Note: This piece was written on 11 April 1994. Context: Regular readers may recall that I have a certain fondness for the (now-defunct) TV series Roundhouse, which ran for 52 episodes on Nickelodeon during the early Nineties. On the (also now-defunct) Prodigy Classic service, we had a regular RH discussion area, and the inevitable thread drift became even more pronounced after the death of Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain. This piece was my contribution to Teen Spirit, such as it was.
As always, the media feeding frenzy has begun, and everyone who ever knew the guy is finding a camera shoved into his face. That's to be expected. What I didn't expect was the unremitting litany of misery that apparently seems to be the sum total of the poor guy's life.
Of course, not everyone who has an unhappy childhood goes on to be a miserable adult, but the signs could not possibly have been read as encouraging. I suggest that they weren't being read at all. The generation before Cobain's my generation taught its children how to question everything, which is good. Where we failed is in teaching them what to do with the answers they got, which is not so good. Not that we knew what to do with them, mind you.
The Standard American Family, with 2.3 kids, a dog and a house in the suburbs, is constantly being held up as an ideal. For Kurt Cobain, reality was constantly falling short of the ideal; his own S.A.F. was apparently at best indifferent, and he found only intermittent domestic bliss during his marriage to Courtney Love. It's hard to imagine that Cobain wasn't upset by all this. It's also hard to imagine that he wasn't upset by those members of his audience who bought millions of Nirvana records, and then complained that Nirvana had "sold out" on the basis of those sales.
And then there are the drugs. It may be well to remember that no one takes drugs for the sake of drugs; people take drugs to escape from life as they know it. In the end, not even drugs could help Cobain escape, and he turned to a quicker and more permament method.
In the best of all possible worlds, or just in one saner than this one, Kurt Cobain would have had everything to live for and, more important, he would have known it. If there is one consistent undercurrent in Nineties America, it's the theme of diminished expectations the death of optimism, if you will. People now routinely expect things to get worse before they get better, if they're going to get better at all. In this kind of atmosphere, suicide begins to look like the single most sincere form of self-criticism.
As I write this, Beck is groaning, "I'm a loser, baby, why don't you kill me?" The greatest mistake we can make today is to automatically assume that he's kidding.
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Copyright © 2012 by Charles G. Hill