Wednesday, October 27, 2004

THE OTHER NIGHT I GOT TALKING ABOUT KURT COBAIN AND THE UPCOMING NIRVANA BOXED SET

I remember my life changed one day while I was in the 10th grade. I was sitting innocently on the brown pimply couch in my den (which is now in my apartment begging for mercy from the regular abuse of my roommates) and my mom said that I had a phone call. So like an apathetic high school student, I lazily got up, taking my sweet time to pick up the phone in the kitchen. It was Michael Weinreb. A most unexpected call. Mike was a year older than me and also, one of the two people in my life who introduced me to great music and more importantly, the alternative bands that now hold so much nostalgic joy for me. Before Mike tried to teach me a thing or two, I had been exclusively investing my time in heavy metal and Billy Joel, a combination that made a most uncommon mix tape (“Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter” by Iron Maiden followed by “Allentown”). But nevertheless, Mike never gave up on me and lent me cassettes—yes, tapes—of School of Fish, Mother Love Bone, the Pixies and everything more or less considered alternative. But then he was on the phone insisting that I turn on the radio to our local college station. The nicest thing about Kean College radio is that you could request a song and hear it moments later. Mike told me that he had just requested something for me to hear that was “like nothing [I] had ever heard before.” After searching for the decimal point that was our local station, I heard irreverent bass. And an unrepentant voice so tired. A voice so full of exhaustion that it seemed the words were rolling out of the side of his mouth, much like drool. “It’s getting hard, so hard to find/oh well, whatever, nevermind” was the only line I could make out, so, at the time the song had little lyrical impact on me. But musically, it boiled my blood. When the chorus kicked in, my ears found themselves confused. How could something so loud and obnoxious, simultaneously be so sweet and poppy? How did they pull this off? Better yet, how could they pull this off? Moreover, how could they do this to Whitney Houston? But Mike was right—this was like nothing I had ever heard before. In fact, I went out to buy the album the next day at a small record store in between my school and house. Nothing was ever the same again. Not the way I dressed. Not the way I talked. And most certainly, not the music I listened to.

A few years later, while living in Israel, I received news of Kurt Cobain’s untimely demise. While I was shocked and surprised, I was also disappointed. A man so brave as to change the face of music, opted out and folded under pressure just when the house upped the ante. And while his suicide is glorified with the prophetic diary entry of an altered Who line—“I hope I die before I become Pete Townsend”—and the infamous suicide note that borrows from Neil Young—“it’s better to burn out than fade away,” Cobain had truly disappointed me.

It may be harsh to speak of the deceased in this manner, to shatter a golden image and make it into the tarnished reality that is a tortured human being. And some may resent the finger pointing at someone who can no longer say “stop pointing at me because it’s rude” but this is how I feel. I think he wimped out. Yes, Cobain was a brilliant and troubled man that many may not understand regardless of how many biographies come out and even when we (wrongfully) print his private journals. Much like a lost loved one, the more we hold onto him, the harder it will be to move on. You see, his death had only further made things complicated. How romantic was his life, all the kids say. How Shakespearean was his existence? I wonder if he had been alive today, would we still embrace him as our hero? As our musical Messiah? Or would the A.D.D. generation have thrown him aside, causing DGC to eventually dump them, returning the band to the indie label, Sub Pop? I truly wonder.
But the combination of his death and his music has made it too late. We cannot turn back. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana have ruined music for everyone.

We are merciless. Unforgiving. We demand more but we forget that this is ONLY rock and roll--nothing more, nothing less. Yes, we want our musicians to try harder and take more hallucinatory drugs but then again, we want them to be real. Because when you’re real, and not an image like wearing red and white all the time, do you produce art? And nobody knew this more than three young men who innocently destroyed the music industry for the rest of us. Three “slacker dudes” that stumbled on a truly alternative formula (see Pixies; also see A Lot of Bass with Chorus Guitar Freakout) and stole it for themselves. They brought it to the masses and made it difficult for any band thereafter to be taken seriously. Even eleven years later.
Yes, Nirvana recorded an album. A brilliant sincere album that DGC released in 1991 and then proceeded to distribute Nevermind to commercial radio stations, Walmarts and, God help us, MTV. Then it was all downhill from there.
One would be foolish in saying Nevermind did not change the world. It opened the door for Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and basically everything you’ve heard until now. It has a sociological relevance that no other album has had in the past 20 years. In fact, you would probably still be swearing by Chicago and Rush if it had not been for Cobain and crew. You, one of 11 million others, own this album and made it the phenomena that it was and is. But unknowingly, you also made it hard for any band since then to develop properly.

Indeed, in today’s musical digestive system, bands are –excuse the analogy – thrown up right after they're chewed on. It’s like that unfortunate high school girl with her bulimia. Oh, how excited we get. How you can see the glee and joy on our face - this band is the next Nirvana. It has to be. How many times have you heard someone say that? Ben Greenman of the New Yorker, a reputable publication that usually makes sense, called the Hives as exciting as the Seattle legends with their song “Main Offender” as blisteringly catchy as “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It smells more like Ben’s smoking some serious drugs.
Where is the next Nirvana, everyone asks. Where will it come from? When will an “alternative” band break out from the college crowd and reach mass consumption, saving us from the blah radio format? Will it rise from the annoyingly pretentious Brooklyn scene? Will it be the undiscovered potential, Sweden? Where o’ where is the next Nevermind? Both Rolling Stone and Spin had Cobain on their cover a few months ago. We are obsessed with reading about Courtney (hey, baby, who wrote your music?) and her fighting with Krist Noveselic and Dave Grohl. We are obsessing over 6 or 7 songs that were never intended to be released to the public and, for all we know, may be throwaways (Is “You Know You’re Right” really that great? Does that sound like true Nirvana?). Now we’re talking about the boxed set. How as a nation do we forget everything so quickly, so apathetically but when it comes to this, we are like elephants that have taken their ginseng?
And here is what we suggest; don’t buy the upcoming boxed set. Yes, forget Nirvana.

People cry and cry about the current state of rock n’roll and yes, I’ve heard them. In fact, I sometimes cry too. And to be honest, it’s not really as bad as we think. BUT if you still disagree and think it is, then I’ll play devil’s advocate and tell you not to believe the hype. Yes, Franz Ferdinand received nearly two million dollars and yes, we have heard it all before but remember that Nevermind was Nirvana’s second album which was recorded innocently with no expectations and no bidding wars. In truth, current bands focus more on relieving their anxiety and handling instant fame than writing good music. That’s why one band can tell its Radiohead from its Radiotush. They told the world to step off. They said, this is what we do. This is us. Buy it or don’t. And we bought it. Not all of us, mind you, but the ones who were ok with “difficult.” Because they raged against the hype machine and created an ongoing epiphany over a span of three CD’s.

I find it interesting that no one ever refers to bands as the next Beatles or the next Rolling Stones (heck, the Rolling Stones aren’t even the Rolling Stones). That is because we understand that no musician, no band could reach that level of artistry realistically. We have lowered our expectations because we cannot expect that much. It would be unfair and better yet, everyone would laugh at you when you said it (imagine starting a conversation at a part y like this: wow, Dashboard Confessional is so the next Beatles). But interestingly enough, the label “next Nirvana” is thrown around with reckless abandon. And this, my friends, is why we are so disapponted. When we realize that we should be careful with this term and when we stop weighing a record up against, yet again, a sociological phenomenon, we will then find the next Nirvana. But until then, I don’t plan on buying the brand new Nirvana boxed set.
I’m too busy reading Kurt Cobain's diary.

1 Comments:

Blogger IVY said...

Your writing reminds me of mine. And I understand your feelings of rage, terror, and empathy with Cobain. A hard man to love, harder to dislike.
Hope you stop by my journal. We could link up. I think you would leave constructive comments.. and hopefully find mine helpful too.

3:35 AM  

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