the ironies had too sharp an edge. It's never the same path twice, but he didn't give himself the chance to turn around and see what it looked like on the way back.