February 20th would have been Kurt Cobain’s 50th birthday.
As I perused Instagram on that day, I was struck by how many younger fans paid tribute to him and also to how they wished they had been around in the 90s because ‘those days must have been amazing.’
I clearly remember the early 90s and the excitement that surrounded the alternative scene back then. I remember hearing Smells Like Teen Spirit for the first time and feeling like I’d just heard the national anthem of my people. Loners and weird outsiders suddenly were part of an inclusive group. We were Generation X-ers. We were ‘grungers’.
But it was far from a perfect time. We were broke, we were disillusioned, there was a huge generation gap between ourselves and our parents, many of whom were raised with strict post-war values.
So as the world discussed the grouchy, surly gloriousness that would have been Kurt at 50, I realised that he has become my generation’s Jim Morrison. In 1994, I looked back on the 60s as an ideal era, filled with inspiration, revolution and cultural icons. I revered Jim as a poet, a visionary, a spiritual leader and voice to a generation.
That is how today’s youth see Kurt Cobain, as an icon, a martyr, a myth. And in twenty or thirty years time, how many people will still be around who remember Kurt the boy, Kurt the man, Kurt the flawed, moody regular guy?
Even his own daughter, who was only two when he died, has few memories of him. Frances has grown into a beautiful young woman, with her father’s flair for art. She was kept out of the spotlight for many years by Kurt’s family, but since reconnecting with her mother Courtney, she has been flung into a whirlwind of celebrity and fashion weeks, even modelling for Marc Jacobs. A new generation has adopted her as their figurehead, a representative of her parents. I can’t help but feel it is an unhealthy place for her to be.
There was a real change in Kurt once fame hit. In pre-Nevermind pictures, he looks young, unsure, hiding behind long mosher hair. Within a year, he seemed to have aged so much. Photos from late ’92 and early ’93 show a man who has been challenged and jaded with all aspects of life. He had become a husband, a father, a millionaire, a hero, and the unwilling leader of millions of disenchanted teens. All by the age of 25.
All he’d ever really wanted was to play the music he liked, hang out with his friends, make some art, and earn enough to not have to get a real job. Somehow, along the way, he became an idol.
Lines from his published teenage journals are quoted in memes as gospel, as his profound messages to the world. In a time before social media, candid pictures and videos are rare. At this stage, we have seen all we are going to see, and heard all we are going to hear.
Montage of Heck was supposed to be the final word on the real Kurt, the behind-the-scenes-hanging-out-at-home Kurt, but even some of his closest friends have dismissed the film as being mainly fiction.
And so, as the years go by, Kurt becomes just a name on a page, a face on a poster, like Jim Morrison, like John Lennon, or like the dark haired male model with the baby that everyone had on their bedroom wall. The Kurt who hid his face with his hair or behind goofy expressions to hide his unease will one day become just a pretty poster boy, an image, with no real memories of the man behind it.
I wonder what the 50 year old Kurt would have thought of that.