Roughly 20 years ago today, the lead singer of a wicked popular grunge rock band killed himself (or was murdered, pick your own ending). Kurt Cobain defined rock music for an entire generation, and continues to influence subsequent generations. If you think about it, he was America’s last true rock star. Now we sit here, remembering, glorifying, and dissecting his life and death.
Lots of famous people die. Well, everyone dies. But, people didn’t throw themselves off the top of a fountain into a sea of mourning twenty-somethings when Heath Ledger died. Sure we all pondered if it were suicide, or an accident, but Heath Ledger’s defining roll hadn’t even premiered yet. With Ledger no one questioned if he was murdered, so I’ll give you that. Cobain was made more interesting because there was the murder theory. To this day, no one can find enough evidence to definitively say if he committed suicide or was murdered.
Overall though, Cobain went the same way as many of the Hollywood A list. Into a tunnel of drugs and depression, where the light at the other end isn’t the sun.
When cops discovered Cobain in 1994 I was 1 and a half years old, to be technical I had just turned 17 months old. Translation: I had no clue what was going on around me, because I hadn’t developed the cognitive functions in my brain yet. So I didn’t understand, tangibly, how “important” his death was.
I didn’t put important in quotes because he wasn’t important. Musically, he was very important. Nirvana helped usher in a new wave of music in the early 1990s, and it continues to influence artists through today. His lyrics touched the hearts, and minds, of thousands of people. He gave a voice to the cynical minded teens of the 90s. The Ramones did it in the 70s, and the Rolling Stones did it from the 60s until, the forseeable ever. He transformed the fashion scene, giving all of us the warm goodness of plaid flannel.
But the importance of Kurt Cobain as a person? Well, shouldn’t he really only be important to his family. His death was nothing to laugh at, it robbed the world from years of music we can never hear. But personally, he wasn’t going to last very long in the public eye, and he never liked being shoved in front of humanity.
Cobain vocalized his dislike for being in the public sphere many times. So, if he didn’t want his life to be talked over and analyzed, why would we spend hours talking about and analyzing his death? On an even simpler level, why are we still talking about the fact that he died? Its not going to change. He’s not going to reappear as Zombie Cobain.
People took to Kurt Cobain, and connected with him emotionally. His death hit hard for some, and people mourned very publicly for a while. But why? His death is not for us to mourn, we had no emotional bond with Cobain. His family does not know many of his fans personally, nor do they want to. They want to mourn in peace, in their own way and time.
This isn’t a problem specific to Mr. Cobain either. For years the media, and America as a culture, successfully turned tragic deaths into a “horrible, unexpected, tragedies.” In the last ten years alone the world saw, Heath Ledger, Brittany Murphy, Corey Haim, Amy Winehouse, Ryan Dunn*, and Philip Seymour Hoffman die due to drugs or alcohol.
After each of these deaths the media concentrated on how awful it was these people turned to drugs and alcohol instead of seeking the proper medical attention. But they never take it any further. They then interview the bereaved, pop-culture specialists, and a whole host of other commentators, about this persons life, and what their death means. Instead, this is the perfect platform to discuss why they didn’t seek medical attention, or why they were not successful. It’s a chance to discuss the state of mental health care in America, and the state of drug culture, and issues.
When a well respected, Academy Award winning actor, dies from a heroin overdose it’s probably time to start talking about what heroin was doing in that home.
But, ultimately, what we should gain from this is the more important point: leave these people’s family alone, and stop glorifying their death. By dissecting it, discussing it, and analyzing it, the media shows the world how much attention you can get just for dying. Which, is the opposite of what we should be teaching children. This also isn’t how people want to be remembered, as caricatures of themselves.
So, if five years from now I’m reading an article entitled “A Quarter Century since we lost Cobain” which goes over all the gory details of what happened, and how the world felt, I’m just going to shake my head and sigh. Some people just don’t learn from others mistakes.
*Ryan Dunn died in a car crash with a blood alcohol level of 0.196% the legal limit being 0.08%