On March 17, the Seattle police department released new images of the gun that Kurt Cobain used to commit suicide in 1994. The photos are so stark and ordinary that they feel jarring. How can these sterile images represent one of the most highly publicized, scrutinized, and memorialized deaths in modern cultural memory? But they do, because Kurt was human. He shot himself and he died.
This week, 22 years after Cobain's death, it's clearer than ever that his posthumous myth remains potent. The images emerged after CBS News filed a public records request to gain and publish them in order to dispel persistent, unfounded conspiracy claims that Seattle police destroyed the gun to conceal evidence of a murder, not a suicide.
Claims like this, and nastier ones implicating Kurt's widow, Courtney Love, have been perpetuated nearly as long as he's been dead. Nick Broomfield's dubious 1998 documentary, Kurt & Courtney, provided plenty of fuel for conspiracy fires. But releasing the photos to help quell one aspect of a bizarre theory is futile – conspiracy theorists will always find their way to more "truths." The larger problem is that the images only push our martyr-obsessed culture further toward a morbid extreme.
Let Kurt Cobain rest already. It's been over two decades now.
When the photos came out, I somewhat flippantly tweeted that we might even get to see the full corpse photos in a few years. I meant it. It's terrifying enough that you can click into a gallery of 34 crime scene photos and see shots of Kurt's limp body slumped on the floor where he died, his wrist still bearing a hospital bracelet and his foot still in a black sneaker. What's to stop the rest of the images, as gruesome as they are, from popping up online someday soon?
The latest photos arrived not long after Justin Bieber (or, more accurately, his stylist Karla Welch) aped a flannel-heavy grunge aesthetic for his Purpose tour, holding Unplugged-style acoustic jams at his concerts with a left-handed guitar and a mini mop of blond hair, and donning Cobain-faced t-shirts just to make sure we don't miss the subtext.
At least Bieber repped Cobain's likeness and not his suicide note – which did, in fact, exist on t-shirts you could buy, for a little while anyway, before they were wisely pulled. Just as you don't need to wear a shirt like that, you don't need to look at the death scene photos or the pics of the shotgun. Maybe just listen to Incesticide, or learn how to play "About a Girl" on guitar, instead.
What we really need is less mining of Cobain's public remains for shallow returns, and more heartfelt reinterpretations of his work – just ask Sturgill Simpson.