Gone But Forever Young What's The Hottest Item On The Boardwalk? T-shirts And Other Paraphernalia Commemorating Dead Celebrities Kurt Cobain And Brandon Lee.

Posted: August 18, 1994

WILDWOOD, N.J. — Their young, beautiful, brooding faces seem to be everywhere you look on the boardwalks at the Jersey Shore: on airbrushed shirts, buttons, hats, keychains, posters.

Store owners report they can't keep Brandon Lee and Kurt Cobain items on the shelves.

"The deader, the better," explained Larry Graber, co-owner of Cookie's Fun Shop on the boardwalk, who likens the post-mortem popularity of Cobain and Lee to that acquired by Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix.

"I've been living off of Morrison and Hendrix for years," said Graber.

Cobain, leader of the Seattle grunge group Nirvana, was 27 when he killed

himself in April.

One of the best-selling posters features the blond singer seated at a microphone, playing his guitar, with the simple inscription: "Kurt Cobain, 1967-1994."

Lee, 28, was killed in March 1993 when a bullet tip was mistakenly left in a chamber of a prop gun on the set of The Crow. A popular Lee poster shows him painted up like a deranged harlequin. The Crow, which was finished without him, opened earlier this year and quickly acquired a following.

Dawn Massa, 20, of New City, N.Y., saw it six times.

On a recent visit to the boardwalk, Massa bought photographs and posters of Lee as the movie character the Crow - a rock star who returns from the dead to avenge the murders of his fiancee and himself.

Massa also ordered a $65 airbrushed Brandon Lee shirt. At home, she has a bootleg video of The Crow purchased in New York. In all, she said, she's spent about $265 in Crow merchandise.

"It sucks that he's dead," said Massa. "I would've really liked to meet him. It's kinda sad 'cause I never will."

Over $1 million in Crow merchandise has been sold since the movie came out, said Jamie Riehle, sales and marketing director of Kitchen Sink, a Springfield, Mass., company that produces promotional items for the film.

Riehle said that 5 percent of the proceeds from Crow items with Lee's image go to a trust fund in Lee's name that benefits Lou Gehrig's disease, the star's favorite charity.

Artist Marc Lipp, 32, of Long Island, has a job this summer airbrushing pictures of famous people onto T-shirts at a shop called Spirit of Wildwood. Most of the shirts in the store bear the likenesses of famous dead people, including Bob Marley, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. He personally enjoys painting Lee.

"I just think that Brandon Lee looks cool," said Lipp.

Airbrushed Cobain shirts are also popular, although parents don't always approve.

"Some parents won't let their children have a Kurt Cobain T-shirt, because of what he did," said Kathy Graber, who co-owns Cookie's Fun Shop. "Parents say that they won't have their children idolizing someone who killed

himself."

But Sue Kramer, 46, of Harrisburg, didn't seem to mind that her son John, 16, unabashedly adores Cobain. John's bedroom, said Sue, is a shrine to Cobain, with two dozen posters of him on the walls.

"Nirvana are the gods of the '90s," John Kramer said, "except for (bassist) Krist (Novoselic). He's a dork."

The Kramers, who were on vacation here, were shopping for Nirvana memorabilia - bootleg concert tapes, shirts and videos. "I have to get it all

because they're going to stop making it soon," said John. Evidence all around him - in the form of Marley, Morrison and Hendrix gear - indicated they probably won't.

At Swirled World on the boardwalk, Dan Weiss, 26, said Cobain items were selling like crazy. "They roll," he said. (Translation: "They sell.")

Weiss said that he could sell shirts depicting the Cobain suicide note or Cobain's death certificate, but he won't. He thinks that would be in bad taste.

Swirled World does stock a shirt with Cobain's face and the quotation, "I hate myself and want to die" - the title of one of his songs. But, Weiss said, he started selling that while Cobain was still alive.

Larry Graber of Cookie's Fun Shop said, "Before Kurt Cobain died, I had maybe two or three shirts and one poster. They never sold. The morning after he died, I had two girls in tears standing in front of my store waiting to get inside to buy stuff. (His death) started a ripple effect. It took me by surprise."

Obviously, the rebel cliche - "Live fast, die young" - still applies.

Kathy Graber pointed to a banner in the shop with the grandfatherly looking leader of the Grateful Dead.

Part of the appeal of Cobain and Lee, she said, is, "they are never going to become old and look like Jerry Garcia."

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