Monday, April 05, 2004

Kurt Cobain vs. his Legacy

It has been nearly ten years since Kurt Cobain used his big toe to pull the trigger and we can't help but pay attention. Canonized by the rock critics as one of the Rock Saints, imitated by countless bar bands and overgrown garage kids for years, mourned as if he had somehow nailed himself to a cross and died for our transgressions, and Kurt can't respond from where he's been hiding. He is taking the Great Dirt Nap and we will never know what beauty could have lept from his fingers onto a record at some later date. It is the Mozart story all over again, the rocknroll equivalent of a tragedy in three acts. (Enter talented artist originating from the underground; Media whores and disillusioned fans embrace him but he can't handle the weight of their dreams; sinking deeper into the quagmire of pills and heroin, he decides to air condition his own head; Exunt.)

Kurt was a force for change, and most of us agreed that change was good. Hair metal and radio-friendly tripe had dominated the musical landscape for years and bands like the Pixies and Mudhoney were still beneath the soil of the underground, waiting for a rain that never came. Kurt put on his cocktail dress and grabbed a left-handed Jaguar in '86, forming Nirvana with Krist Novaselic and Chad Channing. Their first album released on Sub Pop sold fifty thousand LP's or so and the major labels began to sniff the air around Seattle, aware that a movement was forming.

We all know the rest of the story because it has been resold to us in lovely packaging. Hell, if you have twenty-five bucks plus tax, you can read his diary, his private correspondance with himself, and nobody can stop you. Kurt has mutated from an indie-rock guy into a Megastar and now he is a rare butterfly pinned to a piece of styrofoam, wings open for all the world to see. We all march past and push magnifying glasses up to his music or his words, seeking the truth or a hidden message from our Saviour.

As many columnists have pointed out in their "Ten Years since Kurt Knocked Over the Scrabble Board" op-ed pieces, Kurt would have hated all of this hype and attention. He would want us to walk ahead and find the next big thing, not mope around the scene of the accident and expect something to happen.

Where has music gone since Kurt exited stage left? Before you knee-jerk react and say "Boy bands, American Idolatry, pop-punk, and Mystikal urging us all to shake our collective asses", consider the amount of people who listen to multiple styles of music. It isn't uncommon to have one foot planted in hip hop, the other in punk or metal, and to still find time to listen to an electro song or some old-time country, without fear of rejection from the human beings around you. Kurt listened to bands like Cheap Trick and the Knack but he also professed a love for the Beatles ("About a Girl" from "Bleached" was written after he listened to the White Album, or so I've heard...). He also had a deep affection for punk rock and even some of his musical forebears as well (The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Mudhoney, etc.) He wasn't afraid of colouring outside the lines, or even in the margins, if it made the picture complete.

My musical identity was formed when Nirvana was already finished. In 1994, I was fourteen and my knowledge of music was what you might call pathetic. I knew Dylan and Hendrix and Morrison thanks to my father, the Pogues and Van Morrison thanks to my mother, but in terms of contemporary music, I was stilted into thinking that Guns N Roses were the closest thing to Punk Rock I had ever heard (witness the song "Back off Bitch" and tell me if you can resist the punk label). That is when Nirvana crawled into my head and saved me from myself. (Thanks to Corey and Justin, two Men of Wisdom; Corey taught me that "In Utero" was worth listening to; Justin gave me "Nevermind" and "Unplugged in N.Y.")

Where am I going with this? I guess I just wanted to say that whatever the Press Vultures say about Kurt and his legacy, they don't own him. They can't sell him, not to his Chosen people. He isn't a commodity like Gold or Aluminum. He was just a talented artist and we should remember him as such. He made some good music. Don't piss on his grave but don't hang a wreath either. Just pick up an instrument and make your own "Nevermind". That's what Kurt would have done if the situation were reversed.

He is still out there, though. Dizzee Rascal has cited him as an influence, even though Dizzee spits rough-and-tumble Brit Rap over garage beats. I know that creativity isn't confined to America, so perhaps the next Big Thing will hail from Scotland (no, not Franz Ferdinand, although they're very talented) or even Canada! Well, probably not Canada because we already produced the musical equivalent of the Antichrist, Nickelback. (Coincidentally, they won "Group of the Year" in last night's Juno Awards, meaning they sold a whole whack of LP's and now we're grovelling at their corny feet)

Kurt, we haven't forgotten but we're not going to sit here and wait for you. We've gotta keep running towards the horizon to catch the sun before it drops. Thanks & I hope you're in a better place.

Anybody have comments to provide? Please leave any Nirvana anecdotes or criticism of this opus below (Click "Comments", thank you very much!). I'll try to respond to anything pertinent.

1 comment:

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