So, everyone taken a moment with a Nirvana song today…?
I admit I usually avoid writing just to mark the occasion of Kurt Cobain’s birthday or his death either. This site has been going some two and a bit years, there are 400 posts up here and though I’ve been running low on the deeper analyses that I prefer to run I’ve never felt much need to switch over to thinking my random musings are anywhere near as good or interesting as some proper discussion of a big meaty Nirvana topic. So I’ve always felt I’ll write when there’s something to say, not just to mark an occasion.
But breaking that habit…Even today I spoke to two separate people who both said “I remember where I was when he died.”
I don’t think Kurt Cobain was ‘more special’ than anyone. While writing “I Found My Friends” I learnt of more than a dozen musicians who played alongside Nirvana and died tragically young – they’re each worth remembrance by those who loved them. But that’s where I find the point to be. It’s not about superstars and god-heads and icons and saints. It’s about people who have connected with one’s life. Cobain reached a position where millions felt that connection, some form of link – and that’s worthy of respect. There’s no disrespect in the way he commands a wider reach than one’s own lost loved ones; more people mourning or remembering doesn’t mean the remembrance is of greater value, nor does remembering someone you may or may not have seen or met in person devalue it. Sometimes people sneer at feeling expressed toward something one did not experience or someone one never met – but they’re wrong to privilege their personal lived reality so highly as to ignore the many things that impact our lives, that are of significance, that we don’t touch or speak to directly. Those things are also worthy of note and remembering too.
As I said, I don’t think Cobain was ‘more special’ but I truly do think he deserves to be seen as an inspirational figure. Social mobility, the dream of the equal playing field where anyone can rise from the bottom to the top is – frankly – a damned lie these days as money entrenches privilege to a degree not seen in America ever and in the U.K. since the days of rule by the aristocracy. Only a tiny number will make it, but that’s no reason to be cynical about their achievement – it shows it can be done, it shows the limitations too, but it is worth admiring and wanting to make happen. These past few years I’ve felt truly privileged to speak to musicians, writers, artists and instigators the world over – it’s amazing to see people putting their time and energy into making anything that is about self-expression not just about money, or obeying orders, or pleasing others. All of it, from the smallest effort, is worth respect and celebration. Cobain’s ability to go from semi-homeless, emotionally damaged drop-out to the pinnacle of his chosen field is a testament to hard work, to compromise, to non-compromise, to the support of others and to self-sufficiency all at once. We can celebrate all those things for the part they played rather than privileging one over the other.
I also think Cobain’s rise provides an example of how to live. I don’t want to live fast and die young. I don’t want to leave grieving relatives alongside an immortal reputation. But I do want to believe that there’s a lot more to life than acquiring excessive cash, exercising power over others, doing what it takes to be popular. Standing here seven years after the worst downturn since the 1930s, looking at the evidence of banks manipulating entire markets, bankers actively deceiving democratically elected governments, the media stealing data from ordinary people just to make a story or corrupting coverage to protect wealthy investors…I’m glad to look on Kurt Cobain as a hero of mine for reaching a position where he could have had all the corrupt indulgence he wished…And decided he didn’t want it.
I also think looking at Cobain’s sad end made me think about what kinds of heroes I want and what about them I’d like to live up to. At the moment I think Hervé Falciani is one of the bravest men I’ve ever witnessed – he has risked life and liberty to expose that a bank was laundering money for drug gangs, purchasing equipment to be relayed to them, deliberately helping people who felt that only the ‘plebs’ like you or I should pay for the infrastructure of our country. Looking across the last few years I look at Mohammed Bouazizi – maybe the future isn’t what we hoped in 2011 it might be but one man acted, did what he felt was right, and brought down governments who had stood with a foot on people’s throats for decades. Who can still believe that they, one person alone, can make no difference in this life after that moment? When I look at the inspiration Cobain has provided to people to do things with their lives I see a lot of goodness. People can change the world or they can just change the lives of those who know and love them. Again, both are worthy of respect – both mean that you, I, we matter.
Thinking back on Nirvana now in February 2014 I do get self-indulgent; my grandfather died one week before I visited Seattle for the first time – I can’t think of Seattle without missing him. My father died the week I handed in “I Found My Friends” – I can’t think of the book without missing him. My godfather died just weeks ago – I’ll never think of these days before the book release without missing him. But I also think that losing people I love meant I appreciated more how much pain people must have experienced when Cobain died – that it was a personal experience for them and speaking of him needs to be treated respectfully because he wasn’t just some TV screen or on vinyl ghost.
Anyways. Happy Cobain Birthday to every true fan out there. Hope there’ll be a lot of Nirvana pleasures ahead this year and there’ll be something each of you chooses to do to make your lives or the lives of those you love that bit more amazing in 2015.