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Herald Flashback...

No Apologies: Remembering Kurt Cobain

1 April 2004 - Well, folks. It's been 10 years since Kurt Cobain ended his own life. For some reason, even before I started publishing the Herald, when I was just putting out a photocopied ‘zine, I wanted to have an “Ode to Kurt" feature where various people would write about what the grunge rocker meant to them.

Now that a Best-of-Nirvana CD is hitting stores, this is as good a time as any. So here goes: It's deadline time, so I'm too busy (and lazy) to look up exact dates for what record was released when, etc. But you know what? Who cares. This is all about people's memories (even incorrect ones) of the early ‘90's and what Kurt meant to them. Here are some memories from me:

John Lennon
Kurt Cobain

It was the fall of 1991 and I had just turned 26 a couple of months earlier. I had been in California for 6 years now, and was feeling a bit of malaise. In a way it was worse than the malaise I felt as a teenager back in New York. At least then, in 1981, I had a feeling that it was just temporary, that I was just serving time, that things were going to be great once I graduated high school and got to leave the confines of my Long Island town and see the world. Shangri-la, the 72 virgins, the whole 9 yards. Maybe I would move somewhere far away and try something new. You think that when you graduate high school and the world starts to treat you like an adult, it will be great. And then it happens and it is.

But as those wonderful college years (in my case nearly seven) came to a close, so did many other things. Like your feeling of supreme confidence. Confidence? Hell, make that invincibility. Maybe you never had it, but I was arrogant enough to, and man, what a great feeling it was. Here I was in ‘91: a college graduate (okay, it was a bullshit degree in Art, but it was from San Jose State; a good school for art, and hey it was still a 4 year degree) who had traveled around Europe upon graduation, worked many interesting jobs, interned in the Hollywood casting office that did the work for “Seinfeld", and was a self-sufficient (though broke) adult. So why was it that I had such little confidence compared to when I was 20 and had just moved to the Bay Area and thought I was hot shit even though I did nothing but attend the community college in San Mateo and drove around in a gas-guzzling 1977 Camaro?

The malaise I felt in ‘81 was due to not being able to get to the party fast enough. The malaise I felt 10 years later was of being hung over and knowing that the party was over, and that there will never be another party like it. That all those hopes and dreams I had in high school and college were unrealistic and weren't going to come true. That those friends I had, who I thought would always be there for me, were now my enemies. That life was a LOT more complicated than I thought it was. That I couldn't trust anybody.

Pretty grim thoughts, eh? Well, regardless of them, they didn't drive me to end it all like Kurt did. I can't speak for Nirvana's front man, but it really boils down to how you start examining it (or re-examining it):

The party's over? At least I went and had a great time. My dreams were unrealistic and weren't going to come true? Well, if that's the case I shouldn't waste my time with them and instead come up with more realistic ones that may come true. That a lot of friends turned out to be duds? Then it's a good thing I found out in my 20's instead of my 40's and didn't count on them for anything. Besides, I've got good memories of when they were cool and nothing would piss them off more than them knowing I'm deriving enjoyment from them. Also, a lot of people I thought were merely acquaintances turned out to be good friends, so it works both ways. That life is a LOT more complicated than I thought it was? Good. It keeps things interesting. That I couldn't trust anybody? That just makes me more self-sufficient.

I may come across like Tony Robbins now, but during that Malaise II period, Kurt and Nirvana wrote songs about angst, alienation, and depression that really hit home for me (plus it had a great beat and you could dance to it). Live 105 pollutes the airwaves with noisy, soul-less, god awful post-grunge shit now, but ten years ago it was like a rebirth of listening to the “Modern Rock" of my adolescence. Sure -- Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and Green Day may not have been as good as The Clash, The Police, or U2 -- but they were pretty darn good.

Hey, they were good enough.

Gene Mahoney
Editor and Publisher
San Francisco Herald

The Grunge Movement

The biggest change in my life, resulting from the grunge movement is that I stopped wearing plaid shirts. In high school I loved the plaid shirt. It helped me survive. I wore one almost every day.

Before I discovered the joys of the plaid shirt I suffered. School was boring and I would get an erection during every single one of my classes, usually toward the end of the period, right before the bell.

I limped between classes. A binder, near my zipper, helped me hide myself. Around my junior year I found that if I tied a long sleeve shirt around my waist, the sleeves would sort of cover my bulge. When it got cold I could untie my shirt and wear it and that would hide me too.

Sometime in the late 80's or 90's or something, grunge got popular. Everyone started wearing plaid over shirts. They were being sold in expensive catalogs for expensive prices. Suddenly a wave of fashion overtook me, and I looked like I was trying to be trendy.

Sometime later, the lead singer, for the musical leader of the grunge movement, killed himself. His wife, now a widow, got popular with her own CD.
Now, on the anniversary of a suicide, the media celebrates the repackaging of a marketing campaign that forced me to stop wearing plaid. Every time I hear grunge music I think about my erections.

Shannon Wheeler

I think when I heard Kurt Cobain had committed suicide, I was really stunned for a second and then asked someone, "Who's Kurt Cobain?" I had a lot bigger reaction to John Lennon. Still getting over that one. That and Bobby Kennedy.

Mick LaSalle
SF Chronicle film critic

When Kurt Cobain died my music had already been influenced by his complete freedom of expression. I was in LA. I remember how sad it was because it felt like he'd only just started a new phase of music, and he had our attention. I thank him for being willing to break down the over produced power chord rock and pave a way for more free thinking song writers. I watched his vision of music overtake the “formula 80s glam band posers", of which I was definitely one!

Mary Cary
Former Singer for
Electric Peach


I'm glad he did it. When Nirvana was at their peak, I was attending school at the University of Maryland's European Campus. I knew of them and had heard their music, and I thought they were okay, but that was about it. I was sick of people talking about the whole "new" grunge thing, as I had been listening to Neil Young and Crazy Horse religiously for years by then. I even threw away all my flannel shirts because so many idiots were wearing them now because it was the "grunge" thing to do. But I admired Nirvana and the music that came out of Seattle. One of my favorite albums is Mirror Ball with Neil Young and Pearl Jam. I listen to the lyrics now and realize how "correct" he was, how he nailed society for what it is. What I didn't like is how the music was being labled "grunge" or "independent". It was rock, that's all.

I had a chance to go see them at Munich's Flughafen Concert Hall, the old airport which had been converted into a concert hall (how cool is that) with my friends, but I declined. The next day I found out they got to go backstage and hang out with the band. Fuck. Oh well. As I write this now in early 2004, a full 12 years after that summer, I am actually a bigger Nirvana fan now as I was then. Now that I understand more about Cobain and his thinking, I respect him more, too. He actually had the brains and balls to do what most of us should have done long ago. He jumped off at the peak, knowing the best was behind him, and refused to become just another rock band participating in corporate sponsored tours, just filling their coffers while adding nothing new to their legend (Hint: Rolling Stones, The Who, dozens of other know who you are...please, stop. I beg of you, just...stop.)

James Dylan
A Brief Reflection on Kurt Cobain...

I once had the chance to talk with one of the major figures of the Sixties, one of the main characters profiled in Tom Wolfe's ‘Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.' This fellow had been intimately associated with psychedelia, rock ‘n roll, and the Counterculture. We happened to talk about rock music and began to discuss Kurt Cobain. This famed Sixties fellow sneered at Cobain, calling him “insipid" and “an idiot." I told him how strongly I disagreed, at which point he commented that Cobain's music was “garbage." What I found most interesting, though, was that the guy didn't have the slightest idea why Cobain had succeeded. This Sixties figure had his money and his house and his Generation X children, but he had no awareness of single-parent homes, mass divorce, children of alcoholics, stabbings in schools, shootings in school, all the things that his Sixties generation had wrought. For me, one glance at Cobain, one listen to him speaking to a reporter, and I felt a kinship. I knew he'd been through the same grief as the rest of us. He was pissed-off. That anger is what scared the hell out of the Sixties fellow.

Steven Capozzola
Herald columnist

What Grunge Didn't Mean To Me

Just coincidently, during the onset of grunge and the prevalence of Seattle-based bands such as Nirvana, Mudhoney and Alice in Chains, I was living in Manchester, England.

Now Manchester and the grunge mecca have one major similarity ……RAIN.

Foul weather that forces one to stay indoors, green and gray. However, sometimes through this internment a great creativity can be born, as it was in Seattle in the early 90's manifesting itself as grunge music. I should have easily identified with the renaissance of this rock style, as anti-pop, anti-fashion, and anti-commercialism were a welcome relief after the 80's scenes. I should have identified with the Kurt Cobain, only a few months older than me, vocalizing the torment of displaced generation X. At the time I even had a musician boyfriend and he too was releasing his frustrations and emotional anguish through his guitar, just like Kurt. Don't get me wrong, I had respect for grunge as a musical style, “Smells Like Teen Spirit" became my Sunday morning wake up music! But unlike others around me, I couldn't make it a life style. Maybe it was all those flannel shirts, ripped denim or layers of cheap black t-shirts turned gray. Maybe it was that I liked to wash my hair. Maybe my heart was still in the 80's with New Order and Cabaret Voltaire, who knows! However, grunge music certainly did unite a generation. Having been there and amongst the scene I can say one thing for sure. The myth that grunge musicians and followers alike didn't care about anything or anybody was ironically dispelled by the fact that they did care. They cared about music.

Sandy Dunn
Ubiquitous Aussie

I remember seeing that trippy video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit" and thinking it was kind of cool. Wondered if Kurt had ever used a comb. Then Weird Al Yankovic did that hilarious parody - that ruled!

I had just moved to New York from LA and was busy putting together my pre-Lilith Fair type band, LIFE ON MARS, that lost any chance in hell to get heard once NIRVANA and the grunge era took over. No one cared about female fronted bands/solo artists after that. Seattle and flannel, that was the deal, baby...

Kimberlye Gold
Herald columnist/ songwriter

I first heard Nirvana in New York at my friend Julie's apartment and the music totally suited the mood of my experience in NYC at that time. I think the year was 1992 and “Teen Spirit" just came out. Julie always had the newest hip music. Her sister Janet and I were in a band together in college and now Janet drums for a hip riot girl-ish band in Portland. My current band Cleve-Land rips off chord for chord the chorus for “Rape me" in one of our songs. We'll never be hip or famous but that suits me just fine.

Karen Roze
Owner/Tattoo artist
Sacred Rose Tattoo

You can use these brief thoughts if you wish, but I don't really have much to say about grunge. I like a few of Nirvana's songs, but to me they were never more than another “hard" punk-influenced guitar band among more similar-sounding bands than I could shake a stick at. Torn, scuffed jeans and flannel shirts were around and popular before there ever was a phenomenon dubbed “grunge." What was the big deal? John Lennon was before my time, but he was a musical pioneer and thoughtful visionary ahead of his time. Cobain simply reflected a lot of the confusion, angst, misery and unfocused rage of his time and is remembered chiefly for selling a lot of records and committing suicide. Groups popular in the eighties like Dead or Alive, the Pet Shop Boys, and Book of Love were never given the same “cultural phenomenon" status that music reviewers lavished on Nirvana and grunge, but they sang intelligible lyrics, knew how to balance the guitar with other instruments, and were much better to dance to. “Weird Al" Yankovic and Tori Amos did more interesting versions of “Smells Like Teen Spirit" than Nirvana themselves.

Famous libertarian

I do think he was responsible for starting a whole new genre of music, which is quite an achievement, whether you're a fan of it or not. But I don't care what kind of contribution he made - violently offing yourself when you have a kid who will be scarred forever by your fucked up legacy negates the whole deal.
It was a chicken shit, cruel, selfish thing to do.

Kimberlye Gold
Herald columnist


It was 1994 and I remember it as if it was eight years ago.I had spent the previous ten years sitting behind a drawing board hacking out my comic strip, so I was itching for some action. Plus, I always had this Rocknroll Dream thing in the back of my mind. This John Lennon-wannabe fantasy that I wanted to play out. Plus, I still had most of my hair back then, so the sky was the limit.

But I was 37-years-old and time was running out. So I hooked up with these two young kids who had recording equipment and musical know-how, Alex and Gannon. They were both about 20 and they kind of embodied the "perspiration/ inspiration" aspect of geniushood.

Gannon was kind of the grunt; he had long, well-shampooed hair, parted on the side and flung over his forehead -- he looked just like the lead singer from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Black guys on the street of 50th and Telegraph (where he lived) would stop him and say "Ain't you that Red Hot Chili Peppers dude?"

Gannon also had the Rock Star Dream, and being a practical sort, he bought an 8-track reel-to-reel tape recorder and a bunch of other equipment and set up a home recording studio in his apartment. He took recording classes at a local college, and he laboriously laid down sort of generic heavy metal tracks on his equipment.

It was kind of funny seeing this raucous, wild, "out-of-control" heavy metal rock being meticulously created, step by step, laying down drum machines, and then power chords, and then vocals, and then effects, and etc. Gannon's trip was sort of: Rock Star as Career Move. And he was methodically laying it down, step-by-step, on his way to the top (wherever that was).

Alex was the other side of the coin; with the quicksilver inspiration that people associate with genius. He LOOKED a lot like Kurt Cobain; straw blonde hair parted in the middle, rock star skinny, with apple cheeks and torn blue jeans. The classic Cool Kid From High School look that makes up the classic image of most rock stars.

He even shared some of Kurt Cobain’s self-loathing; nothing Alex ever did was "good enough." He had these impossibly high standards, and he might come up with 20 good ideas, but he'd abandon most of them before they got out of the germination stage because he was embarrassed that he hadn't produced a work of genius yet.

And then there was me: I had my John Lennon wannabe fantasy from way back when. Problem was I looked more like a cartoonist than a rock star, plus I had no musical talent (which was the least of my drawbacks considering what they were playing on the radio) so I was hedging my bets by latching on to these two kids who had rock star looks as well as musical talent.

What I had was media connections; having built up a modicum of so-called fame through my cartooning career. And I knew everybody, and everybody knew me, in the limited world of punk rock that had spawned Kurt Cobain (the Big Thing of 1994) to superstardom. I had interviewed Johnny Rotten, Jello Biafra and Henry Rollins. I knew all the record labels and rock magazine publishers. I had been described as "incendiary" in no less than CREEM magazine. So I was ready to rock, dude. I knew Larry Livermore at Lookout Records -- he had published my comics in Lookout Magazine, so I figured if I could get something good on tape he'd put it out on Lookout Records.

Livermore had just scored big with Green Day, which sprang out of the same milieu as Nirvana (and me), so it wasn't just like a pipe-dream, I was, at that point, just one small step removed from the so-called big-time. I remember talking with Chris Appelcore -- the acting head of Lookout Records -- on the phone right as Green Day was preparing to appear on "Saturday Night Live" to promote their number one record -- and Applecore gave me good advice on where to get my CD pressed and where to get the cover art printed.

Plus, the Grateful Dead were hitting the peak of their popularity, inexplicably (and what a long strange trip it had been) with their brand of psychedelic music which I liked, as well as the power pop punk of Nirvana and Green Day, which I also liked. So it seemed to be all coming together for me at the moment. If I could get something good on tape, all the other pieces were in place to really take off.

I had been publishing the Telegraph Avenue Street Calendar at the time, which was a local hit here in Berkeley, selling about 2,000 copies a year and getting featured on the CBS News with Dan Rather and the front pages of the local papers. So I hit on the idea of recording a compilation CD of local street musicians, using the same format as the Street Calendar, publishing a photo magazine of the street-freak musicians along with a CD of their music -- you could see them and read about them, and also HEAR them. I felt my own music wasn't strong enough to go over, so I was hedging my bets.

Little did I know how many other people shared The Rock Star Dream, and every wannabe was now auditioning for me and harassing me and seeing me as the Last Desperate Hope for their cherished dreams. Crackheads from East Oakland that wanted to live out their Sly Stone dreams. Suburban junkies that wanted to live out their Keith Richards dreams. And me, gobbling down LSD by the handful as part of the Rock Star Accessory Kit that would turn me into a John Lennon type genius of my dreams.

Which brings us back to Alex the cute blonde boy Kurt Cobain wannabe with his dreams who was the recording whiz behind the controls of this whole mad enterprise. These Rock Stars, they really were Role Models for so many of us. I mean, we aspired to Be Them, or something. There was something fundamental about the whole deal, something very basic, where so many of our most basic premises of what we Wanted To Be, what we Wanted to Do With Our Lives, what we considered a Successful Life, what we were Striving Towards, seemed to stem from these Rock Stars. Or at least what we thought they were.

Anyway, it was April, and I had managed to scrounge up a $5,000 grant to fund this whole mad enterprise. So I set up a big recording session in this boarded -up old bank on Shattuck. I gathered together all the recording equipment, and Alex and Gannon -- the two recording geniuses -- and all the street freak musicians who wanted their Moment in the Spotlight, and me, with my beat-up old guitar and supply of LSD, together in this building to record our great and future masterpiece of a CD.

Hell, at that point I had never even BOUGHT a CD, let alone a CD player, and now I'm going to RECORD a CD. But I was Captain Trips Revisited, and if you take enough drugs, ANYTHING can make a certain sense.

And don't forget: I was a mere one step removed from Superstardom. I remember when those punk fucks in Green Day were just high school kids happy to get a gig at Gilman and play before 30 people. Now they were appearing live in front of the Whole World on Saturday Night Live. So anything was possible.

Anyway, the night before the first big recording session, April 1994, I'm listening to the radio and hear the news that Kurt Cobain -- our role model, our guiding light, the Successful Rock Star, the man we were aspiring to be -- had blown his fucking brains out.

The next day, I walk into the recording session that I had spent months setting up. Our big dream. There’s cute blonde boy Alex, with his torn blue jeans, who looks just like Kurt Cobain, 20 years old. Kurt Cobain is our Barometer of Success. He's who we're aspiring to be. Now he, Kurt Cobain, is lying on a slab in some mortuary with half his brain blown out.
I look at Alex, cute blonde boy, Kurt Cobain wannabe, and he looks at me, 37- year- old acidhead wannabe, and it was a moment that, as they say, gave me pause. Cobain Himself had described his work, bitterly, as "nothing but recycled Lennon." And now we were in the process of recycling Cobain recycling Lennon.

Anyway, I guess we all have a tendency to chase after false gods. We all have those moments where we realize we were duped, that we'd been suckered, swindled, by some con-man, or maybe just betrayed by our own greed, weakness, vanity, ego, and/or foolishness. But let’s just say The Great Rocknroll Dream didn't look particularly great at that moment.

Ace Backwords

Ok, I was really hoping that the first story printed by Mr. Mahoney, written by me, here in the Herald regarding any suicide/murder of an infamous musician, would be remembering GG Allin, maybe that one will come later on... but for now he has asked what my opinion was of the death of Kurt Cobain and how this personally affected me. This probably due to my age (mid 30's), which makes sense, but as far as his musical career goes; I never really followed it and never found much interest in the man himself. Aside from a few habits of his I had compassion for, like his addictive need and struggle for self-medication, my musical preferences are inclined to the early 70's glam rock and old school punk. So nothing anyone like Kurt “dead men don't pull triggers" Cobain did, interested me.

No one could compare to the Stooges, ever. That is how I felt on a musical level. But on a more personal level, I had to empathize with him. At one point or another floating around the music scene here in SF way back when, I believe to had come in contact with Courtney Love herself and had no idea at the time she would rise above the predestined gutters of junkie-dom and make such a profound impact on the music-conspiracy scene, let alone have her own remarkable career. I have really had enough, though, of the injustice of accusations of her having anything to do with her husband's (and let's not forget the father of her child) murder theories.

So aside from the Hole Lotta Love mail I've read and others, I really wish she would be left alone. I didn't think much of the suicide the day it was announced on the news and through friends, the only thing that went through my head at the time was, “Finally that poor boy is out of his misery." I have had too many junkie friends die the slow death and he made his quick and less painful... rather than a typical junkie's endless, agony-filled demise. I thought, Well he made his choice; he had the courage to make a choice. Most of my junkie friends didn't make a choice… you don't when you O.D. But still he was a genius, something the music world was devoid of, say in the 1990's.

It's strange though, the only reason I remember his suicide was because I was working in the porn industry at the time and just a few months after Kurt had presumably done himself in, Savannah (the top Porn queen at the time), had done the same. The two stories were inevitably juxtaposed. She was at the height of her career, as was Kurt.

Supposedly she was the “new", yet irreplaceable, Tracy Lords. It was apparent in her despondent and shaky videos that she was both a heroin and cocaine addict, making it far less sensual than the movie producers had hoped. She couldn't articulate anymore and was completely catatonic, (like that mattered in porn), but it was obvious the pain she was in and the severity of her addictions. In interviews, she didn't seem to deny this. Kurt, on the other hand, went back and forth changing his story, especially once in rehab, which is completely understandable… he wanted out!

I remember reading about how Savannah had, soon after making a fairly decent amount of films, shot herself in the head. She had done so many drugs the night of her suicide. She got in a car accident, somehow drove herself home, and upon arriving, cried to the ‘blitzed hair band members' she was staying with at the time to help her, and how she was ‘scarred for life and her career was over.' She was no longer marketable. Yet they did nothing to help her. I even heard they laughed at her whining, and told her to drive herself to the E.R. with bloody face and concussion (these may be rumors, though). She was too high to consider going for help and took the only remedy she could think of…suicide; a gun shot to the head.

There was shock and horror in the porn world when news came that she was dead. My lord, these Porn execs must have been terrified that their number one moneymaker was dead. The money! The lost revenue from this commodity! Everyone in the business was hysterical. Not for her really, but for the business. How would they ever find yet another Tracy Lords again? This wasn't going to be easy. Think of the plastic surgery costs. How would they find another? I think it was the same for poor Kurt. How would they find a new leader with the same disposition, for the X, Y and Z generations growing in record herd numbers? He knew he was becoming what he hated -- a media puppet -- though he put up more of a fight. I wondered was this a trend; were celebrities finally waking up to the reality of their reluctant, deniable stardom? Was every entertainer joining the NRA? What if Kurt and Savannah had hooked up? What would that have been like? She was quoted as saying, “I love sex and I love sex with rockers more than anything else." It could have happened. Duels at high noon.

Of all the outrageous stories I have heard for reasons to pardon their addiction, never have I heard of someone doing heroin for ‘stomach' problems. That seemed a ridiculous excuse... yet I understand because technically, it's harder to get aid with a Federally Controlled Substance than it is street drugs like black tar junk. I can think of all the times in my life I have walked down the streets here growing up in SF, literally having heroin forced upon me, sometimes up to five offers for me to buy on a single block -- and I wasn't even looking to buy. But if you need pain medication for a simple injury you find yourself sitting for hours, say a good 12 to 14, in an emergency room for a bottle of pain pills that might last for a week, at the longest.

And this is after a nice long grueling interrogation of you, your personal habits and then finally... medical history. The guilt and shame some doctors will place upon a person without knowing the legitimacy of your complaint was unbearable when leaving the E.R. This makes no sense to me, yet does back up the excuse of Kurt's as to why he started heroin. My heart goes out to him. After hearing about a difficult time in a friends life that left them in need of serious medication, with no one to count on for support, sadly these pills that eased their pain became their only friends, the only thing they could truly rely on. I remember hearing Kurt had kept bottles of his pain relievers in a shoebox and talked to them. Said they were his friends. “Welcome home, I missed you, I love you, old friend," he was reported to say as he kissed the bottles.

At one point, after finding myself in the same situation as my friend, I found myself bonding with the medication too. I was relieved to find I wasn't alone in that. It was common practice to keep the bottles that accumulated throughout time hidden, in a box as well, afraid of the ‘need' being discovered. This shame doesn't belong to you, yet it's there… society and the government placed the stigma a century ago. So all I can say is, I felt for him, I understood why he did it, if in fact it was suicide. There are a few websites that might interest those who may be reading this... one for those who find the Kurt incident humorous: The definitive vocal abnormalities of Nirvana by J. Kocian and S. Virone (http://ksproul.index.html), which points out the many groans and grunts found underlying in Kurt's music that might bring about laughter and sympathy for the man's pain. And for those who take Kurt's life and story more seriously, there's the website Heroin Times by the Telesis Foundation.



The day Kurt died, I thought I would have killed myself too...if I had been with Courtney Love!
Of course, you can't blame Courtney alone. She was simply the flame that lured the moth into the fire. Kurt got exactly what he thought he wanted: a bitchy-strong femme who could torment him and make him beg for validation. His obvious need for a “just like Mom used to make" love affair (read: “Mommy issues") gave him the drama anyone seeking such dependency/dysfunction would crave. Just look at his pre-Courtney ex-grrlfriend, Tracey Marander. His loyalty to her feminine “causes" got him twisted up tighter than panties stuck inside the washing machine. Then she dumped him. Ouch.

To feel about their life as though it wouldn't be right if it weren't so wrong. Woe!

Craig Clifford

A Reflection on the Success of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana...

I remember when “Smells Like Teen Spirit" debuted as a ‘Buzz Bin' clip on MTV. I thought, “Good song…too bad these guys'll never get anywhere." The music industry just seemed so hopeless at the time, so oriented toward trivial pop acts like Poison and Warrant. No way was a real band gonna cut through the process and actually hit the Big-time. And yet, thankfully, Nirvana did it. For a brief moment, it seemed like the corrupt regime was being overthrown. It didn't last long.

I don't think Nirvana could burst through now. The industry has changed drastically, in ways that prevent struggling artists from getting exposure. MTV rarely shows music videos anymore. The videos it does play are of prefabricated boy-band and girl-band acts. Same with radio. Because a few corporations, like ClearChannel, have bought all the promotion, booking, and marketing arms, they can dictate the content and style of what receives publicity, promotion, distribution, and airplay.

The industry learned well from Kurt Cobain. They won't take a chance on independent artists anymore. Much better to go the safe route. Sell product that has a proven track record. Assemble an accessible, harmless package for cost X and sell it for price Y. Look at Britney Spears, N'Sync, Christina Aguilera. Every aspect of their wardrobe, song selection, promotion, and performance is dictated by a well-funded machine. That machine wants malleable young product with no experience and no ideas. It thrives on artists who can't think for themselves, that will do as told in order to realize full investment potential. Doesn't leave much room for music. But music comes in fourth behind explicit videos, posters, and T-shirts.

Kurt Cobain represented a brief Fuck You to this machine that actually made it through. Hopefully it'll happen again.

Steven Capozzola
Herald columnist

All contents © 2008 by Gene Mahoney