In 1991, I entered The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington as a freshman. I was 21. There was a buzz around the college about two great bands – one from LA called Jane’s Addiction and another local band called Nirvana. For me, these two bands breathed the life back into contemporary music.

The members of Nirvana had actually attended Evergreen and played occasionally at parties on campus. I hoped to catch one of their shows.

nirvana_1At first, I didn’t like that they had used the name Nirvana, because I felt like it reduced and branded such a special word to something so mundane. But when I heard their music, this concern quickly seemed irrelevant. The album Bleach was amazing and had topped the charts of the Seattle underground papers for a record number of weeks. When I saw a flyer on campus saying that Nirvana was going to play, I came with some friends to see them.

They were playing at a small event by the school library with a bunch of other local bands. When I walked in, my eyes caught sight of a guy unlike anyone I had probably ever seen before. He looked so real and raw and beaten down, an obvious heroine junkie – someone who looked like they belonged strung out on the streets of Tacoma, and completely out of place in this modern academic building. I figured that Nirvana obviously had some pretty hardcore fans and it was startling to see these very different worlds mingle. I felt great compassion for him and pointed him out to my friends.

The other bands played and then it was Nirvana’s time. Amazingly, it was that same weathered guy who took the stage as the singer. The band started up and immediately brought everything into another dimension. It was heavy and hard, fearless and fierce, and I immediately understood for the first time the true meaning of “underground.” Kurt screamed out with a depth of passion that I had known for many years – the same passion I had carried around secretly and quietly within myself. Here was another person who felt the world as I did – but here he was exposing this torture for all to see.

The music was extraordinary. The band was tight and the quality of drumming was at a level I had never seen before in a local show. Nirvana was no ordinary band. Krist Novoselic talked liberal politics midway through the show and then it came back into full scale assault and agony. I watched as Kurt unleashed his pain for all to see and toward the end of the show he smashed his guitar into pieces. I don’t know if they got paid for this show, but if so, I’m sure very little, and I wished them success as his guitar had been demolished in the process.

cobainAt the end of the show, Kurt collapsed on stage, beaten and exhausted, having given every drop of himself. I was so moved by him and by his pain that I felt compelled to reach out to him – to somehow offer some kind of strength and support. If it had not been for my own internal barriers saying “You cannot go up to him; he is the singer of Nirvana,” or “Your interest in him is only because you want to associate yourself with someone cool,” I would have gone up to him in an instant. Had he been a homeless man, or a wounded animal, I would have reached out to him without pause, but because of invisible, and probably make-believe walls, I stopped myself. This decision wasn’t a simple one; I stood locked in position for probably 15 minutes, with the compassionate side of myself saying that I must do something, and with my mind telling me that it was not appropriate.

Finally, I ended up walking away from him, playing it culturally safe.

It wasn’t too long before Nirvana was discovered and became the phenomenon that they did. I always felt a deep connection to Kurt – I felt that we would probably have connected as friends on a deep level of soul and I felt bad that I had failed to make the effort.

When he took his life, I felt it as a mortal blow. To this day, I feel partially responsible for his death. Many people will say that this is a foolish and perhaps even arrogant thing to think. Clearly, he was on a path of destruction irregardless of me. And clearly, even had I done something to reach out, it is not likely to have changed his fate. But the point is that our paths did cross and that I was presented with an opportunity to reach out to a human being in pain. Because of my ego, I failed to rise to the occasion. Regardless of what anyone may think, despite the uncomfortable circumstances, I am partly to blame for his death, just as we are all partly to blame for everything that is happening in the world.

Each of us is a magnitude of power that not only can, but must always influence and change the world around us. When we fail to realize this, the power simply goes as it may, generally working to sustain the status quo. Kurt Cobain took a step toward exposing to the world the treasure that lay within. Unfortunately for him, that treasure lay buried in a sea of abandonment and neglect. His steps were bold and it’s critical we keep trotting until each of us unveils the truth underying who we are. Nirvana.

Kurt Cobain painting by Jonathan Mason (a.k.a.Bhuvanesh)