Sometimes I think about Kurt Cobain and I thank him for never selling out. His early, self-imposed exit ensured that it would be his body of work that would stand for him, not his most recent releases, which would most certainly pale in comparison.
We’ve never had to suffer through a Nirvana reunion tour, experiments with 100-piece orchestras in the background, leaked phone messages of a strung-out Cobain barking at his children, tabloid images of Cobain with his arm draped around some teenaged starlet from Gossip Girl, or whatever. We don’t have to live with him preaching like Bono, writing self-righteous columns in the New York Times while hawking BlackBerrys on the side.
In my mind, Cobain will always be the shaggy guy in the fuzzy sweater, passionately belting out painfully personal lyrics. He will always be that principled artist, the one who scrawled “Corporate magazines still suck” on his t-shirt before being photographed for the cover of Rolling Stone.
I can’t imagine him being 43, which he would have been on February 20 if not for his suicide in 1994.
When Nirvana was huge, I was in college and invincible. I could drink all night, run through walls, jump off buildings, say anything to anyone, and never feel the repercussions. Homework? Bah. All I wanted to do was enjoy life, to savor every second. I appreciated what Cobain stood for and I vowed to never do anything just for money.
Ah, the arrogance of youth. I think back and cringe a little. I did some stupid stuff back then, even put myself in danger a few too many times. I didn’t think I’d live to see 40, and I most certainly could not imagine myself being an adult.
I’m 38 years old now. I’m no longer reckless and arrogant (at least, I try not to be arrogant). I’ve actually come to realize that I know nothing about anything, that facts are malleable and everything can be interpreted in different ways. There is not one clear path for all.
Many of my old friends now commute to real jobs, wear suits to work, and then return home late to their suburban expanses where they watch television with their children until bedtime. It’s amazing how easily the principles give way to reality.
With 40 fast approaching, I’m haunted by the notion that the end is near. It’s a silly, arbitrary fear lingering from nearly two decades ago. But it remains.
Death doesn’t scare me though, especially in comparison to leading a bland, sellout life. I’d hate to waste one single second doing bullshit.
My greatest desire in life isn’t money. It’s time. I need more hours in the day – to hang with friends, listen to music, read books, walk my dog, to smell the bacon emanating from the breakfast joint across the street from my house.
What would Kurt Cobain be doing now? What about the others we lost young, like Tupac, Sid Vicious, Janis Joplin or Bob Marley - who died at 36? Would they still be shaking things up? Would they be changing the world?
Or would they be Botox-ed and artificially baked, residing in generic, fenced-in mansions far from reality? Would they be sitting on Jay Leno’s couch pimping greatest hits albums and making cameo appearances in movie remakes?
I look to my grandparents as inspiration. They were born into this world with nothing and they struggled to make ends meet constantly. Life wasn’t always grand but it was real, visceral and invigorating. My grandfather drove backhoes and bulldozers. My grandmother packaged sausage, then drove a school bus in later years.
They never received proper educations but they built a wealth of knowledge because they lived life.
A few weeks ago, they told me that they made arrangements at a funeral home and cemetery so that when they pass, no one will have to endure those hassles during the most difficult of times. I realized that they were doing it for each other – at 86, one is more likely to go first rather than both at the same time. Their rational actions are as much for them as for anyone else.
Their presence proves there is a way to go through life with honor and integrity. Who knows what was going on in Cobain’s mind when he committed suicide – he had a history of depression and drug abuse. In his suicide note, he wrote that his daughter’s life would be so much happier without him.
It’s too bad that she never had the opportunity to appreciate him – and vice versa. But she can be proud of what he did when he was alive. I hope people will say the same about me some day.