Tuesday, April 08, 2014

About a boy: Kurt Cobain remembered

in memoriam

On the 8th of April 1994, exactly 20 years ago to the day, news broke that a body had been found at 171 Lake Washington Blvd East Seattle, discovered by an electrician who had stopped by to install parts of a new security system. The house, it turned out, belonged to Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, and the body, as fate would have it, was his.

Pronounced dead on the scene, Kurt had seemingly taken his own life by pumping himself full of heroin and then shooting himself in the head. In the pre-Internet era where the by-the-minute actions of celebrities weren’t broadcast to the universe in real time, it took a while for the world to get a clearer picture of what had gone down, and even then the strange circumstances and unanswerable questions left much room for conjecture and rumours, which in turn fuelled the many conspiracy theories that have since been doing the rounds and sometimes even end up becoming the focal point of Kurt-related discussions.

The last chapter of his life dangers clouding and overshadowing his contributions to and influence on music, but his final act is a horrific full stop that shouldn’t be anything more than a footnote in Kurt’s legacy. Sure it’s a glaring, abrupt ending that colours our perception of the tortured artist and everything he produced, but it was Kurt Cobain’s ability to touch lives, popularize a genre, influence an entire generation of musicians, and just make brilliant music that should be what he’s remembered for.

Drawn towards music as a child and also blessed with a natural talent for both visual arts and writing, Kurt developed an anti-authoritarian mindset early on. The product of a broken family and scarred by his parents’ divorce, Kurt’s feelings of abandonment and not fitting in would end up fuelling his music and making him a lyricist whose (often ambiguous) words would resonate with similarly disaffected youths. The fact that he wasn’t the most technically perfect guitarist or a note-perfect singer never came in the way of his ability to exude raw emotions. His singing and playing were a reflection of his pain and anger, which is what drew (and continues to draw) millions of adolescents around the globe to Nirvana’s music.

Even those who weren’t fans of his music respected him for the fact that he didn’t bow to the mainstream but inspired the mainstream to morph and make room for him. He may have been uneasy with his own fame after the more polished grunge of Nevermind (1991) took over the world, but his popularity served as a catalyst to bring the Seattle music scene to the forefront.

Music meant a lot to him, and his passion showed in the work he produced. Perhaps what made Kurt such a passionate musician was the fact that he was also a passionate music fan. From Lead Belly and The Pixies to Gang of Four, Mudhoney, The Raincoats, the Meat Puppets and, of course, The Vaselines, the bands and musicians that he loved (and that he meticulously listed as his favourites in his diaries, some of which were later made public after his death) were an important element in his life. And his diverse range of influences not only came together to shape Nirvana’s sound but also introduced many of us to an eclectic group of musicians that might have otherwise been overlooked.

One of the most famous members of the 27 Club, Kurt Cobain would have turned 47 this February if he were still alive. But even though he’s been gone for two decades, both the man and his music still remain relevant. His artistry, creativity, energy, dichotomy, deadpan wit, sincerity, and emotional resonance is what makes him one of the most interesting and influential musician of recent times, and why, 20 years later, he continues to connect with and inspire listeners around the world.

*****

Kurt Cobain’s global resonance

Nirvana’s appeal was global and their music made an impact not just in the country they hailed from but all over the world. So we asked some of our own musicians about what made Kurt Cobain special and their recollections of Nirvana’s heyday. Here are their responses:

Junaid Khan: Nirvana’s music had that raw energy and those punching melodies which the youth needed at that time. I remember ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was an anthem and was played on every rock festival here in Pakistan even. Though most of the artists in the West these days are fabricated and created and given an image, Cobain was real. The music wasn’t created in big studios; it was created and recorded in a simple garage. But unfortunately the masses realized Nirvana’s true potential after Cobain’s death.

Haroon Rashid: Kurt Cobain was a rebel. He was anti-establishment. He actually single-handedly introduced a whole new genre to the world. Songs like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ were filled with energy and the guitar riff in the song is magical. At 27, he died young, forever becoming etched in time as an icon among the great American stars who died young like Elvis Presley, James Dean, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, etcetera.
Although I always appreciated Nirvana’s work but personally I was never a big fan. I didn't like that whole grunge movement at all. I did like his song ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’; it had a great guitar riff. He was a heroin user. I believe the drug sapped him of his talent. His follow up album was not well received by critics. I believe personal problems and dealing with his addiction played a role in his suicide. That should be an example to the young to stay away from drugs. I was sad to see him die so young because he obviously was incredibly talented.

Farhad Humayun (Overload): Nirvana came at a time when digital technology was taking over and music was becoming too perfect and mechanical. The band let out their raw and unapologetic energy. Lyrics were ambiguous but honest. I think Kurt Cobain is to alternative music what Andy Warhol is to pop art. They both redefined boundaries by showcasing no boundaries. Technical skill in playing was not the point being reinforced by Nirvana or Kurt Cobain. It was his brutal honesty that audiences picked up on. I played many Nirvana songs while growing up when I used to play in the underground scene. They weren’t my favorite band but I remember it being fun to play.

Moby Noor (former Corduroy frontman): Kurt Cobain wrote painfully honest songs, dissonance dressed up pretty. Every teenager can relate to that. You get drawn in to the anger, you stick around for the tunes. Few people wrote better tunes than Kurt Cobain, fewer still sang them with his conviction. That puts him in the pantheon of songwriting greatness. People don't soon forget greatness, and that's why he lives on 20 years later in the hearts and iPods of disenfranchised youth everywhere.

- Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 8th April, 2014 * *

1 comment:

Carlos Strey said...

These kinds of stories are really instructive in how trauma affects children in all the various manner and ways, both positive and negative. It also reminds us of how heavy a divorce situation can be, and the kind of aftershocks and ramifications it entails, especially in a society that basically expects a certain domestic structure. Not finding oneself in such a structure can be alienating already. This is why we should really exhaust as much effort as we can to help people, both newly-singled parents and their offsprings to understand this kind of set-up they are now in, and to walk through it together and with courage and strength.

The Bridge Across