Media / Talk of the Trade: Singer who fell into the generation gulf

EVERY national newspaper news editor has heard of John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Sid Vicious and Jimi Hendrix. Most may have a Janis Joplin record stashed away, and a few may even place Jim Morrison in the right band. But I suspect that, until his death, virtually none knew of Kurt Cobain.

The suicide of the grunge band's lead singer may well have marked a turning point in media coverage of popular culture: for the first time, the generation of journalists who grew up with pop music showed themselves to be out of touch with the under-20s; there was no realisation that that this singer's death was just as poignant for youngsters today as Hendrix's 24 years ago, and should have received similar coverage.

True, Cobain's suicide was not ignored - but in the United States it led television news bulletins across the country. The Independent did well, putting it at the foot of page one. But for the Daily Mail, usually smart on youth idols, it was not a front-page story; the Times had a short report on page 3, the Guardian a mere 147 words on page 3, the Daily Telegraph a short basement on page 3. And nearly all dwelt on a pop star ruined by drugs and depression; few suggested the teenage world was in mourning.

The Sunday papers gave lengthier appraisals, but the under-20s were aghast at the initial coverage. A week after Cobain's death, the Times and Sunday Times astutely commissioned teenagers to give their impressions. They made revealing reading.

A grieving fan wrote in the Times: 'Every single person I know under the age of 35 is on the phone, and when I finally get through to them, they're chain-smoking and downing vodka . . . Press coverage seemed quite low key and slightly confused . . . For the kids, it means we don't get the chance to mourn properly, and for the adults, it means you missed out on the fire- burnished, fractured beauty of a furious recording career.'

The media seem to have given too much credence to pop charts being overrun by faceless, electronic dance bands. Between this admittedly large sector and the global super-stars, such as Madonna, Michael Jackson and Axl Rose, there are a few bands - Nirvana, The Cure, Faith No More - who have touched a generation just like the Sixties and Seventies bands did their parents.

But for the first time for decades, the heroes of this mainstream teenage culture have not made the crossover from the music and youth magazines to the national papers. There is some catching up to do.

(Photograph omitted)

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