Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rock 'n' Roll Altars

"Altars. Saviors. Rock 'n' roll." Those are first words you'll read in I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE. I also recycled them in my FreshYarn essay about Kurt Cobain. They come from a journal entry I wrote about my love for music and of course I channeled that love into IWBYJR's main character Emily Black. Like it is for me, rock 'n' roll is Emily's savior and she also talks about building altars to it. Her altar is the stereo in the center of her room with a stack of records on one speaker and a picture of her missing mother Louisa on the other. My altar that paid tribute to the rock gods was literally on my walls.

I remember the way an older neighbor girl who I looked up to in 3rd and 4th grade would put up pictures of New Kids on The Block and other teen heart throbs that she'd cut out of Bop or Tiger Beat. I didn't really get it. I wasn't into NKTOB or Kirk Cameron from Growing Pains. I liked Madonna and Janet Jackson, but not enough to put them on my wall.

Then came the alt-rock/grunge revolution when I was in junior high. One day when I was home sick in eighth grade, totally bored, I started cutting out pictures from my Sassy and Spin magazines. The first rock gods I taped to my wall right above my bed were Kurt Cobain from Nirvana, Evan Dando from the Lemonheads, and Anthony Kiedis from Red Hot Chili Peppers. I wasn't motivated by their hotness (okay, kind of... but can you blame me? Anthony Kiedis bare-chested and sweaty onstage with that long hair and those tattoos; Evan Dando looking adorable in a pair of pajamas; and especially Kurt looking tortured but beautiful, pretty much my exact type in high school), but because I connected so deeply with their music and wanted to feel it all around me. It was like having friends that knew me so well that they saw into my soul nearby. It was a tribute to their brilliance.

My bedroom walls literally became a collage over the next few years. When my mom sold the house a few years ago it took my boyfriend and me *hours* to dismantle it all ('cause of course I'm a packrat and I wanted to keep all those pictures). I tried to recreate it in my college dorm room and various apartments, but it was impossible. And the collage I missed the most is the one I started making in tribute to Kurt Cobain after his body was found fourteen years ago today.

The collage came together around a drawing I did of Kurt with his wife and daughter. I suck at art, but I diligently spent almost six months drawing that picture. I started right after Kurt died because it hurt too much even to write. The journal entry I scrawled out after hearing the news of his suicide is only a few sentences long and all of them are angry, calling him stupid and asking him if he even considered his wife and kid. There was a poem I eventually wrote about those feelings, but I won't be sharing that because one blog entry involving my bad poetry is plenty. But the Kurt/Nirvana collage came together between and above my windows. Here it is and since I'd already taken my drawing down by the time I took this. I've reluctantly scanned it for you so you can reveal in my complete dorkdom and horrible artistic skills:

My current home office and bedroom are covered in posters instead of collages because I've accumulated a million posters over the years and because I wanted my own home to appear slightly more mature. But I do have an altar. As I mentioned in my last blog, I'm not religious, but surely you've noticed my somewhat earthly spiritual side. My altar is an old trunk (filled with rock 'n' roll memorabilia, actually, I have an embarrassing amount of that) with black lace spread out on it and various things of importance scattered on it. Earth and water from places that are sacred to me, dried flowers from my boyfriend, items that represent two of my dear friends who passed last year. It's not a holy space at all, in fact in the middle of it is an empty shot glass from the shot I did the night I got the news about F. It's been nearly six months and I can't bring myself to move it just yet. But despite the clutter, I sit in front of my messy altar and think sometimes when I'm stressed and I light candles for things (a habit I think I picked up from my Catholic mother).

Before I sat down to write this (while thinking sadly that I would normally be writing in a journal in a park in Seattle), I lit a candle for Kurt. I picked up those objects related to my friends who recently passed and wondered if it was really legitimate to mourn dead rock stars that I didn't know anymore now that I've experienced the pain of losing people so very close to me. But that pain is different. I cried for two days straight when F died and I feel so empty sometimes without him. This is something else. And it's related to the reason I mourn for Kurt on the day his body was found, not the day he actually died.

I was fourteen on April 8, 1994. The only other deaths I'd experienced were my childhood best friend's grandmother and people my father knew through his public health work with HIV/AIDS. I didn't know Kurt personally, I'd never even had a chance to see him play live (the show I could have gotten tickets for was a school night and the 'rents said no and believe me, they were made to feel very guilty about that, which is the reason why I was allowed to go to any show I wanted post April 1994), but at the time I'd never had such a deep emotional connection to anything like I did his music, so Kurt's death really shook me up and it changed me. I know a lot of other people who grew up around the same time as me and even those who were older, in their 20s and 30s at the time, who saw the early 90s as a real period of energy and of innocence. A lot of the innocence was lost on April 8, 1994 because we were forced to recognize that talented, brilliant Kurt Cobain had so much pain inside of him that he took his own life and we were forced to face our own pain.

By April 8, 1995, my innocence was pretty much completely gone even though I was only fifteen years old. Of course most of that has nothing to do with Kurt's death, but a lot of it had to do with the path I chose to take in an attempt to face the pain inside me. I'd felt that pain since junior high, perhaps even earlier than that, but it feels like it all cracked open around the time Kurt Cobain committed suicide. Not to be melodramatic or anything, but it feels like I said goodbye to my childhood on April 8, 1994. At least that's what I figured out when I was in Seattle in 2004. A lot of the feelings that came up when I spent long hours in Viretta Park reflecting were feelings about all the shit I'd gone through in the ten years since Kurt died. And I can't tell you how much I grew during that period of reflection and the time I spent there in 2005 as well. I released so much pain and bitterness and I forced myself to grow up and face my demons so that by the time I was 27, I wouldn't be crippled beneath the weight of depression. I seriously feel like a completely different person now. And, in fact, the April that I was 27 is when I got my book deal. I don't feel like that's a coincidence.

So April 8th is not just about a dead rock star to me, it's about remembering the strength that Kurt Cobain and his music gave me, both when I was a screwed up kid and then ten years later when I needed to clean up all the messes the screwed up kid made and come into my own as person and an artist (meaning writer, not the crappy drawing above). That's worth lighting some candles over I think.

And I'll leave you with my favorite rock 'n' roll altar, which I wish I could have visited today. This is what Eryn and I did on April 8, 2005:


Melissa Walker said...

Great post, Stephanie. I hadn't thought of the date, but I'm glad you reminded me. Putting on a certain song right now.

keri mikulski :) said...

Nice tribute, Stephanie.