Death Is Not The End, Part 8:
Grandma, take me home
I'll never fully understand the chic reverence awarded heroin in the vocation of musical performance, nor the way it has been relegated to being a badge of courage in the darker circles of the counterculture. It seems to have become the only metaphor available for terminal despair (and/or terminal bliss). For those who don't understand the concept of cool, to stack the deck the Reaper uses is the ultimate in cool. As if cold is cool. I remember sitting around with some people after a wedding reception some months after the death of Cobain as everyone watched the MTV Nirvana tribute like moths to light with nobody daring to speak. There he was spitting on the MTV camera lens, the soul who one season later would push God's hand by taking his own life: one last stab at stealing whatever control he could from a world gone wrong when all around him was nothing but impermanence and shift. If Kurt Cobain were alive right now I'd go up to him at Linda's Tavern and ask him when his band is ever going to cover a truly great song like Perez Prado's Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White or Soul Coaxing by Raymond Lefevre.
In years to come I wonder if the suicide of Kurt Cobain will be ridiculed by future generations and seen as emblematic of the cynically solipsistic excesses of the Fucked Generation as much as The Grateful Dead's decision to play at the pyramids in Egypt or John Lennon and Yoko Ono's bed-in for peace was seen as emblematic of the naively altruistic excesses of the Baby Boomers. Cobain will not be remembered with the same stature as Lennon. Imagine how Lennon would be appreciated by history if he had shot himself after writing Happiness Is A Warm Gun, when he was the same age Cobain was when he killed himself? It was a few years after that Lennon went through the harrowing experience of kicking junk cold turkey, lived to sing about it and began raising a family. Cobain will probably be relegated to the status of martyr similar to Jim Morrison, but where Morrison is the patron saint of hedonism, Cobain will be the patron saint of despair. In the Jewish tradition (one tribe that above all others understands that it is the concept of tightly-meshed community that keeps all of it's members sane) a suicide is called "a sentinel who has abandoned his post."
A couple of hours after I returned from Cobain's vigil at the Seattle Center I had a telephone call from a woman I love whose birthday was coming up in a few days. She was calling from Bellingham that Sunday and had just returned home from bicycling around La Conner and the spirit of exhilaration in her voice was the happiest I'd ever heard her, perhaps the happiest Id ever heard anyone. Listening to her voice was so spiritually refreshing it buoyed me as all around me were people devastated by the suicide of Cobain. I remember trying to illustrate to her the depth of empathy I was acquiescing to at the time, while simultaneously trying to explain that emotional duress is what drives one to such depths of despair and cursing Cobain's widow for not being there to nurture him, until finally I just blurted out "Suicide is NOT a choice." Sensing I had assented with the morals of despair she immediately became defensive and wanted to argue for a split second until she heard what the actual words were that I had said and agreed. What I was trying to say was "Suicide is NOT a choice one makes, one is driven to it," which in retrospect I realize underlines the passive victimization of the situation, yet she heard "Suicide is NOT an option," which is aggressively pro-life. My words betrayed my thoughts, and in hindsight I realize how much I was really trying to tell myself. She knew that no matter how much of a spiritual and psychological railing I believed I had, I was reaching too far into the depths of another's despair to be able to pull myself out when I had made sure they were safe. And she was right.
I thought I was strong enough to save someone whose emotional security had been destroyed during the same period of time before Cobain pulled the trigger: my then housemate, (whom I'll call "Charles"), a soon-to-be-vested Microsoft millionaire who had wanted desperately to get out of the filthy house he had been sharing with his other Microsoft friends for years and had asked me if I wanted to get a nice apartment with him. When Charles and I found a palace of an apartment we both knew that it would be the last apartment either of us had before we each bought our own respective houses. At the time Charles was a level two manager writing help boxes and making 40K a year while I was making barely ten bucks an hour as a part time secretary (the only male secretary, as well as the only secretary who was only part time if you want to talk about reverse discrimination) at CNA Insurance where they would not give me full time hours. I eventually caught the head of the company in a lie which she admitted after I called her on it three times when she insisted that full time positions in the company were being posted. And all the while I was simply trying to get a position at Microsoft, long before I actually found out what Microsoft was all about.
After I moved in and eventually noticed Charles' obliviousness, apathy and indifference to my situation (not to mention that of his friends/my acquaintances who also worked at Microsoft) as he preferred to merely drink more, smirk more and condescend to me I suddenly "got" what Microsoft had done to him as I was the one who had to eventually deal with the diseased soul Bill Gates' evil cult had twisted inside him. The root cause of his behaviour towards me was foundationed in the fact that I lived on my own in Europe for over two years; the very two years he started working at Microsoft, yet he was jealous of me and told me as much in no uncertain terms when I had returned from Europe, using it as a reason to foster some sort of adolescent rivalry between us even though we had been good friends (one friend of mine I've had since high school, and ironically had ended up working under Charles at Microsoft, even told me that he had referred to me as his "best friend" when I was living in Europe, which was news to me) and had even been housemates previously for over a year some time before I moved to Europe. The truth of the matter being Charles is way too socially retarded to live in another country 5000 miles away from home for any period of time especially without the upper middle class, self-consciously anti-social Mafia of core friends of his who had gone to the same high school and college together and now had all gravitated and huddled together at Microsoft. Their little group has always been and always will until the end. It was always fun for them to load up on guns and pretend to lose and to pretend that even though they were from such wealthy homes that they could enjoy living together in a trashed house many years after they had left college and didn't care if the garbage cans were in the middle of the living room for any period of time.
While I was living with Charles he had discovered that his girlfriend, who also worked at Microsoft, had been having a fling with someone who also worked there and would soon, ironically enough, be working under Charles. A geek soap opera of the highest import. She wasn't actually a girlfriend, truth be told. Neither of them had anything in common and they both knew that her inner life wasn't as active nor as intense as his. Unfortunately they had both been burned before they met each other and approached each other way too cautiously for any real romance to develop, merely trying to compare their respective wounds. She'd come over every few weeks for sex and leave sometime before two in the morning so whatever emotional connection was there was very tenuous.
It soon became very obvious that Charles had fallen into the trap that all computer geeks seem to fall into: Rather than actually develop social skills they'd rather "get" the girl/any girl simply by impressing upon them how smart/obsessively geekish they are (therefore financially endowed). In this particular example Charles was exhibiting the exact same behaviour his father had tried when he was 13 years of age: Trying to buy the affections of the person who wanted out of the relationship (his mother) and when that strategy failed it exposed his financially well-endowed mind as not at all what was desired of him.
He became increasingly obsessed with World War II (and loved taunting me for being English since he was German), watching male sports on TV, and any activity where he knew females would not be found. Eventually I sat with him for a series of nights that bled into mornings for days that turned into weeks, bottle of Scotch after bottle of Scotch. If he wasn't sneaking down to the parking lot at Microsoft to get drunk in his car at lunchtime day after day he was passing out face down in the middle of our living room with a blanket covering only his top half like a suicide waiting to be found night after night, with the refrain from Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box:" 'HEY, WAIT, I GOT A NEW COMPLAINT!!!!' blaring from the Walkman around his head.
Nothing I could say or do could prevent his insistence of the irrelevancy of love and faith until finally his resolve seeped into my mind and spread like a cancer throughout my own thoughts. Once he even called one of his very close friends who also worked at Microsoft and has always had an extensive collection of firearms and told him that whatever he may say to him, not to give him a firearm. The Oedipal confrontation with his divorced father who was a pretty high level mucky muck at Weyerhouser I could envision all too well as he made me sit through videotape after videotape of Hamlet, the one play, like Kurt and Courtney, that he would obsess upon over and over again. His misogyny manifested itself in unusual ways, including a huge scrapbook he left out once of pornography, but not just any pornography. Pictures out of Playboy from the late 70s and early 80s only. The exact same years he had to deal with the divorce of his parents.
One night after this surreal behaviour had gone on for the better part of a month I comforted him as he lay crying at my feet and suddenly I felt an otherworldly presence in the room. Angels were watching over me saying: Are you sure you can handle this?
Since I had no intimate at the time whom I could turn to who would rejuvenate me, eventually I found myself harboring the exact same poisonous thoughts of his that I had tried valiantly to nurse. Left with the twisted solipsistic logic of a suicide is enough to carve great chunks out of your soul. In retrospect, I wish I had simply gone bicycling in La Conner. I should have sought the love I needed then to give me the mortal perspective of the situation, because once someone you care for makes that mental leap of doubt there's no way you can ever fully reclaim the soul you're trying to save. The gunshot or the overdose may come weeks, months or years down the road, with or without you there to help, but you really can't explain faith to a mind that desperate and resolute.
He slept it off, sought counseling, and finally decided that I shouldn't be on the lease anymore because no matter how much I was there for him, the bottom line was: I "couldn't pay rent," which forced me to subsequently move back in with my parents. The geek acronym TSR (Terminate; Stay Resident) became all too applicable for him. After an Independence Day party I even found where his Microsoft friends had scrawled in charcoal on the bricks of our lanai: "FUD," which in Microsoft lingo is the very common email acronym they use for "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt:" pretty much the Microsoft business plan for anyone who is still unaware of how the company operates. When I moved out I made sure I removed every videotape of Hamlet as well as every videotaped episode of the World at War series that was on the premises. For his own good. After I moved out I would run into him seemingly annually, inevitably in bookstores or libraries and endured small talk with him. The last time I saw him he was ebullient over the news that he was about to buy...his first house. I was so happy I could have killed him. Either that or I could have just given him an invoice for my time, which would have amounted to an even $10,000.
As Dr. Donna Gaines put it: "In his way, Kurt Cobain tried to show us how to live -- he prayed for the racist, the homophobe, the misogynist, but he wasn't Jesus, and he couldn't save us. Despite compassion, he wasn't an altruist who died for anybody's sins. His suicide was a betrayal. A denial. It negated an unspoken contract among members of a generation who depended on one another to reverse the parental generation's legacy of neglect, confusion and frustration. Cobain broke that promise. He just walked." (My housemate was so wrapped up in denial that Cobain committed suicide that his mind fabricated a ludicrous scenario that Courtney Love had him killed because he didn't turn out to have the shrewd business acumen she thought he did, turning down huge pots of cash wherever he was offered it. Go figure.)
As Evelyn McDonnell so keenly observed, the similarities between Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis, another band leader who committed suicide in 1980, are striking. "In his hometown of Macclesfield, England, Ian Curtis once saw a woman in the throes of an epileptic fit. He described the seizure in "She's Lost Control," a song he wrote for Joy Division, the Manchester band he fronted in the late '70s. "And she screamed out, kicking on her side, and said, 'I've lost control again,'" Curtis sang in a deep voice, shaking, at once ponderous and deathly afraid. Shortly afterward, Curtis began having epileptic seizures himself. They came on quickly and debilitatingly; during one show, he collapsed into the drum set and had to be carried offstage. Some audience members applauded, evidently thinking this was part of the show -- Curtis overacting his overdramatic lyrics of pain and despair. In truth, there was a fine line between the singer's physical illness and his emerging mental problems. Fear of having his music sidelined by his epilepsy deepened the depression that seemed locked like an iron maiden around Curtis's shoulders. On May 18, 1980, four days before the band was about to head out on its first American tour, Curtis hung himself in his childhood home." After the band reformed, the glacial despair of Joy Division gradually evolved into the cutting edge nightclub band New Order over the years. After leaving a legacy of songs such as Isolation and Atrocity Exhibition pointing to the nihilistic situation Curtis chose, what else could a band evolve into except avant-garde dance pop like a true phoenix rising from the ashes? Since Cobain's death, Nirvana's drummer Dave Grohl and bass player Krist Novoselic have gone their own separate ways with their own bands, Foo Fighters and Sweet 75 respectively, both bands with the same enthusiasm and drive of Nirvana, but missing the twisting and turbulent intensity of Cobain.
"When Kurt Cobain took his life," McDonnell continues, "only a few observers drew the obvious parallel to Ian Curtis's suicide. It's pointless to condemn people who commit suicide, but it's also foolhardy to romanticize them. Curtis made a choice that was his alone to make but, like Cobain, he left a wife and child to live with that decision for him. Ironically, tragically, his suicide gave Joy Division's songs an authenticity that is impossible to ignore in retrospect: If he had lived, maybe his songs wouldn't seem so powerful, and maybe I'd have grown tired of his wallowing in a fatalism that never seemed fatal." In the wake of Cobain's solution every other entertainer throwing dice with their life is just a whiner. Since Kurt upped the stakes of the drama of the situation, those entertainers in terminal pain now have only two choices: kill yourself or go to a health club. Everything else is just a Jesus Christ pose.
Just because I was born on Valentines Day it doesn't exactly follow that I know anything more about the nature of the human heart than someone born on Halloween, Easter, Friday the 13th or April Fools Day. We are all searching for an everlasting, unconditional love. We are all frightened that we'll never find it, and we are all here to love and help each other, no matter how much the modern world isolates us and tears us away from each other. That is what Garcia and Cobain both knew and sang about. And we all need someone we can intimately turn to to rejuvenate us. My father was orphaned as a child and my mother is a twin, so what I have inherited and carry with me are isolation and connectedness in balance. So when you're standing on the crossroads that you cannot comprehend, and there's no one there to comfort you with a helping hand to lend, just remember that death is not the end.
(Caveat: Dealing with terminal choices precipitated by disease, illness or age, however, the work of Jack Kevorkian should not be pre-empted, nor should he be punished. I'm willing to make that distinction between emotional pain [which we as a "civilized culture" must not deny as unworthy of research and part of health care when put next to heart disease or AIDS, and must begin treating as a serious malady as the world becomes more technologically advanced: the price we pay for becoming markedly more clever is by becoming emotionally naive. e.g.: The Unabomber] and unendurable physical pain.)
Fans of both Cobain and Garcia committed suicide after their respective deaths because the departure of their idols struck so deeply. Cobain and Garcia were both idealists who expressed their ideas through music, perhaps the only truly sacred thing there is left in the world at this late date, yet the legacy of the Grateful Dead has left a virtual cottage industry of probably the best networked community (Deadheads) on the planet. Only time will tell the full impact Cobain will have on the future of the world, but what Garcia left in his wake is pronounced in a very tangible form already. Most of the speculation following Garcia's death, and the subsequent dissolution of the band on December 8, 1995, concerns what Deadheads will do now. No matter how you try and explain the appeal and the influence of the Grateful Dead, the bottom line is that the fans shall have to realize that thirty years of a very successful experiment to try and live out the utopian ideals the 60s aspired to are over, and now, right when the world needs it, Deadheads really do need to take their spirit of love, peace, harmony, improvisational music and community that bonded them and stop preaching to their own converted, and try and show the rest of the world that the things they find worth living for are the things worth sharing to those enlightenment-challenged outside of the matrix. While checking up on the Dead's newsgroup last week one person posted that no less than ten of his Deadhead friends are in the process of getting divorces since the death of Garcia and the end of the band. If the Dead provided the only focus and triangulation for any number of marriages, that speaks volumes for the precarious foundations said institution has foundered upon in the modern era.
Death Is Not The End, Part 9:
When the heart is open