The late, lamented comedian Bill Hicks had a joke about the symbol for Christianity being the cross. “You think when Jesus comes back, he’s gonna want to see a fucking cross?” he queried, making the point that Jesus was hardly likely to be impressed by people celebrating the method with which he was killed. “That may be why he’s hasn’t shown up yet. ‘Man, they’re still wearing crosses. Fuck it, I’m not going Dad. They totally missed the point.”
Hicks said it was the equivalent of people going up to the wife of the assassinated president John F Kennedy, Jackie Onassis, while wearing rifle pendants. “Just thinking of John, Jackie,” says Hicks. “Trying to keep that memory alive…”
It’s a routine worth recalling now that someone in Thailand has decided that the best way to keep the memory of Kurt Cobain alive, is to print a T-shirt with his suicide note emblazoned across the front of it. It was posted to Etsy, until a Reddit thread drew attention to it and it was swiftly removed. But it’s still available to buy on eBay and, as at 10am on Wednesday morning, the site suggested someone had actually bought one: a red or black, 100% cotton long-sleeved baseball shirt in sizes S, M or L that just happens to feature the last words written by one of the most iconic rock musicians in history shortly before he decided the world was too much for him to bear. Tasteful.
Who wouldn’t want to wear that out on a Saturday night! Who wouldn’t want to celebrate the life of their favourite musician by remembering the moment he ended it!
When you’ve got all that music he made to listen to, why not commemorate an artist by choosing to draw on the worst part of his story? To borrow Hicks’ line, to wear the T-shirt is like going up to Yoko Ono with a pistol pendant; like going up to the surviving members of Led Zeppelin with bottle of vodka. “Just thinking of John Bonham. Just trying to keep that memory alive.”
In Cobain’s suicide note, he wrote of his guilt that he was simply punching a time clock before walking out onstage. He hinted at his fears that it was impossible to be an independent musician in a commercial world. On Rape Me, he wrote about how his personal life was becoming a commodity, his torment a marketing tool to sell records. He did the same with the Serve The Servants line ‘teenage angst has paid off well’, or Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’s thinly veiled response to a muck-raking Vanity Fair article in which, once again, his and his wife Courtney Love’s personal lives were considered fair game since he was a commercial musician making commercial music.
Throughout his lyrics there are references to his abhorrence of mass marketing. A lot of people have said it was a drum he beat too often: the contradiction of a rock megastar trying to cling to punk ideals.
This T-shirt makes his point for him again with disturbingly ugly elegance. It’s hard not to think Cobain’s views on commercialism and commoditisation were not well-founded given someone is now making cash off a t-shirt with his suicide note printed on it. It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for someone whose life and death has been boiled down to a guy flogging $25 t-shirts from a warehouse in Bangkok. It’s hard not to think of Bill Hicks’s line: “They totally missed the point.”