There are certain days that as FDR said, “will live in infamy”: the day he was speaking of, December 7, 1941, September 11, 2001, and for me at least, April 5, 1994 would be another. Here’s the background…
I still remember walking into the high school gym during a basketball game and hearing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the first time. The song became a huge hit and was very iconic for mainstreaming alternative rock music. Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, is also recognized for mainstreaming grunge, which if that’s unfamiliar to you I would describe as a genre – and I don’t mean this to sound harsh – characterized by having an unkempt appearance, performing poorly in school, smoking pot, and generally lacking ambition. Almost overnight countless students changed the way they looked, talked, dressed, acted, etc. in an effort to be like Kurt Cobain. One of the individuals caught up in the movement was my younger brother, Jason. His marijuana use gave way to other drugs, which gave way to his overdose.
On April 5th, 1994 Kurt committed suicide leaving behind a note for his fans and his wife, Courtney Love, discussing how he’s “too sensitive” and how he “simply [loves] people too much, so much that it makes [him] sad” and he “[has] a goddess of a wife…and a daughter full of love and joy” and in his words “I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven, I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general…only because I love and feel sorry for people too much I guess”, closing with these words to his wife: “Please keep going for [our daughter]. For her life, which will be so much happier without me. I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU!”
I remember watching Courtney angrily read that letter on television, yelling at different points about what Kurt wrote, showing the grief and frustration his decision caused her. And she wasn’t alone: Kurt’s death left behind countless followers filled with similar pain and confusion. There’s a long list of idolized musicians that died young (John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, etc.), but with Kurt’s death there was one huge difference: he deliberately brought his life to an end. What did that communicate to his young followers? Many of them had already given up living for the usual motivations (academics, athletics, family approval, etc.), so when Kurt killed himself, the obvious question was, “If even Kurt doesn’t want to be alive, what does that mean for us…what do we have to live for?”
When I talk about individuals people follow to their detriment, religious figures like David Koresh or Jim Jones, or political figures like Hitler or Stalin come to mind, but it doesn’t have to be terrible men like that. In Kurt’s defense, he probably would have been the first to say he didn’t want people following him, but the result was the same for those who did. Last Sunday’s sermon discussed some disciples of John continuing to follow him instead of transitioning to Jesus. The reality is it doesn’t matter the individual being followed; if it isn’t Jesus, it’s going to lead to hurt and confusion. Jesus is the only One who never lets us down, never leaves us hurt, and will never leave us with regret. 1 Peter 2:21 Jesus left us an example, that we should follow HIS steps.