I once stood in a Manhattan office building on the second floor listening to a group of music journalists discuss the plans for the coming three issues of their popular music-oriented magazine. "You're really going to hate the September issue," one of them said to the group. "It's going to be the tenth anniversary since Nevermind came out, and we are going to do a special on Nirvana."
Everyone groaned. But they knew it had to be done. This was 2001, and, yes, Nevermind would be 10 years old that autumn. But Kurt's death had been so regularly discussed and recycled and discussed again, you would of thought it was somehow connected with the assasination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1963. He had graced many a cover of many a magazine - usually when the magazine had no better news to run.
Cobain suicide-intrigue had become, sadly, the equivalent of playing A Christmas Story the weeks before Christmas on TV. It was a pop culture ritual - one we all knew the words to, but still managed to read on - hoping for another nugget we hadn't quite digested the last time.
I remember where I was when Cobain blew his brains out. I had just come home from school. And as I switched on the radio and tuned through the stations, I found it a tad eerie that every station was playing Nirvana. Then I found out that Mr. Cobain was dead. I really didn't like that feeling. In the early 90s there was something of a pop culture/rock/youth renaissance. And he and his band really made that happen. So that night I couldn't help but think to myself how shitty it was that "our" poet - the guy who always managed to make things a bit more interesting - had killed himself so brutally.
But as the years went on, I became immune to talk of his death. He was just a singer, sure. Those feelings concerning his death were dark, yes. But how many times did I have to read about it over and over again. How many times did I have to look at a newspaper stand and see his agitated blue eyes peering back at me, saying "I'm not dead yet."
And slowly all conversation about his death turned me off. I just didn't want to talk about it. Talk, in a sense, made the feelings cheap. Ordinary. Dull. Why would I want to relive the same feelings over and over and over again. What good would it do? It was 2001, right? Not 1994. I was 22. Not 15. It was the present. Not the past.
Today on my way to work I passed many magazines and newspapers that have commemorated the attacks of 9/11 on their covers. But instead of acting to memorialize the dead, they seek to help you, dear reader, for the umpteenth time, relive the horror. One paper was black and just had the times the planes hit - so you can look at your watch and think deeply about the pain and the horror those planes caused people. Others showed smouldering buildings about to fall - so you could remember an action so heinous happened right here, in our busy seaside town.
For those of you who really just want to live September 11, 2006 just like September 11, 2001, CNN is airing the full coverage of the event on its website "free, in real time." You can also rent Flight 93, the television film about the events now. It was just released on DVD.
About 3,000 people died here that day. That's a drop in the bucket compared to the people the tsunami carried off in 2004, but it's much easier to deal with an act of nature than a coordinated act by individuals. Those people that died here are still dead and always will be. Down the street from my home someone lost a son - a firefighter. His mass card is laminated and stapled to a tree. I think about that guy and how he died everytime I pass that tree. It doesn't matter if it's September 11 or May 9 or January 22, I see that guys face and I think about him and the people like him.
Maybe for some other people things like yellow newspapers peddling grief and destruction and television news programs immortalizing things we know too well ad nauseum are part of the coping process. But to me they just seem to be making a buck off people's interest in death. Deep down, it's some sick, cheap rollercoaster ride. On the surface it isn't, but deep down it tickles something in people that keeps them coming back. It's like watching the Zapruder film in the Oliver Stone film JFK. People watch it over and over again and never get tired of watching their executive get shot in the head.
Can you imagine if, in the Civil War, Americans had video cameras? And every anniversary of some horrific bloodshed, like Gettysburg, they showed footage from the battle, in real time, just so you could relive the excitement of watching armies of grown men massacre each other? Or how about if they embedded reporters at the storming of Omaha Beach in World War II, with cameras on their helmets. Just so you could relive the terror and carnage in the comfort of your home.
It sounds sick, doesn't it? It is.