There’s also a kneejerk resort to the ready and popular warnings when it comes to Kurt Cobain. Drugs, femme fatale, bad parenting, the pressures of fame, genetic predisposition to depression — everyone knows what they hold most responsible for his sad ending. While recognising truth in all these options I’d say that often the reasons upon which people focus are more about social acceptability and the position of the onlooker than they are about Cobain’s fate.
To suggest something different, I’d suggest that in the case of Kurt Cobain it could just as well be said that having a baby was the primary act that contributed to his decision to kill himself — he even says it in his suicide note. Don’t allow a positive phrasing to remove responsibility from a crucial issue.
To see parenthood as something other than a positive, however, is a rarely held social position despite the fact that, in this case, it can be deemed to bear significant responsibility for the late 1992 crises that stressed and affected Cobain for most of the rest of his life. This one act brought his drug issue into the open, forcing something that perhaps would have petered out of its own accord, something that wasn’t a risk to anyone and that had stayed private until then, into public view where the pressure applied by external agencies and by friends — thanks to the presence of a baby — backed Cobain into a corner. At the final attempt at an intervention by his friends, Courtney Love tells him “you have to be a good daddy,” and directly threatens the withdrawal of access to his daughter. The baby, while not culpable for his suicide, was a primary cause and motivation of his increasingly desperate actions.
As that final intervention showed, the baby had also loaded his relationship with Courtney Love with a further level of tensions; two young rock stars now trying to simultaneously have a loving relationship, while permanently under observation, while fighting drug issues, while coping with sudden and shocking fame, are also trying to preserve sufficient normality to raise a child. Even for the most middle-class and suburban of parents children bring unbelievable workload and stress (as well, I know, was much joy) — even in those far simpler circumstances relationships break down, children suffer and happy endings aren’t guaranteed. Adding a child to the situation faced in 1992-1994 was another straw cracking the camel’s back clean in two.
The baby also brought Cobain face-to-face with his own fears regarding his suitability as a parent and his own knowledge of the damage of wrought by parents, usually unwittingly. He was very much an exponent of Philip Larkin’s view on parents expressed in This Be the Verse — look it up if you don’t know the poem I’m referring to — and believed that biology could dictate a person, hence his talk of “suicide genes” and his reiteration of parental blame for what he felt he’d become. For a guy with significant self-esteem issues adding a further risk, now to his child not just to himself, if he screwed up was bound to have consequences.
The desire to ‘do better than ones parents’ is sometimes a driver to parenthood. What it meant for Kurt Cobain was that his relationship with Courtney Love was now piled high with disturbing reminders of his parents’ divorce and the impact it had upon him. A young couple divorcing, big deal, a couple with a child divorcing, much bigger deal — the decisions related to their relationship now had another dimension to consider and one that echoed the event he pointed to as a source of substantial pain in his own life. He was now faced with staying in the relationship or not just leaving it, but risking hurting his child too. Again, though a positive, sweet and caring impulse the existence of Frances Bean Cobain was as much a factor in the crises of 1994 as any other single matter — it’s just we don’t like to think of kids as an impersonal object carrying consequences rather than as blameless innocents who float free of such burdens.
With parenthood having forced the drugs issue to suddenly move from being a private matter to a crisis; with a baby becoming a part of the tug-of-war in the relationship with his wife; being sucked into ‘history repeating itself’ with the extensive guilt and reawakened trauma that brought; with the inability to make the decision that was best for him without now having to consider this child — Cobain was trapped. He recognised it too but people like to gloss over how clear-eyed he was about the choices facing him.
His suicide note has been well dissected but for some reason everything is held up to view except the fact that he devotes a full paragraph to declaring the insurmountable challenge his child has become, how she; “…reminds me too much of what I used to be, full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point to where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable, self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become.” The guilt and incapacitating damage created by having a child, by playing out his parents own role, reduces him to a barely functioning state. In a letter that repeatedly resorts to child metaphors and self-identification as a child, the significance of the child has been erased because its easier to think of Cobain’s role as a loving father, which he was, as a positive than as the source of massive disturbance it was.
Anyways, as I was saying, in general humanity dislikes viewing its warm n’ fuzzy positives as potential sources of destruction.
One thought on “J’Accuse…The Father”
This is an incredibly insightful post that has changed I see Kurt’s demise. Kudos.