A Man Who Made a Difference: March 29, 1984 – January 4, 2011

I admit I wondered about a simple memorial post for today; it’s April 5, 2013 and we’ve just hit the nineteenth anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain. But then, browsing Twitter briefly, rolling across Facebook pages…It seems near everyone is already marking their public allegiance and fealty. It’s a pretty thing to see; people pausing and saying “someone mattered to me and still does.” I’m going to get on and do a post later today pursuing a statistical angle on Smells Like Teen Spirit instead.

I don’t mark the deaths of many public figures…But on March 29 I took a moment for a gentleman called Mohamed Bouazizi – again, as with Kurt Cobain I like to mark the birth as well as death. We live in a world where the power of individuals is cited usually as a way of claiming the powerful deserve it all or that the poor, weak and dispossessed created their own fate; it’s the myth of entrepreneurs controlling the world, the superman tale that infests the financial markets and blames people who strived for something more, who aspired to something greater for failing.

Mohamed was a poor man, a boy who by his late teens was already helping support his mother and his siblings by selling fruit and vegetables on the streets of his town; there’s no room here for an existential crisis, or an artistic one, this was a meaty reality. At 11.30am on December 17, 2011 in an act of desperation he shouted “how do you expect me to make a living?” and set himself on fire in the street in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. This, until then, unknown, overlooked and essentially irrelevant 26 year old man died some two weeks later. From this ridiculously sad action, an act of true hopelessness, something good was born. Dictators fell. Regimes that had oppressed and robbed their populations for decades came apart at the seams; there was, however briefly, a chink of light.

That doesn’t mean the world is predictable, nor that consequences are controllable; it doesn’t mean the world created is going to only contain happy things, or desirable things, nor that utopia will be born at the flick of a match. All it means is that individuals can choose to act, to protest, to fight for what they feel is right – too much of the time people judge by the result when it’s the act itself which is what should be focused upon. One man changed the world entire; did anyone still truly believe that was possible? Here’s proof.

Across six months now I’ve spoken to dozens of Nirvana fans all choosing to make something positive from their love of a band and its music. Again, the act with which all this creativity and positive energy commenced was not a positive one – but something was born from sadness. That’s our choice day-by-day, what good do we build from the bad that will inevitably occur in any life? In my own life, today marks the commencement of a journey two of my friends have decided to embark on; they’ve purchased a canal boat, they’ve left London and their jobs behind and they’re going to spend the next year floating through this country seizing back life and time for themselves. I find that positive, beautiful. I wish them the best.

“No band is special, no player royalty” – true. But the least of us can do something special if we choose. Rest in Peace Kurt Cobain…And Mohamed Bouazizi. You each accidentally changed the world and it’s only a shame you won’t get to see all the good that has and will come from it.


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