It’s become somewhat of an iconic age-long question ingrained within the consciousness of the collective’s mind, ever since the tragic death of Nirvana’s singer and leader, Kurt Cobain. According to the official report, Cobain committed suicide on April 5th in 1994. The toxicologists report stated that he had an insurmountable amount of heroin in his system and a gunshot wound to the head. The tragic case, shrouded in grief for his fans, has resulted in a series of conspiracy theories floating around in cyberspace and before that, within our collective consciousness – perhaps guilty consciousness – that suggested some foul play. Should we feel guilty about this? Of course, you and I had nothing to do with his actual death; however, perhaps a little tinge of guilt might be felt when we look back and realise that Cobain had been screaming out for help during the months leading up to his death. The inquiries and specific details around his cause of death is not a question we will be answering today, however. Instead, we are taking a look at another tragic yet not fatal incident, a time when he overdosed on March 2nd, 1994, about a month prior to his actual death.
Why should you and I feel any guilt when, clearly, Kurt Cobain was on his own trajectory of misery, depression and suicidal tendencies? Surely we must not have anything to do with that? Besides his shocking suicide, there was another tragic element to his character. Kurt Cobain despised his fame and popularity. Prior to the astronomical success and worship of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain had truly lived the life of a struggling artist. Nirvana were active in the underground punk and grunge scene in Seattle, Washington; he was in his element during these years. He was not yet considered a celebrity, and while I’m sure he wanted recognition and the financial stability to be able to make his art, the lack thereof did not ever deter Kurt Cobain from pursuing his dreams. Cobain worked as a janitor at his old high school; he lived in a dingy apartment; he also slept under a bridge for a while. These facts of his life prove that Kurt Cobain was a consummate artist; he was determined to go to any lengths to make his music and to see his vision through. According to writer Bob Sullivan, at the apex of Nirvana’s fame, Kurt Cobain did say that he wished he could quit and just be a sideman in Courtney Love’s band, Hole.
According to Nirvana’s former manager, Danny Goldberg, he observed that “he definitely wanted to be famous, he worked assiduously with tremendous clarity to achieve that. He designed the band’s T-shirts, commented on detailed aspects of the bios, was acutely aware of every review and interview and how often the videos were on. He knew which songs would be singles.”
As Jennifer Latson, writing for Time magazine, so acutely declared: it would be an oversimplification to blame Kurt Cobain’s multiple suicide attempts on his otherwordly fame. Cobain was a very complicated creature, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call him a walking paradox. He was magnetic – he loved his audience – but he would also hold up a middle finger to his audience as he entered the stage. He simultaneously had disdain for society and humanity but also loved people tremendously; he was an empathetic creature, hence his undeniable ability to pen songs that peered into the souls of the freaks, the outcasts, and the nobodies. It takes one to know one; he wrote his songs for a generation of lost teenagers. To this day, Nirvana fans get the sense that Cobain knew them personally and spoke to them and only them exclusively.
A month prior to his actual suicide, Kurt Cobain nearly killed himself. If it wasn’t for Courtney Love being there, he would have died then. Kurt Cobain was in Rome, Italy; he had lost his voice due to a throat ailment and therefore had to cancel Nirvana’s hyped up European tour. Cobain was going through severe depression and was awaiting Courtney Love’s arrival, who was busy with her own band, Hole, back in Seattle. Love recalls Cobain calling her when he was in Spain: “He hated everything, everybody. Hated, hated, hated. He called me from Spain, crying. I was gone 40 days. I was doing my thing with my band for the first time since forever.”
It was clear at this point that Cobain was spiralling into a deep hole of depression, unable to pull himself out. Ultimately, what can one do when someone is in this state? It is doubtful that there even was one main source behind his depression. Human beings are complex – there’s a myriad of underlying reasons for why our brains would take us on a rollercoaster ride of emotional agony. As fans and followers of our favourite musicians, it is not our jobs to diagnose people – unless, of course, you are qualified to do so – if we do adore them, as we adored Cobain, then we must listen to them.
That night in Rome, in a hotel room, Cobain and Love were dining and drinking alcohol. According to Love, the next morning, when she awoke around half-past five, Love saw Cobain was on the ground next to the bed; he was unconscious. On top of the extra amount of alcohol and food they consumed, Cobain had allegedly taken 50 pills of Rohypnol. Courtney Love was able to phone an ambulance, and Cobain was rushed to the hospital, where he had his stomach pumped. In an interview with The Rolling Stone, Love recalled, “There was a definite suicidal urge, to be gobbling and gobbling and gobbling pills. Goddamn, man.” Love also detailed that on this near-fatal night, Cobain had left a suicide note, which read: “Dr Baker says I would have to choose between life and death. I’m choosing death.”
It is unclear why Kurt Cobain chose death over life. He was a beautiful soul and one who had a lot of love to give. Some people choose to hold onto their burden and sometimes pay the price for doing so.