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
aparkhurst7 from Wilkes Barre, PA West Hartford, CT on April 10, 2013:
I believe in the saying (if it's a real saying, I'm not sure) that you can't help someone who won't help themselves. He was bipolar so we might not have been able to save him.
Layne Staley went through a horrible 6 or so years before he died. It makes me said to know he detriorated for 2 weeks before anyone found him.
Also related, Layne said in an interview that he didn't think he killed himself and that since Kurt had a lot of money and was buying drugs. He gave certain people a lot of reasons to kill him. I used to think it was Courtney, then I thought well, he was suicidal, but Layne has a good point. They weren't the best of friends but I think Layne had more of an inside perspective.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on July 08, 2012:
Thanks for the comment, SkySlave. Kurt Cobain has been sorely missed by many rock fans. Later!
Skyler DeCristoforo from Olympia, WA on July 08, 2012:
Fascinating hub about an amazing musician. Kurt Cobain spoke to the young and the lost, much like Layne Staley. Such a beautiful talent , tortured by the press. Weather or not he pulled the trigger himself, hes an icon that should be recognized for who he was and the music he wrote not by what the media says.
Ian on December 15, 2011:
Of all the people who died from the 90s alt-rock era, I miss Layne Staley most. And I believe his death was the most tragic. It was a decade-long suicide right in public.
However, history won't see it that way. The mainstream and "alternative" press heralded Cobain as a messiah before his demise. (Perhaps the fame played a part in his downfall.) That same press maligned Staley for acting not much different than Kurt, minus the suicide threats and gun imagery.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on March 16, 2011:
Thanks for the compliment, amymarie_5. Cobain's tale of woe is definitely tragic; he's another member of the Rockers Dead at 27 Club. Later!
Amy DeMarco from Chicago on March 15, 2011:
This is such a great hub with so much information I didn't even know. I was 18 when Kurt Cobain killed himself. I remember where I was that day. I guess you could say he's Generation X's Elvis. When I hear his music all of these years later, I could hear the torture in his lyrics. It makes me sad for him. I believe the drugs messed with his head and that's the reason he killed himself. It's a shame. Once again thank you for sharing this information.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on September 28, 2010:
So, Healthy Living Is, you think Kurt was murdered? He may have been, but the police say otherwise. Of course the police have been wrong many times. Basically, they don't want to spend anymore time on the case unless more evidence surfaces. More evidence - what a concept! Maybe it's time for you to write the Kurt Cobain story. Later!
Healthy Living Is from allergies, people, flowers. health, diet, art, medicine, mental health on September 27, 2010:
He did not pull the trigger.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on July 04, 2010:
I agree, Missing Link, it was a great loss. Unfortunately, in the world of rock, there have been many of those. Later!
Missing Link from Oregon on July 03, 2010:
it doesn't take long in studying him, his art, his music etc. to realize he needed help, poor guy----there should have been more recognition how troubled he was and people around him should have worked harder to get him help, he was troubled and tormented, what a great talent, what a horrendous loss
johnshade from Pandora on June 15, 2010:
Kurt Cobain is my hero nice hub
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on December 15, 2009:
Thanks for the complimentary letter, R. Fortunately I've rarely had thoughts of suicide, but if I continue having dental problems, that could change. Let's remember Kurt Cobain. Later!
R on December 15, 2009:
Wonderful, introspective writing. Whether our dear Kurt Cobain died by his own hand or through other means, he is still gone and remains in our DTs. Though we all make speculations about his personal life, his message, and his death we will never know the REAL Kurt Cobain. However, what we do know is that Kurt Cobain was an individual with some deep emotional scars caused by depression, drugs, and the stress of just living...
I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety a little over a year ago (following a long bout of self destructive behavior and a suicide attempt). To me, this article was very meaningful.
Thank you, R
RIP Kurt Cobain
redwriterbb from Norfolk/Virginia Beach Area on October 24, 2009:
Chuck Negron formerly of Three Dog Night belongs to a group called Music Cares that helps musicians with drug problems.
Chuck got a call that he might be needed to help Kurt Cobain.
But it was too late. Chuck has been clean and sober for
18 years. This is just a fact I know. I'm not making any
statement about whether or not Kurt Cobain could have been
saved. I love Kurt Cobain's music and I sympathize with tortured souls.
Heather B on October 08, 2009:
I just want to say Kosmo you are right andI dont know why the police don't see what evidence has been brought forward by Ian Halperin, a friend suggested they just dont want to admit they jumped the gun on the determined COD but it sure would be nice to see the case reopened to just take a hard look and put so many minds to rest
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on July 24, 2009:
Don't worry, Monica, rock 'n' roll will never die, even though some of its players will continue to do so. It's a kind of occupational hazard, I suppose. Later!
Monica on July 24, 2009:
I hang out with Mike Starr. He's the original base player for Alice in Chains. AIC's lead singer, L Staley died April 5th on the same day as KC. Mike Starr's bday is April 4th. LS's girlfriend also died in 1996.
Anyway, Mike is in his second reality show Sober House with some other Celebs. I'm being supportive. I don't want rock n roll to die!
kimmie on May 06, 2009:
people need to stop saying half the story they need to come out with the truth!!! all people do is gripe because they wont tell everything they know. either tell the whole story or shut up and let the man rest in peace.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on May 03, 2009:
Thanks for your eloquent comment, Leland Janson. Yes indeed Kurt Cobain was a troubled soul who may or may not have pulled it together no matter what the circumstances. Too bad some people can't just enjoy life!...
Leland Janson from Cheltenham, England. on May 03, 2009:
I think Cobain was self-destructive from an early age, and self-destructive individuals will destroy themselves eventually. I still remember the day Cobain died, which was a bad time for all he touched, exacerbated when less than a year later, another of my idols disappeared, the less famous Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers.
To tortured souls such as these two, fame is both a blessing and a curse. The spotlight and attention fame affords them, is like a medicine, allowing them to express themselves freely when before they had been repressed. Also that scrutiny played upon their sensitivities, comfounded their insecurities and fueling their own self-destructive urges.
How could they be protected? The answer is: They couldn't. Once you are in a position of worship, there is no going back, there is no quietly fading into the background. Whether Cobain (or Edwards) actually killed himself is pretty irrellevant in terms of him as a human. He was simply too fragile for this existence and the pressures of fame. Even without fame, would the man Kurt Cobain was still be among us?
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on April 10, 2009:
Well, apparently the police don't share your conviction regarding Cobain's demise. However, it would have been difficult for Cobain to shoot himself with a long-barreled firearm such as a shotgun, unless he used his toes, but he was found with his shoes still on . . . ! Anyway, the gist of the story covers his apparent - and official - suicide. Doing a story about his possible murder would entail more research than I've wanted to perform. Now if I lived in the Seattle area . . . . Kristenssn, thanks for your continuous attention!
kristenssn from Sacramento CA on April 07, 2009:
By research, I mean the evidence strongly points to a murder.
Adam B on April 01, 2009:
I heard someone talk about the mysteries surrounding Kurt's death and the conspiracy surrounding a murder. I actually don't remember many details but when I fist heard it, I was questioning if he actually committed suicide.
kristenssn from Sacramento CA on September 24, 2008:
Great writing, but you should really do your research.
julie on July 31, 2008:
wow your an awesome writer
Deelstra on June 29, 2008:
This is the best HUB ever in terms of content and creativity. KUDOs to you.
Kurt Cobain was a lot like my son, Ryan, who also took his own life at the age of 21. Both are sorely missed.
Thanks for this fascinating and informative, content rich hub.