Anemic Royalty

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It was 10 years ago today (give or take) that Kurt Cobain was murdered–I mean, took a lethal dose of junk and blew his head off. Probably, most of you have moved on. But for those of us who haven't, here's a pretty good October 1991 Seattle Times interview with the Negative Creep, focusing (surprisingly enough) on his actual songcraft. Excerpt:

Do you consider it punk?

"I consider it pop music ? another style of pop music, just more abrasive. It's still typical repetitive structure. It has a guitar solo in the middle, and I usually repeat lyrics over and over again to where I consider it catchy enough to be considered pop music." [?]

I noted how good I thought the single was. "Are you ready for a hit single?" I asked.

He laughed and said, "That's not gonna happen."

NEXT: Had it Right the First Time

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  1. Smells Like Teen Spirit Lyrics:

    I feel stupid and contagious
    Here we are now
    Entertain us
    A mulatto
    An albino
    A mosquito
    My Libido
    Yeah

    So what if it’s not ha-ha funny?

  2. Jeff,

    “If you ever want anything please don’t
    Hesitate to ask someone else first.
    I’m too busy acting like I’m not naive.
    I’ve seen it all. I was here first.”

    “Teenage angst has paid off well
    Now I’m bored and old.”

    And the delivery of these lines at the beginning of Territorial Pissings:

    “C’mon people now
    Smile on your brother
    Everybody get together
    Try to love one another RIGHT NOWWWWWWW”

    has to be heard to be appreciated.

  3. “Here we are now
    Entertain us
    A mulatto
    An albino
    A mosquito
    My Libido
    Yeah”

    Hmmm, rearrange the lines a bit and it might make a respectable haiku or Zen koan. Lemme work on it a bit….

  4. Jeff Clothier,

    I have a theory about the acceptability of “types” of popular music. Usually there will be a phase where it is popular, its the new thing and is the (dare I say it) soundtrack for a generation (or some other blather). This is followed by a phase where its vilified, mainly because the genre has been overplayed / drained of all life / the next generation finds something to (another crappy phrase) “call its own.” Finally, after 10 years of so when all the biases have sorta been cleaned from the system there’s a more objective look back at that particular style and it finds its place in musical history.

    I grew up in the 80s and remember having a pathological loathing for all things Disco. Why? Beats the hell out of me, but we all knew that it sucked on high. In the mid 80s disco was the biggest joke. It took until the 90s before the culture at large (myself included) looked back at disco and said “you know what, some of this was pretty good stuff.”

  5. Jeff Clothier,

    I have a theory about the acceptability of “types” of popular music. Usually there will be a phase where it is popular, its the new thing and is the (dare I say it) soundtrack for a generation (or some other blather). This is followed by a phase where its vilified, mainly because the genre has been overplayed / drained of all life / the next generation finds something to (another crappy phrase) “call its own.” Finally, after 10 years of so when all the biases have sorta been cleaned from the system there’s a more objective look back at that particular style and it finds its place in musical history.

    I grew up in the 80s and remember having a pathological loathing for all things Disco. Why? Beats the hell out of me, but we all knew that it sucked on high. In the mid 80s disco was the biggest joke. It took until the 90s before the culture at large (myself included) looked back at disco and said “you know what, some of this was pretty good stuff.”

  6. FRB, once the good stuff gets out there, a lot of derivative crap inevitably follows, which has lower quality and greater quantity. Your loathing of disco probably stems from lumping together good stuff from 76, 77 with the crap that was being released in 81. The good stuff you discovered was probably not the same music you originally dismissed as crap – it just sounded similar enough for you to think it was all the same.

  7. Again, great point, FRB. I call it the “Wind Beneath My Wings” syndrome. WIthin her own small sphere, I have a lot of respect for Bette Midler. I also like the songwriter who wrote that song, who went on to write a lot for Garth Brooks and others, and at first, I kind of liked that song before they began to PLAY IT TO DEATH. Now, over a decade after they quit playing it to death, I still can’t stand it.

    And, I hated disco at the time, too. I was a high school jazz player at the time, and had just started to play gigs. Now after twenty years I realize, damn!, Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor had some PIPES, and, y’know, maybe the BeeGees weren’t so gay after all. God knows I couldn’t stay anywhere on key at that range, much less pull off tight three and four part harmonies all in head voice.

  8. Woah, okay, joe, you do all the convincing. You even had the Pixies reference way up there (didn’t notice it before).

    Also, interesting fact: The point at which a style of rock becomes acceptable exactly correlates with the point at which David Bowie begins to work in that style. Cobain knew this and preempted him by doing a cover.

  9. No Joe, as I said before I had no reason to hate disco. I had heard (or at least paid attention to) no more ‘circa 1981’ disco than I had ‘circa 1977’ disco. I just ‘knew’ it was crap. The same way I ‘knew’ Peter Framton was a joke (even though I couldn’t pick the guy out of a lineup). And this was true for the vast amount of people in my peer group. It has nothing to do with the quality of the product and everything to do with how popular culture continually re-invents itself. A lot of it is because the next wave of cultural consumers want to find their own thing and break from what came before. (for example, if my older sister liked it by default I hated it. It didn’t matter if it was good or not).

  10. No Joe, as I said before I had no reason to hate disco. I had heard (or at least paid attention to) no more ‘circa 1981’ disco than I had ‘circa 1977’ disco. I just ‘knew’ it was crap. The same way I ‘knew’ Peter Framton was a joke (even though I couldn’t pick the guy out of a lineup). And this was true for the vast amount of people in my peer group. It has nothing to do with the quality of the product and everything to do with how popular culture continually re-invents itself. A lot of it is because the next wave of cultural consumers want to find their own thing and break from what came before. (for example, if my older sister liked it by default I hated it. It didn’t matter if it was good or not).

  11. Woah, okay, joe, you do all the convincing. You even had the Pixies reference way up there (didn’t notice it before).

    Also, interesting fact: The point at which a style of rock becomes acceptable exactly correlates with the point at which David Bowie begins to work in that style. Cobain knew this and preempted him by doing a cover.

  12. But, I would submit there is nothing to idolize or admire in the type of despair that would drive someone to suicide …

    I don’t think kids admired the suicide. I think they identified with the emotions he was expressing.

    I know that was true for me. As a depressed kid who was picked on for being different, for not being cool and not liking the right music and having the right clothes, I had nothing in common with those mascara-wearing ass clowns in Poison and Warrant. But with Nirvana, it was the first time in my life that there was a musician of my generation with whom I could identify. It was very cathartic.

    I think a lot of kids of that age at that time connected with Nirvana for the very same reason. I didn’t wake up one day and decide it was cool to be angry and depressed because Kurt Cobain was angry and depressed. Rather, I was excited to discover, for the first time in my life, someone to whom I could relate who wrote songs that seemed to express the things I was feeling.

  13. No Joe, as I said before I had no reason to hate disco. I had heard (or at least paid attention to) no more ‘circa 1981’ disco than I had ‘circa 1977’ disco. I just ‘knew’ it was crap. The same way I ‘knew’ Peter Framton was a joke (even though I couldn’t pick the guy out of a lineup). And this was true for the vast amount of people in my peer group. It has nothing to do with the quality of the product and everything to do with how popular culture continually re-invents itself. A lot of it is because the next wave of cultural consumers want to find their own thing and break from what came before. (for example, if my older sister liked it by default I hated it. It didn’t matter if it was good or not).

  14. Woah, okay, joe, you do all the convincing. You even had the Pixies reference way up there (didn’t notice it before).

    Also, interesting fact: The point at which a style of rock becomes acceptable exactly correlates with the point at which David Bowie begins to work in that style. Cobain knew this and preempted him by doing a cover.

  15. Woah, okay, joe, you do all the convincing. You even had the Pixies reference way up there (didn’t notice it before).

    Also, interesting fact: The point at which a style of rock becomes acceptable exactly correlates with the point at which David Bowie begins to work in that style. Cobain knew this and preempted him by doing a cover.

  16. Derrrrrrrrrp! Derpy doop dip derpity duh-Derp!

  17. “I know that was true for me. As a depressed kid who was picked on for being different, for not being cool and not liking the right music and having the right clothes, I had nothing in common with those mascara-wearing ass clowns in Poison and Warrant. But with Nirvana, it was the first time in my life that there was a musician of my generation with whom I could identify. It was very cathartic.”

    mmm, okay, I was one of those kids too. Musician in a jock school, but I pretty much said “fuck it” and did my own thing. Didnt’ really idolize anybody because they spoke for me or “my generation.” If they had the chops, I liked ’em, if not, they sucked. Used to try to convince my students not to let someone else speak for them – epecially peers – to speak for themselves, but that’s a hard climb when you’re fourteen-eighteen.

  18. The inmates have taken over the asylum.

  19. So when you brag about your comments going over a certain number, do you count the multiple posts?

    BTW, “Ritual” came out in 1990, “Nothing’s Shocking” in 1988. My bad.

  20. Did you hear it was three days before the police found Kurt Cobain’s body? Talk about grunge!

  21. If I was a depressed teenager in the early 90’s, I would have listened to Morrissey or the Smiths. If you were a depressed teenager in the early 90’s and you listened to Nirvana, then you were an anus.

  22. Didnt’ really idolize anybody because they spoke for me or “my generation.” If they had the chops, I liked ’em, if not, they sucked.

    I don’t think I felt Cobain was “speaking for me” or “my generation” in some Bob Dylan kind of way. Then (and now) I viewed that as a baby boomer construct, some sort of sixties idea that the old folks were hung up on and felt necessary to apply to everything else whether it made sense or not. Cobain spoke *to* me, which was different. I empathized with the emotions and the attitude. It wasn’t literal, the way many people then (and now) seemed to want it to be.

    Before Nirvana, I was a big fan of The Who. But as much as I enjoyed the Who, it was still music of another time, not of my own experience. I could watch the the Woodstock movie and see the Who play “Tommy.” But that was history class. Nirvana was current events.

    When I talk about Cobain “speaking to me,” that’s part of what I mean. It was the first time I felt a real, immediate connection to a musical/cultural moment that wasn’t out of my parents’ record collection.

    Also, for the record, I make no claims that this was somehow unique or different than any other pop-culture moment. But since we’re waxing nostalgic about grunge today, I thought I’d describe what it meant for me at the time. That’s all. Your mileage may vary.

    Reading the posts about the grunge look made me remember something pretty funny: Does anyone recall a New York Times article written at the time about the Seattle “scene”? I seem to remember that the reporter interviewed some Seattle hipsters who fed the reporter a whole bunch of nonsense words, telling the him/her that it was current grunge slang, and the Times printed it, as gospel, that this was the language of the kids.

    Ah, those were the days …

  23. Oh yeah, I forgot to reply to the kid who said he hasn’t heard any good music since Nirvana. To him I say DUDE! what about the mouse? Modest Mouse has been ripping it up aaaages, and their new album comes out tomorrow (April 6th) All freedom loving Americans (and Canadians and Frenchmen) should love it! I expect Julian to post something about it so we can all talk about it.

  24. Alas, there had been nothing as good as Nirvana since.

  25. I guess I never did get the concept of music as a transitory art, even as a kid. If listening to the Who is history, what about those who still enjoy Elvis or the Beatles? Not all of those sport grey hair, or even have driver’s licenses.

    The first LP I bought with my own money was Aja by Steely Dan – Not exactly the taste of my high school peers at the time. I followed that up with “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet and “Chicago Transit Authority.” I wasn’t necessarily looking for either history or what was current, I was looking for stuff that appealed to me, and cut through cliche’s and trends.

    I’ll say it again – what’s good stands the test of time. If it’s good only in terms of present trends, chances are it is musically lacking.

  26. Re the murder theory.
    On the page you link to ” shotgun bullet “.
    Errr. Shotguns have bullets now ?
    That sort of error tends to debase whatever else is said.

  27. “Alas, there had been nothing as good as Nirvana since.”

    Speak for yourself. Personally, I am glad that the pretentious, whiny bastard offed himself. And who can blame him? If I had to wake up next to Courtney Love every morning, that shotgun would start looking more and more attractive, too.

  28. I think Floyd the Barber is on to something – you had to be the right age to appriciate Nirvana and to have it mean something. For me, and at that age (~14), I liked the astetic. You couldn’t really be hair metal without the money, makeup, drugs, and chicks; but you could be grunge (and instant cool) with about five bucks in thrift clothing and a one hour guitar lesson to learn F-B#-A#-D# power chords.

    But FRB is right too, every generation has its own sea change in musical tastes. However, I just can’t accpet anyone thinking that nu-metal was anything particularly special. Perhaps today’s generation sees the rise of “the” bands (as in The Hives, The White Stripes, etc.) as special as well – something to destroy the Limp Bizkits of the world.

    FRB is also right about Pearl Jam. Do you suppose Jeff Ament still wears those goofy hats?

    Also, for the Modest Mouse fan – I picked up an advance copy of the album and it is stunning. I wouldn’t be surprised if it spawned a few radio hits this time around (indeed “Float On” is already being played). Maybe the “Seattle Scene” will make a comeback?

  29. 3 posts in the late-hours, Matt? Was it a late night or an early morning?

    P.S. I personally didn’t find 1991 Courtney Love that bad.

  30. I take it back – I wish the pretentious, whiny bastard had not offed himself. Then I would not have to listen to the pontification on this thread about the “importance” of fucking Kurt Cobain.

  31. Was it an Unplugged episode that aired the day or so before the news broke that he died? It was scary. I had never seen Nirvana before (wasn’t really into rock at the time), and the first thing I said when I saw Cobain on the stage was, “someone better take care of that guy; he’s going to go home and kill himself.” Scary. Scary.

  32. Tim,

    Shotguns use shot or individual slugs, depending on the quarry. In Cobain’s case it hardly matters.

  33. DISCO STILL SUCKS!!!

  34. I always liked this quote from someone who knows a bit about writing a killer song:

    I never respected Kurt Cobain enough to write something about him. I was never a big Nirvana fan. To me, it had too much plod in it. It didn’t swing, and it had that allegiance to metal that I never cared for. It comes from the drumming, the whole stop-and-start thing and turn on the loud button for the chorus. God, wasn’t that tedius when every fucking band did that to death? We had too much humor to go out like that; he didn’t seem to have much humor.

    – Paul Westerberg

  35. This world to him Was but a tragic play. She came, saw, dislik’d, And passed away.

  36. Never “got” Nirvana.
    Hard to believe rich American teens and “GenX”ers
    could be so unhappy.
    And choruses that sound like a chainsaw competition?
    No thanks.

  37. In this particular interview, I did like his reference to his and Nirvana’s work as “pop music.” Whether this was false modesty or not is up for debate, of course, and I, too, hate the whiney, “misunderstood musician” pose that so many of his genre clung to. But I do think is that it is industry moguls and fans, not necesseraily the musicians, that hype a certain song, body of work, band or trend beyond its actual lasting value. I can understand Cobain’s wish to downplay his own and his music’s importance, whether he was being serious or just falsely modest.

    With the Stones, for example, you never got the feeling that Jagger and Co. ever took themselves too freaking seriously. Part of that band’s longevity is that they just never stop having fun. You never got the feeling Cobain enjoyed or respected life, his own work, or his fans that much.

  38. God, wasn’t that tedius when every fucking band did that to death?

    Yes, it was. And still is, since a great number of bands are still copying it. But I don’t think you can blame that on Nirvana. It’s not Cobain’s fault the band’s sound was imitated so widely.

    We had too much humor to go out like that; he didn’t seem to have much humor.

    There is quite a lot of humor in Nirvana. There was quite a lot of humor in Cobain’s writing and he could be quite funny in interviews. The idea that Nirvana was this bitter, humorless entity is just nonsense, the kind of thing you hear from TV new reporters and bitter hair-metal bands. It suggests to me that Westerberg never really listened to the Nirvana very much.

    Nobody is obliged to like Nirvana, but the oft-presented cartoon image of the band isn’t an accurate representation — just as the popular image of The Replacements as a bunch of drunken buffoons isn’t an accurate representation of Mr. Westerberg’s songwriting talents.

  39. Death as a career move. Hey, it worked for Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, and Presley. Why wouldn’t it work for Cobain?

  40. Death as a career move. Hey, it worked for Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, and Presley. Why wouldn’t it work for Cobain?

  41. Death as a career move. Hey, it worked for Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, and Presley. Why wouldn’t it work for Cobain?

  42. Death as a career move. Hey, it worked for Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, and Presley. Why wouldn’t it work for Cobain?

  43. Death as a career move. Hey, it worked for Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, and Presley. Why wouldn’t it work for Cobain?

  44. As as has been said before – if you were a certain age and in a certain place at the time it probably had an impact on you. I was one of those angst-ridden, misunderstood types too and as a kid I had never really connected with the late-eighties pop music my peers enjoyed. And not having a good college radio station in earshot, I wasn’t really aware of punk or indie rock. That’s the thing about being a kid, your world is really limited to your surroundings.

    Being a band-geek, I listened to a lot of Jazz -Charlie Parker, Mingus, Colrane and such. I also dug through my parents 60s and 70s era classic rock records. But as Floyd the Barber said, that stuff was good but it was history, it didn’t feel as alive. When I saw the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video on MTV for the first time it immediately caught my attention – it just spoke to me and I couldn’t believe something like that was popular enough to be on the network synonomous with Michael Jackson and Madonna. If you don’t remember the video – it was a high school pep rally with Nirvanna playing in a gym. Something about the angst and anger of the sound and the band’s shabby, thrift-store look along with the bored teenagers in the audience contrasting with the bubbly cheerleaders – it was just a perfect representation of the whole cynical Gen X thing – and back then I didn’t know that “thing” had a category – I just knew the song sounded the way I felt. Maybe you just had to be at the age where being forced to sit through a High School pep rally was more than a distant memory to get it.

    The so-called “Grunge” era was certainly one of a long chaing of pop trends over the decades, but if it has one distinction it’s that it represented one of the few times where a music scene that was previously seen as underground, “alternative”, non-commercial, etc., suddenly burst into the mainstream and briefly changed everything. Not unlike 70s Punk or early 80s Rap.

    And Nirvanna were big on talking about their influences and encouraging their fans to listen to other bands (such as the Meatpuppets, Mudhoney, Pixies, etc). It was because of that, that a lot of people in my age group discovered the wide world of music outside of the top 40. I doubt the generation that grew up on Britney and the Backstreet boys will have the same experience. But maybe all the White Stripes, Strokes, Hives, etc. are doing something like that for the kids today – introducing them to the Stooges, Velvet Underground, and such. But I still can’t help feeling like those groups are more of a throwback while “Grunge” was something new, or at least newish.

  45. Personally, I found more tinfoil biting irony in Cobain’s work than humor, at least I was never moved to chuckle out loud or even smile noticeably. But humor is as susceptible to personal taste as music is.

  46. Uh-uh, those Hit-and-Run gremlins are at it again. Too bad Kurt isn’t around to pen a witty lyric about the utter dispair of mulitple posting.

  47. In this particular interview, I did like his reference to his and Nirvana’s work as “pop music.” Whether this was false modesty or not is up for debate, of course, and I, too, hate the whiney, “misunderstood musician” pose that so many of his genre clung to.

    Keep in mind, this interview was done just around the release of “Nervermind” but before “Teen Spirit” broke big. So I don’t think the modesty, in this case, was particularly false.

    As the excellent Cobain bio “Heavier Than Heaven” makes clear, Cobian was well aware of the myth of the famous person who loathes fame, and the myth of the rock star who lives fast and dies young, and was not above playing to these stereotypes. In this respect I think he was very much like John Lennon, in that he loved being a pop entertainer and hated it at the same time. I think it’s wrong to suggest Cobain was totaly uninterested in fame or pop success, as some fans do, but I think it’s also wrong to suggest that his professed distates for pop success was somehow disingenious.

    With the Stones, for example, you never got the feeling that Jagger and Co. ever took themselves too freaking seriously.

    You haven’t listened to “Their Satanic Majesties Request” lately, have you? And wasn’t it the Stones who rushed to put out an anti-war song during the first Gulf War that was released the day the war ended?

  48. Floyd,

    I never said the Stones weren’t after the buck, they clearly are, which is one reason I respect them so much. When they do bombast, it’s clear at least to me they do it for the money. If you’re gonna sell out, sell to the highest bidder for as much as the traffic will bear. They don’t make to many bones about it.

    I see a lot more humor in a Mick Jagger appearing on Saturday Night Live opposite Mike Myer’s mugging impression of him , or his referring to Charlie Watts as a “magnificent bastard” on Letterman a few years ago, than I do in the “nobody understands me” pose of an essentially spoiled rotten American kid being ironic about being a spoiled rotten American kid.

  49. or like being a whiney ignorant dolt who can’t take it when he gets reamed in globalization arguments. friggin weenie.
    — frank

  50. A garage band
    From Seattle
    Well it sure beats
    Raising cattle
    (moo!)

    🙂

  51. Never “got” Nirvana. Hard to believe rich American teens and “GenX”ers could be so unhappy.

    You had to be there. You had to be the right age. You had to be part of it, I think, for it to make sense.

    I don’t think the music had much to do with being “unhappy” as it was a realist reaction to the artifice of hair metal and Milli Vanilli.

    I was in college then, and hearing “Teen Spirit” on the radio for the first time … it’s hard to describe how it felt. I wasn’t unaware of Nirvana, but like all the other music we listened to on college radio back then — Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, NiN, Jane’s Addiction, The Pixies — there was no sense that this music was *ever* going to be played on the radio or MTV. I mean, it just wasn’t a serious consideration in the era of Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul, Poison and Michael Bolton.

    And then, one day, it was like pop radio’s Berlin wall fell. Everything changed. It was surreal. It was exhilarating. And it felt like revolution.

    Part of the appeal of those bands, at least for me, was that they had all loudness of metal but without the stupid costumes and makeup and haircuts and “dude, like … dude” attitude. I mean, geez. In 1990 every guy with a guitar on MTV looked like a chick, and all the “metal” songs were cheesy tunes that girls and your parents could like. And the songs were just stupid. Warrant? Winger? Gimme a break. It was stale and boring. And as a teenager, it didn’t speak to me at all. Watching it crash and burn was liberating.

    Like the summer of love or the seventies punk scene, it didn’t last very long. It took about year for it all became cheesy and overexposed and kind of silly and, before long, as bad as the thing it had replaced. Such is the fate of most revolutions. But wow. It sure was fun while it lasted.

    Excuse me while I go hunt for my old flannel shirt.

  52. I have some of the same feelings about Prince, although I happened to be a little more directly involved in the “Minneapolis sound” phenominon, and heard a lot of the musicians spawned from it at the First Avenue club and Paisley Park. Once Purple Rain came out, it was pretty much all over, and a sequel to it was just The Artist trying to milk his image far past the place where it was really meaningful even to his fans. He’s a helluva guitar player, and occasionally a decent songwriter, and quite an accomplished producer, but there are still some die-hards of my generation that still worship the image more than the talent.

    As to Cobain, he did do some interesting things musically, particularly using modes other than straight major and minor. “Teen Sprit” is a good example. Other bands like Metallica, whom I’m not particularly interested in either, use techniques like that to good advantage, and I do appreciate any attempt to bust out of pop music cliche’s, particularly when it WORKS, and encourages others to do the same.

  53. Kurt Cobain was not rich or spoiled. He was raised by a single mother in a depressed logging town.

    I guess class warfare is ok among conservatives, as long as “rich” doesn’t actually mean “having a lot of money.”

  54. John,
    You forgot Biggie and Tupac. I personally loved Nirvana. Yes, their sound is relatively common now, but that’s not Kurt’s fault. The music was great and pretty well written. Maybe they have a special place in my heart because I was in my angsty phase then, but I still like popping in Nevermind or In Utero every once in a while. I bet if Kurt were still around and found out he’s to blame for Emo, he’d off himself again. 🙂

  55. I just knew the song sounded the way I felt.

    Yes. That’s exactly how it was for me. That sums it up perfectly.

    I couldn’t believe something like that was popular enough to be on the network synonomous with Michael Jackson and Madonna

    It was like a slap in the face. I remember sitting there, watching the entire video, just totally dumbfounded. Even now I can’t quite explain it, but it just felt … electric.

    And then, almost overnight it seemed, the whole landscape of MTV changed. It was like waking up one morning and finding that every house in your neighborhood had been repainted and all the streets had been renamed.

    When “Nevermind” knocked Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” out of the number one slot, it was attributed, in part, to kids taking the Michael Jackson CDs they got for Christmas back to the store and exchanging them for Nirvana CDs. It may be apocryphal, but it’s a great story nonetheless.

  56. In an interview, Kurt Cobain describes “Teen Spirit” as his attempt to write a Pixies song. But why should having cultural antecendent count as a black mark against an artist?

  57. “Alas, there had been nothing as good as Nirvana since.”

    Not true. If you are into something with a little bite TOOL is still fairly current. Also, their latest incarnation as A Perfect Circle is fun. Heroin fueled melancholy.

  58. joe – It’s not about class warfare, it’s about pretense. I can’t remember if it was Chuck Berry or L’il Richard who said “I quit whinin’ about being poor when I got my first gold record.”

  59. Floyd the Barber,

    I had exactly the same reaction to the grunge revolution (I’m also a big fan of early Stone Temple Pilots). Nirvana was a breath of fresh air after the musical wasteland of the ’80s: hair metal, “R&B,” and shitty “new wave” keyboard pop.

    Just the opposite happened in 2000, when the top 10 was taken over by Shitney Spears, N’Stync, and the Backseat Blowjob Boys.

  60. So was he whining about being poor, or about being rich? Not that is matters – your original complaint (whine?) was that we was whining at all.

  61. joe – “But why should having cultural antecendent count as a black mark against an artist?” It doesn’t. Nothing new under the sun, especially in music. Doubly especially in POP music of any subgenre.

    Personally, I’m more optimistic about pop tastes now than I was fifteen or twenty years ago. There’s more back pressure against the record companies to let a Nora Jones or a Ben Folds sneak through in between the SlipKnots and the Britneys. A lot more good singing lately than I’ve heard in years.

  62. When they do bombast, it’s clear at least to me they do it for the money.

    I don’t disagree with you. I’m just saying there was a time when the Stones took themselves *very* seriously. They weren’t always a cabaret act.

  63. Cobain was clearly mentally ill.

    Maybe his “nobody understands me” pose wasn’t a pose, it was a manifestation of his illness.

    No matter what you think of him, Nirvana knocked Micheal Jackson out of the number 1 pop song position. That’s good enough for me.

  64. Jeff,

    Fifteen years ago was 1989. “Pretty Hate Machine,” “Ritual de los Habitual,” “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste,” “Bleach,” “Goo,” “Bossa Nova,” “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” and “Repeater.” What’s important is not that the major labels are 1 degree broader, but that there are indies 180 degrees away from what the majors are doing.

    In 1984, though, I was still listening to my parents’ Jim Croche albums on gigantic 70s headphones.

  65. matt –

    although Maynard sings for both bands, Tool and APC are two completely separate entities; neither produce heroin-fueled anything.

  66. Tim Worstall,

    You don’t sound like a Monty Python fan correcting mis-remembered “Knights of Nee” dialogue. At all. So stop worrying.

  67. joe – Agreed about the indie market, but there is also a certain amount of cache’ to being “indie” these days that often goes farther than the actual quality of the music.

    As a long-time high school/middle school band teacher ( I did that for 13 years, until my ears turned to jelly.), I survived more pre-teen and teenaged angst, kids from poverty, broken homes, addicted parents than most people are ever exposed to. I also survived their musical tastes and trends.

    I learned two things; Peoples’ tastes in music are personal, hardly ever rational, and tend to be heavily influenced by peers, particularly during the teen years – herd beasts that they tend to be at that point. Also, that everybody’s experience is likewise unique and personal.

    Bottom line is, I don’t really care one way or another about Cobain’s childhood any more than I care about Mozart’s. I just care about the product. When I hear Mozart, I am transported above even WANTING to hear about his personal triumph or tragedy, much as I feel when I hear Steely Dan, Reuban Blades and Seis de Solar, Santana, Ladysmith Black Mombaso or Kate Bush.

    Whereas when I hear Nirvana, I just want to go into a warm tub and quietly slit my wrists. There is a place for sadness, irony and even bitterness in music. There are a lot of ballads that make me tear up, and if Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” doesn’t make you weep, you’ve got about as much soul as Frank the Flamethrower.

    But, I would submit there is nothing to idolize or admire in the type of despair that would drive someone to suicide, if that is what it was, and I still think the evidence is lacking for any other conclusion. To the extent that that moodiness, mental illness, or whatever it was permeated Cobain’s music, which was apparently so influential to kids at the time, I don’t think that’s a particularly good thing.

    Had a student of mine eat a shotgun at home once, roughly during the height of Cobain’s fame. He was pretty much a “poor me” grunge type, too. Pretty much wrecked his family, and we got nothing done at school for weeks thereafter. It is possible that experience has colored my opinion, but, oh, well.

  68. Jeff-

    “There’s more back pressure against the record companies to let a Nora Jones or a Ben Folds sneak through in between the SlipKnots and the Britneys”

    Perhaps the pressure is from the multitude of small labels that have sprung up in the last ten years. However, what the large record companies chose to release is mostly irrelevant. CD production has become so cheap that even the smallest bands can afford their own label. Indi bands have become so popular small music stores seemingly compete to see who can carry the most esoteric labels. Labels like Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph are almost giants with a couple dozen titles.

    Chris-

    APC and TOOL are remarkably similar. TOOL’s lyrics are full of thinly veiled references to heroin addiction. APC just canceled a number of tour dates due to “illness”. Code for too strung out, need to spend some time in rehab.

  69. Jeff-

    Sorry, a day late. It takes a while to compose and post.

  70. Jeff-

    Sorry, a day late. It takes a while to compose and post.

  71. Jeff,

    So sorry to hear about your student. But as a former woe is me grunge type, I can tell you that such music has prevented a lot more suicides than it has caused, by making people like us aware that we are not alone in the world, that our personal hells are not unique, and that they can be transcended to make something beautiful.

    The music is not an inspiration for the shotgun, but an alternative to it. When you’ve got that inside, you have to do SOMETHING with it.

  72. On the other hand, I had a lot of students I used to enjoy kidding about their musical tastes as much as they loved giving me hell about mine. I remember a wonderful argument once about the song “Glycerine” by Bush – the band, not the president. I told my bass player the lead singer sounded like Elmer Fudd on downers. Kid laughed his ass off and said “Yeah, that’s what I LIKE about it.”

    On the whole, the music teacher thing was worth it. 😉

  73. Re: the ‘seriousness’ of Nirvana

    Didn’t Cobain confirm that one of Nirvana’s main influences was the Pixies? I find it hard to believe they didn’t have SOME since of humor with that as a staring point. And I do recall the drummer continuing on to produce some not-so-serious music.

  74. A.D. S. – So point us out something you think is funny. If it is, I’ll be happy to laugh. I just haven’t run across it yet, apparently.

  75. Congratulation Floyd the Barber, you just summed up generational (or sub-generational) sea-change in pop-culture since the phrase “pop-culture” was invented. Yes, Grunge slammed the door on tired glam metal, but it was metal that slammed the door on tired new-wave (which had slammed the door on tired punk, which had slammed the door on art-rock / folk-rock, which had slammed….). And you’ll be glad to know that there are kids about 5 years younger than you who cheered the day Nu-Metal kicked grunge squarely in the balls. (and here’s an activity for a lazy monday afternoon: go googling for a picture of Pearl Jam circa 1992 and try not to laugh your ass off… who the f**k ever thought flannel, shorts and worker boots looked good. The parachute pants of the early 90s)

  76. Congratulation Floyd the Barber, you just summed up generational (or sub-generational) sea-change in pop-culture since the phrase “pop-culture” was invented. Yes, Grunge slammed the door on tired glam metal, but it was metal that slammed the door on tired new-wave (which had slammed the door on tired punk, which had slammed the door on art-rock / folk-rock, which had slammed….). And you’ll be glad to know that there are kids about 5 years younger than you who cheered the day Nu-Metal kicked grunge squarely in the balls. (and here’s an activity for a lazy monday afternoon: go googling for a picture of Pearl Jam circa 1992 and try not to laugh your ass off… who the f**k ever thought flannel, shorts and worker boots looked good. The parachute pants of the early 90s)

  77. FRB – GREAT point. I used to try to convince students to wait on their conclusions, that what’s GOOD would stand the test of time, and what’s crap ultimately wouldn’t. But folks that age don’t even live in the present, they live in the next twenty seconds – always looking for the next big thing, not realizing its probably a version of the next big thing from thirty years ago.

    I am living proof at 42 that advancing age may not, in fact, bring wisdom, but it does tend to bring a certain amount of perspective.

  78. John,
    I’m sure people see your point. But if the band is a good, does it matter? I’m sure anyone would be happy to be making millions. Does that mean they wouldn’t have a crapload more material to whine about?
    I think Counting Crows is the best example of the whiny-style overstaying its welcome. Even when making millions, the guy whined. He admits as much, I think.
    On the opposite end is, say, Jimmy’s Chicken Shack. They had some big hits with their first angry album. Then they grew up a little, and made some money. The record company wanted more angst, but they couldn’t help but put some goofy happiness into their songs.

    Good lord, do I feel dated.

  79. I was at a U2 concert a couple of years ago and at the end of the show, the band said something that really struck me, “thanks for coming, thanks for giving us a great life”. For me that sums up why I can’t stand people like Kurt Cobain. There are people out there who really have problems and things to be depressed over. No millionaire pop star is one of them (although I might want to off myself too if I was married to Cortney Love). Sitting around whinning about how hard things are for you, does not give you depth. I don’t care that sometimes mediocre musicians get millions for lousy music, I just wish they wouldn’t whine so much about it.

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