There are often events in the course of history that define a generation. What happened on April 8, 1994 is one of those events. Despite what people will tell you it’s not April 5th, 6th or 7th that really had an impact. It was on April 8th that an electrician in a small town outside of Seattle, Washington called a radio station to announce he had discovered the body of Kurt Cobain in a room over the garage in a house owned by the deceased. But the house had been put up for sale. The details of Kurt’s death can be debated to the point of exhaustion; although it was ruled a suicide there is significant reason for some to believe there was foul play involved. The world had seen an alleged suicide, but more importantly a tragic ending to the life of an amazing person with a tortured soul. But it is not that controversy that I want to discuss or remember today.
Today, April 8, 2004, we mourn the 10th anniversary of Kurt’s passing, something that seems impossible to many, but is undoubtedly true. Love him or hate him, Kurt was the voice of a generation and he made an impact on society greater than many before him or since his death. The phenomenon that surrounded him was exactly what John Lennon meant when he claimed the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus.” There is no sacrilege in this comment; it’s merely a representation of popularity and of icon status. Kurt, to many, is beyond this, he has been placed on a pedestal and viewed as a deity of all things good and right about rock and roll. Ironically, this is not what the man would have wanted at all, but his death sealed that fate, just like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean before him. Kurt died young, in his prime and will forever be remembered as flawless, never hitting a decline like so many other artists.
One has to wonder if the achievement of flawlessness through early death was taken into consideration while whatever act was committed; be it suicide, murder or whatever. Though that thought alone stands against much of what Kurt believed and stood for. He was a humble man who simply enjoyed writing and playing music, it was well known that he hated his celebrity status and the worship that followed him. It bothered him so much that Kurt actually felt guilty for it, expressing often that he was not what everyone thought he was and that he really didn’t want to be a rock star. Yet it was inevitable, Nirvana was one of the biggest things to happen to music and western society since “The Twist”. Their impact on culture today is immeasurable and there is no telling how many people have been inspired by it or will be for days to come. The realization of this for Kurt was too much to handle at times and he would indulge in heroine and alcohol to relieve this suffering; as well as the persistent stomach pains that has followed him throughout life that were no doubt stressed and unaided by the pressures of life in the limelight.
Those who were a fan of Kurt’s work remember his death like our parents remember President Kennedy’s death and Martin Luther King’s death. Many of us can recite exactly what we were doing, where we were, and what we did following— it had that much of an impact on people. It is scary to think that there are two things in my life that have had and enormous impact on me: Kurt’s death and the events of September 11th. I am not by any means comparing the two, but I think it is very significant that those both stand out in my mind as evoking a similar series of emotions.
Why do we do this? What compels human beings to glorify movie stars and musicians to such an intense level so that their deaths have as much impact on our lives as the loss of thousands or the loss of a grandparent? Surely this must be yet another unhealthy side effect of our increasingly media driven society, but it’s one we’ve come to deal with, even adapt to and openly embrace. If it’s not Kurt, it’s Princess Diana or Jerry Garcia or so on. This just doesn’t seem right, but we justify it. We justify it based on how those people make us feel. Kurt’s wounded voice was something so many of us could instantly relate to, he spoke in riddles that somehow made sense of it all and tapped into many emotions some of us weren’t even aware we had. Kurt meant a lot of different things to a lot different people. For some he just created music. For others he created more than this, he gave them a voice, he gave them purpose and something to believe in.
While it is natural for us to do so, it is not my belief that April 8th should be remembered as sad day at all. I believe it should be a day on which we celebrate the impact of one man who really made a difference in a lot of people’s lives. While he was only with us briefly we should appreciate what he did during this short time for we were lucky to have it at all, a man who never wanted to make a difference at all, who inadvertently made the world a better place if only for a moment by just being himself.
“My my, hey hey
Rock and roll is here to stay
It’s better to burn out
Than to fade away
My my, hey hey.
Out of the blue and into the black
You pay for this, but they give you that
And once you’re gone, you can’t come back
When you’re out of the blue and into the black.
The king is gone but he’s not forgotten.
Is this the story of Johnny Rotten?
It’s better to burn out ’cause rust never sleeps
The king is gone but he’s not forgotten.
Hey hey, my my
Rock and roll can never die
There’s more to the picture
Than meets the eye.”
-Neil Young “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)”