Just a month shy of his 46th birthday I can’t help but wonder why this intuitive and brilliant artist took this quote literally…Kurt Cobain burned out. The consciousness of dying young, fading away, or burning out traces back as early as The Romantic Age in Britain, which coincidentally received its name due to the romanticized descriptions of death. Some of which include Keats, a sensitive poet, who died of consumption (Tuberculosis) at the tender age of twenty five. He contemplated death incessantly due to his physical state, in To Sleep Keats romanticizes the excruciating aspects of his immobility,
“Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes;
Save me from curious conscience, that still hoards
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards, And seal the hushed casket of my soul.”
Byron and Austen would later be added to the list as the innumerable fatalities of Britain’s citizens under the age of 30 persisted. What did Kurt Cobain, a punk rocker from Seattle, Washington find ethereal about dying young? If you listen to his music carefully, his raspy voice, steady drum beat, shrill guitar sounds and lyrics express a distinct sadness. A sadness that prevailed in songs like Heart-Shaped Box, About A Girl and Dumb. Let’s take a look at the lyrics of Heart-Shaped Box, a favorite of many fans,
“Meat-Eating orchids forgive no one just yet.
Cut myself on angel hair and baby’s breath.
Broken hymen of your highness, I’m left black,
Throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back…
I got a new complaint,
Forever in debt to your priceless advice
She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak,
I’ve been locked inside your heart shaped box for weeks.”
The lyrics express a dismal perception of love. The speaker is tortured by his loss of control and his affection is unrequited. The Heart-Shaped box entraps the speaker in a realm of debilitating emotions. Some have linked this song to the volatile relationship Cobain had with Courtney Love. I think the lyrics reflect Cobain’s state of mind…dark… so the idea of dying young, embracing transitory life, for someone who experiences excruciating pain, confusion, uncertainty can become very attractive. Cobain would later become one of the most interesting and brilliant artists of his generation, who quote unquote died before their time i.e. Jimi Hendrix who suffocated on his own vomit or lead singer Jim Morrison who died from Heroin overdose to the recent passing of Amy Winehouse, who died of alcohol intoxication. So why do we fixate on artists who act as their own Moirae, cutting their strings, clipping their wings before complete evolution?
“If you die you’re completely happy and your soul somewhere lives on. I’m not afraid of dying. Total peace after death, becoming someone else is the best hope I’ve got.”
I hope you found peace Kurt