Reading Cobain’s Journal
Often, the conversations I have with people always seem to spark my curiosity, especially conversations about music. In light of a conversation I had with one of the most enlightening, opinionated people I know and aspiring musician, I decided to write this post. We talked about Kurt Cobain and his drug addiction. We challenged whether Kurt was a much loved icon because people truly loved him for his music or if he had become an icon because of the media’s contagious desire to sensationalize his life and his death. We questioned why people placed a man so heavily dependent on drugs on a pedestal and even went as far as questioning whether Kurt was worth the credit his fans have given him. As we conversed on our ride home, I thought about a lot of what we talked about (and even argued about). I realized that our fascination with the artist and even Kurt Cobain (aside from our morbid fascination) is prompted by our curiosity and desire to get inside the artist’s mind. This is one of the most extraordinary things about people and music- our undying fascination with the artist. I think it goes beyond our obsession with fame. Maybe we’re entranced by the artist’s ability to translate confusion and contempt into something beautiful that gives us all the ability to try to understand the world. Not only that-it also makes us feel, think, and act. The beauty of an artist is the mystery that lies behind their work and even their life. Erase all of the hype, tabloids, negative attention and what do you have? A happy artist who is free from the media that beckons for more- unfortunately that’s not reality.
Music is a lot like writing. It brings us back to the core of humanity and realization. It helps us expose our rawest emotions and it reminds us of what it feels like to be human. It’s what brings people together and it’s something we enjoy. It’s also one of the things we ascribe to. It would be hard to imagine music without the musician. We need to know the face behind the voice. Seeing them on stage, tuning our ears into their lyrics, feeling their music (and sometimes their pain) is a part of this so-called relationship between the romantically involved fan and admired musician.
The musician allows us to reach out and place our hands on their hearts, feeling the tremendous infectious love they have for the art form. It’s more than music with a purpose. It’s music on a mission, conquering all of the fakes, all of the industry-funded leeches, all of the tainted apologies, the list of do’s and don’ts, and the ever so tasty fame that comes with a price. But the question is: are we smart enough to see the artist’s mission or cry for help? Some of us yes, most of us, no. Those who are oblivious of the artist’s motives are left with a complex story mish-mashed in guitar riffs, words and a voice, demonstrating that hearing between the lines is almost impossible. When does it become apparent that the music artist has reached an end? When we see them give into drugs? Or when we see them begin to not give a shit? Is this what the artist rebelling against the industry looks like or is it proof of the industry’s ability to tear the music artist apart? To give a damn or not to give a damn? That is the question.
“Here I am, inspired to write only because I’m pissed off”– Kurt Cobain
There is a lot more to music than meets the ear and a lot more to the world than meets the eye. The in between is the artist who tries to make sense of it all. In between the music and the world was Cobain who confronted his fears, ambitions, the raw truth on pages and pages of his written retreat- his journal. Evidently, the greatest story of all is the one we have written in a journal.
I was lured by the cover that read: IF YOU READ YOU’LL JUDGE and decided to dust it off. I wanted to read Kurt Cobain Journals and put some of the pressing questions I asked above to rest. I have to admit, I was a little reluctant to read. As anyone knows, a journal is personal and is for the writer’s eyes only. It would take the world for anyone to pry mine out of my hands. It’s the only safe world I have created with words and without walls. So here I was breaking the intimacy between the writer and his journal. I even felt as though reading Kurt’s journal was an invasion of his privacy- yet this didn’t this stop me from opening it up. Was I also guilty of feeding into the sensationalized musician created by the media? Most definitely. But it’s not my fault, I swear! The media made me do it.
Fluttering around in the media machine is an overwhelming amount of theories, opinions, and ideas about who Kurt really was and how he died. Did he really commit suicide or did Courtney Love kill him? Was he confused and sad? Or just wise beyond anyone’s contemplation? It seems as though the media knew Kurt better than Kurt knew himself. To this day, we’re still doing what Kurt hated the most- trying to figure him out (I guess you could say I’m guilty of it too). Left to the words of his biographers, critics, and money-makers, Kurt was reduced to an object constantly pricked, prodded and analyzed by the watchful eyes of the press who suited him up for their next exciting story. Hmm…Just when we thought that creating was the artist’s job.
The journals were a way of getting inside the mind of a man who was too compassionate, understood too much and was torn between enjoying the world and hating it. It reminded me (in an eerie way) of what a human being can be- contradictive. Aren’t we all?
I’m sure Kurt would have never wanted anyone to read any further than the cover’s warning for lurking eyes: If you read, you’ll judge. Naturally, anyone would cringe at the thought of one person reading their innermost thoughts, let alone the world. His journals served a personal purpose. They were a place where he could rant and be opinionated, opposite of the world so callous and judgmental and here people were, revealing the world that Kurt kept a secret and felt safe and sound in. Despite what would appear as exploitation, the published journals exposed a different Kurt outside of the one that the media created.
Was Kurt Cobain really THAT complex or interesting? Or were these hyped up ideas about Kurt Cobain planted in our minds? It’s hard to say. One thing is true, Kurt was a human being- something we all have in common with him…unless you consider yourself extraterrestrial? His journals reveal him as:
-someone who had a vivid imagination
-someone who was sad and melancholic at times
-a person who wanted to be loved
-someone who hated oppression, racism, and everything that was evil
-a man who felt guilty because he couldn’t live up to the expectations people had set for him
-a person who didn’t think much of himself; mostly humble
…like most people. We often assume human beings are simple creatures, easily definable and only having one side. People have many sides and are far from simple. If anything, we’re closer to complex, yet we always seem to scrutinize those in the spotlight like they’re different from us.
Who knows, maybe Kurt had an inkling that someone would read his journals one day. Kurt wasn’t stupid. Maybe his journals, filled with stories, ideas, rants and drawings were in his defense, a portrayal of a sensitive man very aware of the world and everything in it. Perhaps it was his way of throwing a curve ball at those who had an unnerving fascination with his life and at those who would choose to sensationalize his death. Building him up as the tragic artist, replaying his videos, and replaying his songs seem to have always brought on a strange and eerie sense of revival. Sedated by the media, it was hard for anyone to wake up and see what was being created- a music icon. An icon people would make money off of (his published journals being just a fraction of earnings).
A coward? A junkie? Or enlightening and willing to see the world without rose coloured glasses? The tall tale of the tortured artist who found it better to “burn out than to fade away” is a story we’ve heard too many times- the romanticized version, of course. It leaves us feeling sad and at a loss for words. What helps us find them?-whatever you’re reading and whatever you’re watching. Little do we know what lies behind the face we starve to see perform. In the end does it really matter? There is a hidden message that makes us curious about not only who the artist is, but what they think about. I think it’s a mystery that deserves to be untouched and left to the music artist’s crazy way of expressing what most of us can’t. There’s no Rosetta Stone to the artist’s life. Sometimes some things are better left to the imagination. Some things are better left in our journals.