Letter: Significance of Kurt Cobain's death

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The Independent Online
Sir: There is something poignant in the untimely death by his own hand of Kurt Cobain, whose life was so excellently chronicled by Chris Salewicz's obituary (11 April). This unhappy event is not just another rock'n'roll tragedy. This young man blew out his own brains. He does not therefore automatically join the 'Too fast to live, too young to die' club of Joplin, Hendrix and Morrison (the 'stupid club', as Cobain's mother described them). No, Cobain teams up, instead, with the 'non-copers', those who found the pressures all too much, and pursued a self-destructive lifestyle that led to their early demise. I am thinking of such unhappy performers as Marvin Gaye, Little Willie John, Frankie Lymon, the Temptations' Paul Williams and David Ruffin, and the Supremes' Mary Wilson.

I would like to ask the music industry just what its role was in these wasteful deaths. Why is there such an appalling suicide toll within its ranks? It is interesting that the suicide club is studded with the names of black performers, and that Cobain's reasons, if we are to believe his sad suicide note, were all to do with his life as an artist.

Could it be that the industry does not care any more for such naive sentiments as artistic integrity, and that it has turned its back on people who are using up their spiritual and artistic resources, which, under normal circumstances, would be used to heal the wounds of a past life?

Kurt Cobain's death has a terrible significance. Young people have been battered in the past 10 years by a whole sequence of measures that have made them utterly dispirited about their future. Cobain did the honest thing, told the truth, as had Willie John and Marvin Gaye. Sadly, no longer does a career as a musician, writer or artist allow an individual the freedom it once did. Such a career is now about excess profits, quick hits and multinational corporations feeding off an essentially community-based art form. It is the individual who loses out, and the price, for all its terrible beauty, is immense.

The music industry should take better care of its own. Let its leaders look closely at the society around them, particularly that of the young, and let them conserve rather than ruthlessly exploit. You never know, even Angela Lambert might end up understanding why the young people she knows are 'Fuzzy . . . and permanently stoned' (Comment, 11 April).

Yours sincerely,


Project Co-ordinator

Northern Songs Project