21 August, 2008

Kurt Cobain’s Suicide

19th January 2008

Probably the most well-known icon of what is called the X Generation, Kurt Cobain remains an artist devoutly adored, if not worshipped, by many. Like many other iconic artists, like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, he too died at the age of 27 at the height of his career and fame, although all, arguably, sell more music today than they ever did. The one difference, generational, if you wish, is that Cobain committed suicide, while the others, for all we know, merely overdosed. Also, compared to the rather peaceful means of dying used by those 60’s folks, Kurt’s shotgun blow to the head is in drastic contrast. Kurt Cobain was no hippie, and for a reminder, the early punk movement was a reaction against the hippies; and as Kurt was a child of that generation whose ideals and dreams all failed, he was, like most of us I suppose, a child of a global failure and grew up in the shadow of that dead dream.

Did Cobain really kill himself? The question remains open, though its official judiciary file does not. Many believe that the leader of Nirvana was in fact murdered, and most point towards his widow – Courtney Love – as the most likely culprit. Some of you might have seen this documentary called Kurt & Courtney if my memory works well, and it is known that she did all she could to keep the movie from being viewed, which naturally failed, and forbade the director to use Nirvana’s music, whose rights she owns.

I think that was not such a good move, because, until I saw that film, I believed that Kurt had been assassinated. One of the main “facts” that made me think so was that, according to Tom Grant, the level of heroin Kurt had in his body at the moment of his death was so high that even a heavy heroin-addict couldn’t have been standing on one leg, let alone shoot a gun. In Kurt & Courtney, it is proved that a regular person, of average weight, no heroin-addict, was able to stand on one leg for over 20 seconds (or something) with the exact dosage of the illicit substance Cobain had in his system, if not twice as much.

Who to believe? And if Cobain was wanting to kill himself, why not peacefully overdose like those ancient Rock’n’Roll heroes? That’s an interesting question, and I saw it before. The reason, I think, is this: people don’t always just want to die or kill themselves when they commit suicide. Sometimes they want to utterly destroy themselves. Otherwise everyone would use overdosing as the means to die. Now, let’s have a quick overview of the weirdest suicides I know of.

The most striking suicide of all is this case where a man tried to kill himself by... introducing pebbles into his rectum. I am not kidding. What makes a man considering death by anal pebbles? What makes a man consider death? If the latter was always a mysterious question, the former was rarely even asked. Certainly, pebbles aren’t the first thing I think of when I consider dying. But know this: the man did eventually die. His odd plan functioned. How do you die from inserting pebbles into your butt? He literally exploded. After a good many pebbles, something broke, and he got internal hemorrhage.

Another odd suicide is this case of a man thoughtful of his friends and family, who wanted to die, but did not want to shock them. Thus, he refused to disfigure himself or any part of his body with a gunshot, and so he resorted to shooting himself where Nature had already endowed him with a hole: the anus. That’s right, the man shot himself in the ass so it’d leave no trace. It worked, insofar as leaving no trace was concerned. As to death, the poor fellow did not die, and his doctor told him kindly not to force that much when introducing suppositories in his dark regions. [There is a lame joke.]

But let’s not get you all cheery about the misery of some of our fellow humans. Know that suicide can be committed in the most fearful ways. To wit, the case of people who kill themselves by ingesting sharp objects. Imagine this: a woman swallows 14 forks and 7 knives, causing her stomach and throat severe injuries; all of which eventually end in death, through internal hemorrhage, I presume. Surely, there are easier ways to go.

Other destructive suicides include death by fire, self-immolation, crashing from heights, etc. And of course, shooting oneself. Suppose Kurt Cobain did want to die and his death is the result of his suicide; then maybe it would not be so surprising that, having lived his life as a “punk”, by which I mean the older punk philosophy with its anti-hippie nature, he did not want to die like a hippie, or let anyone wonder whether he really committed suicide or overdosed by accident. A gunshot to the head is a pretty radical and direct testimony.

Maybe Kurt didn’t want to have his dead face all over the news and decided to destroy that iconic feature of his, which maybe he felt was stolen from him as it became the poster face for a whole generation and more. And indeed, I am not aware of any post mortem photograph of Kurt Cobain. [The only photo I know of is the one where you can see his dead foot, but that hardly counts. Also, Cobain's face was entirely destroyed due to the gunshot.]

Either way, we will assume here that Kurt killed himself, even though there still are things I’d like to know about in that case. Why did Kurt wish to die? This question I will try to answer, though it is not something I think can be easily explained, even for well-known cases.

Moreover, I am definitely not going to say that Kurt was depressed and sad and a sensitive person and all. He was definitely a sensitive person, and had considered suicide before (in Rome, but also in his childhood, if his Journals are to be trusted). One thing I never read anywhere else but in his Journals was his stomach condition.

Cobain was against heavy drugs and specifically condemns heroin in the before-mentioned Journals of his. That much is true; but it is also true that he did use heroin, and when he wrote that, he had tried heroin already. So why did he keep using heroin? The stomach condition. Apparently, he suffered extremely horribly from that stomach pain, and no doctor ever found a reason or a treatment for that. They all gave up on his case, and short of any other resort, Cobain used heroin because it was the only thing that eased his awful pain. Those of ill will may consider this an excuse, but I don’t think Kurt would have needed an excuse to do heroin if he had wanted to do heroin. I don’t recall verbatim how he describes his stomach pain, but I think he compares it to having a Hell inside, or that it burns; at any rate, it was a pain of the incapacitating kind, and obviously intolerable.

Of all the theories, no one mentioned this stomach pain as the possible reason – or rather, one of the reasons – for Cobain’s untimely death. Do you kill yourself because of a tummy ache? I can hear you, people. My answer to this is definitely yes. I’ve had some overwhelming inner pains and however short they were, the idea of dying to avoid such atrocious feelings was already there, not as a plan, but as a sure exit. I also know of someone who was afflicted with terrible stomach aches that no doctor could explain and solve. This kept the person awake at night, continuously suffering, never having a break from it, for years. This person seriously considered suicide. The person was a child when this happened, and so he could not resort to heroin like Cobain did. Eventually, however, this person found a solution and his pain went away before it was too late.

I am sorry that a stomach ache for cause of suicide is way less romantic than a general and existential torment, but I am not sorry at all. Suicide is not cool, it is not beautiful, and it is not something to make you dream or make Cobain look like the icon he became in spite of himself. And yes, reasons to die are often a lot more “trivial” than you may like. But if you had those insane stomach pains constantly and ceaselessly, you’d quickly understand how your life would be seriously ruined.

I did read somewhere that “Cobain sanctified his music through his suicide”, as if Kurt had killed himself to give his art some special aura. In effect, it might have, though Led Zeppelin still live, and are no less of a legend because of it. Nevertheless, the idea that Cobain killed himself for that reason is preposterous: that is no reason to die. Nobody kills themselves for a reason like that. Least of all Cobain. He didn’t seem very concerned about being famous, in the sense that he could very easily live without fame, and so I doubt that robbing himself of so many years of life to “immortalise” his music for who knows how long would have been a reason. The case remains open.

Rest in peace, Mister Cobain!

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