There Go Our Heroes

From Andrew Wood to Taylor Hawkins, Generation X has experienced an insurmountable level of rock hero loss

The author (Image: Steph Zwartz)

I remember the 90’s in buzzes. Nicked bottles of booze, dime bags and psychedelics. Everyone played in a band.

We’d gotten burned out on the artifice of the Sunset Strip —glam’s commercialization had devoured everything delightful about it —and punk and metal’s Pacific Northwest evolution felt just right (never mind that the mainstream labeling and neutering of “grunge” would soon enough destroy it —we didn’t know that yet). Generation X had been through Reagan and most of the first Bush. The Berlin Wall had crumbled. We’d Just Said No until we just said no more —the 90210 fantasy wasn’t ours. We were rocking the vote, and we loved getting high.

At some point, teenage experimentation died off. Some of us, though, are born predisposed to addiction and can’t do anything in moderation. Experiments become habits. At some point, heroin and cocaine usurped acid and weed. Things changed. We became ghosts with needles in our arms and toes haunting the periphery. Fun faded. The tie between addiction and unchecked mental illness formed a noose.

April 5, 2022 marks 28 years since Kurt Cobain died (I hear the MTV News echo always— of a self-inflicted gunshot wound — whenever I think or speak or type those three words: Kurt Cobain died). It also marks 20 years since Layne Staley of Alice In Chains passed away from a lethal narco-pharmaceutical cocktail in his Seattle apartment. The strange coincidence renders the day a morbid quasi-holiday. It’s a Sad Tribe of Gen X day of remembrance, the solemnest day for the (original) Lollapalooza Kids.

 

VIDEO: Kurt Loder announces the death of Kurt Cobain on April 8, 1994

I was 18 years old for the first of those losses. I was Nirvana-obsessed and stricken at the time with a solid case of mononucleosis I’d picked up at play rehearsal (Romeo and Juliet, for what it’s worth — the OG celebration of the kind of over-the-top teenage sadness Cobain’s death incited in me). Friends called my family’s landline to make sure I was all right. My mother sent me to stay with my grandparents in Florida to convalesce.

When Staley died eight years later, it hit quieter but deeper. The leak of details around his death — the words attached to him: reclusive, failing, wasting away — stripped away any glitter one might throw on a celebrity’s passing. He died a cloistered, banal death not unlike the 14,000 other people who die from heroin each year in the United States. 

I don’t recall crying in any uproarious way when I heard Layne had died; I just got a little bit sadder. A light went out.

Still of Layne Staley performing “Man in the Box” in the Live at the Moore video (Image: YouTube)

There’s this thing about knowing that I’ve learned: we can’t unknow stuff. Once you’ve felt the veracity of a thing, its truth is yours. Certain images — once we’ve seen them — leave a negative inside our minds. Little factoids that make impact stay with us (here’s one — a sentence I resent every time I walk into a public restroom: odor is particle. Apologies.) And we can’t unfeel. Once we love someone, we carry that somewhere in us forever (we may not always acknowledge or give a damn about it, but it’s there festering or glowing or just kind of hanging out in some outbuilding we don’t remember constructing). Sadness works that way, too. Some things leave marks.

Since we’re counting, April 5, 2022 also represents:

11 years and four weeks since Staley’s AIC bandmate, Mike Starr, left us.

32 years and 17 days since Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood, the Seattle scene saint whose heroin death arguably shaped all of grunge’s commercial future (the remnants of his band went on to become Pearl Jam), left the planet.

24 years, 10 months and one week since Jeff Buckley — solo boy wonder — drowned in the Mississippi River.

 

VIDEO: Jeff Buckley “Last Goodbye”

18 years, six months, two weeks and one day since Elliott Smith — singer-songwriter demigod — died from knife wounds.

Six years, four months and two days since Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver’s heart stopped.

Four years, ten months, two weeks and four days since Chris Cornell — the voice of Soundgarden, Audioslave and inspired cover songs — took his own life.

One month and two weeks since Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees died in Ireland.

One week and four days since Taylor Hawkins — the drummer who drummed behind Dave Grohl (who drummed behind Kurt Cobain in Nirvana)— passed from the world.

All I could think about when I read that Taylor Hawkins had died was Dave Grohl. How could this be real?

Gutted.

That was the only word I had: Dave Grohl has to feel gutted, I said to my boyfriend, my best friend, my neighbor, my father — anyone who brought it up. And I felt gutted when I imagined his pain.

One of my scores of web searches in the days that followed Hawkins’ death — Taylor Hawkins cause of death, Taylor Hawkins death, Taylor Hawkins wife, Taylor Hawkins, the kind of obsessive Googling I do when I’m struggling with acceptance or understanding — brought up paparazzi images of a very personal, vulnerable moment: the Foo Fighters’ return to LAX. In the first image, Dave Grohl hugs another man in the airport. I could see the tightness in his body, the force with which he was holding on. It telegraphed not just pain but deep, mature pain. I recognized it and wept, because:

Mark laid down on some tracks after he drank two bottles of wine.

Shawn hung himself.

Mike overdosed and died in a bathroom.

Kerri succumbed to sepsis from her tracks.

Demian died face-down on drugs in the projects.

Nick leapt to his death.

We feel these deaths deeply, because we came of age together. The rock of the 1990s presented something much more relatable and accessible than the glitzy offerings of the 80s. The people we mourn wrote our soundtrack. We feel the connective tissue between us and them because they were us.

 

AUDIO: Mother Love Bone “Chloe Dancer/”Crown of Thorns”

 

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Angela Denk

Angela Denk lives and writes in the Midwest. She has bylines at Leafly, The Fix, SheKnow and The Sonder Review. She strings for a print daily to keep the lights on and blogs about mental health and addiction.

6 thoughts on “There Go Our Heroes

  • April 5, 2022 at 4:37 pm
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    Even though I’m older, I feel your sentiments by your words, Angela Denk.

    Reply
    • April 5, 2022 at 10:34 pm
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      I thought about the previous generation, too, as I wrote this. About Keith Moon, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, John Bonham, Mama Cass–I suppose every generation has its pantheon of musical saints. Thank you so much for the kind words.

      Reply
  • April 5, 2022 at 8:19 pm
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    Thank you Angela i feel the same.

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    • April 5, 2022 at 10:28 pm
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      Hugs to you. Thank you for reading and saying that. That “I feel the same” is why I wrote this–I knew I wasn’t the only one.

      Reply
  • April 5, 2022 at 8:44 pm
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    This is a brutally spot-on article. I’ve written on this site about three less-famous rock and roll deaths that hit me hard, on top of the icons mentioned here. Ed Ackerson, Tom Whalen, Paul K. The music lives on, but … I miss these guys so much.

    Reply
    • April 5, 2022 at 10:26 pm
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      I’ll search out what you wrote. It’s such a haunting loss. Thanks for reading, Ken.

      Reply

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