In a recent article with Frances Bean Cobain by Rolling Stone, Cobain was quoted as saying, “Our culture is obsessed with dead musicians. We love to put them on a pedestal.” It’s no secret that after the passing of music gods, album sales often skyrocket for that particular band or performer. Is an artist’s work appreciated more posthumously? Or are they simply not as well known until they have left this world?
Lead singer of Nirvana and king of grunge, Kurt Cobain, committed suicide on April 5, 1994. Before his death, the band had released three studio albums. After Cobain died, two more albums were released; MTV Unplugged in New York and From the Muddy Banks of Wishkah became Nirvana’s highest grossing No. 1 albums. Cobain was not one to relish the rise to fame and fortune that made him into a ‘90’s legend. His daughter Frances also told Rolling Stone, “He inspired people to put him on a pedestal, to become St. Kurt. He became even bigger after he died than he was when he was alive. You don’t think it could have gotten any bigger. But it did.”
Amy Winehouse was not a singer who reached the same milestones as Nirvana, but nevertheless her album revenues increased only days after her death. While her sales figures for 2010-2011 were an estimated 102,000 albums sold, her death produced 110,000 sales in the eight days following. Although he was much older than either Cobain or Winehouse at the time of his death, Michael Jackson’s never-ending popularity also had a rebirth that resulted in millions of dollars in sales after he died.
A large percentage of people seem to use the work of a dead celebrity as a way to feel connected to these legends. Owning the records of the deceased helps listeners consider the thoughts and struggles of musicians, particularly when their deaths were due to a suicide or overdose. Kurt Cobain frequently sang of drugs, weapons and pain medication due to chronic stomach issues. Hearing the turmoil faced by these artists through their art helps satisfy the innate human curiosity behind such actions. For this reason alone, culture continues to “obsess” over the works of the many deceased musical icons.