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20 Years Ago Today, The Passing of Kurt Cobain: A Reflection

by Tim Donnelly on April 08, 2014

When I think of my life in NYC 20 years ago, it was a different time, a different place and I was a different person. The world in April 1994 was largely pre-Internet, a time when pagers still ruled. In NYC, the looming Disney-fication of Times Square was underway, the nightlife was still world-class, and the last of the weird and wild days on the West Side of Manhattan were being had.I was a raging lunatic - working hard and playing harder in the crossroads of the world.

Today, the time, the place and this person couldn’t be more different. But one day from back in the day is frozen in time...


I was never in the office early, save for the few times that I slept in it. My dawn patrol on April 8, 1994 at the pop-culture factory otherwise known as MTV’s Times Square, where I was a production associate/writer, was completely and utterly my fault.

I had turned 27 two days before and went hard - Bukowski, Keith Richards kind of hard.I subsequently missed the first seven hours of my workday on April 7.When they finally sent someone to check to see if I was alive, and when I finally got there, I threw up, twice.

Back in the office at 7:30 AM on Friday April 8, 1994, I had to write 12 day-part segments, hopefully get a quick nap in, go to the studio for three hours, come back and write more scripts for Tuesday that I didn’t get a chance to write on Monday because I was going to Boston to see Pearl Jam at the Bahston Gah-den on Sunday.

It was a potential 16-hour shit storm, all of my own making, still sweating out the poison and somehow thinking of the next party.

I chugged coffee, smoked cigs and choked a bat or three in the stairwell that our office shared with the creative crews from The State and Beavis and Butthead. It was the height of the power of MTV, and the people I worked with smoked and drank and were somehow influencing an entire generation.

By 8:30AM, the scripts were coming out quick and a little darker than usual, but all was on point. I was completely finished by noon and god dammit, if I didn’t find six new ways to make to make fun of Ace of Base and insert a joke or two about R. Kelly’s ability to hold it a long time (this is way before the urine fetish became public).

Crashing hard from the caffeine and detox, I set the alarm clock on my desk for 20 minutes, shut and locked the office door.

Then the phone rang.




“It’s Jack (not his name) Fuck man, I’m so happy you are there.”

“What’s up?”

“Cobain’s dead.”

“Shit…Ah fuck man, you sure?”

“Yeah man. I’m sure. Suicide.”

“What? He killed him…”

“You need to get into my office, take the two bags of tapes that are next to my desk and get them to National.”

“Fuck, ok. Let me see if my keys work, hold on.”

“You gotta get in there man. It’s all the footage from last month when he overdosed and went into the coma in Italy. It’s all of the archives, everything that would make airtime are in those two bags.”

My hands are shaking. I feel like I’m going to puke. My keys don’t work in the lock.

“My keys don’t work!My fucking keys don’t work!”

“Use your Viacom ID to slide between lock and the door. You can do this dude!”

I take out my ID and with one swipe, I’m in.

“I’m in!”

There are bags of tapes all over the office, surrounding the desk. I finally locate what I am looking for, thanks to yellow Post-it stapled to the bag.

“Got it!”

“Go! They are waiting for you!”

I hang up the phone and as soon I pick up the larger of the two bags and make it more than halfway across the expansive office, it bottoms out. Tapes spill all over the floor.Some of them are labeled and in their case, some are not and made a hard landing. This is not good…

All of the offices are locked and finding a bag to fit these tapes seems impossible. I run back to Jack’s office, do the ID card trick, spy a bag roughly the same size that’s tucked in the corner, dump out its contents and run back over to the Cobain pile.I throw it all, covered and uncovered, into the new bag.

With the lead news story of the world in my two hands, I run towards the closed elevator door.I wait, then opt for the stairs.I fly through our stairwell smoking area, down four flights and hit the grand lobby of 1515 Broadway for the 44th Street exit.

Running down the escalator, I blow through the hulking revolving door and hit the street, straight into a misting rain falling down on a moving sea of humanity. Wailing sirens competed with jail house prophets on soap boxes spewing race-baiting venom and dressed like an angry intergalactic Sun Ra Orchestra, and finally a large, long bearded whacko holding a huge sign with the flames of hell flaring on it, that simply read “Repent or Perish.”

Oh, and there’s not a fucking cab in sight.

National Video Center is on 42ndStreet, way west (10th Ave.) – I mean, almost in Jersey, west. I start walking south on Broadway to the Forty Deuce, make a right at the huge yellow billboard that says “Everybody” and speed walk past shuttered doors of the Liberty, Harris, Empire and Selwyn Theater.

When I hit the long dethroned King of Pizza and Bill’s Famous Gyros and Souvlaki, I startedwalking backwards facing oncoming traffic scanning the eastern horizon cutting through the skyline for a cab.

Nothing yellow with a light shining on top of it.

At Eighth Ave. and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the rain begins to harden as street urchins try to get me to make a detour into Peep Land and Show World. I finally give up on hitching a ride mid-block as I hit the Army Navy store.

My slow jog morphed into a panic-driven sprint.Past the curbside-drunks that surround the Hotel Amsterdam to Ninth Ave., I make the light, cross the packed intersection and motor past the West Bank Cafe. National Video Center is a half block away and in my standing on edge crosshairs.

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