Twenty years ago, Kurt Cobain was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. I remember feeling lost and confused. In Cobain and Nirvana I had a voice that could process the pain of being misunderstood, of expressing aggression and anger without misogyny, ego or machismo. He was the one who’d found a way to process the chaff and frustration, and yet he’d succumbed to it, and despite a beautiful and caring last note, he felt the only way to truly deal with the pain was to end his life.
I had a very hard time processing his death. I couldn’t cry because I was angry at him. I felt betrayed by a man I’d never met, but whose art would help define who I would eventually become. He, like so many of my heroes, was unafraid to point the middle finger at the tormentors of the young, the quiet, the different. He fought off bullies of many sorts with his words, his ideas, his sandpaper growl, his art. And yet he collapsed.
After some time, his death imparted another valuable lesson, one which guides me to this day. Kurt Cobain, for all his success, his achievements, his otherworldly talents and his vision, Kurt Cobain was just a man. He was flesh and bone, made plenty of mistakes, and had fears and doubts just like anyone else. His death not only killed my hero-worship, it also obliterated any want or desire for celebrity.
Celebrity, whose etymology derives from the Latin celibritatem, or multitudes of fame, is a poison that corrupts the integrity of a man. It froths all that is superficial and covers fears, flaws and all those things which make us real. It is a dam withholding troubled waters. In our current times, celebrity worship has reached unprecedented levels, where the admiration of plastic constructs like Kardashians, anti-vaccination bimbos or the Royal Family not only perpetuate lies on what construes a normal, complete life (nobody is fabulous, rich, skinny, perfect, happy and gets what they want ALL the time, if ever) but also poisons us with disappointment in our own flaws, which many times aren’t even flaws at all. Celebrity not only foments envy, but chisels insecurity into our bones, to the point of self-destruction and self-mutilation.
The day Kurt Cobain died was the day I understood how beautifully fucked up life is, how immensely complex it is, and how it can never be appreciated fully through a filter of celebrity perfection. It forever changed my interactions with people and how I did business later in my life. I see no one as being more important than the other, we are all flawed, we are all scared, we are all actively making mistakes and we should help one another to solve them, rather than being judgmental of our failures and envious of our successes, which is the very core of celebrity. The saddest part of Cobain’s death was that, despite having friends who loved him dearly, he died alone and in tremendous pain, and it is a thought that brings immense sadness to my soul.
The quote above demonstrates Cobain’s struggle with celebrity, and the best way to honor his death is to love him for being human, for being a real man, and not just for the art he made, which moved so many of a generation in a personal way. I remember, clear as day, the moment Kurt Cobain came into my life, as I recently wrote on my Facebook page:
"I got this EP for my 14th birthday. Wax Trax records in Denver, on Capitol Hill. Compact disc issued by Tupelo, discount marked down written in Sharpie on the case. Threw it on my dad’s CD player and THIS bassline changed my life forever. I couldn’t dance to it, all I could do was pound my fist into my chest and thrash my head. Mom was worried, but she also saw that I was happy. I’d connected."