Kurt Cobain's suicide: Why it's time to move on

Kurt_Cobain_Heart_Shaped.jpg
Screengrab from Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box (Director's Cut)" video

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.

See also:
Nirvana's In Utero vs. Nevermind: Which is better?


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.



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26 comments
Dave Hoenack
Dave Hoenack

Sure. Never a fan. But can we also address mental illness and addiction as the primary cause of suicide, the 10th leading cause of death in this country, which (per the most recent CDC statistics) took more than thirty-eight thousand Americans in a single year. These are preventable deaths that leave in their wake countless broken hearts, and the first thing we could do is to start removing the stigma this story perpetuates. Those who suffer to the point of suicide are not cowards.

Serah Sauser
Serah Sauser

It is clear that Pat O'Brien is uneducated and a very insensitive person. Freedom of speech is one thing but publishing stupidity is another.

k2yeb
k2yeb topcommenter

Great band...but like many before them overrated because of suicide. Just because you go out in a blaze of glory doesn't mean you are more rock n roll than someone like Lou Reed.

Danielle Demko
Danielle Demko

Now is the right time? I though for sure it was about 20 years ago. Hmm.. Clearly I'm insensitive. Or realistic.

Greta von Otto
Greta von Otto

I think some of his songs are the best ever, Smells Like Teen Spirit, All Apologies, etc. He lives on forever on my turn-table!

Andrew Olson
Andrew Olson

This article is as stupid as the author thinks Cobain was. Two wrongs don't make a right though. Cobain saved rock music, was our leader, but by reading this article it shows that we are not properly carrying on his spirit. Corporate Magazines - which City Pages has become - Still Suck!

Christopher Dene
Christopher Dene

Passive aggressive headline. Just be quiet about it instead of posting you don't want to talk about it.

Jeremy Martin
Jeremy Martin

Once I came to "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." the article was over. The writer clearly has no personal experience with Mental Illness or they would not say something so clueless. Kurt's Suicide was not about you pal, it was about a hugely talented human whose brain was severely chemically imbalanced. You disgust me by trying to make Kurt's, or any Suicide victim's death, about you you selfish little twat.

patrickdentinger
patrickdentinger

Once again, Pat O'Brien foists his malformed musical opinions on the TC area, professing he knows all but regards little. While I don't hold on to Kurt's death, I feel the loss of what might have been, just as I feel about Hendrix or Morrison. What more would they have created? And I agree that had Kurt not died, Dave Grohl may never have formed Foo Fighters. At least, not at that time or in the exact way he did it (by himself at first). But Grohl is a musical genius, and he would've created something outside of Nirvana had Kurt not died or the band not broken up. And, let's face it, Nirvana would likely not have lasted more than a year or two after 'In Utero', anyway. Not with Kurt's volatility and Dave's creative energy which would've eventually exceeded percussion alone.


What O'Brien gets so very wrong is calling suicide 'the easy way out,' and 'cowardly.' Bullshit. Addiction is an illness which distorts one's perspective. The same with depression, which I am positive Kurt had in spades. He also had chronic stomach issues. And speaking as someone with chronic pain and depression, I can say that chronic illness is an anchor. It casts a pall over every aspect of life. Add onto that a quicksilver shot into rock stardom - with the power and responsibility it brings - and you have a recipe for eventual collapse of an already unstable structure. I lost a friend to depression and addiction a few years ago. The battle my friend fought to regain a foothold in life was nothing short of heroic. But the last time he ended his on-again, off-again sobriety was too much. The fight was over. He didn't give up, give in, or take 'the easy way out' like a 'coward'. He needed it all to stop. So, he took the one thing in his immediate control he had left, his life. And did with it as he wanted. As he needed. To make that choice was, I am sure, the most difficult one he ever made. 

So, to Pat O'Brien, I say, 'fuck you and your sanctimonious bullshit' where suicide is concerned. Whether your opinions about music ring true to your readers or not, you're dead wrong on suicide.

Kelly Yetter
Kelly Yetter

All suicide is a tragedy. When cancer takes a person it's a tragedy. Depression/ mental illness/addiction - it's the same thing. A person was lost to a disease. To call him a selfish coward is to not understand to grip that depression can take on a person.

Nick Walker
Nick Walker

Well, yeah, hating anyone you never knew is a bit horrible.

Jessica Titus
Jessica Titus

This seems like a rather schizophrenic article in my opinion. I believe his death was so pivotal to so many because this generation had never idolized someone like this before - a tormented soul. Someone that most angsty teens could relate to...and who other non-angsty teens could emulate. His death triggered the idea that #1, depression and suicide issues are real and scary, #2 his depression was not simply an act. His death woke people up. It crushed the people who had idolized him so much and it angered those who identified his suicide as a completely selfless act. I wish this tragedy was somehow used to create more broad awareness and prevention programs for so many people who struggle with their inner demons.

Kevin Mowry
Kevin Mowry

Yep, I'm a horrible person because I hate a worthless junkie who blew his damn head off. Oh no, the world lost a junkie twenty years ago who made mediocre music at best Eric Shawn Smith

Eric Shawn Smith
Eric Shawn Smith

Some people choose to blow their brains out, and some change the world before they do it. Kevin Mowry what are you doing besides taking up valuable oxygen? You puke.

Adina K. Burke
Adina K. Burke

At the heart of the article, I agree, but one should never call suicide "stupid" or "selfish". Depression makes you "stupid" and Depression at its core, is very selfish. I should know because I have it, and I've attempted as well. All art glamorizes madness. From Poe and Van Gogh to Kurt. And this has got to stop. Losing one's mind isn't beautifully tragic. It's just tragic. When we see stories like Kurt's in the media, we should have a discussion on mental illness and what that really looks like. Depression is selfish and stupid. As is addiction, but the man who loved his wife and family? I doubt it. Don't demonize suicide victims by using terms like "selfish" and "stupid". He, like many others, was just suffering and while as I said, I agree with the author in that we shouldn't romance his suicide any longer, we shouldn't look down upon him or others for having an untreated illness. I'm not as selfish or stupid as my illness makes me out to be sometimes, nor was Kurt or many others. There is a difference between the depressive brain and non depressive brain.

kolbydickens1
kolbydickens1

I don't agree.  Kurt and Elliott.  I don't want to ever move on.

Thehophead
Thehophead

The documentary, Kurt and Courtney was very interesting...

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