Kurt Cobain wrote a lot of great lyrics. This is the one I come back to the most.
It’s clearly not his most metaphorical line or even one that evokes imagery of any kind, which is often where his strengths were in his writing. Really, it’s probably one of the simplest lines he ever wrote. But the simplicity is what makes it so wonderful.
I should mention that I take anti-depressants which, for the sake of full disclosure, is just one of a fair number of medications I take every day to help me enjoy life. I mention this because the idea of finding comfort in being sad can seem like glorifying sadness in some way. I think it’s fair to say that Cobain dealt with depression most of his life.
But that’s part of why the line is so perfect. He’s not saying that being sad feels really good, just that there’s comfort there, comfort because it’s familiar.
And he’s so right.
I have a great life. Objectively I have a great life. Subjectively I have a great life. I love my life. I can’t even believe I have it. It’s hectic and often difficult and wonderful.
There are times, though, when I can feel myself from years ago, living in a studio apartment in Los Angeles, drinking every night, writing every night, listening to depressing music all the time. And that feeling holds some fondness, even though I know that I was horribly depressed most of the time.
But that depression was the only thing in my life. I had a job and maybe some friends and barely a social life, so wallowing in my sadness was everything. It was my entire existence and it was easy.
Don’t get me wrong, it was still bad. It was brutal on my health and being unable to get out of bed because you can’t imagine a reason why you should is not a great feeling. But it was familiar and it was easy.
Being happy is hard.
Much of that is societal. Happiness, real happiness, isn’t about buying things and being famous, it’s about love, and love is, even now, a concept that many people can’t wrap their brains around. I know I couldn’t, not until the last ten years or so.
And some of that was my own mental health issues.
I had just been playing with our older son and we had a great time and there was lots of laughing. My wife watched the whole thing and afterwards asked me how my new medications had changed that experience. She asked if I had just never really been happy before and had been faking it.
I told her that happiness, to me, was like rain in a place where it seldom rains. The rain comes pouring down, but the ground doesn’t absorb it so it washes away. That was me. I could experience happiness in a moment, but when that moment was over it would leave nothing behind. I never absorbed joy.
Lord knows I absorbed sadness. I lived on it for so long. It was all I knew and I knew it really well.
There’s a strange freedom in sadness. It’s everything which means life becomes very simple. It makes everything harder, yes, but it also robs you of so many other feelings that are often complicated and confusing. Sadness is a security blanket that’s not actually secure.
And there’s clarity in sadness. It’s false, yes, particularly if you are dealing with depression, but you still feel like it’s true. Being positive that nothing matters is brutal. It’s also everything. It’s all encompassing.
But when that goes away, there’s a piece of you that misses it. It doesn’t make any sense and it’s probably not healthy, but it was a part of you for so long that you can’t just walk away completely. It was a huge part of your life.
Sometimes you miss the comfort of the familiar, even if the familiar wasn’t all that great.
Sometimes I wish I could go back there, but only if I could come back. If I could go there and come back whenever I wanted — god knows I’d get more writing done.
But the only options are going back there and staying there and not going back there at all and that’s not really a hard decision to make. I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am now that absolutely nothing could turn me away from this.
Still, Kurt was right: sometimes I do miss the comfort in being sad.
But I would miss being happy far, far more.