Shall I speak ill of the dead?

Some would say it's not nice to attack someone who can't defend himself. I say, who's going to stop me? Besides, it's not really Kurt Cobain, Nirvana's now-immortalized lead singer, that I'm annoyed with. It's all the people who are busy immortalizing him.

Those of you who read The Arizona Daily Star probably remember the headline from Sunday's issue, "Cobain's death brings comparisons to Hendrix, Morrison." It seems that by putting a shotgun to his head and pulling the trigger, Cobain has (according to "critics" interviewed for this Associated Press article) joined the ranks of "other ground-breaking musicians who died too young."

Rolling Stone writer David Fricke went so far as to say (in MTV's tribute to Cobain), "He was the closest his generation came to a John Lennon. If you don't see the connection, you're missing something."

Well, I'm certainly missing something.

First of all, I don't see how dying young puts Nirvana's grungy, blond-haired frontman on the same plane with Jimi Hendrix, who revolutionized guitar-driven rock. Or Jim Morrison, whose angry, sensual lyrics gave voice to the darker side of the '60s. Those artists did indeed achieve mythic-hero status upon their premature (but rather inglorious) deaths. But they earned that status because of the art they created.

Frankly, Nirvana doesn't measure up.

OK, this is a subjective opinion that cannot be proven one way or another. But the fact that two of Nirvana's albums sold millions and millions of copies doesn't mean Cobain was a "ground-breaking musician." Whitney Houston has sold millions of records, too, and there's nothing particularly innovative about her work.

Nirvana just happened to be the first and most successful band to capitalize on the grunge fad. If it hadn't been them, someone else would have done it. There was nothing original about Nirvana's work. It was the same old three-chord stuff with the distortion turned up.

And so I am offended by the comparison of Cobain to one of my heroes, John Lennon.

Yes, Lennon's murder in 1980 did give his memory a sort of tragic poetry. But that's not why he's one of my heroes. I believe in what he stood for. And, since we're talking about music here, we should remember that John Lennon was part of the most successful band in the history of rock 'n' roll. Even after the break-up of the Beatles, he continued to record great music that stands up today.

On the other hand, I believe that in 10 years Kurt Cobain's name will have become "Kurt who?" If we have to compare him to other musicians who died young, Ritchie Valens and Andy Gibb spring to mind.

Please don't be offended. Understand that I am not responding to the human tragedy of a man driven to suicide. This has nothing to do with the pain of the wife and child he left behind. I'm talking about music. But more than that, I think it's a shame that tragedy leads us to make heroes of people who don't really deserve it.

We should choose our heroes for the way they live, not for the way they die.

Wildcat Opinions Editor Kerry Lengel is a creative writing and journalism senior. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays. He bought In Utero but traded it in at Zia. Read Next Article