The Culture of Celebrity

I remember as a young kid my grandmother would always get the National Enquirer in the checkout lanes in the supermarket.  My parents used to laugh because she would believe all that celebrity gossip that went on in that rag, even though they spent a lot of time fighting slander lawsuits.  She died before the internet really took hold, but its really amazing to see how the National Inquirer no longer exists but the internet has replaced it ten fold.  The news breaks immediately, everyone sends out the same scoop and then they spend the next several days getting any additional information about a “news event” to push viewers to their site to view their content and advertising.

Take for example the recent death of Chris Cornell.  I get a text alert at 3am on Thursday morning, informing me of his death in Detroit.  No cause of death, just that he is dead.  By the time I wake up at 7am, still no cause. but by 8am it appears that he may have committed suicide, but its just speculation.  Rumors.

Then it becomes known that his wife had been trying to reach him after speaking to him and him saying “I’m just tired”.

Then it becomes known that he hanged himself in the bathroom of his hotel room.

The next day the coroner comes back with a report of his death ruled as a suicide.  The family denies this and asks for toxicology reports.

Then it becomes known that he was on a strong anti-anxiety medication, that he took too many that night.

Was that final performance that night, was he off?  Did he make some mention of what was to come?

What did him and his wife talk about before she hung up with him?  Why did she have security guards do a welfare check 20 minutes after they hung up?

Why did it take so long for his own security detail to get access to his hotel?  Why did he have an exercise band around his neck in the shower?

When will his memorial be?

Is there going to be a memorial concert?

Can we visit his grave?  When can we do that?

It just keeps going on and on…. and guess what?  His death should be no more than a conversational topic for you.  You don’t know Chris Cornell.  You don’t know what he was feeling that night.  You don’t know the anxiety that all of this gave him.  You didn’t know he was on anti-anxiety medication and none of us knows why either.  It doesn’t matter either.  He’s gone, he didn’t leave a note, he didn’t leave a bunch of breadcrumbs leading up to that moment, you can go back through his whole catalog, his whole career and find some deep, dark areas that most of us have never been nor would we want to go there.

You also have probably never experience fame or wealth at that level, where everyone feels like they are judging your body of work.  Cornell was one of the biggest talents to come out of the Seattle music scene– he didn’t have many enemies, he wasn’t add odds with either Pearl Jam or Nirvana, although they were at odds with each other.  He lived more in his years than 10 of us will –he was one of the lucky ones, one of the guys that made it, one of the guys that survived an number of addictions in his life, even after he had made.  He was like a Tom Cat with nine lives, but eventually, they wear out.  He burned out, came back and now he will fade away…. and so will this crush so many people seem to have on his death.  In the end, it doesn’t matter how we die, it’s that we are dead.  Our moment to meet the maker has come and we have chosen to walk with him.  The rest simply doesn’t matter, except for his family.

I’ll never forget the moment that Kurt Cobain died– it was April 8th,  1994, my great friend TJ and I were driving back from a Pearl Jam show in Rochester, NY.  During the song GO, Eddie dedicated the song to Kurt.  He had been missing for a couple of days at that point and they found his body the next morning, the same morning we were driving back from the show.  The details of that death came out a lot of the same way that this one did, sketch details.  They wouldn’t say who it was they found at Kurt’s house in Seattle, only that they had found a body.  Everyone knew what that meant.  A few hours later they confirmed, it was Cobain.  Still, years later, people are still convinced he was murdered– but guess what?  It doesn’t matter.  These are troubled people and maybe that’s why we are so attracted to them, we covet them and the reality is, they are becoming more and more rare as music becomes more electronic and more about what everything else sounds like instead of being angry and original.