I myself don't have any clear answers as to how to accurately report on something so unexplainable as a suicide or how to react without overreacting. Curt is dead: What more is there to report? Do we have a right to know why Cobain killed himself and is it possible to ever know the answer to that question? "Any kind of death like this poses an elemental riddle," my friend Carl told me one evening recently, "because you can't help but put yourself in that position in that house, in that room, in that life. But it's a riddle that can never be answered because you can't ever walk in another man's shoes."
At The Rocket we rushed a story about Cobain's musical legacy into our last edition which went to press on the day the news of Kurt's death was announced. Our coverage was an attempt to put his work into perspective and to explain why he mattered to the Northwest music scene. "People don't really care about the details of his death," argued one of our editors as we discussed how to cover this tragedy. "They want to have some reassurance that he existed and that what he did mattered." The first chords of "Lithium" are testament to that, chords powerful enough that no media coverage no matter how distorted will ever be able to dilute the strength of the work for me.
Like many events of tragedy in our human lives, we end up looking for blame, for a place to direct our anger, even when there is no appropriate place to direct blame and there is no easy scapegoat. Even the media cannot be brought up on charges for Kurt's death: he chose to be a rock star, and while the stress of fame may have helped lead to his demise, it also probably gave him life. But then again, we'll never know. Even his wife, Courtney Love, the closest person to him, will never know: this was his life, and ultimately his death. As with every death, we are left on the outside, which is why death is so hard for us to understand, particularly an intentional, self-inflicted death. Joanne, who works at the drive-through window of my bank, summed up Cobain's death as well as any reporter when she said to me, "I told my 11-year-old son there is no explanation for this. That's hard for people to accept, but there are things in life like that."
I find myself still with more questions than answers, with more grief than anger, with more questions about myself than about Kurt. I still don't know the solution to the riddle that can't be answered, and even Kurt's suicide note (much of which was read by Love at the public memorial service) offered only more questions. "There's one thing in there the mainstream media missed," says my friend Carl. "It's almost built-in that they'll miss it. 'How could he do it?' they ask. 'He seemed to have everything.' But fame, fortune, and success those were really the very things he railed against. Those were not values to him at all. You can't possibly judge what went on in Kurt's mind. You would have had to have lived his life."
Whenever anyone kills themselves with a shotgun, it reminds me of Ernest Hemingway, another artist who choose to end his life and about whom writers have written volumes of books attempting to answer the unanswerable riddle. But of all those attempts, the work of William S. Burroughs rings most true to me, because even though Burroughs has never taken the poison apple, he's lived life close enough to the edge you can imagine at one point he may have tasted it and spit it out. Burroughs' willingness to live a life of extremes may be one reason he was a close friend of Kurt's. In a book of selected essays called The Adding Machine, Burroughs writes of Hemingway, "(He) could smell death. Hemingway wrote himself as a character, he wrote his life and death so closely that he had to be stopped before he found out what he was doing and wrote about that."
And for those who can't bare a world without answers, a world of riddles and contradictions, a world where 27-year-old kids tie their tennis shoes and then shoot themselves which, like it or not, is the world we live in for those who must find some resolution for Kurt Cobain's final act, I suggest what Burroughs has to say of Hemingway's last battle. He writes of Hemingway as a bull in his final bullfight, in a battle that is already lost before it has even begun. "There's the moment when the bull looks speculatively from the cape to the matador," Burroughs writes. "The bull is learning. The matador must kill him quick. Hemingway wasn't cheating by the act of suicide. He was dead already."
And whatever anyone writes or says about Cobain, there's one thing we do know: Kurt Cobain is now dead. I'll miss him. I'll miss the music he'll never make, the songs he'll never sing.
*The Rocket* Magazine, April 27, 1994