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.