Popular Music and Society
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“The voice of a generation”? Media coverage of the suicide of Kurt Cobain
Sharon R. Mazzarellaa a Assistant Professor of Television-Radio, Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York
To cite this Article Mazzarella, Sharon R.(1995) '“The voice of a generation”? Media coverage of the suicide of Kurt
Cobain', PopularMusic and Society, 19: 2, 49 — 68 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/03007769508591591 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03007769508591591
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"The Voice of a Generation"? Media Coverage of the Suicide of Kurt Cobain
Sharon R. Mazzarella
Nobody ever described Vincent van Gogh or Sylvia Plath as generational icons. —MichaelGrunwald Almost immediately after Kurt Cobain's body was found on the morning of April 8,1994, the sense-making process began. While family members and fans mourned in their own very personal ways, the media delivered an always-hyped, often-reverential, sometimes-critical eulogy, and a new hero was born. The Seattle newspapers began the onslaught as the Seattle Times featured two Cobain articleson the front page of its April 8, 1994, night final edition (MacDonald, "Popular Local"; Norton and Whitely), accompanied by a color photograph of Cobain's home and garage where the body was found. In fact, the story was front page news for both the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for months afterward. Immediately after the body was found, MTV allotted countless hours of coverageto news of the suicide, Cobain, and Nirvana, eerily reminiscent of television coverage of the Kennedy assassination some 30 years earlier. In addition, the network paid homage to Cobain in a multihour special on May 15, 1994, consisting of a specially produced tribute complete with interviews, performance clips, and videos (Tribute to Nirvana). This was followed by a repeat showing of Nirvana inConcert and the umpteenth replaying of Nirvana Unplugged. While describing MTV's coverage immediately following the discovery of Cobain's body, Newsweek (Waters, et al.) observed: "For MTV, the video bulletin board of Generation X, Kurt Cobain's suicide was a natural story. After years of running the dead men of another
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generation—Hendrix, Lennon, Morrison—MTV had its own contemporary tragedy" (49). In a sense, this factor could easily be behind the sentiment guiding print media coverage of Cobain's suicide as well. Cobain's was the first "big" rock 'n' roll death in nearly 15 years, and the fact that he was "the first rock star to commit suicide at the top of his game" (Powers 32)...