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Kurt Cobain died 20 years ago today. Here's how one group of Irish schoolfriends reacted...

Worried parents were reluctant to let their teenagers go to the Phoenix Park vigil for Kurt Cobain, its young organisers remember. But hundreds showed up, to share their memories… and sing his songs.

Updated 7.55pm

IN SOME ALTERNATE universe, you might have just clicked on a story about the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s triumphant return to Ireland…

april 8

Singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain, drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic were were booked to play Dublin’s RDS on 8 April 1994.

Instead, sadly, this was the day world found out about the death of the group’s enigmatic frontman. A coroner later determined he had died three days earlier: 20 years ago, today. He was 27.

The Ballsbridge gig had long been cancelled by the start of April ’94. Cobain — already suffering with health problems — overdosed on tranquilisers in Rome in early March. The band’s remaining European shows were put on hold as the singer returned to Seattle for treatment.

Tickets for the Dublin gig now change hands for hundreds and hundreds of euro online. Some fans, however, still won’t part with their fading print-outs…

(Youtube: Rodrigo Leche)

I just came back from a family holiday. Someone called the house and told me. They knew I was a huge fan.

— Anna Rodgers, from Swords and aged 15 at the time, still remembers the shock of hearing the news….

“It was my first real experience of suicide, thankfully. I remember feeling very disillusioned.

I would have had a huge amount of compassion for him when he was alive — so, for me, it was a very serious thing to encounter.

If you weren’t a teenager, and weren’t a massive Nirvana fan, the significance of Cobain’s death may be difficult to appreciate, two decades on.

Says Rodgers, “I don’t like the phrase ‘spokesman for a generation’ — but he did represent and speak to teenagers who didn’t feel like they fitted into the norm.”

[images: Anna Rodgers]


Kurt Cobain House

[Elaine Thompson/AP/Press Association Images]

The singer-songwriter’s death was met with similar disbelief around the world. Even though Cobain’s struggles with fame, addiction and depression had been well-documented.

As another Irish fan put it: “We were shocked. Looking back, though, it’s surprising that we were shocked.”

There were similar reactions elsewhere:

Matt Searle, UK: Kurt was my generation’s Hendrix or Morrison. I still can’t listen to the riff at the beginning of Smells like Teen Spirit without the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. 

Brynn Jones, South Africa: The band’s lyrics helped me to express the complete apathy the older generation had and probably still has towards young folk.

Sebastian Stein, Venezuela: I feel sad every time it comes to April – I hear the CD and I always cry. I feel so sad because I can’t give people what he gave me.

Mat, England: [...] Kurt’s death was my first experience of losing a musical hero. Truly sad, but such a waste.

(Youtube: grungegopher)

In Seattle, thousands of fans turned out for a candlelit vigil outside the city’s the EMP Centre two days after Cobain’s body was found.

Organisers played a recording of his wife, Courtney Love, reading a suicide note to the crowd. Cobain had honoured Neil Young in the final line: ‘…better to burn out than fade away’.

“God you asshole,” Love can be heard saying in the tape. “It’s a fucking lie.”

(Youtube: cobainreed)

Rodgers, 4,000 miles away in north county Dublin, felt some sort of memorial should take place in Ireland too — to give fans a focal point for their emotions.

“I was dreadfully upset. I felt others must be feeling the same way — so I really wanted to mark, in some way, that he had died.

I had no idea how to organise an event. But I thought it should be somewhere public, somewhere central, so we arranged it at the Wellington monument in the Phoenix Park.

Rudimentary flyers were photocopied (a friend’s parents ran a bookshop, handily). And Rodgers headed into town to hand them to “young people, anyone we thought might be interested”.

I still remember bumping into my mum and her friends and her being mortified that her teenage daughter was dressed in this goth-like manner.

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Anna’s friend Emma McCanney remembers creating flyers of her own, and misspelling ‘Phoenix’ in the process. She also typed up lyrics of her favourite Nirvana songs, to be handed out to fellow fans.

It was an industrious few days for the Swords schoolgirls — posters, mocked up with markers, were also placed “in every record shop, café and doorway in town,” another friend, Christine McQuillan, remembers.

“There were no Facebook events in those days.”

The vigil went ahead the following weekend. Between 300 and 400 people showed up. Rodgers recalls sitting for hours — sharing Kurt-related memories, and singing his songs.

It was literally just ‘bring candles and guitars’.

Word of the vigil had spread all over the city by the Sunday morning. But many parents were reluctant to let their teenagers attend, for fear of copycat suicides.

“There was a real fear of that at the time, it was something that was around in the media,” says John O’Neill, then a 14-year-old in the northside suburb of Raheny.

McQuillan remembers, “some rockers came from Fibbers to break up the vigil and start a fight”.

Somehow a girl’s hair went on fire too, Rodgers recalls. For the most part, however, the afternoon passed off peacefully.

There was definitely some people who were expecting an event, who drifted away.The real fans stayed and talked to each other. I remember everyone singing ‘All Apologies’.

Noelle Fox was also there:

I remember there was a big rumour than Andy Cairns from Therapy was going to show up. But he didn’t.

Afterwards, she recalls “walking from the Wellington Monument to Castleknock Village, a slow hour’s walk, with my candle still lit — because I just couldn’t extinguish it”.

Another Swords girl, Caroline Mitchell, recalls ‘borrowing’ a supply of candles from the local church as they headed into town.

In terms of the atmosphere, Rodgers recalls, “people were genuinely mourning, and this was a very sombre, sad moment.

There was something really nice about it. Coming together and expressing that.

[Flyer & vigil photos: Anna Rodgers]

Originally published 7.30am

Read: Kurt Cobain would have been 46 today… here’s 7 things he missed

Related: Nirvana’s Nevermind is 20 years old today 

Also: Here’s what Kurt Cobain thought about visiting Cork

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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