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Historically, many of whom we consider great artists in present day would be described using anything but embracing language. The fine line between creativity and mental illness has been walked by many and judged by few until recently. In present day, much of what we perceive we must judge and creativity is no exception. Those who have molded and set an example for actors, musicians and artists today are now being diagnosed with "bipolar disorder", "Schizophrenia" and many other conditions which are attributed to their creative success. Kurt Cobain was a musician, who found an outlet through the music he produced. Leading many like him to a place of comfort and belonging. To what he accredits his success is the dilemma. Using Nancy C. Andreasens study Prevelance Rates in Writers and their First Degree Relatives and Charles Cross' Heavier Than Heaven (Kurt Cobain biography), I intend to implore whether he would have been the same influential artist if it were not for the drug and alcohol or even had the same insight? To judge creativity is to judge the unknown; irrational, illogical and of no basis. What Andreasen and Cross do in their respective literary pieces is not passing judgment, but merely exploring a possible lapse in judgment from those surrounding Cobain and Cobain himself.
On February 20, 1967, a happy and healthy baby boy was brought into this world; Kurt Donald Cobain. Cobain, raised in Aberdeen, Washington was musically inclined as a child and was naturally gravitated towards it. Described as cheerful and talented, Cobain did not show any signs of mental illness as an infant or toddler. To embrace his musical interest, his family bought him a drum set at the age of 2. Volumes of home movies of Cobain singing, dancing and enjoying life was a very prominent theme. He not only embraced those around him; but embraced life as a whole. In 1975, at the age of 9, his life made a drastic change. " I had a really good childhoodâ€¦up until I was 9" (Cross, 2001, p. 15). His parents had decided to get a divorce. Cobain being a young and easily "impressionable" mind did not know what to make of what had transpired and from then on his life became a free fall (Cross, 2001, p. 13). During this free fall, he became an incessant drug user, alcoholic and neglectful father. Regardless of all his musical success, becoming the voice of a new generation and fathering a child of his own; his life met an abrupt and violent end when he took his own life on April 6, 1994 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
As Andreasen suggests "it is of interest to determine whether the transmission is due to social learning and modeling or to purely more genetic factors" (1987,p. 1290). Suicide was not a new concept to Cobains family. All of Cobains paternal uncles had passed away from self-inflicted wounds; his great uncles, Burle Cobain and Kenneth Cobain both died from self-inflicted gun wounds and his third great uncle had fallen down a flight of stairs' drunk resulting in an aneurysm. His mother also had a grandfather, James Irving, who died from self-inflicted injury. He had stabbed himself in front of Cobains mother, and was then admitted to a mental hospital where he ripped open his wounds and later died from the injuries. Andreasan states, "clearly the families of the writers were riddled with both creativity and mental illness" (1987, p. 1290)
Though the family had a less than spotless past, Cobains childhood seemed happy and carefree. It was exactly how it seemed, until the age of nine, when his mother, Wendy, asked his father, Don, for a divorce. His self-efficacy had diminished due to his parents' divorce and the events that followed. Cross described it as "an emotional holocaust" (2001, p. 21). Cobain refused to cooperate with anything his parents asked. His views were very undeveloped, but he was more than set in his ways. Cobain shows both his creativity and the beginnings of depression like symptoms shortly after the divorce, in short ramblings such as, "I hate Mom, I hate Dad. Dad hates Mom, Mom hates Dad. It simply makes you want to be sad" (Cross, 2001, p.21)
After a less than perfect childhood, Cobain began on a downward spiral which revolved around rebellion, drug abuse and risky behavior. After rising to fame with his band, Nirvana, Kurt began to experiment with drugs infamous with celebrities. This list includes but was not limited to heroin, cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, anti-depressants, and alcohol. This could have stemmed from an early diagnosis of A.D.D. and being prescribed Ritalin as a last resort. Many of his family members were hesitant to medicate him in worries that Ritalin "increases the likelihood of addictive behavior later in life" (Cross, 2001, p.19). As Cobains drug habit increased his health slowly deteriorated. He eventually abused his body to the point where he was "vomiting bile and blood" (Cross, 2001, p. 296). Though he made an effort to see multiple physicians, his condition was never fully diagnosed and was probably aided by his constant drug and alcohol abuse. This un-diagnosed condition gave him an excuse to self-medicate. Cobain could have had a real condition, but his lack of dedication to finding a reasonable solution shows his lack of concern of his well-being and acknowledgment of his responsibilities. "When the questionnaire inquired about his general health, he failed to mention his drug addiction and simply wrote "stomachaches"" (Cross, 2001, p. 297). Instead, Cobaine used his ailments as a method to justify his addiction to painkillers and heroin.
His unrealistic and almost childish approach to any stressful situation should have been alarming to those around him. Most artist aspire to become the voice of a generation and have an impact on his or her field historically. Cobain did not. He was actually surprised and shunned almost all attention he received. In 1991, Nirvanas album Nevermind received critical acclaim. It also created a cult following for Cobain and made him the face of grunge music. Like every other artist, Cobain wanted to successful; just not by the terms MTV and mainstream music had set. The pressure from not only mainstream America, but himself began to wear Cobain down. He displayed erratic mood swings and poor illogical choices. For example, his doctor told him that he had to sober up or death was inevitable. Cobains only response was "You mean, like Hamlet?" (Cross, 2001, p. 313). This showed his discontent for life and how his priorities were displaced.
In April of 1994, after many bouts of rehab, detox and relapse due to drug addictions , such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin and marijuana; Cobain snapped. He was found in his Seattle, Washington home, dead at the age of 27. His mother later exclaimed ," "I told him not to join that stupid club" She was referring to the coincidence that Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt all died at age 27" (Cross, 2001, p. 344). While intoxicated, "Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers) and heroin were in Kurt's blood", he had managed to shoot himself in the head with a shotgun. Though his family has a history of fatal self-inflicted wounds, his was different. Cobain had managed to kill himself in two ways. He had overdosed on heroin, which would have eventually killed him and fatally shot himself.
The DSM - IV classifies a manic episode as "A distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting at least 1 week (or any duration if hospitalization is necessary). During the period of mood disturbance, three (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted (four if the mood is only irritable) and have been present to a significant degree: inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking, flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing, distractibility, increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation, and excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences" (DSM IV Criteria for Manic Episode). Cobains' was very isolated and pushed those who attempted to become closer to him away. He pushed those close him away by concentrating on work, which correlates to the goal-directed activity. He also experimented and bused many drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol showing his excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences. At the time, A.D.D. seemed to be the right diagnosis. In hindsight, it could have been numerous disorders or illnesses. Instead of A.D.D., he could have been having manic episodes. Ritalin could not have addressed all the symptoms of bipolar depression. It is very common for stages of mania to occur in adolescents before it evolves into depression. Cobains life-long mental illness could have been misdiagnosed due to a rash and impulsive diagnoses by his physician at the time.
Cobains celebrity did not help his fragile mental state. He was not offered help because his mental illness is what set him apart from the crowd. His fans and followers reinforced his behavior, regardless of how damaging it was to Kurt Cobain himself. His very unpredictable, reckless and poetic lifestyle left little room for influence. Creating a world in which Kurt was as indestructible as his fans had made him. The acclaim he received from the music which was derived from his mental illness and his denial of illness created an atmosphere for the not only to exist, but prosper. The fact he made rash decision, was very irritable and irate which resonated through his music and recreated a whole genre of music all through his possible bi-polar condition completely reiterates what Andreason was suggesting. "This investigation indicated that there is a close association mental illness and creativity" (1987, p. 1292)