Saturday, January 27, 2007

Guest Blogger: Reflections on Kurt Cobain

I am not sure but I might be expanding the concept of a guest blogger. What follows is part of an e-mail correspondence Michael Fletcher,my friend and member of the Society*, recently forwarded to me. Michael is a philosopher and currently working on his dissertation on Kant's aesthetics. He is also something of a fan of Grunge. What lies behind this post is a long standing conversation between he and I and within the Society on Grunge, Nirvana and Kurt Cobain(KC). Michael himself does not have a blog but the following seemed like something one would post on a blog. So, I asked if he'd let me post it here, and he said yes.LEK

I missed the chance to see Hole in Providence RH, when I was attending UCONN because I had a seminar presentation to finish. I'm still kicking myself. At the time, it was the closest I could get to KC. It would have been great to be moshing next to all those Ben Affleck ball cap wannabes.

It's amazing, how I still can't listen to his stuff. Only the wild stuff on Nevermind. In Utero is impossible. Too much pathos. It's clearer now, more than ever, how MUCH of a mistake he made in offing himself. Top heavy on superego, holding himself to unreachable standards of authenticity, and artistic integrity. A classic example of someone who holds excessively high internal standards, in this case of the so called punk ethic, and a construal bias that minimizes the extent to which he conforms to those standards. Add to this a heroin addiction and you have a recipe for industrial strength depression, low self-efficacy and despair. A recipe for psychological instability, because he felt answerable to the punk ethic, but his music had become mainstream, and he saw that, I think, as his conformity to the MAN, as SELLING OUT, to the buck, like the infant on the NEvERMIND cover. And the future that he both dreaded and felt was unavoidable was that of a rock hasbeen. "ITs better to burn out than to fade away."

I'm convinced that his stomach problems, which the doctors could not explain, were the SAME as mine, brought about by a sense of self-despair, and depression, due to feeling that one is stuck and can't exericse ANY control to alter the situation for the better. IN this case, he felt he was heading, like a freight train, down the tracks of a identity that failed to realize the punk ethic from which he derived his sense of self and conformity to which powered his self esteem. His stomach aches and nausea, which were not organically explained, for example, by cancer, or digestive maladies or ulcers, were the result of self generated stress's as well the stress resulting from such a rapid advacne from obscurity to being WORLD FAMOUS. And being in the public eye, just intensified the degree to which he felt he had to live up to the punk ethic and all that that meant to him. I think that the heroin, which is ehough to make someone kill themselves, made it very difficult to feel like the future he dreaded could actually be avoided and that he could still maintain his punk ethic, even if his music were to wane in popularity. Kurt, whether as the frontman of Nirvana or not, would always had a fan base numbering in the millions worldwide. If only taking into the account those that grew up with him, not to mention those who would discover him later and enjoy his later work. But he couldn't see this at all. He could only feel his self-hate, which distorted any evidence indicating that he didn't have to become a sell out or a hasbeen. He had ways to maintain his identificatory commitments even if either his music waned in popularity or he decided to evolve musically or just decided to do something else. He could have generalized his commitment to punk ethic and seen it as a specification of a more general injunction to be authentic and have integrity, both qualities he could have developed in a different domain, whether in visual arts, or a in a different genre of music, say folk music. And he could have had more kids, and been there for them and derived
enormous satisfaction in their love and growth and in his love relationship with Courtney. But he couldn't see any of this. And for that I"m sad for him.

*"The Society" began as a group of young people in LA who formed initially in 1987 as "Minds For Christ" to gather weekly to discuss Theology and Philosophy. Most of whom were at the time involved in some form of evangelical church(the exception was one Roman Catholic Goth) in which intelectual activity was at best tolerated. Soon the group droped the "Minds for Christ" name and ironicaly named themselves The Society, mostly as a joke on themselves but also had the added bennefit of freaking out paranoid evangelicals. I joined the group in 1988 just as we decided to change our name. The group continued to meet regularly until late fall 1998. The group has dispersed. Though several members still live in the LA area. The core members of the goup I still hold as being among my dearest friends though contact with each other is intermitent. In some ways this group formed me more than either my colege experience or the church I was involved with at the time. In fact I can't quite imagine doing what I am doing now without those years of conversation, philisophical inquiry and debate, and friendship that was and is the Society.