Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Wellington Monument and Kurt Cobain

Just two words: "Kurt's dead."

Kurt. Is. Dead. And to think Nirvana were supposed to be in town that evening, supposed to be playing the Simmonscourt Pavilion in the RDS.

The gig had already been cancelled way back when. But Friday 8 April 1994 - what should have been their Dublin date - was the very day they found Kurt Cobain's body in his mansion in Seattle. He'd killed himself three days earlier.

The news spread. I hardly need to remind you that this was a time before mobile phones or email for most people in Ireland, a time before MP3s and music blogs and Twitter.

A time when the latest stuff would travel in an analogue, almost underground way, a word-of-mouth fashion, or by a printed poster or flyer in a record shop in town, or by one of those pirate radio stations at the time. Maybe it was Alice's Restaurant (which later became XFM)?

That Sunday around three in the afternoon Kurt's fans in Dublin began to gather for a vigil. Somebody had decided that the best meeting point would be the Wellington Monument in the Phoenix Park of all places.

It's a a good 40-minute walk from the city centre, but no big deal when your generation's Hendrix or Lennon or Morrison has just died.

Many of the kids were carrying candles and guitars, or album sleeves or cassette recorders. Some were wearing red-and-black striped jumpers - a Cobain favourite that always reminded me of Dennis the Menace.

How many fans were there? About 300. Or more than 1,000. Estimates vary. But there were crowds and crowds of them, sharing stories and sitting around the steps under the giant obelisk.

Sonic Youth

I like to think that my PI character Moss Reid did catch Nirvana on the road in Ireland way back when.

But not when the band were headlining at the Point Theatre back in 1992, with Teenage Fanclub and The Breeders further down the bill. There's a very rough video of that gig somewhere on YouTube.

No, not that night but August the year before.

It was at the Top Hat in Dun Laoghaire. And it would have been at least a month or so before the Smells Like Teen Spirit single came out. They'd played the song that night alright, but it didn't qualify as an anthem yet.

So Moss Reid would have gone along to see Sonic Youth, with their older brand of grunge, when Nirvana still happened to be a support act, alongside the likes of Power Of Dreams and Mexican Pets.

Sonic Youth, that would be what Moss Reid was well into at the time. And Hüsker Dü, big time.

The Wellington Testimonial

As for the Wellington Monument? "The tallest obelisk in Europe" makes a fleeting appearance in chapter 29 of Ghost Flight, but with no mention of that afternoon vigil, of Kurt Cobain and his Irish fans. There's only room for so much in one book.

But here's a bit of trivia: strictly speaking it's not a "monument" at all: it's a "testimonial". A testimonial is erected to a living person, as the Duke of Wellington was when construction started.

It was finally opened to the public in June 1861, almost nine years after his death. There were also plans for a statue of the military leader on a horse but they ran out of money.

The monument is an imposing landmark in the cityscape, visible for miles around. Close up it becomes a domineering and - there's no avoiding it - a rather phallic symbol . A small statue at the top of it wouldn't do much to change that.

The main Nirvana image is taken from the With The Lights Out box set