Could We Have Stopped Kurt Cobain from Pulling the Trigger?
Everybody has a beastly side to them, don’t they?— Sid Vicious
An Appeal to Us All . . .
Kurt Cobain kept pet turtles in a tank, in which they often banged their heads against the glass. When under attack a turtle retreats into its shell, remaining immobile for a time, but these shells can be surprisingly soft, offering little shelter.
Once Kurt Cobain became a rock star, he could be startlingly bizarre - spitting into a camera lens or climbing the rafters - then retreat into his "turtle shell," wondering why people wouldn't just leave him the hell alone or why journalists wouldn't stop printing garbage about him and/or his beloved wife Courtney Love.
From a very young age, Kurt, while growing up in the Seattle area, found himself in a dysfunctional environment. His parents got a divorce; his father was a no-show; his mother tried but couldn't do much; his education was reading, writing and Ritalin. A self-confessed manic depressive at the age of nine, Kurt tried to make sense of his existence. Classmates called him faggot because he had a friend who was gay. "I really enjoyed the conflict," Kurt said. (We can imagine.) Kurt Cobain became the quintessential disaffected youth, one who also played guitar and sang his own songs. Of course, he started a band - Fecal Matter. Omigod!
The rock band Nirvana eventually evolved. Kurt described the word Nirvana as "bliss after death." The band's sound was called alternative rock or grunge. Essentially it was contemporary hard rock circa 1990 from the Seattle area. Nirvana's first album, Bleach, was recorded on the local label Sub Pop. Other well-known purveyors or grunge were the bands Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Incidentally, Kurt lambasted Pearl Jam every chance he got, calling their music "cock-rock fusion."
After the release of Nirvana's second album, Nevermind, the three band mates became multi-millionaires, and Cobain ascended to an almost godlike status in the rock world, which really pissed him off. He wanted to strangle the next person who took his picture.
Kurt Cobain never quite got use to success.
About this time, Kurt began "slam dancing with Mr. Brownstone," Guns N' Roses slang for using heroin. Oh, Kurt had his reasons. He suffered from the excruciating pain of an undiagnosed stomach ailment, which often made him consider suicide as relief. Heroin also made him hate people less. Of course, rock stars have sought solace and solitude in smack for some time now. In the early 1970s guitar great Eric Clapton, while riding the brown horse, disappeared for three years. Regarding drugs, Kurt once opined "drugs are a complete waste of time."
Kurt really pushed the drug envelop after that. Rumor had it that Kurt mainlined some H before appearing on Saturday Night Live in January 1992. (Judging from watching his appearance on DVD, he didn't appear "altered.") An article in Vanity Fair painted Kurt and wife Courtney as the drug-addicted parents of their daughter Frances (apparently Courtney's habit wasn't near as bad as Kurt's). The authorities wanted to take Frances away and did so for a short time. In some circles, Kurt and Courtney were likened to Sid Vicious and girlfriend Nancy Spungen, poster kids for drug addiction back in the punk rock era of the middle to late 1970s. (Sid Vicious, perhaps the most self-destructive rock star of all time, died of a heroin overdose at 21 in 1979.)
About a year before the end, Kurt did a series of audio interviews as heard in the movie Kurt Cobain, produced in 2006. Not seen in the movie except in still photographs, Kurt sounds lucid, honest, friendly and affable, apparently an average guy with some problems he was more than willing to relate. He seemed like a guy you'd really want to meet! Unfortunately, Kurt's life degraded from there on.
Then Kurt acquired a shotgun and the rest is another chapter in the infamy of rock stars dead at 27 - Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, et al. Authorities said he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. But some people think he was murdered. It appears Kurt was too screwed up on junk to pull the trigger. (Of course, it's possible the drug - in the amount of an apparent overdose - would have finished him anyway.) One theory implicates his wife Courtney, who could have sought revenge after Kurt had the audacity to want a divorce. Could the woman who given Kurt the lyrical "Heart-Shaped Box" had him killed or killed him herself?
In the last paragraph of Dave Thompson's biography of Kurt Cobain, Never Fade Away, he wrote, "Kurt Cobain doesn't belong with the Morrisons or Moons of this (or any other) world. He didn't die of rock'n'roll. Instead, remember him alongside the Joplins and Shannons, the Garlands and Monroes. The superstars who died of neglect."
Did society neglect Kurt Cobain? Or did Kurt Cobain neglect himself?
Regardless of the answers to the aforementioned questions, to use a cliché, we’re all in this together. Anybody who’s seen the famous photograph of earth as seen from the Apollo spacecraft in 1968 knows we’re all riding together in one big boat hurtling through the vastness of space. We breathe the same air and live in each other’s waste. Also, in an experiential sense, we all have an effect on each other’s behavior. Ever been in rush hour traffic? Ever seen road rage? Ever felt it? We behave ourselves not because we want to stay out of jail, but because we want to have a positive influence on others. This is current sociological theory anyway. And, in a mystical sense, we should love thy neighbor (see the Book of Mathew). Not a bad idea, right? In a similar vein, British author Allan Massie wrote, “We are responsible for actions performed in response to circumstances for which we are not responsible.”
Surely a planet filled with self-seeking individuals wouldn’t be a pleasant place in which to live.
As for Kurt, he seemed a defiant spectacle before our eyes, daring us to find him anything but normal. He wanted to kick our asses and have us like it. In a fashion, he gave us what we wanted. Even crooner Tony Bennett does that. Naturally, the outrageous, in-your-face rocker has been popular for decades. Remember Elvis? He stuck out his hips and snarled defiantly while doing so. And he played that god-awful rock ‘n’ roll, which soft pop icon Mitch Miller once called “a disease.”
Unfortunately, Kurt Cobain’s ethos – or shtick – included something much more violent than Elvis’, at least in a symbolic way. In a video for the Nirvana’s tune “Come as Your Are,” a large handgun (a .44 magnum?) floats dreamily or invitingly through space as Kurt sings. What are to make of this gun? Is Kurt supposed to use it? Or are we supposed to use it on him? Maybe only the producer knew for sure.
In videos and while onstage, Kurt Cobain wanted us to find him frightening. You’d think twice before letting your daughter date a Rolling Stone, but you wouldn’t even let Kurt on your block, lest he break into your house!
On a related note, the TV show South Park showed an episode titled “Britney’s New Look.” It seems Britney Spears can’t even go camping without attracting the eyes of the paparazzi, who photograph her while taking a leak on a lady bug. Later in the show, in a fit of rage, Britney blows off most of her head with the blast from a shotgun. (Is this a reference to Cobain’s demise?) Then the boys try to take Britney, still alive somehow, to the North Pole to escape the prying eyes of the world. The theme of the show is that Britney Spears may be next in a long line of celebrities who succumb to the ravages of fame. Next, there’s Britney, then Lindsay, then Miley . . . .
Kurt Cobain self-destructed before our very eyes. He seemed to want it. Thoughts of suicide had clouded his mind for years. Injecting heroin into his veins wasn’t exactly a safe pastime either, of course. (Could one of heroin’s many nicknames be death-wish juice?)
But what could we have done to help Kurt? Maybe nothing would have worked. The human mind is very complicated.
As for the present, our attitudes need to change (just a little – we’re good people.) After all, disintegrating celebrities are not them; they’re us. So what do we do about them? Try a little empathy, sympathy and love. Send such people a kind email or letter. Call them on the phone if you can. (Sure! Well, do what you can.) A little more understanding wouldn’t hurt any of us.
You could also suggest they call for help: 1 (800) SUICIDE or 1(800) 273 – TALK. There’s always somebody around who gives a damn.
And, if possible, write an elegy to Kurt Cobain. Whatever you do, don’t forget him or his kind, because, alas, there will almost certainly be more to follow. Unless . . . .
© 2008 Kelley Marks