Sunday, April 05, 2009

Rock Stars Dying Young

Fifteen years ago, I was teaching journalism students and, one day in April, one of my students had a profound news development to report — rock star Kurt Cobain, the guitarist and lead singer for the group Nirvana, apparently had killed himself.

Cobain's body was found on April 8. The coroner determined that he probably had killed himself on April 5.

Nirvana probably was one of the most popular bands in the world in 1994, and the only subject that my students wanted to talk about that day was Cobain.

One student asked me to compare him to the icon of my generation, John Lennon. I acknowledged that Cobain and Lennon were well–known songwriters and performers who died of gunshot wounds, leaving behind young (well, in Yoko Ono's case, reasonably young) widows and young children. They weren't the same age when they died — Lennon was 40, Cobain was 27 — but they were both considered too young to die.

But that, as far as I was concerned, was where the similarities ended.

While Nirvana's music was popular in its day, I felt that the Beatles' music had real staying power. Beatles songs would be remembered long after most of Nirvana's music had been forgotten, I told my students. I don't think most of my students thought I was right about that, but it seems to me that time has proven I was correct.

And, most importantly, Lennon was murdered. Cobain took his own life. There is a world of difference, as far as I am concerned, between homicide and suicide.

I probably wouldn't feel compelled to write about this if hadn't posted an article about NPR's Robert Smith's interview with Eric Segalstad on Segalstad's book about more than 20 rock stars who died at the age of 27.

It is something of a coincidence. Some, like Lennon, were homicide victims. Others, like Cobain, committed suicide. Still others died from various forms of excess.

But it's still coincidental, as far as I am concerned.

In the years since Cobain died, there have been those who have been convinced that Cobain was murdered and it was made to look like a suicide. But every investigation I'm aware of has concluded that there was no conspiracy, that Cobain himself pulled the trigger.

It's a tragic story. I'm sorry my students were subjected to it. But I feel that Cobain's self–absorbed personality — as well as the heroin and Valium the coroner found in his body — was responsible for it.

And I'm sorry renewed attention now is being paid to Cobain's death.