When faced with the consequences of his success, Kurt Cobain retreated from the public eye; retreated from music; and spent his time devoted to building some kind of family – and making art. It made sense: the thing he had been in control of, in a life with precious little else for many years, had suddenly become an obligation, a business, something fans and an industry felt they had a right to. His art, however, remained private.
It makes absolute sense, this far after his death, to bring this aspect of his life and works to wider attention. The essence of Cobain wasn’t music – that’s what brought him fame and took up a significant percentage of his time – but the music was just one expression of what he really wanted to do which was simply to create and express. He was, in essence, someone who wanted to be an artist in all areas of life.
Of course, for some, any posthumous sharing is already too much: if Cobain didn’t in his lifetime then they feel it equates to “Cobain wouldn’t,” and therefore that any posthumous decision is illegitimate. I disagree. The second article above, related to the work of Jeff Jampol, is intrinsically connected to the greater visibility of Cobain’s artwork and to the wider question of what one does to create a legacy.
Burying every leftover, refusing all exposure and release, burning whatever remains unseen so it remains ever thus IS an option. But relying on long ago glory to keep something alive is doomed to failure: who remembers who was no.1 in 1952? Who recalls the world’s top-selling albums prior to the arrival of The Beatles and other album artists? To stay alive, an artist must be spoken of and continually brought into the present.
In the case of a deceased artist, that means making fair and reasonable use of what remains to stoke renewed enthusiasm among fans; to create coverage and comment bringing fresh eyes to the individual; to make an artist who – in life would have promoted themselves – feature before the eyes and ears of young blood. By doing so, new relevance is fashioned: their position can’t remain the same as it was way back when and nor should it – the ‘tragically doomed’ Cobain figure of the mid-to-late Nineties imagining wasn’t the underground legend almost no one knew of prior to September 1991, nor was he the celebrated but troubled presence of 1992-1994.
My hope, naturally, is for the ongoing unveiling of lesser understood and lesser seen aspects of Cobain to counteract the tendency to dip him in amber, demand that he be only one thing at all times, to reduce the privileging of one aspect or another of his work and world.