by | Apr 9, 1995 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

“How boring,” we say, “to take everything into consideration. It’s much more exciting to blurt out an opinion.”

It was never hip, for example, to say, “Maybe O.J. did it, maybe he didn’t.” We were more attracted to “No way! He was framed!” or “Of course he did it, everyone knows it!”

Newt Gingrich is either “a savior” or “the devil.” Howard Stern is either
“brilliant” or “the end of the world.”

The middle is lonely ground in America. We tend to go way right or way left, make the most noise, get the most attention, like little dogs yapping to be fed.

For this, I blame talk radio, newspapers, TV, and the breakneck pace of American life — which doesn’t allow time for thoughtful reflection.

And yes, I have been guilty of quick opinions myself, as I suspect you have. And in many cases, they are harmless, just another worthless two cents on the pile.

But not in the case of Kurt Cobain, the musician turned martyr.

And I don’t even like his music.

Even if you never follow rock and roll, you’ve probably heard of Cobain. He was the spindly lead singer of the heavy- metal group, Nirvana. Some young people saw the group as visionary, some old people saw them as trashy noise. Either way, they were just another popular rock group until Cobain, after a long addiction to heroin, took a gun and blew his brains out.

It was one year ago last week.

We still don’t get it. The wrong kind of tribute

I cannot recall another pop culture death that sparked such wide and extreme opinion. On one side, fans mourned the depressed Cobain as a tortured genius. They called his death a symbol of the isolated anguish of Generation X.

That he was 27 years old and usually too high to pass a driver’s test, let alone be a symbol, didn’t seem to faze them. They called him a martyr. They held candlelight vigils, and quoted Nirvana lyrics on the Internet. Last week, Seattle papers reported a surge of young suicides, apparently timed to pay
“tribute” to the anniversary of Cobain’s death.

This is ridiculous. Even if he were as tortured as Beethoven, Mozart and Van Gogh put together, one man’s suicide should never inspire others. A culture that makes suicide attractive is long overdue for repairs.

But just as I can’t hold with one side calling Cobain a hero, neither can I get with the other side calling him an idiot.

And there is plenty of that. After his death, Cobain’s own mother said,
“He joined the Stupid Club.”

Cobain’s widow, singer Courtney Love, herself a heroin user, called her dead husband “an asshole” for killing himself.

Keith Richards, guitar player for the Rolling Stones, said rather cynically: “I guess he was in the wrong business. It’s not such a bad life to be the lead singer for one of the most popular groups in the world.”

And Johnny Rotten, formerly of the Sex Pistols, a group that made Nirvana look like the Archies, said this: “I don’t give a (bleep) about Kurt Cobain.”

Such sensitivity. He should have been a poet. Curious reactions

But here’s the thing. While Cobain’s death may have been foolish and unnecessary, it was a still a death. Still one less person on the planet. I assume he had friends, I know he had family — including a 2-year-old daughter — and these are people who will suffer from his loss, whether he was an “asshole” or not.

Yet so many people say “Cobain? He had it made and still killed himself. What a jerk.”

I admit I had this reaction at first. Then I reconsidered. Have we gotten so unfeeling in this country that even suicide doesn’t evoke some sympathy? Has jealousy between the haves and have-nots reached such a point that if a guy is rich or famous he’s no longer allowed to have problems?

Having spent much of my life around famous people, I can tell you many of their concerns are exaggerated, yes, but they still feel and think and bleed and cry like the rest of us. Ask yourself, if you are suburban middle class, if your problems seem real and serious to you. They do, right?

Now ask yourself if someone living in the street wouldn’t find your life a picnic.

Everything’s relative.

So the lesson on Cobain may not be so much what he had to say, but what his death says about us. 1) That some of us are so void of self-worth, we would take our own lives to honor this guy. 2) That some of us are so hard-boiled, even a man blowing his brains out elicits a snicker.

The proper reaction is somewhere in the middle, each side a little bit right and a little bit wrong. Take everything into consideration. Maybe you find this boring?

That’s part of the problem.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!