CARLTON FLETCHER: Suicide a common part of rock-and-roll life

FRIDAY JAM SESSION: Anniversary of Kurt Cobain's suicide updated 'day the music died'

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Don’t try suicide, Nobody’s worth it. Don’t try suicide, Nobody cares. Don’t try suicide, You’re just gonna hate it. Don’t try suicide, ‘Cause nobody gives a damn.


Don McLean famously sang in his 1972 hit “American Pie” of “the day the music died.” Baby Boomers have long associated that line with the Feb. 3, 1959 plane crash that killed rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

For music fans who were born in the mid-70s and later, though, the day the music died was 2o years ago April 5, when Nirvana’s damaged genius Kurt Cobain killed himself with a gunshot.

Nirvana had burst onto the scene in 1989 with their raw and powerful debut “Bleach,” but it was the September 1991 release of their masterpiece “Nevermind,” and its game-changing single “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” that made the Seattle trio superstars and ushered in the Grunge era. It was also the unexpected success of “Nevermind” that played a large role in the tortured Cobain’s suicide.

Music fans mourn the anniversaries of the deaths of iconic stars like John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and rock drummers supreme John Bonham of Led Zeppelin and Keith Moon of The Who. The deaths of all but Lennon, sadly, were complicated by drug use, leaving fans to wonder what might have been.

But death by suicide is a far more common occurrence among musicians than statistics would indicate. Numbers from 2010 (the latest available) show that there were 38,364 suicides in the U.S. that year, 12.1 per 100,000 population. Although there are no definitive numbers compiled on the subset of musicians, the large number of suicides and “suspicious” deaths among their ranks easily surpasses that rate.

Rolling Stones co-founder Brian Jones’ death has long been discussed as perhaps the most infamous rock star suicide, although recent accounts written by, among others, Stones guitarist Keith Richards, indicate a construction worker may have had a hand in Jones’ July 3, 1969 drowning.

Other noted artists who have taken their own lives include Nick Drake, Phil Ochs, Elliott Smith, Mindy McCready, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, Richard Manuel of the Band, ’50s rocker Del Shannon, Bob Welch of Fleetwood Mac, Paul Williams of the Temptations, Vince Welnick of the Grateful Dead and Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics.

Suicide is also listed as the cause of death for British rocker Rory Storm, Vic Chesnutt, Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson of Canned Heat, Danny Whitten of Neil Young’s band Crazy Horse (the inspiration for Young’s haunting “The Needle and the Damage Done”), Graham Bond of Ginger Baker’s Air Force, both Pete Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger, Ian Curtis of Joy Division, Darby Crash of The Germs, Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, Paul Hester of Crowded House, Jason Thirsk of Pennywise, Danny Rapp of Danny & the Juniors, and Doug Hopkins of the Gin Blossoms.

Talented INXS singer Michael Hutchence’s hanging is listed as “self-inflicted,” although police reports indicate Hutchence was most likely involved in autoerotic activities and accidentally hung himself.

Cobain, along with Nirvana survivors Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month in the band’s first year of eligibility, a bittersweet moment for the surviving members of a group whose meteoric rise was halted forever by that lone tragic shotgun blast.

The anniversary of Cobain’s death reminds us that, while true artists are blessed with gifts endowed to only a precious few, those artists are not immune to the everyday stresses and neuroses that impact us all.