Magazine article The Nation

Generation Why

Magazine article The Nation

Generation Why

Article excerpt

Parents are wailing: Who is this Kurt Cobain, and why is my kid crying every time he's on MTV?

Since Cobain's body was found on April 8, the news focus has shifted from the punk avatar's drug-enhanced punk-out with a shotgun to the grieving survivors: the millions of fans who bought Nirvana's records. MTV has declared suicide a "sudden controversy," as if the fact that it's the third-largest killer of people aged 15 to 24 is something new. There were enough antecedents to Cobain's final act to make his suicide seem almost an anticlimax. He said he wouldn't live to 30 (he died at 27); there was the publicity shot last year with an assault rifle barrel in his mouth; he'd overdosed more than once, and threatened suicide, locking himself in a room with four handguns. Still, it's amazing how quickly the question Why? was swept from the screen except as prelude to maudlin reminiscences. Suicide experts on MTV who said it was impossible to figure out "why" apparently never caught his "Come as You Are" video with its babies, dollars and guns dangling menacingly in front of Cobain.

The real sudden controversy in this story is how the corporate imagemakers who anointed Cobain king of the grunge pile in the first place now shrink from acknowledging any role in his demise. No one put a gun to his head and forced him to sign a major-label deal, of course; it's just the logic of the market when what you're selling is angst and alienation.

Cobain's torment with the corporate culture he entered was validated and celebrated by his sponsors, spit back as style and image. At Geffen Records they liked the "Corporate Rock Sucks" T-shirt, loved the flannel and thought it was cool how he flipped the bird on the sleeve of Nevermind, the band's 1991 breakthrough album. (It didn't hurt that he spoke out for women, gays and free expression. …

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