Friday, April 5, 2019

Kurt Cobain died 25 years ago

Kurt Cobain is estimated to have killed himself 25 years ago today, April 5, 1994. His body was discovered and the news was reported 3 days later.

Over 10 years ago I made a list of the 40 greatest grunge songs as a series of blog posts, and then did a post reflecting on those who had died. I said:

I vividly remember when I was 13, sitting around watching MTV on April 8, 1994. Kurt Loder announced on MTV News that Kurt Cobain had been found dead in his home and that the cause of death was "a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head." I was so young that the meaning of that delicate phrasing didn't register with me, so I asked my mom about it. She had to explain: "That means he killed himself." . . .

He was 27. He left behind a one-year-old daughter and many others.

Nirvana [which had songs #18, #9, #1 in my list] released only three proper studio albums. In a Rolling Stone interview near the end of his life, Cobain was critical of the band's soft/loud formula and talked about wanting to branch out stylistically. He said he wanted to "learn to go in between those things, go back and forth, almost become psychedelic in a way."

We'll never get to hear how the band might have developed; the analogy would be if John Lennon had died not in 1980 but in 1965. They should have done so much more. But they changed the direction of rock music in the few years they were around. (As I said yesterday, I realize that other bands have a better claim to inventing grunge, but Nirvana perfected it and reached a lot more people.)

For days after the news broke, MTV constantly reran the Nirvana Unplugged concert, and I watched it almost as constantly. I started learning to play guitar that summer.
This is a park bench in Seattle, south of Cobain's home, where he died. The photographer, Eric Shoemaker, says: "Nirvana fans gather at the park on the memorial of Kurt Cobain's death (April 5th), to pay tribute. . . . The park's benches are covered with graffiti messages to the rock icon."

As you can see, someone wrote the first line of "Dumb," from In Utero: "I'm not like them, but I can pretend."

Cobain tribute bench in Seattle

From the New York Times:
Suicide prevention advocates have developed guidelines for news media coverage of suicide deaths. . . . They . . . recommend avoiding coverage that describes death as an escape for a troubled person.

One example was the 1994 death of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, who was beloved among young music fans, including in Seattle, where his career rose and where he was found dead. Local coverage of his suicide was closely tied to messages about treatment for mental health and suicide prevention, along with a very public discussion of the pain his death caused his family.

Those factors may explain why his death bucked the pattern. In the months after Mr. Cobain’s death, calls to suicide prevention lines in the Seattle area surged and suicides actually went down.