From Kurt Cobain to Britney Spears in 14 years

Adam Griffiths

Take an unassuming expression. Add a blank stare that demands introspection. Highlight – announce, but don’t shout – the name.

If there ever was a formula for the perfect magazine cover photo, this would be the version Rolling Stone reserves for portraits of our lost-cause celebrities. Why? Because it’s the photo of Britney Spears gracing the issue that sits now on newsstands, and it was the photo of Kurt Cobain that reminded readers, after nearly two months, of his April 1994 suicide.

The coverage’s similarities go beyond its stark cover shots. Rolling Stone subheaded its June 2, 1994, article as “the last days of Nirvana’s leader.” The claims on the cover of the magazine’s latest issue tease the 10-page feature, “inside an American tragedy.”

The tragedy of Britney Spears. The last days of Nirvana’s leader. Neither are shocking, but both are oh-so sensational in the week or two after the fact.

It might be hard to put a man who played in a band called Fecal Matter on the same level as a self-proclaimed, white-trash southern girl who made her bridesmaids and groomsmen wear Juicy Couture tracksuits embroidered with, respectively, “maids” and “pimps” at her second wedding.

Spears-zilla’s post-breakdown life is full of the sex and candy Cobain lamented, yet it seems she’s taken his pungent, teen spirit advice: She’s certainly overboard and, almost surprisingly, self-assured. It’s eerie: Could popette Spears be the second-coming, new millennium edition of the ’90s grunge rocker? And by second-coming, I’m implying actual reincarnation.

And yes, if Cobain equals Spears and vice versa, Kevin Federline has to see some of himself in Courtney Love. Both partners were along for a good time, initially subscribing to the rehabilitation of their evermore-estranged lovers, and have been left to pick up the pieces. Federline fathers his and Spears’ two children and does his best to shelter them from their mother’s messy world. Love raised Frances Bean into a teenager despite the rocky path Cobain’s widow has taken.

Maybe the uncanny parallels the two Rolling Stone articles raise shouldn’t be taken as pure coincidence: Could the intention be to raise similarities and instigate commentary like this? Spears first appeared on the cover of the magazine almost five years to the day of Cobain’s suicide. The magazine, while it may not maintain the scope and perspective it did before the corporate chew ’em up and spit ’em out modern area, is still an, if not the, authority. Does Editor Jann Wenner not get it, or are we just pawns in his manipulation game?

“At 27 years old, Kurt Cobain wanted to disappear, to erase himself to become nothing,” Anthony DeCurtis wrote in 1994.

Vanessa Grigoriadis’ final section of the latest chronicle of the final chapter of the Spears saga begins with a similar example SOS.

“For the past few years, Britney has begged friends to run away, to leave everything behind and become a stylist or schoolteacher, or move to an island where she can work as a bartender.”

But there’s hope in this Spears story at the point when Cobain met his end: The 1994 article discussed staging an intervention to bring Cobain out of the rut that enveloped the end of his life. His bandmates, manager and even Love were part of the plan. If news reports (read tabloid rumors) hold up, Spears’ family is working with doctors in an effort to have her declared mentally unfit to make decisions in the interest of her own well-being. If they succeed, Lynne Spears will be able to force-feed her the help she “needs.”

“Kurt Cobain never wanted to be the spokesman for a generation, though that doesn’t mean much: Anyone who did would never have become one,” DeCurtis wrote. Cue the photo collage that runs atop two pages of Rolling Stone’s most recent piece, which claims, “Britney epitomizes the crucible of fame for the famous: loving it, hating it and never quite being able to stop it from destroying you.”

Granted, the machine that churned out the likes of the Spears phenomenon was only barely rolling when Cobain took his life. One generation lost a voice. One generation is losing a celebrity. That distinction is everything.

“Britney isn’t America’s sweetheart,” Grigoriadis writes. “She’s an inbred swamp thing, who chain smokes, doesn’t do her nails and screams at people who want pictures.” But who’s to blame? Me? You? Spears has a little less than 10 months to go before she dies at the fatal age of rock stardom – 27 years old. What’ll we say then?

“You’re so good at getting over this,” Cobain’s final letter read. “Get over this.”

Here we are. Now, entertain us.

Adam Griffiths is a sophomore information design major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].