Readers respond to Bomani Jones' "Oh Pleez GAWD I Can't Handle the Success!"

By Salon Staff

Published October 24, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

[Read the story.]

Bomani Jones' article on Newsweek's coverage of the publication of Kurt Cobain's journals lambastes the "notoriously boring newsmagazine" for putting " a man who's been dead for eight and a half years" on the cover. He then spends two pages taking the position that said corpse was worthy of such attention since, in his words, "Simple and plain, Kurt Cobain was a fuckin' genius."

Having read the journals as well as several Cobain biographies, I think it is irresponsible to continue to promote a drug-addled, mentally ill, suicidal misfit as a misunderstood genius or the voice of a generation. Cobain was so conflicted he even lied to himself -- in his diaries. Take for instance a passage that Jones chooses to share: "I like drugs. (But my body and mind won't allow me to take them.)" We know for a fact that Cobain took drugs incessantly throughout his career and was full of an insane amount of heroin even in his last moments.

Comparing Cobain's work to Monet's is simply shameless. "Simple and plain, Kurt Cobain was a fuckin' dangerous loony" might be more accurate.

-- Josh Kirby

Oh pleez Gawd I can't handle another person calling Kurt Cobain a "mad," "fuckin'" genius. Cobain is the Dave Eggers of rock music: A marginally talented guy stealing from people far better than him, who knows he got struck by lightning when he was picked up by the clueless popular press as some sort of revolutionary changing the face of his art. Cobain copped what he could from much better indie bands in the '80s and made it just bland and formulaic enough for radio play. Save the money you were going to spend on "Journals" and pick up the re-release of Pavement's "Slanted and Enchanted."

-- Karl Mueller

This clip-and-paste job may be the single weakest article I have encountered in Salon.

If "Kurt Cobain was a fuckin' genius," as your author alleges, nothing in this hasty collection of Newsweek excerpts would indicate how so.

And I seriously doubt whether, with war likely in the Middle East, nuclear proliferation issues in North Korea, and a sniper loose in the Washington suburbs, "half of the nation [will be] waiting with bated breath" (original phrasing, that) to buy a dead musician's diary.

Oh pleez Gawd -- leave this gushing nonsense to People.

-- Bob Mackreth

Oh pleez Gawd I can't handle the hype! There is one minimum requirement to be labeled a "genius." That is what is called a body of work. Nirvana's output (three albums?) does not cut it. Nor do the rantings of an immature (yes, funny at times) person such as Kurt Cobain. The excerpts in Newsweek confirm the obvious: This guy was completely ordinary. If it weren't for his bandmates, he would have been another lost soul on the landscape. And finally, how come nobody ever asks how his suicide could been avoided? He obviously needed some serious psychological help. Where were his friends and family? Why did he have a gun? Was there no mental-health care available to him? His death does not inspire. Instead it reinforces the hopelessness many young people feel. Someone, such as a good writer, should find inspiration in answering those questions instead of feeding on the hype that Cobain was some sort of f--g genius.

-- Paul Sherard

"That was just who Kurt Cobain was, a tortured soul whose pain was more identifiable than he wished it was."

No, that was who Kurt Cobain wanted people to believe he was. Cobain, whether it fits with our romantic notions of the 27 Club or not, courted fame. He wanted to be a rock star, albeit the "Oh pleez Gawd" variety who used every MTV video, award show and Rolling Stone cover to lament his success. Unsettling as it may be for a generation that needs to see Cobain as the second (or third or fourth) coming of rock, he made his pain identifiable in order to become a rock star.

What always seems to be forgotten in the "tortured genius" myth of Cobain is that he had choices. Unlike those first-time offenders, Pearl Jam, Cobain chose to engage in celebrity practices. He made videos for MTV. He went on corporate-sponsored tours. He posed for the covers of magazines. He wanted rock stardom so bad he chose to be an icon rather than an artist. While Cobain twists in the winds of misplaced adoration, Pearl Jam continue to make music that remains significant to millions. Cobain may have died for his art but Pearl Jam did something better. They stuck around, finding a way to subvert fame so they could focus on what it's all about: the music.

Courtney Love said it best: If you didn't want to be a rock star, Kurt, then you didn't have to be one.

-- Courtney Anderson

I'm continually baffled by the critical deification of Kurt Cobain. I'm willing, despite my inability to access the brilliance underlying the adolescent, stream-of-consciousness angst rants set to distorted, out-of-tune three-chord punk tunes that make up most of Nirvana's oeuvre, to grant that Cobain and Nirvana captured in their sound the zeitgeist of a disaffected generation, marking a pivotal and influential moment in the short history of recorded popular music. And Cobain's death was a tragedy on numerous levels -- he was a father and a husband, a hero to millions whose discomfort with his own influence might perhaps have been the most instructive aspect of it, and, most of all, a deeply sad, sensitive, creative young man in a great deal of pain. But do any of these facts qualify Cobain as a genius? Are we perhaps beginning to be a little too loose with our definition of the term? Should the OED start adding sub-categories to qualify the difference between the geniuses of Kurt Cobain and, say, Mozart, Picasso or Einstein?

Given Cobain's reputed loathing of fame and success (which all seems a little dubious, given his apparent willingness to appear on "MTV Unplugged," in numerous videos, and in countless interviews wherein he seemed perfectly comfortable encouraging his own myth), you'd think if he were able to observe his own reputation from the afterlife that he'd be a little bit disgusted to see critics like Bomani Jones getting all hot and bothered poring through his private journals searching for tidbits to prove he was a genius.

Ultimately, it's never going to be easy to put Cobain's contribution in perspective, mostly because it was so brief. Nirvana produced only two full-length albums, neither of which really graduated much from the dissonant three-chord punk that influenced them. Cobain seemed to have had a presence and inspiration reminiscent of other extraordinarily influential pop stars like John Lennon, Dylan, or Bowie, but, sadly, he didn't live long enough to prove himself worthy of being held in the highest class of rock artists, which, in itself, is a rather limiting category. Hero, yes. Rock icon, yes. But genius? We should probably hold off on that one for a while.

-- Ed Tarkington

Gimme a break! I'm distressed at the trend I see in Salon.

If you're really this short on editors, I'd be willing to help out for free and no credit. First it was the Rabbi vs. Matthew Broderick. Now this sycophantic dribble about Kurt Cobain, who may or may not have turned out to be a memorable musician, whose angst is so '90s, whose journals are painfully adolescent and filled with denial about drug addiction. (I can't help thinking their release is a government ploy to distract us. Or possibly make us nostalgic for the early '90s and the first Gulf war.)

I was hoping for a little insightful analysis. Instead I got clichés about a "mad genius." Sheesh.

-- Jacqueline Mitchell

Bomani Jones' article on Kurt Cobain's recently published "journal" was fairly interesting. But I must ask a couple of questions of the writer.

First, do you honestly believe that Cobain killed himself because he received "too much love" from his fans? This is surely a distorted view of so many things: fame, art, human nature, to name a few. While some may claim to suffer from a glut of love, any psychologist can tell you that what troubled the songwriter was clearly not an overabundance of love. Rather it was an extreme lack of self-love that did in Mr. Cobain.

Second, was Cobain really "a figure so complex he couldn't even figure himself out"? The excerpts you cite make it pretty clear that he had an enormous capacity for self-reflection. It seems to me that he quite ably "figure(d) himself out" to the degree that any of us can. What he lacked was a sense of self-worth that would compel him to take the necessary steps in his life to make it more livable. Not only did he value himself so little that he felt unworthy of success, but he wouldn't even tell a doctor about incapacitating stomach pain.

I fear your worldview at once gives Cobain too much and too little credit as an artist and as a human. So complex indeed. But aren't we all?

-- Brian Harris

Putting a lens up very, very close to the ghost who is Kurt Cobain reminds me of what happens when we put high-powered electron microscopes up to atoms: Matter becomes mostly space, and it's a wonder we don't fall through the fabric of being. Under very close inspection, is it a wonder when Monsieur Cobain becomes an iconic wound? Kurt may have been America's greatest injured existentialist: His dismay about life was turned inward -- he did not reflect the horrors of living. Instead he absorbed the flak of loss and suffering through his empathy. "I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black" outdoes Sartre, Camus, Beckett and the legend of Jesus and Lazarus; after all, Christ did not have to eat death, he simply overruled it.

It is doubtful that Cobain aspired to journalistic and linear prose: To suggest, as Bomani Jones does in his Salon article, that Kurt's musings, reprinted first in Newsweek, were "scatterbrained" and "incoherent" is a lazy and pedestrian observation, one made as if by editorial rote.

Without deifying the poor, tortured lad, Kurt Cobain crashed and burned in the place where flesh was weak (Dionysus?) and the spirit (Apollo?) knew it but could not alter its tragic course. His awful secret may have been that his spirit suffered even deeper than his flesh: The self can fall forever. Cobain could not accept other people's suffering any more than his own: He could not reckon it to make suffering an acceptable aspect of existence's "quid pro quo"-- life simply has too much suffering, there is too much to bear.

"A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido" is silly and random and arbitrary and obscure -- but if you believe in an omniscience, or in an omniscient deity, then Kurt Cobain's silliness is another frit of nirvana, a facet of eternity, where everything and nothing are on the dance floor all at once.

-- Frank Armstrong

Cobain was a whining crybaby, not an artist; a loser, not a role model. Bomani Jones should find another idol. Nobody wants to hear this crap about Cobain's "pain." Life is hard. You either deal with it or you quit and die. Cobain quit. Not much of a hero.

-- Joel Fox

Salon Staff

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