“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying,
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
Robert Herrick, “To the Virgins to Make Much of Time”
Charles Cross’s biography of Kurt Cobain gives shape and taste, color and chronology to the life and times of a man who was more than just a little misunderstood. In fact, there has never been a superstar quite like Kurt Cobain, never a superstar so complex and contradictory, so outspoken and outlandish, so ready to puke-on-the-shoes of all that is MTVified about music. As a youth, Kurt Cobain had told friends: “I am going to be a superstar musician, kill myself and go out in a flame of glory.”
While much of Cross’s book is peppered by band politics and Kurt’s romantic endeavors, Heavier Than Heaven is simply a story of a boy who wasn’t treated so great as a kid, who watched his parents’ tempestuous marriage disintegrate before his eyes and created his own world, an imaginary world of different personas to shield himself from the realities of his time. He desired nothing more than to be a rock star. He became all that he wanted and fulfilled the American Dream past its prime—and still lived unhappily ever after. That is, until he shot himself.
While the majority of Americans know Cobain as a man responsible for both all things Nirvana and for the tragic way in which he chose to ended his life one April morning in 1994, few know about the combative and unruly kid, pissed at the entire world, who suffered from constant physical ailments and too little love, was shuffled from relative to relative, then back again, finally making a home in friends’ cars and hospital waiting rooms. Cobain suffered from a bad case of puberty—he was too skinny, too awkward, too uncool; and, like so many of us, secretly sad, lost, and scared.
It was in high school that Cobain first concocted a kind of alter ego, reinventing himself time and again, first as a male character known as Kurdt Kobain, later as a female named Heroine. With his keen knowledge of the music industry, Kurt knew about the many musicians before him who had died by one hit too many; he vowed not to let outside forces harm the music that he made, the music that he loved. Yet Kurt suffered from a stomach condition—a severe burning, nauseous sensation, exacerbated by stress—that no doctor could ameliorate; opiates, Kurt found, specifically heroin, were the only drugs that dulled the pain.
Nirvana’s Saturday Night Live debut in January of 1992 allowed an entire generation to fall in love with Kurt Cobain; Kurt too had fallen in love, twice in fact - his significant other was heroin, his mistress Courtney Love. Love bonded with Cobain in a way few others could: “Courtney knew the gelatinous flavor of surplus government cheese given out with food stamps; she knew what it was like to tour in a van and struggle for gas money and during her time working as a stripper, at ‘jumbo’s Clown Room,’ she had come to understand the degradation of a sort not many people taste.”
Kurt and his fiancé were the most talked about couple in rock ‘n’ roll, even though most of the talk was predicated by rumors about their notorious drug abuse. Yet Heavier Than Heaven retracts and corrects the urban rumor that has, for years, been pointed at Love like a loaded gun: The belief that Love’s previous drug addictions engendered Kurt’s own downfall is mistaken; in truth, it was Cobain who sucked in Love. Love was relatively clean when they met and it was through Cobain’s usage that she once again became hooked.
By 1992, it was clear that Kurt was on a self-destructive path. Drugs were delivered to his house on a daily basis and Kurt’s drug-induced incoherency was seen as a normal state. Indeed, Cobain’s sickness was so severe that while his wife was giving labor to Frances Bean Cobain, their daughter, Kurt snuck a drug dealer in to Cedars-Sinai Hospital, shot up in the next room, and overdosed.
There seemed to be little hope to either solve Kurt’s stomach ailment or his drug addiction. It seems that Kurt must have become incredibly tired of life and incredibly tired of himself. On April 7, 1994, Kurt Donald Cobain smoked his last cigarette, took a rather large hit of heroin, placed a rifle in his mouth, and shot himself. The autopsy found evidence of both tranquilizers and heroin in Kurt’s blood. The level of heroin found in Kurt’s body was so high, that he probably wouldn’t have survived much longer than the time it took to pull the trigger. Kurt certainly went out with a bang, pulling off a spectacular feat: Cobain had managed to kill himself twice, using two methods that were equally fatal. Cobain’s life was brought to a rapid end before it ever really began.
Kurt strived to achieve a persona, and that did he achieved. He became the anti-Christ to the manipulated and yuppified media image. And now, even after his demise, he still lives on. With the release of Cobain’s Journals, Nirvana is once again toping the charts and Love is reaping the royalties from all things Kurdt. Kurt, who reinvented himself in the public eye, still died in his own darkness, from his own darkness. The question that remains is whether Kurt would still have something to sing about if he hadn’t killed himself. Under the bridge of troubled waters, depression can cut only so many records.
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