25 years since Kurt died, my tribute to an icon

Cork Nirvana fan MICHELLE RUMLEY recalls the moment 25 years ago when she heard that her idol Kurt Cobain was dead, and says his spirit lives on every time she plays one of his records
25 years since Kurt died, my tribute to an icon
Kurt Cobain. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

TWENTY-FIVE years ago today, a talented and artistic, beautiful young man took his own life.

I was in love with Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the grunge band Nirvana, as were many others, but I had never met him.

Shortly after his death, on April 5, 1994, while I was getting ready for the local teenage disco in my oldest sister’s house with my oldest friend, the news broke.

I was watching MTV, when host Kurt Loder appeared on the screen with breaking news. The body of Kurt Cobain had been found in his home outside Seattle.

My automatic reaction was to find my friend, so I ran from the sitting room towards the shop that adjoins my sister’s family house. There she was coming towards me, wide-eyed and unusually silent, so I knew that she too had heard the news.

She had been buying pre-disco sweets (we were still innocent in those days), when someone had ran in and shouted that Kurt Cobain had died.

We walked, heads bowed in grief, towards the local community hall with an army of sobbing teens flanked either side of us. Streams of thick black eyeliner streaked my face and the faces of other girls.

We huddled together in our uniform check shirts, flared cords or jeans, and ‘insert band here’ t-shirts — lots of them said Nirvana, obviously.

That night no-one cared about petty rows between neighbouring towns and villages.

The disco was in Conna, Co. Cork, a small village between Midleton and Fermoy, bordering west Waterford. It was notorious for the amazing gigs that took place there in the community hall and in the grounds at the foot of the ruins of the Norman castle.

My brother-in-law was involved in getting bands for the long-since-gone concerts, in the early ’90s. The small village saw acts like Meat Loaf, Shakin Stevens, An Emotional Fish, The Stunning, Kerb Dog, and My Little Funhouse plus many more and was the inspiration for my interest in putting on gigs years later.

Like the amazing rock gigs that took place there, the monthly teenage disco attracted hordes of teenagers from Fermoy, Midleton, Tallow, Youghal, Lismore, Killeagh, and of course Ballynoe, the tiny village two miles from Conna, famous for Fairy Forts and Ogham stones and the area where I grew up.

While there was plenty of harmless jibing between Ballynoe and Conna kids, you were guaranteed that it went further on disco nights between lads from the bigger towns. Adrenaline and testosterone-fuelled displays of nearly-manhood took place behind the hall. More often than not, they ended in a bloody nose and the promise of evening the score at the next disco.

Michelle Rumnley around 1994.
Michelle Rumnley around 1994.

While my friends and I were anti-violence, we were nonetheless intrigued by these events — the excitement was contagious. But not on this night in early, April, 1994. There were only tears of sadness for a man we had never got the chance to see play our anthems live. Even the Joe Bloggs-wearing messers refrained from taunting us about our taste in clothes and bands.

The DJ that night blasted out some of Nirvana’s hits — Lithium, Smells Like Teen Spirit, All Apologies, Come As You Are, and Heart Shaped Box. We shouted raucously along with the lyrics and jumped up and down, crying and hugging.

For weeks after the news of Kurt’s death, I cried and cried listening to my tapes.

Nirvana had been the band, along with Pearl Jam, that had rescued me from the clutches of Take That.

Their genre, grunge, became a way of life for me and other Generation Xers and Kurt Cobain was our sad, sweet leader.

My bedroom walls were completely covered in his images.

I obsessively read every article I could find on his suicide, in Kerrang, NME, Melody Maker, Q, Mojo — even national tabloid rags.

There were multitudes of crazy false theories surrounding his death, one being that his girlfriend Courtney Love had hired a hit man and one asking if he really was dead (there had been reports of him in various parts of the States and beyond — much like when Elvis Presley had died 17 years earlier) and, unfortunately copy-cat deaths.

Deep down, I wasn’t surprised Kurt had decided to opt out of life. He had tried unsuccessfully to overdose a month previously in Rome and he always seemed too sensitive for the callous world of fame and money and constant scrutiny.

Kurt Cobain: a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, an icon and unwilling hero for millions. He gave solace through his own emotional torment and physical pain, but it was all too much for him to withstand.

Today, 25 years on, my clothes have changed (only slightly), and how I socialise, but I still listen to Nirvana. Now, it is in my kitchen with my toddler daughter, dancing around to About A Girl or Molly’s Lips.

Kurt’s death still saddens me but his emotional and musical resonance can still be felt, and thankfully not just with me.

‘All in all is all we are’ (All Apologies, Nirvana, 1993).

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