An Idiot’s Guide to Someone Else’s Suicide

10th Annual MTV Video Music Awards

There’s nothing more voyeuristic or self-indulgent than believing you deserve to know anything about the suicide of a stranger. Yet, here we are, twenty years after Kurt Cobain’s death, still asking why a man who struggled with depression and drug abuse would possibly want to end it all. Like, surely not? Something doesn’t add up. It must have been Courtney Love, that bitch. Did you know she punched Kathleen Hanna one time? She’s clearly crazy and capable of murder. Courtney killed Kurt. Yoko killed John. Women will kill everyone you love.

This week, the Seattle police department released new evidence relating to Cobain’s death: a note in his wallet branding Love as a “bitch with zits” who was “siphoning all [his] money for doping and whoring” – a sentiment that couldn’t be further away from that of his suicide note, which describes Love as “a goddess of a wife who sweats with ambition and empathy”. I would wager that anybody who interpreted that note sincerely is the same breed of dingus who thought Stewart Lee genuinely wanted to see Top Gear presented by Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond’s severed head on a stick, but that’s irrelevant. The main point is: why are we still dragging this up? Why are we so obsessed with this man’s death that the Seattle police department continues to receive requests to reopen their investigation on a weekly basis?

Here’s a crazy theory for you: some people get sad, intolerably sad, and sometimes choose to end their lives because of it. It’s tragic, but it happens. A lot. In 2012, suicide was the biggest killer of men under 35 in the UK, yet we still have no idea how to process it as a concept, regardless of who the person in question is. When it’s a teenager, we blame Marilyn Manson. When it’s a member of the military, we blame Obama. When it’s a celebrity – especially a massively idolised one – we blame the closest possible person, which usually turns out to be their spouse. But why? Despite the violence that permeates the world at every possible juncture, is it too much to consider that somebody would want to perform an act of violence on themselves? Is suicide simply too abstract, too seemingly senseless for us to process? Or does the “weakness” associated with suicide ruin our image of someone like Kurt Cobain as an idol? Because if they had it all and they still couldn’t hack it, how are us “regular” people supposed to cope, right?

We are relentless blame-shifters and always have been, because we don’t like things that can’t be rationalised. It’s so much easier to place the blame on a single outside influence than it is to consider the myriad of real issues that contribute towards feelings of self-harm: divorce, debt, loss, sexuality, genetics, emotional abuse, racial abuse, sexual abuse… the list is endless. There is only one person who will ever truly understand the reasons behind a suicide and that is the person who has committed suicide.

Of course there will always be questions, but when the subject happens to be a public figure, our innate fascination with mortality merges with the media’s obsession with conspiracy to form an enormous storm cloud of fabricated theories and misdirected anger that empties down on the closest possible person to the deceased, which, in this case, is Courtney Love.

If you put out of your mind the fact that Kurt Cobain was one of the most incredible artists of all time, this is the picture you will be left with: a man turns to drugs, gives up on life and leaves behind his wife and one-year old daughter. He is immortalised as a troubled soul with hero status. The woman he is survived by publicly endures the shattering of her entire world and has to live the rest of her life shadowed by rumours that she murdered her husband and didn’t write any of her own music. She is not immortalised. She is not heroic. She is demonised on a daily basis just for existing.

Love once referred to Cobain as her best friend, her soul mate, “the only fucking happiness [she] ever had.” Imagine you were in her position: your husband dies and, unfortunately for you, millions of other people saw what you saw in him and he was important to them, too. So important that the media continues to dig him up twenty years after his death to peddle shit so personal that it is obscure, useless, irrelevant…but does make really good click-bait.

The media, by nature, is detached. It is insensitive, objective and driven by statistics. So how could anything that requires a smidgen of empathy ever be discussed appropriately? Nobody wants to talk about the reasons Taiwanese author Sanmao hung herself with a pair of stockings, they just want to know what brand they were. When mental illness is romanticised, minimised or laughed at so greatly in the public sphere, it’s no wonder that many in need of help would rather call NHS Direct than speak to their parent(s), ask anonymous questions on Tumblr than reach out to their friends or call in sick to work with a feigned illness than try to explain to their boss that their brain simply won’t let them leave the house today, sorry.

The media demands context, reasons, narrative – someone to worship and someone to accuse (and never the twain shall meet). But, when it comes to depression, you will often struggle to find any of those things. Last year, Stephen Fry bravely revealed that he attempted suicide in 2012 for no discernible reason. After all, how can you attempt to rationalise something that, by nature, is completely irrational? How can you sincerely tell someone that you want to hurt yourself because you missed the bus or the tea bag broke in the mug or that one person earlier looked at you like they thought your hair was stupid? Those are ridiculous reasons, non-reasons, and nothing infuriates comparatively healthy people more than someone who feels depressed “for no reason”.

I have mixed feelings about Courtney Love both as a musician and a “personality”, but the way she has and continues to be treated by the media is absolutely disgusting. The erasure of mental illness as a life-threatening issue is bad enough, but turning the worst thing that ever happened so someone into click-bait is some real Black Mirror shit. We need to stop talking about Kurt Cobain’s death as a conspiracy, as something unfathomable, as anything other than what it really is – a common tragedy. If we’re truly so fixated on him “Resting In Peace” maybe it’s about time we actually let that happen and stop trying to seek closure by feasting on those he has left behind.

Originally published on The 405 here.

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