Its been 23 years since Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Why does it still sting?
April 5th, 2017 marked a grim milestone; it’s been 23 years since Kurt Cobain’s suicide. I didn’t think much about it at first. That was a very long time ago and it’s a pretty grim reminder.
But then I realize given the focus of my blog, that this would be a glaring omission.
I remember where I was that fateful day; on my college campus visiting a friend in the photo lab. They had the radio on and the news wasn’t good. It was a strange feeling. Nobody knew him personally, but we were all affected. The whole ‘spokesman of a generation‘ is clichéd, but it was true, at least until that day.
Some people cried, others were quiet. But I was angry. Here was a guy that seemingly had it all. But things were never easy for Cobain. His self-loathing was evident in his lyrics, his marriage was a disaster. But he had a baby to care for. He had a lot of $. And he had mass adoration.
His death was flipping the bird to all of us. At himself, his legacy, and sadly his family.
In years since, more evidence have come to life of the circumstances. His drug addiction, depression and his severe case of Acid Reflux, which caused him to vomit constantly and keep him in pain.
As someone who suffers from the same ailment, I totally empathize. At the time I was dealing with it myself. Vomiting several times a week, and suffering bouts of depression and anxiety. The music of that era was the perfect soundtrack. Generation X had the blues. Some due to broken homes, all due to disillusionment from a steady diet of disappointment that haunted us since infancy; Vietnam, Watergate, Reaganism, Iran-Contra, the Cold War, the Space Shuttle explosion, the first Gulf War, Rodney King, etc.
We were bummed out, and Nirvana were a lightning rod for our neurosis. They cleared the Aqua Net haze of hair metal, and things were exciting. The world finally seemed like it belonged to those of us who felt on the fringes.
So I felt a sense of betrayal, as many fans did. We were all hanging on, in this mess together. Why couldn’t he stick it out?
After he was gone, we still had other alt-rock titans, but his passing signaled the end of Grunge and the euphoria that followed.
In many ways his reasoning still feels like bullshit. In his suicide letter he lamented :
“When we’re backstage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowds begin, it doesn’t affect me the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury, who seemed to love, relish in the love and adoration from the crowd which is something I totally admire and envy. The fact is, I can’t fool you, any one of you. It simply isn’t fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100% fun”.
And he’d always railed against corporate rock and selling out. But he was okay with Wal-mart putting out censored versions of their albums so he could reach a wider audience.
When Grohl emerged later with the Foo Fighters, it was a revelation. Not just in his expanded musical role, but in the tone of the music. The Foo’s at their darkest, barely touch Nirvana at their lightest in terms of lyrical content. It proves a singular personality can dominate a group of musicians.
One can never discount how mental illness can defeat one’s ambitions. Cobain could nourish his anguish, but starved his joy. It’s in every ragged, beautiful note of their songs.
It doesn’t appear that the younger generation has a misanthropic figurehead like Cobain. Maybe no one wants to hear self-loathing music anymore? Millenials have been accused of being overly coddled. The clichéd analogy of getting an award for participating in a team sport even if you get your ass kicked. This is of course a gross generalization, but its clear their mindset is very different from my own.
There are worse things than having inflated self-esteem, but it sometimes grates those who grew up in a deficit. We didn’t buy what you were selling, but mass consumerism and wretched musical talent TV shows don’t even raise an eyebrow in the 21st century.
Perhaps in a world of a struggling economy, global strife and polarizing politics, people just don’t want to wallow in misery. Escapism is in vogue. Besides anyone can get on internet message boards and say the darkest, meanest vitriol in the world. Or bare their soul at its most naked and vulnerable. Can any artist articulate your rage or anguish better if you have the means to do so yourself?
If Cobain was still alive, I wonder how he would have matured. Would he have lightened up? Pulled a Trent Reznor, gotten healthy and put nihilism back on the shelf? Or would he have pushed darker and deeper, exorcising those demons so that he could move forward and not die in misery?
Pointless to speculate I suppose, but perhaps in a parallel universe he’s rocking out, content, and with a proud daughter watching his shows. But in our world he’s very much missed, and a potent reminder that nothing lasts forever no matter how important it felt at the time.