November 5, 2009
Rock star’s aunt talks about suicide prevention
Kurt Cobain’s death inspires her to travel country and talk to youth about finding support
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Mari Earl, aunt to 1990s recording artist Kurt Cobain, performs an inspirational song during a suicide prevention talk Wednesday at Tompkins Cortland Community College.
DRYDEN — Kurt Cobain was an icon of the 1990s to America’s youth, a rock star with millions of dollars who killed himself at age 27, consumed by his heroin addiction.
To Mari Earl, his mother’s younger sister, Cobain was a blond ball of energy, talent and joy who turned angry and self-destructive after age 8, when his parents divorced. By 13, he was trying drugs and drinking.
In the years since his death in April 1994, she can see how fame and money did not make up for the rage and guilt that boiled inside him.
Everyone must find a way to feel they have value, must endure struggle in order to grow and have a network of family and friends to support them through hard times, Earl told a crowd of 60 people Wednesday at Tompkins Cortland Community College.
“Isolation is a killer, and Kurt isolated himself,” Earl said, saying Cobain’s stints in rehabilitation clinics did not work.
Earl delivered the same talk Tuesday evening at SUNY Cortland and Wednesday evening at the Cortland County Office Building auditorium. Her main sponsors were the Cortland Youth Bureau, SUNY Cortland AmeriCorps and Cortland County Mental Health Association.
Cobain emerged as a national star in 1991 with the Seattle grunge band Nirvana. Earl compared him to an eagle who soared high, riding the “winds” of concert tours and albums in a never-ending quest to remain on top of the music industry.
“Heck, even an eagle takes the time to sit on a branch and rest. Not Kurt,” she said. “Nothing he did was ever enough.”
Earl began to travel the nation after Cobain’s death, talking to young people about how they must love themselves, even their flaws and weaknesses.
She said the biggest factor in his death was what he felt about himself, that he was worthless. The irony was that he unleashed the darkness inside him in his music, greeted by admiration from his fans.
Several people stayed after Wednesday’s talk to speak with Earl about what Cobain and his music means to them even now.
One young man talked to her for several minutes about trying to help his younger brother, about whom he is worried. During her talk, he asked Earl where Cobain’s family was during his struggles.
Earl said her sister Wendy, his mother, tried to help Cobain but was facing her own alcoholism. His father, Don, had nothing to do with him after the divorce, until Cobain became famous.
Cobain’s best friends were a female heroin dealer and a man who did drugs with him, who gave Cobain the shotgun he used to kill himself.
Jacob Brown of German, in Chenango County, a TC3 student, said he and many young people relate to Cobain because they feel the world crushing them.
“I understand,” Earl said. “I compare Kurt’s fame to being sent into space without a spaceship or a spacesuit.”
One student implied that Cobain’s death was suspicious and could have been murder. Earl said many Web sites about him, and many books, are full of lies. She believes his death was suicide, partly because he tried suicide several times before that — she discovered only after his death.
One young woman asked how the family dealt with his death.
Earl said people forget that famous people have families, and said she was thankful she learned of his death from a friend, not from the news media. She said the media swarmed all around Cobain’s house and family.
Earl said she has no relationship with Cobain’s daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, now 17, because his wife, Courteney Love, has barred any contact.
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