Spring Break

Remembering Kurt Cobain and My GenerationOnly once in my life have I had, what you might call, a “typical” Spring Break. It was the Spring of my senior year in high school. Some of my favorite friends and I piled into a VW Jetta and drove to Memphis, TN for a version of Spring Break. When we got to Memphis I parted ways with my high school friends and spent some time with friends of mine that I had met in Governor’s School the previous summer.

It was a seriously tame few days in Memphis and at the end of the week I reunited with my high school friends and we spent our last night there hanging out in a coffee shop. Because in 1994 hanging out in coffee shops was the height of cool. I met a boy at the coffee shop that night and he had a beard and overalls. I remember being amazed that someone who I had just met could proclaim such affection for me.

It was time to return back home on Friday morning. It is almost a five our drive from Memphis to Chattanooga and my friend _____ was at the wheel and making great time. We were an hour outside of Memphis when the mixed tape of Tori Amos, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Green Day ended and we ejected it to push in another tape. In the moments between tape eject and hunting for a new tape a radio station fuzzed in and we heard the news: Kurt Cobain’s body had been found. He had killed himself.

______ was driving in the left lane and in the state of Tennessee the left lane is a passing only lane. This is relevant because not 20 seconds after we heard the news of Kurt’s death we heard sirens behind us. It was disorienting and _____ oddly pulled over to the left shoulder. A cop on a motorcycle pulled up behind us and as the dust from our swift pull over began to settle all of us in the car burst into tears.

It was everything: the anxiety of a swiftly approaching police officer, being away from home, being 17, hearing about Cobain’s death. There was no way tears weren’t going to happen.

The police officer walked up to _____’s rolled down window and I will always remember that she said, “Hello Ossifer”. He took one look inside the Jetta and saw four weeping teenaged girls and asked what was going on. My friend ____, who was sitting in the backseat with me, blurted out, “KURT COBAIN KILLED HIMSELF!”

The look on the officer’s face. Shock, sadness, anger, grown up emotions for the too soon death of an icon that was ahead of his time. He patted the side of _____’s car and told us to take a minute and calm down. He told us to safely get home.

And that was it. He walked back to his motorcycle and zoomed back towards Memphis.

I honestly do not remember the rest of the drive home.

My senior year in high school was complex for many reasons. But it was a surreal time in pop culture. Our icons were leaving us. Just months before Cobain’s death we had the shocking death of River Phoenix outside of a nightclub in West Hollywood. These deaths defined our generation more than an X or a Y.

I remember going out to dinner with coworkers in the late nineties. Some new interns had joined us and we got to talking about who was Gen X, who was Gen Y, etc. We realized that you could define a specific generation that existed between x and y based on where you were when Cobain died. If you were in high school or college, plus or minus a year, so roughly this was a 10 year span, you were this phantom, undefined generation. The flannel generation.

His death was 18 years ago and yet every single spring I think about it.

Image Credit: Rolling Stone


  1. I was in my senior year in high school and we had our final exams in April, that’s what I remember. I wasn’t a huge Nirvana fan but I liked the music and I recognized Kurt Cobain as the unique musician and writer that he was and how much he influenced our generation. His death was a shock back then and I still can’t believe it’s been this long.

    • Dr. Molly says:

      Every October, when I catch sight of a certain combination of fall colors, oranges and saffrons, I think of River. I remember being in the early days of grad school, having gone with friends to see “The Thing Called Love” as a break from the relentless pressure, getting the call from one of those same friends — it felt like just days later — telling me that River had died. I remember riding the shuttle bus from my grad school flat to campus that day in that golden light that’s particular to autumn, looking at the now seemingly surreal, otherworldly loveliness, all those colors around me, thinking, even though he was only two years younger, “that beautiful, beautiful boy . . . gone.” It was one of those moments: I knew in that knowing place that the world was a little less lovely. Still makes me cry . . .

  2. I was a freshman in high school, in a suburb of Seattle when the news was heard. Nothing could be done due to the constant tears happening, there were circles of people grieving at all times.

  3. It’s funny how just a couple of years on either side can really make a difference in pop culture. I have no recollection of Cobain’s death. Neither the grunge scene nor Cobain ever hit my radar back then. Even today I don’t think I could name a Nirvana song.

  4. I was on the minus one year side, an eighth grader. I remembering being in school when I found out. I have no idea how word got to us in there– there weren’t cell phones or internet in classrooms. It was just a tsunami of whispers rushing through the school. My birth year is 1980 which is literally the gray year. Gen X is defined as those born between 1960 and 1980 and Gen Y is generally assumed to be from 1980 on. So strange to belong to nothing while belonging to two somethings.

  5. I was in my high school library when I heard the news. I will never forget it.

  6. You know, John Lennon was murdered on my 17th birthday, and I agree with you–something that hugely shocking can really shake up your world.

  7. I had just gotten home from picking up these special tubes of water colour paint I had ordered from the university bookstore. I was setting the bag of paints down on my bed when the news came on in the living room where my roommates was watching television. I still have 6 hours of footage from MTV that day in our basement. We sometimes watch it. I’ve made copies of the tape for various people over the years.

  8. It’s almost that JFK phenomenon for Gen x and Gen Y – Because any baby boomer can tell you exactly where they were when JFK got shot. Your account of where you were when you heard is so haunting and sad – and yes, your insight on who died being the defining criteria for that era so true.

  9. Good old times! I was smiling while reading your post, love your blog :)

    Vintage Inspired Girls

  10. So interesting how much that moment became a turning point in your life, from childhood to adulthood. Now you’ve got me thinking whether of not everyone has that moment…

  11. I’m younger (early twenties) but I have the same recollection of when I heard Heath Ledger had died. I was watching the breakfast news before getting ready for class and the newsreaders had got the to part of the show where they go over the headlines of that day’s newspapers as I switched in on, and I remember not really listening, and knew they were talking about Heath and I thought it was because he’d been to a premier the previous night or whatever. But when they said that he had been found dead… I just remember it like it was a movie. Such a strange reaction to someone you don’t even know!

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