Crazy Diamonds

  Three days ago, the internet exploded with testimonials and tributes to the late, great paragon of rock music virtue – which, of course, means vice by anyone else’s standards – that was Kurt Cobain. 

  This man, who took his own life at the age of just twenty-seven, was an inspiration to many of contemporary rock’s greatest stars. Bands of the size and stature of Muse, Blink-182, Nickelback (come on guys, their early stuff was post-grunge, don’t be like that) and, of course, the Foo Fighters draw huge inspiration from the Aberdeen-born singer-songwriter. The King of Grunge will be remembered forever as a legend of the rock world, and rightly so.

  As I write this, I am listening to the album Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd. Whilst this record didn’t claim the sales figures of Dark Side of the Moon or spawn a feature film like The Wall, I personally think it represents the pinnacle of the band’s musical achievement – and so do Richard Wright and David Gilmour, so that’s all right. 

  The reason I mention this is because this album draws heavily on the theme of loss, specifically the loss of the band’s original lead singer Syd Barrett whose drug addictions had accelerated a mental decline which left him unable to make the music which had driven him so much in his early years. Barrett died in 2006, aged 60, 38 years after leaving the band. Death, when it came, was probably more of a release than anything else.

  Two stars of rock music, born twenty years apart, who lead such similar lives in their early years, but whose fates were so ultimately different. To use Cobain’s own words, one burned out, the other faded away.

  The loss of both men was tragic, but in a different way. The brief, fiery career of Kurt Cobain was cut short untimely by his struggles with depression and heroin addiction, depriving the world of surely many more outpourings of musical genius to come. Barrett, meanwhile, destroyed his own, already unstable mind so completely with LSD and a lethal cocktail of other drugs that his career simply melted away – the masterwork of the Floyd’s early material giving way to weak efforts to replicate his early success, and then to nothing as he locked himself away from the world. 

  Which is a better way to go? I can’t help but feel Cobain’s exit was by far the better. The spectre of a fate like Barrett’s ahead of him – failure, decline, seclusion and ultimately a withering away – it is not hard to see how the grunge pioneer reached the conclusion he did. And, perhaps as a direct result, Cobain’s name lives on, world-famous, while Barrett’s – sadly – remains known only to a decreasing few.

  I’m not entirely certain whether this post has a point. I’m not convinced it really needs to. But if there is a moral to the story, as it were, then it’s this: we should remember Cobain and Barrett equally, as men whose lives were taken from them before their time, and whose careers as exceptional musicians were curtailed long before they could fulfill their potential. Remember both their names – for they were two of the best of us. And they both deserve it.

  But most of all, remember this: Shine on, all you crazy diamonds. 

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