Stupid Club: Serve The Servants
“Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club.” — Wendy Cobain, on the death of her son Kurt, referring to the so-called ’27 Club’ of rock stars who died at that age
I remember exactly where I was when I heard Kurt Cobain had ended his own life. But although I’ll relate some of the details, they aren’t really important.
The only thing that’s ever really important is learning. Nothing is ever a failure as long as you learn from it.
It was my senior year in high school, and my plan for afterwards went step one: become a rock star. My parents both had untreated depression and hadn’t paid attention to me in years. So I hadn’t taken SATs or applied to colleges, I had played a lot of guitar, read books, written lyrics.
It felt achievable though. As a little kid, I had lived with my grandmother just down the road from Aberdeen, where Kurt grew up. One of my earliest memories is going to the Aberdeen mall. This, combined with the uncomplicated directness of Nirvana’s music, gave me hope that I could do it too.
Kurt’s suicide pulled the rug out from under my feet in a way that I’m still dealing with.
I didn’t have my heart set on rock stardom per se, but on the end of suffering. From my parents, I inherited not only a tendency towards depression, but also an aptitude for learning and intellectual interests. While I’ve found few things as true as the old saying “ignorance is bliss”, it implies the opposite, “knowledge is suffering”. And all the knowledge I acquired told me the world was at best an apathetic expanse of great struggle, if not a hostile jungle.
Other kids blissfully looked at college as an extension of childhood freedom; I saw it as another form of cutthroat competition which I so wanted to avoid. In the rock lifestyle, I saw freedom, the freedom to escape expectation, comparison, judgement.
But Kurt had been the biggest rock star in the world, critically adored as well as commercially successful. Free to do whatever he wanted. He had everything, and everything still wasn’t enough.
The tragedy of suicide doesn’t come from death. Everybody dies somehow. The tragedy comes from suffering; the bottomless, howling suffering necessary in order to perform such violence on one’s self. The hell on earth that precedes the act.
I realized that I had substituted rock stardom in my head as a proxy, a substitute for the real goal: ending suffering. Kurt taught me, in an act which could be summed up by my friend Glenn in a single sentence on a beautiful Spring day, the error of my ways.
So I am thankful to him, perversely grateful, for his unintentionally selfless act of unintentional teaching. Thomas Edison said he didn’t fail to invent the lightbulb ten thousand times; he discovered ten thousand methods for making other things. Kurt showed us the rock star method of escaping suffering didn’t work.
On the last Nirvana album, Kurt wrote the song “Serve The Servants”, which includes the line, “I don’t hate you anymore.” Not hating is a good start, but not enough. You have to find some way to love those you serve.
Even if they don’t deserve it. Maybe _especially_ if they don’t deserve it.
I would have preferred Wendy used a less judgemental word than ‘stupid’. But it’s undeniably a mistake. Suicide is the ultimate personal mistake, because only the survivors can learn from it.
Today, I make suicide into a form of service. I find something to learn from it.