Recently, I watched the 2006 film Kurt Cobain About A Son. This doco style film is a collection of audio interviews recorded with Kurt Cobain between December 1992 and March 1993, matched up with some random film footage. As a film, it’s terrible, but listening to these candid interviews was very enlightening for me. Sure, Cobain wasn’t all that straight in the head – he comes across as introverted to the point of self obsession, seemingly unable to empathise with others and repeatedly describes his hatred of the people and society around him. However, the enlightening thing that I didn’t know before I watched this film, was that crazy Kurt Cobain also just happened to suffer from chronic pain.
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Cobain describes enduring intense back pain in his teens as a result of scoliosis. He later suffered severe stomach pain:
Later in the film, he describes the Hell of touring amidst all of the pain. His words are in the past tense, as though he has overcome his pain, however the only actual relief he speaks of in the film came in the form of heroin. The latter paragraph quoted here reads almost, and quite tragically, as though it were written after his suicide, which took place a year after these interviews were recorded.
Like halfway through the European tour I remember just saying that I’ll never go on tour again until I have this fixed because I wanted to kill myself. I wanted to fucken blow my head off I was so tired of it, there’s no way I’m gonna live like that. It turned me into a neurotic freak, I was psychologically fucked up, I was having a lot of mental problems cause I was having chronic pain, every day.”
-Kurt Cobain, quoted from About A Son
I was only 11 when Kurt Cobain died. Nirvana was that band that my older brother listened to. It wasn’t until my mid teens that I would take my own musical journey through their collection of hard boiled angst. The internet wasn’t much back then, information didn’t flow as freely and anything I read about the late musician, whom I was fascinated with, came in a magazine. From what I understood, his death was another tragic case of fame and drugs gone wrong. I never knew that he suffered from chronic pain. This highly important fact has always been glossed over by ‘depression’ and ‘drug addiction’.
This got me to thinking about other celebrities – Michael Jackson, Brittany Murphy, Adam Goldstein, Heath Ledger – all of whom have had the use of prescription painkillers reported as involved in, if not the cause of, their deaths.
As a society, we sigh and we mourn these tragic losses to drug addiction. Something mainstream media doesn’t do is discuss the pain that led to those addictions. Even more rarely does the media entertain the possibility that these people were actually still in physical pain, not simply depressed. Did you ever look at Michael Jackson’s deformed face and wonder how much it hurt? How much physical pain it caused him? Like most of us, you were probably too busy being disgusted by his decision to put himself through the surgeries in the first place.
Personally, I am a little disgusted with myself for never having considered this topic earlier. Upon hearing of Brittany Murphy’s death I was saddened that Hollywood had claimed another young, anorexic drug addict. As I read that she had been using pain medication since plastic surgery, I still gauged from the article that her ongoing use of them was addiction based. It never occurred to me that she was really still in pain. Here I am, someone who fights to express her invisible pain every day and yet still the fact that these people were celebrities blinded me to the idea that they were in pain, just like me. I shall not be so quick to jump to conclusions in the future, only open my mind to possibilities when the facts can’t be known.
Cobain’s interviews allow a peek into a very intimate part of his life. Pain is not something anyone really loves to share, celebrities even less so. Most people who are on the receiving end of such personal dialogue from a celebrity are sure to be bound to silence by contracts and pennies. Unfortunately, celebrities are rarely viewed as people in pain, the gossip rags don’t write articles highlighting suffering – not when they sell twice as many copies with a juicy article on drug addiction.
The real tragedy of goldmine journalism is that these tragic, famous souls, could help lift the veil off the plague of invisible and chronic pain. Instead, we read articles about celebrities who recklessly elude to having chronic pain conditions to counter accusations of substance abuse. I don’t know Paula Abdul personally, but I do not believe for a second that she suffers from RSD, as claimed. Nobody who truly understands this pain could swan themselves about in heels as they dance for music videos and do nothing to raise awareness for their condition.
Sadly, many of the high profile people that could really relate to chronic pain aren’t here to talk about it. About A Son gave one of these people a unique chance to speak from beyond the grave. Society needs to take its eyes off its laptop, unplug the Bluetooth from its ear and take a really close listen. Millions of people suffer in silence, every day, because they have no way of making their voices heard. I’ve often thought that in order to really raise awareness for CRPS, someone famous would have to suffer from it – think about the public awareness raised for Parkinson’s Disease since the inspiring, post diagnosis, work of Michael J. Fox. What I realise now is that chronic pain has had many martyrs, only society is too busy labelling them drug addicts to notice.
Love, Losses & Ponderings,
P.S. Finally, for the first time in weeks, I can say that I feel a little better today! The air doesn’t feel so heavy and hard to move through and my limbs have cooled a little. Hurrah!!