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FIRST-PERSON: 10 years after Kurt Cobain’s death

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–Ten years ago one of the poster boys of postmodernism died. Kurt Cobain, front man for the grunge band Nirvana, killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head. He was found dead at his Seattle home on April 8, 1994. He was only 27 years old.

I find it ironic that Cobain took his life so near Easter, which fell on April 3 ten years ago. In fact, the time of his actual death may have been only a couple of days removed from Christianity’s most significant celebration.

The resurrection of Christ and the hope it engenders stands in stark contrast with the pessimism postmodern philosophy produces. And make no mistake — Cobain embodied the worst of postmodern thought.

Born in 1967, Cobain was reared in the small logging town of Aberdeen, Wash. At age seven his parents divorced. It was an event that proved to be the turning point in young Kurt’s life. By his own account he never felt loved or secure again. In his suicide note Cobain wrote, “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.”

After his parents split, Cobain became increasingly anti-social and withdrawn. His behavior became so difficult to handle that he was shuttled between family members and even was homeless for a short period.

Around age eleven, Cobain was introduced to the punk rock sound of Britain’s Sex Pistols. Perhaps due to the trauma of childhood, he was drawn to the chaos and nihilism that saturated punk rock. As Cobain soaked up chaotic sounds and angry lyrics, the seeds for what would later be known as grunge music were planted.

In 1986 Cobain formed Nirvana with two friends. The music they forged was characterized by strong guitar riffs and heavy drumming. It was a conscious rejection of the slick heavy metal of the time. Nirvana’s style flew in the face of convention. The band eschewed spandex and sexuality for flannel and postmodern musings.

Nirvana’s second album, released in 1991 and titled “Nevermind,” proved to be a monster hit and propelled the band to stardom. Though it has been a decade since Cobain’s death, Nirvana continues to be popular, selling 1.4 million albums in 2002 and 754,000 in 2003.

To listen to Nirvana is to have a crash course in postmodern thought. The music is erratic and the lyrics –- screamed — seem almost nonsensical. The overriding themes in Cobain’s writing were a sense of self-loathing, frustration and hopelessness. However, because the songs are void of a specific message, each listener is free to discover his or her own meaning.

Postmodern philosophy holds that absolute truth does not exist. Morality is relative and self-styled. Meaning is self-constructed. Individual experience becomes the ultimate in self-actualization.

In the postmodern worldview the individual dominates and chaos is accepted. Taken to its logical conclusion, this philosophy is unstable, irrational, pessimistic, and results in hopelessness. Tragically, it is becoming the dominant worldview of our day.

Excerpts from Cobain’s suicide note are telling. He wrote: “I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music along with reading and writing for too many years now … It simply isn’t fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100% fun … Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch-in time clock before I walk out on stage. I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it (and I do, God, believe me I do, but it’s not enough).”

Mired in postmodern thought, Cobain was well acquainted with his own flaws and those of society. However, the salvation he sought through musical self-expression could not free him from the pessimism and hopelessness that are inherent in radical relativism.

It is ironic that Kurt Cobain chose to take his life during a time that is so pregnant with hope. Jesus Christ died and rose again to set people free from selfish self-expression and the hopelessness it produces. The salvation Cobain was so desperate to experience is found only in Christ.

Christianity stands in antithesis to postmodern philosophy. The absolute truth that is revealed in the Bible provides humanity with meaning and purpose. Easter’s empty tomb provides absolute hope. Postmodernism’s radical relativism provides absolute emptiness. Just ask Kurt Cobain.
Kelly Boggs’ column appears each Friday in Baptist Press. He is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore.

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  • Kelly Boggs