04.05.2014 09:30 AM

The facts about Cobain, 20 years, whatever

I deliberated about jumping into this morning’s Kurt Cobain media orgy. You know, dead 20 years, voice of a lost generation, grunge sociology, I-remember-where-I-was-when-He-died, blah blah blah. There are stories and thumbsucker columns everywhere.

I didn’t ever interview the Nirvana front guy, or even see the band live. My brother did, twice, and he said they weren’t anything to write home about.

When they were together, I thought they were okay, but I didn’t listen to them as much as I listened to the Stooges, or the Pixies, or the Breeders (who were the bands Cobain liked best, by the way, and in that order). Personally, I thought Nirvana was kind of derivative, and insufficiently punk (two of the criticisms Cobain had of Nirvana himself, by the way).

So why even acknowledge today? Well, for a good thing and a bad thing.

The good thing about Cobain was that he did what Johnny Rotten and Joey Ramone did, 18 years earlier: he saved rock’n’roll. In the Seventies, as I wrote in Fury’s Hour, rock had become “self-indulgent, technically-perfect, coma-inducing arena rock that offered up bands with about as much emotional commitment as an annual report.” Rotten and Ramone killed corporate rock’n’roll in 1976 or so. And then, when rock culture started getting evil again, Cobain did the same thing – in 1993 or so.

That’s the good thing, I think. The bad thing about Kurt Cobain is he was just another junkie who killed himself with junk. Like Elliott Smith (who was a greater songwriter, and who I still miss very much), Cobain came to love the sting of the needle more than he loved the writing of a really great song. So he died. That’s it.

I could say something, at this point, about the hypocrisy of the 40-and-50-somethings who condemn Rob Ford for his substance abuse issues – but who previously regarded Kurt Cobain as sort of cool for his – but it’s a waste of time. People are always going to be highly selective about the facts they rely upon to justify the bullshit of daily existence.

The facts about Kurt Cobain, as selected by me, are these: he saved rock’n’roll.

But he didn’t, or couldn’t, save himself.



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    Kev says:

    Kurt Cobain wasn’t a public office holder.

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    Philippe says:

    He didn’t die from junk though, he died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Those closest to him tell of the fact junk was the only thing he found that alleviated his stomach pains & that’s why he took it.

    Who knows.. I never hung out with the guy. But calling him “just another junkie” seems harsh.

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      david ray says:

      so like the charming girl in the video Warren posted “he didn’t make the crack.”

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    smelter rat says:

    He killed himself with a 12 gauge I believe.

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    Kre8tv says:

    Rock ‘n roll is always being saved by someone for someone.
    It’s as true today as it was in the early 90s.

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    frmr disgruntled Con now happy Lib says:

    Saved R&R, but for how long?……If we are talking about “popular” music(which in the end is what Nirvana became) we have packaging, promotion, and formula muzac taken to new heights today….If you’re plain, but have all the musical talent in the world…..just consider song writing, because you will never be seen, much less heard, in todays popular muzac industry……

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    bigcitylib says:

    The guy had a nerve and stomach condition that left him in constant pain. The addictions were at least a little better motivated in his case. In the end, a handful of great tunes. But, no, he didnt save r&r. RATM did that. And now its dead again. They’re actually playing disco again. I thought my generation killed that 30 years ago. But the youth-of-today are ever ungrateful and so it is back.

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    Tom Banalville says:

    Might as well pop a Xanax and lay back to the sanitized sounds of Michael Buble and Justin Beiber … you are getting sleepy, very sleepy … when you awake you will vote Tory

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    davie says:

    Well, if saving rock n roll doesn’t work out, maybe a musician, especially a guitarist, could consider working toward playing with these guys “http://youtu.be/2oyhlad64-s”

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    Kelly says:

    There’s lots of great rock and related indie music produced these says; it’s just not that broadly popular and never will be. The music distribution system is too fragmented now and artists can get music to an audience directly. Hell, many live stream their recording sessions or concerts. Back in the day technology limited the ability to distribute. An “industry” arose to organize it. A star system naturally arose. I got in a big online fight once at a pro audio site by arguing if the rolling Stones formed today nobody would care. Any number of bar bands can out play them technically… just basic blues based stuff. They were popular because of timing. Everything was smaller and they had less competition. When there’s only 2 TV channels and you get on TV you become a star. When there’s 500 channels there is less cache. Everyone’s a star now so nobody is.

    Just listen to what you like and enjoy it. Everyone’s opinion is just that — theirs.

    Personally my issue with a lot of rock from the nirvana era is the lack of skill. It’s just yelling. Same tired cliches lyrically. Low skill on their instruments. The band’s didn’t put in their time learning anything about music and as a result offer a limited pallette and thin gruel. Boring. Wasted opportunity to make a difference.

    Just my 2 cents.

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      Chris says:

      fyi, you said “cache” but you meant “cachet”.

      I always debate whether to make posts like this but in the end I figure I would want to know if I was misusing a word.

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        Kelly says:

        Thanks. Smartphone keyboards are dangerous things.

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    debs says:

    I still think courtney love killed him.
    but well written analysis. I wished he had sought out better treatment.

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    Al in Cranbrook says:

    I can well remember how disgusted beyond words was my Dad when we watched the Beetles during their first performance on the Ed Sullivan show back ’64. Called their music “noise”, and their haircuts had him ready to spit nails!

    Starting to feel a bit like him lately. Most of the stuff they call “rock” these days is, IMHO, abysmal crap…”noise” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

    Will we ever see the likes of Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart, Bryan Adams, Aerosmith, etc, etc, again? Makes me wonder.

    Came across this vid last night: Musicians who died too young. Damn, it’s a helluva long list! Drugs, murder, cancer, alcohol, suicide. Sad stuff.


    (Not current enough to include Jeff Healey, one of the most amazing guitar players ever.)

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      davie says:

      Al…I am way older than you. I disliked the pop, hit parade of the 1950’s, the marketing phenom of Elvis, the simplistic lyrics, the whining of Philadelphia pretty boys, the Beatles who sounded to me like the insipid straining of the Everly Brothers,…best rhythm and blues put down in the 1950’s was by musicians, Ellingtons’ Band of Renown at Newport in 56 and Paul Gonsalves epic solo on Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue.
      Rock went downhill from there, …except for The Band, only group I ever had time for.
      But, confession, Al, I broke down and watched the opening of the outdoor game between the Kings and the Ducks, where they did hockey outdoors thing, the way that you and I did it(after we wore ourselves out shoveling the snow off the rink).
      They started with a rock band called KISS.
      I enjoyed it,I enjoyed KISS, Al…the young exuberance of it all, the straight ahead glitz and wit…

      Get with it , Al, …you want the Lib people on this message board to regard you as hep, don’t you?

      (By the way, I listened to a lot of Jeff Healey, and I agree with you there…his music, his experiments, and, especially, his encyclopedic knowledge of his area of music.)

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        Al in Cranbrook says:

        My brother, 14 years my senior, had a collection of 78s that included Elvis. (…as many ponder, WTF is a 78???)

        Some 25 years ago now, a friend of my daughter was working a shift at McDonalds in Lloydminster when a bus pulled in. The band members from KISS popped in to pick up some burgers.

        Did I mention Heart? Nancy Wilson, approaching 60 herself, still pulls off that high kick in her lead in to Crazy on You. *sigh* And who can sing like Anne, eh? If one hasn’t seen it yet, their rendition of Stairway to Heaven during the tribute to Led Zeppelin at last year’s Kennedy Center Honors is stunning…even had Plant shedding a few tears. Still on YouTube.

        Last week I watched on HiFi network “The Last Waltz”, filmed by Martin Scorsese. Final performance of The Band in 1978. If you’re a fan, and haven’t seen it yet, sure you’ll get right into it. Guests include Clapton, N. Young, J. Mitchel, Dylan…without all the wrinkles.

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    Vankleek Hill says:

    I’d argue that Guns and Roses saved R&R a few years before with “Appetite for Destruction.” Blew everybody’s socks off in ’88. You didn’t have to be a metalhead to like it.

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    Matthew says:

    Elliott Smith is another who wasn’t killed by drugs. The knife to the chest did the trick; he had nothing other than prescription meds in his system when he died. And there is some debate as to whether it was self-inflicted. Apart from that, I agree that he saved rock and roll, and furthermore we’ve gotten to that point of needing it saved again.

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    JC Penny says:

    Cobain had chronic stomach pain since the day he got famous. He tried junk. He tried kicking junk. He tried weird hypnosis shit that Burroughs suggested. He talked longingly about the last time he was happy as being ‘underneath the bridge’ in his home town where he used to write songs and play guitar before he got famous. I agree with you that we shouldn’t idolize junkies that OD but I think fame did most of the work in this case. He was not punk rock. He may well have survived if he was. He was a poet and a sensitive type. Fame has eaten plenty of those, punk and not.

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    mike says:

    I agree w/Debs. I do not think he pulled the trigger.

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    patrick says:

    I don’t think deriding Flob for his crack use is hypocritical – it’s Flobs drug use that is hypocritical and is what is so offensive about him – in a long list of what is so offensive about Flob.
    Cobain liked to alter his consciousness, so what, other than it killed him. And it only killed him because a bunch of religious fanatics have decided that it’s “immoral” to alter your consciousness, unless it’s some contrived religious ecstasy.
    Hypocrisy indeed.

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    John Werry says:

    In my unimportant opinion Rock peeked in 1974, Callifornia Jam, etc. Arena Rock was as Warren describes it in the late 70’s I was there. Popular music WAS Rock in ’74. Music is more eclectic now. I currently enjoy CBC 2 Drive. I also love the Ramones, Motorhead, Sabbath, Iggy Pop, The B side of any single recorded by The Sweet, the Scorpions early work, etc (and Lawrenence Welk -we used to watch and bet on which funny colour they would be dressed in but enjoyed/laughed at the music too). Rock is just a niche now, Jack White also saved Rock? Interesting discussion you guys.

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