My friend Jean Paul introduced me to Nirvana. I wasn’t impressed. When my friend Jim insisted I give them a second listen I was transformed. We listened to Nevermind over and over again while hanging out, drawing, and painting in Jim’s basement. I still have the cassette. I had found a new friend in Jim who loved music and art as much as I did. He was somebody I could be weird around. In other words, around Jim I could just be myself. He was older than me and had talent and confidence. Jim took his own life. I was too wrapped up in my own self to see it coming.
When Kurt Cobain committed suicide it felt like my whole world turned inside out. Not because I knew him. I didn’t. It hurt because I was already dealing with the loss of one friend to suicide. Kurt had made it. I couldn’t understand. Why? How could this person who’s music had helped me through my dark times take his own life? It felt like my poisoned reality had somehow infected my dreams.
So I left. I escaped my home town and I left my guitar behind. Everything was going to be okay now. And then it happened again. I went home for a visit. I had just gotten into town and the phone rang. It was my friend James and I thought he was calling to tell me the plans for that night. Instead he told me that our friend Chris had taken his own life the day before. Instead of seeing all of my friends at a party I saw them all at a funeral.
I met Chris and James in the summer of 1989 before we all started 8th grade. We were skateboarders back in a time when seeing anybody else holding a skateboard was so rare that they immediately became your friend. When I got kicked out of my first Junior High I transferred across town to the one Chris and James went to. Chris and I started playing guitar around the same time. I lived in his basement for about a month when I was having some trouble at home and we wrote our first song together. I can’t remember it at all.
This time when I left town I took my guitar with me.
A few years later, my brother and I had just gotten home from a weekend surf trip and the phone rings again. The car is already packed. We get back in and make the 3 hour drive back to Kamloops for another funeral. Our friend Jean Paul this time.
Jean Paul used to come by in his truck and we would drive around listening to music and talking about girls. We would also talk fondly of our friend Jim who we missed terribly. He had a black acoustic guitar and we’d take turns trying to figure out chords on it. Jean Paul was a big Neil Young fan. Nirvana and Neil Young. That’s how we learned to play guitar.
Every year when the anniversary of Kurt’s suicide comes around it hurts because it serves as a reminder of the friends I’ve lost to suicide. The friends I’ve failed. He left a short but powerful musical legacy behind. It serves as a reminder of how fragile and human our heroes are too.
Anybody who has ever experienced loss understands how impossible it is to ever really recover. It haunts you everyday. Hopefully the good memories outweigh the bad, and the pain makes us more compassionate people. Death is easy to understand. It comes for us all. But suicide is cutting this life short and inviting death in early. I’m still learning how to deal with this. Aren’t we all?