Simone Weill stated “one has only the choice between God and idolatry.” Strangely I actually agree with the statement; the absence of religious belief doesn’t lead to a void of central meaning, it replaces it with a different basis for belief within which people choose to venerate and devote their lives to things other than a religious entity. Naturally I feel equally happy to sneer at that quest for meaning within career, home, love, parenthood as I do at religion. The core point though is that it isn’t a choice between God and nothing.
The question has been asked many times whether Kurt Cobain’s teenage dalliances with religion, which went as far as Kurt accepting baptism, extended into a mature faith in God. I’m less concerned with that given, if he did possess such faith, then a significant sum of his actions as an adult won’t exactly get him much sympathy at the Last Judgment. What intrigues me more is that his life does possess a genuine quest to restore a central meaning to his activity — Weill would rephrase that as an idolatry.
The most obvious answer that could be given is that Cobain idolised music, but I would state it was a deeper urge. The component he emphasised was, firstly, his words rather than his instrumental expression — he strongly dismissed his skills as a guitarist, little of his music exists without the intention being to cloak it with lyrics. Likewise, even if his self-criticism was overstated he was no guitar worshipper, no untrammelled explorer of the instrument’s possibilities, nor a player overawed by its history — he was dismissive not just of his skills with it but also of the instrument and its tiredness. His words clearly took significant work with his crucial spells of song-writing all coinciding with significant time alone to draft on paper — more so, he was a committed journal-writer throughout his adulthood with his writing activity extending far beyond music. Added to this is his extensive artistic efforts, a further expressive medium he stretched in various directions out as far as video efforts same as he took his musical efforts beyond the guitar onto drums and across various tape experiments.
My argument would be that the expression of self was Cobain’s primary purpose and the form of idolatry was therefore the internal drives and wishes that demanded self-expression uber-alles. I see no evidence of a genuine religious belief in the actions of Cobain but, to be fair, I’m based in the basically non-religious U.K. where church attendance, formal church allegiance and formal belief have all given way to a more generic pick-n’-choose spirituality and a vague belief in ‘something out there’ unaccompanied by impositions on the physical individual in the here-and-now. There’s no specific evidence of Cobain’s genuine beliefs one way or the other beyond the adolescent ‘trying on’ of identities that might have helped him fit in with where he was at that time.
As a sidebar I saw this beautiful post in which the writer states “his suicide note states at the beginning ‘dear Buddha’”. Wonderful. And whether that’s accurate or not I do believe the world can always do with more laughing with, not at:
So, what’s your chosen idolatry? Mine appears to be information, constant consumption of information at the expense of financial wisdom, time to contemplate, social stuff, etc.
One thought on “Cobain and Secular Idolatry”
Kurt had parted ways with God due to his origin difficulty. Thus, calling God “Buddha” is a mocking, ie, a childish way to say “I want to love you again”.
This goes together with Kurt saying “It’s all my fault ” on the latest movie about him and with the assisted suicide perspective behind the case.