Only 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