Today marks the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. Famously in his suicide note he quotes the lyric, “Better to Burn out than fade away” from the Neil Young song Hey Hey, My My.
It certainly seems a poetic life choice and comes with matching rose-tinted clichés such as the brightest flames burn the fastest and live fast die young. They sound attractive, it certainly did to me when I was young, the idea of being remembered for being vibrant, pure and spontaneous was appealing. The media even grouped him into a club with other musicians who have died at the tragically young age of 27. He has the honour of having died at the same age as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse to name just a few.
Firstly, we should address the obvious issue with his quote. He suggests that to live life to its fullest would result in an untimely death. Clearly this is not the case; many people have lived wild lives without dying young and why does living life to the fullest immediately conjure images of the wild nights and drug abuse which led to his death and was a symptom of his mental illness. Plenty of people who have lived full lives, in a variety of ways, have enriched the world around them for years after their 27th birthday.
Van Gogh’s paintings were mainly done in his 30’s, Alexander Flemming was 40 when he discovered penicillin, Stephen King has written over 50 books since he turned 27. Cobain’s band very own mate Dave Grohl went on to form one of the most successful rock bands of the past 20 years.
Imagine what Kurt, Jimi, Janis and Amy could have given to us.
We will never know the full details behind the death of Kurt Cobain, suicide is terribly complex, Alex Lickerman MD has written this article listing his 6 reasons people commit suicide which is a good, if basic, guide to some of the underlying factors behind suicide.
Fans, family, friends must all go on living, the days and years since Cobains death have brought anguish to the outcasts he represented. This anguish is at the loss of a spokesperson, the loss of a son, a father, a friend. Those of us who have lost someone too young know the additional loss, the sadness when you think of what they would be doing today if they were here. What would Kurt make of the modern music scene? How would he react to the vitriol directed at Courney Love since his death.
We, the survivors, must shoulder the burden of remembering Cobain in his youth while we continue to live and grow old. Our lives change, we love and we build a family and we watch our children grow old; we get joy from different places than we did in our teens and 20’ while Cobain becomes a memory, frozen in time.
Cobain could not bear to continue living, he could not adapt his life to the strains of fame. If he had continued to live, to make mistakes, to grow old and fade away he might have been able to get the space and support he needed to find happiness. Instead his suicide has increased the scrutiny on his life and family and 20 years later he is still being talked about.