Friday, March 6, 2009

Smells Like Thirtysomething Spirit

April 5th is only a month away (give or take a day) and what is April 5th good for if not a reason to get middle-aged people talking about that music we like to call "grunge". If you don't remember the date (1994), then shame on you and all your hippie-music loving friends. Eh, whatever. I remember listening to alot of Dave Matthews and Tori Amos back then. Oh yeah, and having dirty thoughts about Chris Cornell. Look at him, who wouldn't!?!
Chris Cornell Pictures, Images and Photos

Hold on. I have to catch my breath. Ok.

Below is a little thing I wrote back in 2005 about Kurt Cobain's influence on American music and how he succeeded in becoming one of the most famous guys who wanted nothing to do with fame yet chose a career that would make him famous. I was a fan in the sense that I bought Nevermind and I thought Dave Grohl played a much bigger role in the band than people gave him credit for (much like when Leonardo DiCaprio play that homeless kid, Luke, on Growing Pains. I knew he was better than that show). And I'll admit that, for years, I felt out of touch with certain people because we didnt share the same opinion of Kurt Cobain (Their's usually being that he was God's Gift To Music. Mine usually being that he was that guy who was on my TV more than Chris Cornell was on my TV. Kurt - get off my TV!).

The video was loud and confusing. A couple of musicians were in the background, but most apparent was the scrawny, stringy-haired, guitar-wielding singer who was practically in my face. As he screamed in near-tune, his greasy blond hair buried his features but almost gave away his angst. Scenes bounced back and forth from a creepy school janitor to the gothic-industrial cheerleaders sporting anarchy symbols on their uniforms. Through it all, Kurt Cobain pleaded to the camera, to his audience, while desperately smashing his guitar to make his point, in case you couldn’t understand his lyrics, and was determined to be understood. After the video was over, I didn’t get his point. Even after his death, I still don’t understand.

Nirvana is credited with having paved the way for the new “grunge” sound and for bringing this music to the rest of the world. Jonathan Poneman, cofounder of Sub Pop records, told Spin magazine writer Chris Norris why he believes Kurt Cobain represented a new age group, labeled Generation X. Poneman feels it’s because Cobain created a type of music that became popular “at a time when everything else sounded so stale and manufactured”. Having just been released from the materialistic grip of the 1980s, the music scene was struggling to reinvent itself. A new sound was slowly being created in Seattle and musicians flocked to the city just to be a part of it. Before long, the bubble-gum pop and glam-metal sounds of the 80s were abandoned as Nirvana’s invasion of MTV and radio airwaves pioneered an angry and defiant sound that would last longer than I could tolerate. Even after Cobain’s death in 1994 concluded Nirvana’s short-lived existence, the group’s music is still a constant source of inspiration for many modern-day bands.

Our culture thrives on celebrities, often choosing one out of hundreds to be the next star whom our society will idolize, whether deservedly or not. Kurt Cobain chose to live his life in the spotlight even though, according to Nirvana’s former manager, Danny Goldberg, Cobain “didn’t like all the consequences of fame”. A seemingly reluctant spokesman for a generation deemed lost by society, Cobain is perceived by Chris Norris as a star who “sometimes hated himself for wanting stardom”. After killing himself with a shotgun blast to the head, the singer claimed fame and fortune as the motives but left fans feeling as if they were the reasons he did it. But did Kurt Cobain’s talents make him a celebrity, or was my generation just reaching for the first sign of a departure from the self-absorbed culture of the 1980s?

I’m not questioning the talents of Kurt Cobain or even Nirvana’s musical influence on modern and future bands. What I am trying to understand is how Kurt Cobain became the voice of my generation. Chris Norris claims that “no other artist still haunts us in such a powerful, subliminal way” and he’s right. It’s been over a decade since his death, yet the singer’s influence is everywhere. Listen closely to this new generation’s sound and it is obvious that Cobain’s spirit has been brought back to life. Norris believes it is because the legendary frontman is “a valiant symbol of a time when rock music was more real and meaningful”. However, I’ve almost come to feel as if grunge music itself was nothing more than angst and frustration accompanied by loud guitars and flannel and led by a depressed man who was eventually overwhelmed with the responsibilities of leading a depressed generation. The entire purpose of grunge simply became a fashion do and don’t set to music and defined by unkempt hair. If that’s real and meaningful to somebody, they’ve obviously been fortunate enough to experience what I could never understand.

Do you think Kurt Cobain/Nirvana still have the same influence on music today? Or are they becoming an afterthought, having paved the way for new bands to upstage Nirvana's accomplishments because Cobain's death cut the band's life short, too? Is there anyone out there, anyone, who agrees with me?

Excuse me while I scroll up to look at Chris Cornell some more...


Geekzilla said...

Marcy Playground.

Dena said...


Geekzilla said...


Sra said...

I can't say I agree or not (not entirely my generation), but this is quite well written.

Chris said...

IMO, Nirvana didn't pave the way for anything, they just swung the pendulum back away from popcrap. They didn't do anything that Iggy Pop, Sex Pistols, The Clash and others had not done before. Again, just my opinion.