Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Cobain Chronicles - Part Two: The Concert

It was the early fall of 1993. Nirvana was on tour and I was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.   All of us were in shock to find out that they were coming to our city that coming October because major bands generally didn't come to our city at that time.  Even better, the tickets were less than $20.

The show was at the convention center - a pretty small venue compared to the big city arenas Nirvana could have filled up that night if they had chosen to.  This was a show with no assigned seats, just a general admission open floor -- so if you were brave enough, you could just shove your way forward through the current of the crowd and watch from the very front row for as long as you could hold yourself there.  I ended up seeing a lot of the show from different parts of the front row - sometimes I would be up there for a whole song before I'd get shoved further back, sometimes not. Because they had chosen to come to our usually ignored city and because they had charged so little for the ticket, I felt I needed to show them some sort of gratitude and respect and that was what ended up causing a certain event to happen that night....

It was a Tuesday. October 19, 1993.

The show began, and with it was all the excitement of hearing songs live that you had heard many times on the radio.  The room was pulsing with explosive energy.  Little did we know that night what a profound collective experience was taking place - that this was Nirvana's last tour, and this was one of the last shows they would ever perform.

Some of us were surprised when Krist Noveselic decided to play his accordion live.  I don't think most people in the crowd even knew he played the accordion - a lot of people were just there for some really hard rock and the hope of seeing some guitars get smashed up - not for quirky moments like that. Some rude guy from the audience took off his shoe and threw it really hard at Krist.  It was a rough crowd that night.  I made my way right up to Krist from the front row and looked at him for a moment with an "I'm sorry - we're not all mean people here" look on my face.  He looked surprised at me and kind of annoyed in general, and I don't blame him.

Nirvana played a lot of the songs they were well known for that night.  Many of the songs we heard that night later became known as part of their epic Unplugged performance....

That October night in 1993 was a pretty rambunctious and crazy night. I could feel an amazing energy, but I could feel also a certain darkness there, which was, for the most part, connected to the mosh pits. The epic mosh pits....

Back in the early 90s, as many Gen Xers know, a mosh pit at its best was full of bouncing happy people excited and just having a generally fun time. At their worst, they felt like a vortex ready to swallow people whole. Usually a mosh pit was somewhere in between those two extremes. In those days, many mosh pits were a fair game place for you to shove or in some cases, hit or stomp on other people. It was a place where you could just let out all your rage which is convenient if you were walking around in life angry like most Gen Xers were. You could usually tell what sort of mosh pit it was by the energy emanating from it as you stood on the outside of the circle. When it came to what I call the vortex type of mosh pits, there is something particularly sad about the way people would enter into that space - you know when you go in, that you could get a bone broken, that you could get trampled and end up in the hospital, and that there were always those stories in the back of your mind of those who had been killed in mosh pits.  To enter a mosh pit - a dark and angry vortex mosh pit - means that you have nothing to lose.   I've been injured multiple times in mosh pits - I had scars that took years to fade, and bones in my foot that still hurt sometimes from the combat boot stomps of bigger, angrier Gen Xers. Over time, people and bands started taking a stand against moshing, considering the many injuries and deaths that had occurred over the years. The whole idea of going into a mosh pit can all seem ridiculous unless you are angry - so angry that it overcomes your fear.  In some ways, entering a mosh pit was a rite of passage to prove how tough you were. For some reason, I always used to feel that I needed to prove that.  A lot of it was crazy, but that was the era, and the live music of Nirvana was just connected to moshing.

So the concert continued...songs went on and people went by, mostly of faces I did not recognize, some of them people I knew.  Nirvana played for what seemed like a pretty long time.  I was walking around in the back of the crowd and had just said hello to an old friend.

And then it happened.

It was maybe halfway or more so through the show.  A fast song ended and a slower song started playing (though now I can't remember which one) and the strangest thing took place.  I was shocked to see that no one was standing in front of the middle of the stage.  I could see before me by the opening in the audience that I had the opportunity to walk right up to Kurt.  There was just this enormous hole in the crowd - and I was able to just walk right up to the front of the stage - to the very center where Kurt was.  I can only guess that a mosh pit had dissolved in that spot as the music had gone from a fast song to a slow one.  Surprisingly, people hadn't yet noticed that they could fill in that empty space.

But I noticed.  And I knew that the universe was bending to me in that moment and that it would be crazy for me to not accept what was being offered to me.  So I took the opportunity.

I was not some hardcore fan. Others I knew from school were obsessed with Nirvana, but not me.  I just knew that the music was significant, and that the moment was significant.  I was not some starstruck adolescent girl worshiping at Cobain's feet.  I just felt really grateful that they had brought their music to our city, that had decided to play at a pretty small venue when they could have been playing at some big city stadium and I wanted to show some respect for that....

So I began to walk slowly, as if entering a sacred place, through the empty space toward Kurt who was front and center on stage, sitting down, strumming his guitar and singing.  As I got closer he seemed so different than he had appeared from further away - he was thinner and more fragile than from a distance - like all of his bulk was just coming from his clothes. The stage lights lit up the fuzz on his sweater like some sort of halo.  From a distance he seemed like he was this amazing, larger than life figure.  To be up close I could see how he was hunched over like an old man.   He seemed tired. Horribly tired.  I stood there as he kept strumming his guitar, he was taking a pause from singing and his eyes were scanning the audience from one side to the other until his eyes stopped right in the middle of that vacant space and saw me standing there in front of him.  And that is when our eyes locked.  And that moment will stay forever with me because I did not expect to see what I saw in his eyes.  He seemed to have this profound and enormous pain - so much that it jolted me to my core - way more than I would've expected from someone who seemed to be living this 'amazing' rock-and-roll lifestyle.  People who have had a lot of pain in life can often times instantly and intuitively recognize that in each other.  It was even bordering on uncomfortably long for both of us to keep staring but neither of us could look away for a long time - it was truly as if both of us could sense that we were supposed to be having this moment together at this exact place and time.  This was not some romantic gesture.  This was not a gaze of attraction.  It was a platonic moment.  It was a human moment.  I'd be lying to say it wasn't a rush to be in the presence of someone so famous, but honestly that was very, very secondary - what was important is that it was as if we were recognizing a similar mutual suffering in one another. We kept looking straight at each other until he had to look down at his guitar for a chord change or maybe because it was becoming more than awkward for us to just keep staring at each other for such a crazy long amount of time.

I stood there for a little longer, amazed at what had just taken place and even shocked that the universe allowed me to experience this moment in time. While fans sometimes bring a poster board with a message on it to a concert for the band to read from afar, that was never my style. While some radio contest could have maybe won me five minutes backstage with Kurt where we could've exchanged a few words, I probably would've just said some cliched things he'd already heard from fans a thousand times before.   In order to have made a genuine connection that night, it needed to be the way it was - exactly the way it was - a nonverbal connection.  A friend of mine recently shared her memory of that night and said she remembered Kurt seeming distant, and looking down a lot like he didn't want to be there.  Strangely though, in that moment he seemed so attentive and was willing to connect with me.

I turned around to walk back and find my friends and this bullyish group of guys had been watching me the whole time.  As I walked further away from the stage, the largest bully hit me in the shoulder and yelled, "HEY!!! You and Kurt old FRIENDS or something?" And I lifted my fist to hit him back but my conscience told me not to.  So I hid my fist behind my back like it could come out and strike like a snake any time and I walked up to him with all the fury of hell on my face.  I got right up in his face as he glared down at me and I yelled "NO! I was just showing some RESPECT." And he was so shocked at my response that his jaw fell and he stumbled backward.  And I walked away, feeling like I might be the toughest, coolest girl on the planet even if just for a few moments.

When the concert was over late that Tuesday night, every bone in my body ached, and my ears were ringing so incredibly loud.  There were scraps of trash strewn out everywhere and people's belongings were left behind all over the floor - sweaty flannel shirts, crushed up paper cups, cigarette butts, scraps of paper and all kinds of other things.  Somewhere on the floor was the metal cross necklace that someone had ripped off my neck in a mosh pit but I could not find it.  The show had come to an end, but the energy was still in the room.  I remember getting one last glance at the amps that all the sound had come from, I remember watching all the people pouring out of the building to go back to the parking lot - some people I knew - mostly strangers, all Gen Xers.  I remember thinking to myself how I needed to pause and truly take in that moment.  I knew that the night had been more than significant, though I could not have known that night what a piece of history was taking place, I could only sense it.

And I knew I needed to not forget.

(c) 2013 by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved

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