HAVE WARHOL’S PREDICTIONS (DESIRES) COME TRUE? Is art now pop and is pop now art? Can either be considered real or worthy or authentic? It remains to be seen whether anyone can state categorically that Kurt Cobain’s death was an artistic statement, or whether it was merely the inevitable result of untreated and unaddressed bi-polar type mental disorders, depression-as-illness rather than an “artistic” state of mind. Heroin for Cobain was an escape, but it was as much from the physical pain in his gut (be it real or imagined) as it was an escape from the world around him (even if it was his revulsion at that same world which caused the pain) or the mental anguish that, what? Inspired his work? That informed his muse?
It’s better to burn out than fade away”, Cobain paraphrased from Neil Young, but did he really believe he was burning out his artistic well, was his mind working with enough fluency to fully believe the idea that those shotgun shells would somehow preserve his legacy’s artistic merit with the indelible blood of suffering and death? Was Cobain ill and in need of help when he pulled that trigger, did he just kill himself because he couldn’t face life, and was all the accompanying lofty artistic posturing merely a fragile facade of self-denial? Or did he grin, gun in mouth, at the irony, the power, and the immortality that his impending martyrdom would confer on both himself as a human being (artist?) and his musical legacy? Fuck this, fuck this, and fuck this one last time. But that last time never comes. Never. We keep on fucking it, over and over again, because our desire, our hunger for filth for death for pain for reality, realness, authenticity, our need to interpolate ourselves with this authenticity, with this group, with this pre-fabricated identity is so strong and so over-riding that it compels us to fuck it over and over again, to dig up new corpses, exhume new graves, all in the hope that we, we greedy, selfish fuckers, might find something that someone else bled for which makes us safe, which confirms our right to be alive, which lets us know we’re real. Fuck this, fuck this over again. You won’t find truth and beauty here.
This, my friend, this thing, with its Spinal Tap-esque “none-more-black” cover of portents and doom and gravitas (does Dave Grohl see the record in stores and feel a shiver of past pain or does he squirm with anger at what people have done to this thing that should be left in the past, or does he simply laugh his ass off?), this thing, this is the final commercialisation of pain and suffering. You’ve got to buy reality now. YOU’VE GOT TO PAY TO BE ALIVE NOW, FUCKERS! And even then we can’t guarantee that you’ll get exactly what you paid for.
I saw Fugazi a week ago, and they rocked hard. Ian Mackaye would intermittently stop the show and say something incredibly liberal and mature about the war on terrorism and how violence was never justified, and the crowd would cheer like Bush had ceased trying to impress his dad. Is this the legacy of Nirvana? Po-faced preaching and a lack of hooks?
You’ve already got this record, this exercise in grave robbery and myth and art and love and power and catharsis, these 14 songs of pain and revulsion. With one exception. This record hangs on one song, on three and a half minutes. It helps that ‘You Know You’re Right’ is great, that it carries on where In Utero left off. Krist pulls out another loping bassline, Dave keeps anarchic, thunderous time and Kurt growls “things have never been so swell / and I have never failed to fail“. Everything else that followed, wherever, whenever, whoever, was fucked from the start. ‘You Know You’re Right’ kills heretics.
This record is Nirvana the rock band, Nirvana the phenomenon. It is undeniable. The real anger is missing, there’s no ‘Teritorial Pissings’ or ‘Scentless Apprentice’ on here, merely the radio-friendly unit-shifters, the ones you danced to aged 12 at the school disco, unaware of the implications, the impact, the weight of this music. Consider, if you can, the ontological history behind this record. Try and get your head around the fact that someone actually died to get these songs to you. Because they did.
© Nick Southall, Stylus, 1 September 2003