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Frances Bean Cobain: ‘The Death of Young Musicians Isn’t Something to Romanticise’

Prior to April 1994 Nirvana were a successful and acclaimed group from Seattle. Afterwards they became legendary. The key factor in this change of perspective was the premature death of frontman Kurt Cobain, who took his own life on 6 April at the age of just twenty-seven, placing him alongside such iconic artists as Brion Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin as members of what many refer to as the ’27 Club.’

He left behind a wife and baby who, at just twenty-months old, was too young to remember her father. In the years that followed Cobain was hailed as both a tortured genius and the voice of a generation, receiving the same kind of posthumous praise and adulation that had been poured over Jim Morrison after his tragic death over twenty years earlier.

One of the greatest struggles for Cobain was the sudden and unexpected success that befell Nirvana following the release of their second album, Nevermind, in September 1991. Their debut Bleach had made little impact but it had brought them to the attention of a major label, and with the hair metal scene breathing its last breath and the Pixies close to self-destruction, the timing of Nirvana‘s sophomore album was perfect. Teenagers needed something new to listen to, a music that spoke to them, and in Cobain they found a poet who appeared to share the same pain and fear as they.

But the endless attention began to take its toll on Cobain, who was reluctant to embrace the label of rock star. ‘I really miss being able to blend in with people,’ he told Spin in October 1993, barely six months before his death. ‘It’s just been lately that I could even handle being recognised.’ Looking back on his life prior to the overnight success of Nevermind he added, ‘It was just so much simpler then.’

Following his death Nirvana became something more than a band. They had reached legendary proportions. And Cobain was no longer just a musician. While the media began to speculate over why a man so young would take his own life, some fans along with documentarian Nick Broomfield became convinced that Cobain’s widow, Hole singer Courtney Love, had been implicit in his murder. The death of a young rock star, struck down while still at their commercial and creative peak, became something that people held in high regard. In his suicide note Cobain made a chilling reference to a passage from Neil Young’s 1978 song Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black): ‘It’s better to burn out than to fade away.’

There was renewed interest in Nirvana in April when, twenty years after the death of Cobain, the two surviving members performed at the band’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a host of guest musicians, from veterans like Joan Jett to newcomers such as Lorde. The latter received criticism in the media earlier this month from another young pop star, Iggy Azalea, who told Billboard, ‘Nothing against her, but I think when you’re doing a tribute to someone that’s dead, generally it should be the person’s peer. Lorde is not Kurt Cobain’s peer.’ Seventeen-year-old Lorde, who received praise for her performance at the show, responded via Confidential two weeks later with, ‘I enjoyed it. I had a good time. That’s all that mattered.’

On 12 June the Guardian published an interview with then-twenty-seven-year-old Lana Del Rey, who was promoting the release of her third album Ultraviolence. During the discussion she told the reporter, ‘I wish I was dead already’ after discussing two of her idols, Cobain and Amy Winehouse, who died in 2011 at the age of twenty-seven. ‘I don’t want to have to keep doing this. But I am,’ she added. ‘That’s just how I feel. If it wasn’t that way, then I wouldn’t say it. I would be scared if I knew [death] was coming, but…’

After her comments made their way around the internet Del Ray tried to defend her statement in a series of tweets in which she said, ‘I regret trusting the Guardian. I didn’t want to do an interview but the journalist was persistent…Maybe he’s actually the boring one looking for something interesting to write about. His leading questions about death and persona were calculated.’

Angered by her rebuttal the interviewer, Tim Jonze, jumped to his own defence in an article in which he stated, ‘It’s not uncommon for interviewees to read what they’ve actually said, be horrified, and decide that it must somehow be the writer’s fault. Yet Lana Del Rey’s issues with the recent profile I wrote (among other slightly disturbing statements, she told me ‘I wish I was dead already’) are particularly hard to decipher…It’s not pleasant asking a pop star if she thinks the idea of dying young herself is attractive – it’s a dark question, but it’s not a leading one. She has every opportunity to say no.

Kurt and Frances Bean Cobain

Kurt and Frances Bean Cobain

Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean, now twenty-one, has spoken out on Twitter regarding Del Ray’s comments on death. In a series of tweets Cobain said, ‘The death of young musicians isn’t something to romanticise. I’ll never know my father because he died young and it becomes a desirable feat because people like you think it’s ‘cool.’ Well, it’s fucking not. Embrace life, because you only get one life. The people you mentioned wasted that life. Don’t be one of those people. You’re too talented to waste it away (sic).’

Having to defend her own comments following the tweets Cobain later added, ‘I told her to not waste her life. How is that attacking? I literally said embrace this life because you only get one…I’m not attacking anyone. I have no animosity towards Lana, I was just trying to put things in perspective from personal experience.’

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