One of my pet peeves on the internet is a thing that a ridiculous amount of websites do in order to create filler posts: “(some dead guy/gal) would have been (number) of years old today.” There’s no shortage of people born on any given date, and so it’s a ready-made way to boost your number of posts without any real work. I hate this all year long, but one of today’s notable birthdays (and it’s automated noting of it) has really stuck in my craw.
This is a portrait that I painted of Kurt Cobain for a college design class, roughly a year after he had taken his own life (that means I did this piece in early 1995). I show this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was a huge Nirvana fan – the music has meant a lot to me and provided comfort to me (and many other people) over the years. I think that’s important to note – I’m not trying to be judgmental about how Cobain’s life ended (I don’t endorse it, or approve of it, or like it). But even how I just phrased that last sentence is the problem.
Kurt Cobain committed suicide.
I remember how I found out, I remember the shock, I remember the turmoil over him choosing to end his own life. I’ve spent 19 years being reminded of it every time one of Nirvana’s songs pops up somewhere unexpected, and I’ve had 19 years to try to make sense of the whole thing. And every time some dipshit on some website puts a post up saying “Kurt Cobain would have been 46 years old today,” it glosses over all the shock and gut-churning his suicide caused, not just for his family, but for millions of people who got something meaningful from his music.
Kurt Cobain committed suicide.
That means that he purposefully chose not to have any more birthdays. He didn’t reach 46 years of age not because of some unfortunate accident or mishap, or because of a natural end to his life. Kurt Cobain ended his life with a shotgun, by his own hand. Each one of these posts around the web that glosses over that, and pads out their post count with a half-assed remembrance misses the point in the most spectacular way imaginable. I know it’s uncomfortable to have to dredge up whatever emotions might be associated with Kurt Cobain (or even the issue of suicide, which Mr. Cobain doesn’t have a monopoly on), but that’s the entire fucking reason you don’t glibly spew shit.
Suicides are different. It provokes a different, very complicated reaction within people, and that should not be ignored or whitewashed. Kurt Cobain didn’t just die, he chose to die.
I address this to everyone: if you do not have the guts to finish the sentence in the manner that you ought to (“Kurt Cobain would have turned 46 today, but he didn’t, because he killed himself when he was 27”), then do not start the sentence. Don’t start it online, don’t start it in person, don’t start that sentence. Tell the whole truth. If you can’t pencil in some time to experience the full range of emotions the full statement raises, if you can’t have that difficult conversation, please just wait until tomorrow, when there surely will be another celebrity who would have aged another year had a more natural death not taken their life, and post about them. But how can you honestly expect anyone to believe that you’re anything less than a crass, unthinking monster when you purport to celebrate someone’s life while completely ignoring why a man in his mid-40’s isn’t around? That’s a discussion worth having.
On the other hand, if you’re going to try to capitalize on a tragedy, be open and honest that you’re trying to do so. You’ll still be a worthless scumbag pocketing cash off of misery, but at least you’ll be a transparent one.