It was an age when Kurt Cobain’s suicide made some sense. Not his own personal death, of course, distilled, slipping from faded light to darkness. It is easy to forget the icons as souls sometimes.
It seemed, though, like a suicidal age. As Cobain was the icon in a non-iconic era, it made sense to me. It was 1994, and things were ending. The music was falling together. We forgot about mixed tapes. Fashion was tearing to threads. I was finishing high school and falling casually in love, so some things were beginning I guess. I learned guitar playing “Come As You Are.” But it was a decade without much hope. It was Nirvana.
As we escape, though, other things find union. I was discovering poetry after a teenage exile. And so I heard Jewel one day, between Soundgarden and Foo Fighters. It was her voice, her overly-affective tonal caricatures. Then it was the lyrics, the stories in song. I had forgotten about stories in song.
So Jewel’s music, until that strange pop and country thing she did later, became one of my secret traveling soundtracks. Pieces of You came with me as I lived in five provinces and a mountainous prefecture. They are sad songs, mostly. But it was a break from my era.
At some point the song “Foolish Games” caught my creative imagination. It is the story of a woman who is enamoured with a distant lover, “fashionably sensitive but too cool to care.” I know our empathy should be for the beloved, the woman playing her guitar at the kitchen table as the lover is lost in his own self-interest. But I wondered about the guy. Did he know he was playing with her? Was he so lost in himself that he had no clue he was breaking her heart?
So I decided to try out the character. It is adolescent, of course, a caricature. But a good exercise in seeing the story from another angle. And I think it captures the era, now 20 years after Kirk Cobain’s death.
My cleanly clipped fingernails scratch my gotee
As the inspiration comes–
A poem, dressed in black
–And the words roll off the keys of my Mac.
Another Blake begs to break to the soft glow of my intellect,
Dylan Thomas reaches from within
As critical adjectives release my fashionable anger,
Insensitive wit, my god-eye watches the sell-out world.
‘Where is the artistry?’ I scream on screen
Advertising images stir the corner of my eye;
A gasmask I wore in protest this morning
Lies beside a bike messenger’s helmet.
He, there, at the table, in spandex shorts,
Drinks a latte and talks to his girlfriend,
A Tommy tramp shelving the world’s delights.
Her saccharine smile, all reality vanishing into the…
I stop typing, a bitter mistake.
A stifled doubt thickens the Adam’s apple
Inside my gray turtleneck sweater:
My dark clothes and mystical look,
My black coffee staining the pages of a Life After God,
My love of classic and criticism of pop,
“I read Ecclesiastes, without the ending,” I say,
As I light candles in my dark apartment
And smoke Cloves on holidays,
Twelve-year-old scotch and an open mic
Four days after hand-tatooing ‘por nada’ on my forearm,
My thrills, my delights, my Truth held pure.
Yet (as he, there, picks up his helmet and leans for a kiss),
Why is there still no one to clumsily strum her guitar?