Remember Kurt Cobain († April 5, 1994)
Author: Nadia Shehadeh - 2013-04-05
19 years ago, NIRVANA-frontman Kurt Cobain killed himself. This marked not just the end of a great band, but somehow also the end of a long era in which musicians could be spokesmen for a generation.
Does anyone of you remember the days of 1994? A year in which we recorded mixtapes on cassette cause there were no iPods to synchronize? A year in which nobody of us had ever heard the word "Internet"? A year in which we could just be cool with being different? The year in which Kurt Cobain decides to leave our planet.
One shot in the head with a three-fold overdose of heroin in the blood. For days the music-stations-pictures flickered on the TV-screens, and you could see Cobain's legs, his land, his house, his garage, and around all that reporters and moderators and police and people. A legend banned himself into death with a gun, and a guy from MTB stood on the Cobain-estate, talking hecticly and shocked into the camera: "In this garage not merely a 27-year-old musician did die, HERE LIES THE VOICE OF A WHOLE GENERATION!"
A time without enemies
NIRVANA needed only a few years to become the flagship-band of Grunge, with Kurt Cobain as the boss. And for many –actually those who were never interested in a "leader"- Cobain was somehow the Messiah.
NIRVANA was the band that was agreed by all: The metal guys, the hip hop scene, the electronic section - they all loved NIRVANA, without any discussion. NIRVANA appeared in a time, where a whole changed world order was promised with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet bloc. For those who were born in the 1960s and 1970s, the industrialized countries of north-western character had been tinkered the label "Generation X", a term that was loosely based on Douglas Coupland's thesis. There was a talk about a generation which was socialised without the effects of war, but on the other hand was confronted with less wealth and less economic security - something the precious generation did not experience. A generation that had to pay the dues for the economic and ecological sins of their parents and grandparents.
"Too much TV, too little work" and "Hangover after the big bash" - these were the impact theories, and actually at that time things were not that much different from today. NIRVANA was the medium for precisely this target group: A band that was trying to convey an awareness of content, an awareness for social and political order. But NIRVANA, often, very often was misunderstood and falsly suspected for the opposite: Hopelessness. Disorientation. Listlessness.
NIRVANA's performances on stage and in the media and in publications as the "Cobain Diaries", however, are peppered with a large number of political confessions. The fragmentary texts filled with political statements do absolutely not correspond to the image of disoriented "Slackers" without a plan and hope and joy. Again and again Cobain expressed himself anti-racist and pro-feminist, and he attacked also political issues such as police violence, authoritarian state and church. He did no lip service, but chose his life-program, that in the consistent belief ultimately led to self-hate:
"The apathy of my generation - that's disgusting. Disgusts me but also to my own apathy, as I have no backbone, because I do not permanently against racism, sexism and all the other isms jump, about the counter-culture complained for years."
As such, it is not even ironic that NIRVANA's biggest hit, "Smells Like Teen Spirit", the catchy four-chord anthem that criticized the political apathy of the "stupid, insane youth", hardly disgusted Cobain. He hated the track: "Too easy". Hate and pain are the constants in his life, and drug-addcition followed. Since he was seven, he was suffering from excruciating stomach pain, for that about almost two decades no doctor could find any medical explanation, and which he regarded as visceral damage and "Cobain-syndrome". Drugs were the only way to ease the pain, until a few months before he died he finally (and: too late) received a diagnosis: A pinched nerve had tortured him for years.
And all the hate: For Republicans, for macho-men and for white conservative rednecks. And for one man who in Cobain's eyes combined all this: Axl Rose, his counterpart from GUNS N' ROSES, the other major Rock band of that time. In an MTV-Awards-Gig he spits on one piano, cause he thought Axl would later in the evening would use it for his performance of "November Rain" - and later on he learned that he caught Elton John' s piano instead.
Here we are now. Entertain us.
And then the fame, the money, the role model that he refuses to be because he saw himself absolutely unsuitable for being an idol, and during his lifetime he kept his personality structure that did not allow him to identify with all the attendant factors of the commercial success. On stage, Cobain for a long time forced himself to play the daredevil who freaks out wildly and smashes guitars – in the tour bus after the gigs, he never listens to Hard Rock, but always to the same record: "ABBA's Greatest Hits".
In conversations and interviews, he was always shy and reserved and modest. The last concert, a recording of the MTV Unplugged-series, was already arranged almost like a funeral: With lilies and candles in the back, and a calm Cobain who was drinking tea on stage. Young people questioned theirselves which guest band would have the honor to feature this legendary concert. PEARL JAM? SOUNDGARDEN? Nope. Cobain chose a band nobody had ever heard of: THE MEAT PUPPETS. Who-the-fuck-were-the-Meat-Puppets? But that was Kurt, always good for doing the unexpected.
Until the end Kurt tried so hard to get closer to the world, and to see something good in all things he experienced: "I guess that somehow everyone who has the ambition to create something and not to break anything, deserves respect."
In the end, he could develop that self-respect, and he wrote in his suicidal note before he put the shotgun to his head: "The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I'm having 100% fun. Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch-in time clock before I walk out on stage. I've tried everything within my power to appreciate it (and I do, God believe me I do, but it's not enough). I appreciate the fact that I and we have affected and entertained a lot of people. I must be one of those narcissists who only appreciate things when they're gone. I'm too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasm I once had as a child. On our last 3 tours, I've had a much better appreciation for all the people I've known personally and as fans of our music, but I still can't get over the frustration, the guilt and empathy I have for everyone."
1994. A year in which we recorded mixtapes on cassette cause there were no iPods to synchronize. A year in which nobody of us had ever heard the word "Internet". A year in which we could just be cool with being different. The year in which Justin Bieber was born and Lady Gaga was still attending high school. I remember that year, because I was 14 that time. And everytime I listen to a NIRVANA-track today, I remember: I miss Kurt Cobain.