It’s a strange thing to celebrate someone’s deathday—even if it has been eighteen years—with an invite-only party, white wine, and cameras. But when that someone is Kurt Cobain, perennial icon of doomed rock gods, I guess we’re always looking for excuses to remember.
Last night, at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in Soho, photographer Jesse Frohman debuted nineteen photographs of Cobain during his final days. They were taken in a twenty-minute frenzy, Cobain having wasted the first three hours and forty minutes of the photo shoot by not being there. He was by all accounts strung-out, hungover, vomiting, and when he finally showed up in a convertible, his eyes were hidden by white Jackie O sunglasses. He looked beautiful. Some of these photos are iconic: there is the one in which Kurt blows smoke to the heavens, and you can see all this tenderness in his neck. Half of them have never been exhibited before. They are all for sale.
There was a 7-year-old at the party, and there were 70-year-olds, and there were a lot of people who, in the low-lit swarm, could have been 17 or 27 or 37. If Kurt Cobain is ageless, so is loving Kurt Cobain. And really loving Kurt Cobain means partly to feel that getting old is giving in. Dying young is really your best shot at being eternal. So, when you look at Frohman’s photos, blown up and close range, you get the sense of time suspended; there’s nothing dated here, nothing dying. Even behind those ludicrous sunglasses, the liveness of Kurt’s face gives you spine-tingles. His whole look is so gorgeous and manic and lost, teetering on the wrong edge of fame. You can see how it might have been much sadder had he lived.
Maybe that’s why the party felt so eerily celebratory. Here, we all seemed to be thinking, is someone who’ll never fade away. The mood was almost jealous. There was one guy in an OG Nirvana t-shirt under his, like, Jack Spade blazer. He probably used to play in a band. There was another guy, at least a decade younger, who really does play in a band. He looked around the room and said, “I used to see all these people on TV, and now that I’m here…” but he didn’t finish his sentence, and it was unclear whether any of these people had actually been on TV or just looked like TV kind-of people. In any case, there were suddenly far too many of them. Frohman turned to his friend, who was either Howard Stern or a man who looks exactly like Howard Stern, not that it matters either way. “I don’t know who any of these people are!” he exclaimed. Cobain would have said the same thing.
An hour after the party began, there were people lined up around the block, smoking. Many of them were dressed in intentional or unintentional homage. Maybe they felt they were paying respect, even though the wine was free.