I’m not sure I’d write the same thing now. And I’m not certain I was correct.
But after Kurt Cobain killed himself, as I consumed the grief-filled reaction, I wrote a piece the Decatur Herald & Review was kind enough to run. (At the time, I was in my sixth year as a sports copy editor. My co-workers knew of my passion for music, but that didn’t mean they had to publish my little 350-word plea.)
Boy, hearing Kurt Cobain’s voice for the first time was really special.
Like most music fans, my first experience with Cobain and Nirvana was late one night on MTV, watching and listening to the outrageous video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
“This is pretty entertaining,” I thought. “But these guys will never see the light of day. They’re too dangerous for America.”
Three years and millions of albums and one moronic decision later, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana are dead, and a new generation has its first rock music martyr.
Please, don’t fall for it. Sometime last week, Cobain was the ultimate coward, putting a shotgun to his head and pulling the trigger. It doesn’t make him a hero. It doesn’t mean he’ll live forever.
The music will always be there. There will always be the irony of the title of the band’s final release, “I Hate Myself and Want to Die.” And there will henceforth be a number of us who choke up just a little bit when we hear Cobain sing, “And I swear I don’t have a gun.”
But please, don’t canonize the guy. There’s nothing romantic about killing yourself. After killing yourself, there’s nothing. Sure, Cobain was the center of attention in our channel-surfing universe for about a day, but after that, we all moved on to other things.
Foolishly, each generation has had its heroes who have become bigger than life for doing themselves in. If Cobain’s contemporaries want to prove they’re truly different and better than those who went before, they’ll reject placing the man on an altar next to Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon, Janis Joplin, Sid Vicious (insert your favorite here).
Kurt Cobain was a talented and troubled man. He had what many thought should have been enough to make him happy -fame, recognition and money. It obviously wasn’t what he needed.
Perhaps the most fitting eulogy for Cobain would be to acknowledge that as a songwriter and singer, he had few peers. He was just a lousy human being, and the last thing he did proved that.
Pointed? Certainly. A little harsh? Possibly. As I read it now, 22 years later, would I change anything? No. I might not write it the same way now, but dammit, I was mad at Cobain. (I was also mad at all of the little shitheads on Prodigy bulletin boards with whom I was debating Cobain’s final gesture.)
(You read that right. Prodigy. I didn’t have a Compuserve account, but I knew people who did. And I remember having to pay for individual e-mails when I sent or received them from “The Internet.”)
The next day, I received a call from an adult female reader who criticized what I wrote. She told me she was disgusted, and it was the worst thing she’d ever read, because it was so depressing.
I thanked her. She demanded to know why I thanked her.
“A man committed suicide,” I said, “and you’re more depressed because of something I wrote. That makes me a pretty good writer.”
That wasn’t what she wanted to hear.
A week later, the paper ran a teenager’s response to my thoughts:
I am writing to you in regards to Tim Cain’s article last Thursday on the death of Nirvana ’s Kurt Cobain.
I don’t believe that you should criticize someone the way Cain did.
I know that it wasn’t smart of Cobain to kill himself, but I don’t think that Cain should have said “he was a lousy human being.”
Neither Cain or anyone else should say that about someone. Cobain might not have been the smartest or bravest person, but you shouldn’t say he was “the ultimate coward.”
I may only be 14, but at least I have respect for others -dead or alive.
Scott Dillman is a freshman at MacArthur High School in Decatur. He’s been a Nirvana fan for about three years and also enjoys music by the Doors, Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin and Nazareth.
Maybe Scott was right. He’s certainly entitled to his opinion, in either case.
But seriously? He enjoys music by Nazareth? I thought I was the only one who admitted that.