Those of us in the throes of teen angst when Kurt Cobain shot himself in 1994 remember his death as The Defining Moment of the Era.
It was The Day We Lost Our Innocence. Kurt Cobain: our flannel Kennedy.
It was probably inevitable, then, that a few art-minded representatives of this shattered generation would concoct something
like the “retroactive urn for Kurt Cobain.” It’s both an urn and a
cultural memento, the sort of thing in which “our hero re-emerges larger than life within the pantheon of dead rock stars, forever eternal,” the L.A.-based designers say.
Actually, it’s four separate urns, and instead of holding Cobain’s ashes, the urns are the ashes; they’re made from the musician’s remains suspended in a substrate. (Familiar?) The weird shapes have a basis in Cobain’s life and music: how he died, what his voice sounded like, what kind of album art he favored, and so on. “Just as rock and roll is a medium that counters main stream [SIC] culture,” we learn, “the sinuous and unstable nature of the form serves as a counterpoint to the
traditional urn type.” Really? Because all we see is geoduck. Oh, wait, but it gets weirder!
According to the designers’ plans, the urns would be distributed among his loved ones: one to Courtney Love; another to his daughter; a third to his sister; and the final to Portland’s Satyricon nightclub, where he met Love in the ’90s. There, they’d sit atop warped mantles designed off the profile of his face. Eventually, they’d make their way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where fans could behold their angsty hero in all his “sinuous and unstable” glory.
What’s the point of it all, you ask? The designers — Ramiro Diaz-Granados, Heather Flood, Eric Kahn, and Russell Thomsen — spout some rhetoric about the “culturally transformative” effect of rock stars dying young, and how a designy urn can memorialize that moment. Fair
enough. We should have some way of paying respects to our very own Kennedy besides murdering “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at the karaoke bar.
But this isn’t really the way to do it. Practically speaking, where would you get the ashes? As legend goes, most of Cobain’s remains were scattered in Washington and New York while the rest went to Love, who hid them in a pink bear-shaped handbag, along with a lock of his hair (obviously). A couple years ago, Love claimed an ex-friend stole the ashes. So maybe they’ll show up on eBay.
Most pressingly, nothing about this says Kurt Cobain. A mantle? Please. He never had anything so bourgeois in his life. And the ash blobs might work for some synthy New Age band, but not the man who once sang “I’ll kiss your open sores.” Worse, still, you could punch in the details of any rock star’s life — Sid Vicious, Janis Joplin, whomever — and you’d get more or less the same
In fact, that’s precisely the point. The urns are part of a larger exercise about death and rock and roll, and the designers envision a whole series of urns for dead and soon-to-be dead rock stars. They even designed some infographics about musician deaths, which are the most interesting part of this whole muddled idea.
The legend of Kurt Cobain remains a powerful one because of his iconic simplicity: simple riffs, simple lyrics, simple nonsense (“a mosquito, my libido, yeah”), simple clothes, simple death (though some would argue otherwise). A good commemoration of the man and the culture that grew up around him would capture that spirit, and not the loopy logic that only the likes of Courtney Love could understand. Save the ash blobs for A Flock of Seagulls.