The Rock Impulse

by Kiko Matsing

Courtney Love with daughter and man-child Kurt Cobain

As fans remember the suicide-death of grunge icon Kurt Cobain twenty years ago (his body was discovered in his Seattle, WA home on April 8), with eulogies about his childhood trauma from his parents’ divorce, his conflicted feelings about fame and success, and his spiraling heroin addiction, it is also fitting to remember that there is another casualty in this senseless death–his widow Courtney Love, who chose life, persevered, and raised their child on her own.

Kurt Cobain, from the suicide note he left, clearly did not know how to be happy in any circumstances, whether he was homeless and struggling to get by or living in the most posh lake-side neighborhood in Seattle. He was even aware of the quandary he was in: “I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it (and I do, God, believe me I do, but it’s not enough)… Why don’t you just enjoy it? I don’t know!” It is also interesting that he chose to end things rather spectacularly: “[It’s] better to burn out than to fade away.” So he knew that he could just walk away from it all, but could not bear to just “fade away.” He had to go down in flames. Before he came to this point of no return, there was a telling boo-hoo-hoo admission: “I must be one of those narcissists who only appreciate things when they’re gone.” And so the alienated 90’s generation he gave voice to ululated at his memorial, “Kurt died for your sins,” put a crown of thorns on this saint’s head, and the myth of the suffering rock star was born.

But the documentary about Cobain’s last 48 hours revealed details that punctured some of this (self-)mythologizing. He was not quite as homeless and derelict as he claimed to be–at least not to the extent of having to sleep under a bridge in Aberdeen, WA. He sought out success and recognition, firing the drummer in their first album Bleach and getting rid of his then girlfriend at the cusp of their breakout because, according to the film, they “no longer matched his ambitions for Nirvana.” But the most chilling part was that Courtney Love was actually on her way to sobriety when they met, and it was he that dragged her back into the world of drugs in order to be with him, and not, as often reported, the other way around.

Damaged Porcelain Doll

While some fans have not been able to move on, it is good to know that at least Love has. She has been drug-free for a decade, and worry like any mom where her daughter would go to college.

It was twenty years ago… I’ve had great loves since Kurt. I probably should have married again. But I couldn’t put my tiara and my little slip dress in a box and go and be Mrs Somebody who used to be Courtney Love.

…I went to New York and lived like a socialite, dated a lot of people who didn’t have tattoos, went to film and art openings, until I bored myself silly. Until I had to rock. Four to the floor rock and roll is where I’m stuck. I need guitars in my life.

(from Courtney Love interview: ‘There will be no jazz hands on Smells Like Teen Spirit’, The Telegraph)

In the same Telegraph interview, she also talks about the ineluctable rock impulse. Even as Gwen Stefani and Pink evolved into a polished, effete version of punk, Love has kept it real, with her smudged make-up and tattered get-up, like a damaged china doll, matched with a brash attitude. She is the 90’s Deborah Harry. Unlike Cobain who threw in the towel at the prime of his youth, bemoaning he is not able to “fake it” and have “100% fun,” here is Love in her middle-age, stubborn and still rockin’ it.