Ringo Starr shares his thoughts on Kurt Cobain

Ringo Starr understood very well the dangerous influence the music industry held over its artists. Having been one of the ‘lads from Liverpool’ obsessed over during Beatlemania, he’d seen what mass popularity could do, and it wasn’t always good. In fact, it must have seemed as though fame was the worst part of being a successful musician. Here, the Beatles drummer shares his thoughts on an artist whose disdain for his fame became a key facet of his popularity and his tragic fate: Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.

When asked for his opinion about Nirvana, Ringo Starr was nothing if not enthusiastic: “Absolutely great,” he said in 2019, “And the man himself [Kurt Cobain] had so much emotion. That’s what I loved. I’m an emotional guy. No one can doubt Nirvana, ever. And who knew he’d end up where he ended up. I don’t think anyone who listened to music with any courage could doubt him, ’cause he was courageous.”

Starr went on to mourn Cobain’s passing: “I don’t know the end story, and it’s not about him, and we lose a lot of people in our business early. And you think, “How harsh must it have been?” I mean, “Why don’t you call me?” You never know. This is the famous 27-year syndrome. A lot of them went by 27, like it’s that number — what, had they got it all in by then? Or maybe that’s just the way God planned it; I don’t know.”

Ringo seems to have viewed Cobain’s death less as a tragic accident and more as an inevitability. Starr would have seen how fame gradually ate away at his bandmate John Lennon. His observation that “we lose a lot of people early” in the music business hints toward the darker side of life in the limelight. Perhaps Ringo’s ambiguous stance on Cobain’s death disguises a far more unpalatable opinion: that a life in music can isolate the artist to the point of mental collapse. Cobain himself seemed to have recognised this unnerving reality.

“John Lennon was definitely my favorite Beatle, hands down,” Cobain told Rolling Stone in 1993. “I don’t know who wrote what parts of what Beatles songs, but Paul McCartney embarrasses me. Lennon was obviously disturbed [laughs]. So I could relate to that. And from the books I’ve read — and I’m so skeptical of anything I read, especially in rock books. So I just felt really sorry for him. To be locked up in that apartment. Although he was totally in love with Yoko and his child, his life was a prison. He was imprisoned.”

He continued: “It’s not fair. That’s the crux of the problem that I’ve had with becoming a celebrity — the way people deal with celebrities. It needs to be changed; it really does. No matter how hard you try, it only comes out like you’re bitching about it. So I can understand how a person can feel that way and almost become obsessed with it. But it’s so hard to convince people to mellow out. Just take it easy, have a little bit of respect. We all shit [laughs].”

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