Tuesday, April 5, 2011

17 Years Without Kurt Cobain

Posted By on Tue, Apr 5, 2011 at 2:10 PM

While today is the 17th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's suicide and a blog write-up from today's Washington Post captures that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" experience well, I can't help but think about Mia Zapata, lead singer of the Gits, who was murdered a year before Cobain's death.

Living in Seattle at the time, I remember coming to work the morning Zapata's body was discovered lying dead on a street corner in the Central District, and for friends I worked with who were intricately part of the music scene, it was a tough day. When Cobain died almost a year later, those same people, besides cursing Courtney Love, asked "How much more are we supposed to take?"

While Zapata didn't become as famous as Cobain, her death is far more tragic. For 10 years her murder remained unsolved until DNA evidence, saliva found on her body, helped capture her killer. While Cobain left behind a young daughter, perhaps the only other tragedy is that his legacy that hasn't propelled good rock and punk into the mainstream as we experienced back in the 1990s (No, Linkin Park, or anything emo, like My Chemical Romance, is not the kind of spawn Nirvana deserved).

Here is a snippet from the Washington Post on Cobain:

In a recent Rolling Stone article, Cobain discussed his troubled marriage to singer Courtney Love of the female punk band Hole and the joy of fathering his daughter, Frances Bean, now a year old. He also talked about his heroin addiction, the weight of sudden fame and fortune, and his discomfort at being a symbol of his generation. Small and slight despite a ferocious onstage presence, Cobain seemed ill-equipped for such a role.

"If there was a Rock Star 101 course, I would have liked to take it," he said. "It might have helped me."

Among young music fans, Cobain's death was felt as viscerally as John Lennon's or Bob Marley's. More than any current rock performer, he bore the burden of being anointed by the media as a spokesman for the angst-ridden twentysomething generation.

All three members of Nirvana came from broken homes. Cobain, son of an auto mechanic and secretary who divorced when he was 8, did not speak to his father for eight years — until signing his breakthrough contract with Geffen in 1990. As a shy teenager, he became enthralled with punk rock and began collecting records and playing guitar, though he saw himself as a rhythm guitarist — out of the limelight. When Cobain was still a teenager, his father had forced him to pawn his guitar and join the Navy; instead Cobain reclaimed the guitar and left home.

"The divorce, the violence, the drugs, the diminished opportunities for an entire generation, that is so crucial to the sound of their music and the success of their music," biographer Azerrad said recently. "The band translated that pain and anger and confusion into musical sound waves very directly that hit a nerve among a large amount of kids who had a similar experience."

"None of you will ever know my intentions," Cobain had painted onto a wall of his home in Seattle not long ago, a magazine writer noted in a recent profile in Details magazine. It seemed an apt epitaph.

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