The recent suicide of Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell and Linkin Park front man Chester Bennington have offered me a place to reflect on the realities of our suffering. These men were both encased in their misery and the struggle of dealing with it. Their struggle was open for the world to see and it propelled them to popularity and stardom. The intensity to maintain creative honesty as well as the desire to remain relevant is the struggle I could see in them both, as I have followed both of their careers since they broke out in different eras of rock and roll. What do their suicides have to teach us?
You could say I am a “Gen Xer” since I was born in the 1970’s. My middle school and high school years were filled with what I believe is the golden age of music. The fundamental transformation of the flamboyant excesses of the 80’s pop and rock scene to the era of self-reflective grunge rhythms changed our generation forever.
Grunge brought about a call for reflection of our inner suffering and an abandonment of the façade of material worship as expressed in the hair band. Seattle became the mecca for the rock world as bands like The Melvins, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Green River, Mother Love Bone flooded the scene. Other bands like Mudhoney and Pearl Jam would solidify the movement, sprouting from the demise of Green River. These groups began with bold innovative honesty that connected perfectly in the days when the fears of external enemies of the Cold War had worn themselves out and it became time to focus on what was dwelling within us all. It was the dark shadow within us all, as renowned psychoanalyst Carl Jung said, it reached all the way down to hell.
In many ways, I see that the grunge era was a refreshing one that exorcized the demons of silly make up-pasted spandex rockers. Grunge did,however, offer its own demons that would end up manifesting themselves in the culture. Glorifying the inner misery of the human conscience by grinding grunge albums on constant rotation depressed the culture and petrified the heroes of grunge into that miserable place.
On April 5th, 1994, Nirvana front man and grunge icon Kurt Cobain put a shot gun in his mouth and ended his life after years of struggling with heroin. Cobain’s death shocked the world as Nirvana had reached platinum success. The success wasn’t enough to quell the demons that Cobain had released on himself with his introspective and personally revealing music.
“Polly wants a cracker
I think I should get off her first
I think she wants some water
To put out the blow torch”
Polly by Kurt Cobain
Alice in Chains front man Layne Staley’s 86 lb decomposed body would be found on his couch next to a flickering television 4 days after he overdosed on heroin and cocaine. Staley had withered in his musical career as he openly discussed his struggled with heroin addiction. Staley even mocked critics of his lifestyle in the song Junkhead or at least recognized the demon within speaking for him.
You can't understand a user's mind
“But try, with your books and degrees
If you let yourself go and opened your mind
I'll bet you'd be doing like me
And it ain't so bad”
Junkhead by Lane Staley, Jerry Cantrell
Others rockers of that era who succumbed to the demons were Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon in 1995, Jonathan Melvoin of the Smashing Pumpkins, John Saunders of Mad Season, Mike Starr of Alice in Chains, Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots, and the list does go on. It can be seen that these cultural icons are just a part of the plan for those experimenting on the edge of consciousness to create great music but I really see this as a reflection of a broader cultural phenomenon. Instead, they are all those that were devoured by the demon.
We are all struggling with the demons within us. We are looking for comfort with the painful things within us and are seeking comfort in the expression of pain that people like Kobain, Staley, Cornell, and Bennington displayed to the world. We see it as brave for they have sacrificed their privacy and personal story to the world. We see comfort in knowing that we are not the only ones suffering. Whether you appreciate their art or not, you have to recognize the impact they have had.
When someone of their significance takes their own lives, they are often called cowards for ending it all despite their fans and despite their family. I understand that anger to call out the word “coward!” The fact is we are all cowards. We all struggle and act cowardly in the face of the demon called suffering. The nature of our being is suffering. We begin suffering at our birth and as we grow older we all avoid our nature of suffering at all cost. In order for our mothers to give birth to us, she had to suffer greatly. Sacrifice is surely not pleasant but we all do it. Nothing of value comes without sacrifice. So, in essence, we have to suffer to create value.
These suicides can be seen as cowardly ACTS. and maybe THEY ARE …
I think both Cornell and Bennington were very brave in projecting their pain to allow other people to relate to the nature of suffering. Unfortunately they became manifestations of their suffering that they dwelled on with every utterance of every song as all of the others did. In some cases, they petrified themselves within it and were not able to grow passed it. It was a Pandora’s box that they opened and were not able to close it.
What we must learn from these icons of our culture is the need for us to recognize that yes, we suffer, but must not become petrified and consumed by it. All of these men have been petrified in history as people that were consumed and devoured by the misery. They are all mere specters within our culture that remind us all that no one is immune to the demons that dwell within us. We have to recognize that we are all capable of doing horrible things to ourselves and others. We must rid ourselves from everything that can tempt us to unleash those capabilities.
Instead of being devoured by suffering, we must learn from our suffering. When we seem like we have died due to the misery that comes into our lives, we must rise out of it and become better people.
We must accept that we suffer by nature. It is the truth.
At the same time, our kindness, love, and gentleness towards others that can be used as a tool to heal other’s suffering. It is those sacrifices that help us survive this world.
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