Twenty years ago, in the chilly, early twilight hours of the Pacific Northwest, Kurt Donald Cobain sat alone in a room on the property he shared with his wife and 20-month old daughter. He was arguably the world's biggest rock star. In minutes, he would be the world's most famous suicide victim. He loaded a syringe with enough black tar heroin to kill several people, injected it into his right arm, steadied himself, and pulled the trigger on a shotgun, ending his life instantly. He was 27.
He left his wallet open on the floor so the body could be identified, an oddly courteous act during the final motions of a life's sudden, violent denouement. He also left a note, most of which would be read aloud by his wife, Courtney Love, at a gathering near Seattle's Space Needle a few days afterward. For a few weeks, time almost stopped, or at least appeared to.
I was 17 in April of 1994, and this somehow seemed like the most important thing that had ever happened to me. It felt like my childhood was ending. But, in looking back on it, the two decades of nearly endless dissection of the event itself and the months leading up to it, I've come to a disturbing conclusion: Kurt Cobain's death wasn't nearly as important as people would like it to be.
I didn't always feel like this.
After news broke of his body being found, I spent two days in the family room in my parents' home, glued to MTV, clinging to the hope that it all might be a mistake. From 1992 until his death, which took place just seven weeks before I graduated from high school, he was my one and only hero. He was a rock star unlike any I had encountered prior: he looked and dressed and thought like I did. He was awkward and shy and tried to hide the fact that he was smart, until he needed to look smart. In him, I saw me. Saw that I could be successful, saw that one day my life might more or less be ok. But then his wasn't and I was back at square one. I hated him for that.
As time has passed and I myself turned 27, then 28 and so on, I slowly realized how stupid Cobain really was. How hurtful, cowardly and senseless it was for him to run away from his problems in the most permanent manner possible. Increasingly, I've felt like I've wasted so much energy and allotted too much space in my brain trying to keep -- well, I just don't know what -- alive, that it's a bit embarrassing. People die. Sometimes they are famous people. And sometimes people die by their own hand, whether it be intentional or accidental. We've been through this with Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Ian Curtis, Marc Bolan and countless others. We went though it soon after Cobain with Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon, and it's happened time and again since.
We lend too much weight to Cobain's death, especially at this late hour. In the last year or so, I finally started listening to Nirvana's albums on a regular basis again and what stuck out more than anything else was how much more I liked the Foo Fighters' first album than anything Nirvana recorded -- ironic, considering that the Foo Fighters might not have happened if Cobain had lived. I'm torn about that statement, but it's the absolute truth.[page]
We've spent 20 years building an ever-growing pedestal for St. Kurt, but it seems like nobody took a look at the ground we were building it on and it's somewhat marshy as it turns out. We made him a martyr for the Gen-Xers, but I'm still not fully on board with the reasons we did so, even though I myself participated and pushed those reasons forward along with nearly everyone else my age. People in certain circles both now and then wrote him off as "just another dead junkie" and while he was certainly more than that, his death has really left no lasting impact other than the fact that you can't ever buy a Nirvana album full of new material ever again.
These days, the impression Cobain seems to leave is more akin to the fingerprints you can leave on your own sunburned skin if you press on it. It stands out in stark contrast for a bit, but only if you're pushing on it too hard and even then, it's fleeting and impossible to make permanent. The rest of us prattling on about what once was is like still talking about that same sunburn two decades later as though it happened yesterday afternoon and you need to rub some aloe on it.
It's time to let Kurt Cobain go and admit that his death was not any more or less special than any other death that week, that month, that year. We all moved on relatively unscathed from it -- even the people who were close to him. He was a genuine force that was as destructive as he was creative and his death was sad but not sad enough to cling to for two decades. Nobody's death should be that haunting, or worse, revered. We should all take one last look at the suicide itself, the reasons (or lack thereof) for it, make whatever peace we need to with it and move on.
Remember how you felt the first time you heard Nirvana? Use that feeling. Generation X needs to stop what is essentially grasping at a ghost in the dark by viewing him as a tragic martyr rather than a person who simply had problems he found to be insurmountable and took the coward's way of finding a solution. Listen to In Utero and think of it as a the end of an exciting book, not as a tragic "what could have been." There are a lot of things that could have been but we have what we have. His death was no more important than anyone else's you've ever known about and thinking any differently is doing yourself a great disservice.GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
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