Sunday, May 26, 2013

No. 375 – Oh, Me

Performer: Nirvana
Songwriter: Curt Kirkwood
Original Release: MTV Unplugged in New York
Year: 1994
Definitive Version: None

Part of being in the newspaper game was checking the live AP news wires. You had to see whether anything was breaking late that required getting into the paper. This was a necessity in sports in Flint, less so in business in Columbus. But I always checked the feed just the same—sometimes purely for entertainment or information value.

One of my favorite things during baseball season would be a bulletin saying so-and-so is throwing a no-hitter. The bulletins started after the sixth inning and continued until it either was complete or it ended. AP also sent bulletins, if, say, someone was going for his fourth home run of the night.

I was at The Dispatch when the bulletin that the Big Unit, Randy Johnson—one of my favorite players—had 14 strikeouts through six innings (meaning he had a chance to break the record for most in a game). I quickly turned the TV on to the Reds game and watched as Johnson tied the record with 20 … and then was taken out after the ninth inning, because it was a scoreless game.

Those bulletins were always fun. Then there were the bulletins that weren’t so fun—disasters, war, the election of George Bush. The first time I encountered such a bulletin like this that hit home was in 1990 shortly after I arrived in Flint.

A bulletin came over one morning in August alerting people to a helicopter crash involving parties associated with Eric Clapton’s tour. Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray were flying from Alpine Valley to Chicago for a show, and apparently one of the helicopters went down. There were no details, but within minutes, another bulletin came over announcing deaths, but no names were released pending notice of the families.

I spread the news in the back shop to silence. Chuck and I concluded that it was Clapton. That was why it was taking so long to confirm, because they had to call England. We were sure it had to be Clapton. Then I got the next bulletin: It was two members of Clapton’s road crew, the pilot … and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

At the time, I, like everyone else in the backshop was sorry about Stevie Ray but relieved it wasn’t Clapton. Within two years, however, after I had been more properly introduced to Vaughan’s music—most specifically Texas Flood—I came to realize the extent of the loss musically. It’s ghoulish, I know, but from a musical standpoint, it would have been better if it HAD been Clapton. It became apparent in the Nineties that Clapton had nothing more to offer—“God” was dead. Stevie Ray, it seemed, still had a lot left in the tank.

Another bad day was the overnight shift when Sam Kinison, perhaps my favorite comedian at the time, was killed in an ironic car crash—he was sober, the other driver wasn’t. But by far the worst was the morning of April 8, 1994.

The first bulletin came over just as we were starting to send pages to the backshop: There was a report of a body found at the home of Kurt Cobain.

Well, that was odd, and a bit distressing. I had just learned the day before that Nirvana had pulled out of Lollapalooza. That was a big bummer, because I had been looking forward to going and seeing them along with Smashing Pumpkins. (Not to mention, I turned down a chance to see Nirvana in fall 1993, but then I just mentioned it. Actually I mentioned it almost two years ago on this here list.)

After a while, another bulletin came over the wire: A dead body HAD been found inside Cobain’s home, and the body resembled that of the Nirvana singer. Oh no …, no, no, no, no. NO!

I wasn’t yet 30, but I had been in the newspaper business long enough to know that this dead body wasn’t anyone but the Nirvana singer himself. It just doesn’t happen that a story like this ends up being a fake. (This was pre-Internet and pre-hacked social media, mind you.)

I was trembling, and I felt a pit in my stomach unlike anything I had felt before. I had just fallen in love with Nirvana. Now it was … all gone. At that time, the only bulletin that would have made me more upset would have been if it had been Eddie Vedder instead.

Word was sweeping through the newsroom when the inevitable bulletin came in shortly before I left: The dead body was identified as that of Kurt Cobain. I knew it was coming, so the final blow didn’t hit as hard. I didn’t cry that day—I don’t cry easily—but I felt empty and couldn’t think of anything else, except sadness.

What I didn’t know at the time, although I had some inkling, was that the most important era of music of my lifetime had just ended. (I don’t count the Sixties, because I was a kid then and didn’t know all that was going on around me.)

That’s the loss I mourn now.

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