It’s been 20 years since Nirvana’s Nevermind album and its breakthrough single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” were released. The scrawny corpse of Kurt Cobain, the Man Who Refused to Be Marketed, is being repackaged and remarketed, with Nevermind now reissued in multiple commemorative editions of escalating cost and pointlessness.
As with everything Cobain-related, the predictable slop-puddle of fawning encomiums and immature ejaculations have squirted forth from the bespectacled, beta-male rock critics that Kurt, in his quest to forever change the music industry, neglected to slay. For two decades running, she-men who look like this have tossed the most absurdly hyperbolic verbal hosannas at the incurably self-pitying junkie as if he actually had redeeming personal qualities. Michael Calderone (pictured in the far left of that lineup), without a trace of irony, once wrote that “Kurt Cobain’s suicide was our generation’s Kennedy assassination.” Gil Kaufman (second from left) equated Cobain’s suicide with “the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle explosions, the riots following the Rodney King verdict, [and] the September 11, 2001 terror attacks….”
In language usually reserved for the likes of Jesus Christ and Gandhi, we are reassured of Cobain’s “significance,” his “importance,” his “idealism and truth and…honor,” and how Nevermind “spoke to a generation” and “changed the world.” Oh—and unlike Axl Rose, who until Cobain’s advent was the world’s biggest rock star, Kurt “didn’t bait blacks and gays.” (Axl Rose hated blacks so much, he only allowed half a black dude in his band.)
It’s not as if Cobain didn’t leave a huge mark—Nirvana has sold over 50 million albums, and in 2006 Cobain temporarily eclipsed Elvis Presley for the coveted crown of being the world’s highest-earning dead celebrity. What’s debatable is whether his effect on pop culture is worth celebrating.
Seemingly within hours of Nevermind’s release, all the poodle-haired, spandex-constricted 1980s glam bands were jobless. The hairspray and shampoo industries suffered tremendous losses, offset by the instantaneous resurrection of the flannel-shirt and thrift-store sectors. Whereas rock songs had focused on hot chicks with large breasts, lyrical themes shifted to depressed twits with sunken chests. Unkempt junkies yarled and warbled and yowled about heroin, depression, and how they were depressed they couldn’t find more heroin. Somehow, this all gave “new life” to rock music.
Cobain, with his endless tut-tutting and pooh-poohing of “racism, sexism, and homophobia,” was the John the Baptist of Emasculated White Pop Icons. Forevermore, it would be only testosterone-addled, tattoo-spackled, buffed-out, Glock-toting black hip-hop stars—or the occasional white guy from Detroit wearing cultural blackface—who were tasked with peddling racism, sexism, and homophobia through pop music.
What influenced this towheaded product of misty Aberdeen, WA, to become so influential? It appears that the most formative experience of Cobain’s youth was his parents’ divorce when he was nine. His broken family broke his spirit, allegedly causing the budding bard of bummed-out lyrics to scrawl on his bedroom wall:
I hate mom
I hate Dad
Dad hates Mom
Mom hates Dad
It simply makes you want to be so sad.
In 1993, Cobain told an interviewer, “I desperately wanted to have the classic, you know, typical family. Mother, father. I wanted that security, so I resented my parents for quite a few years because of that.”
Such situations typically present two options: You can spend your life trying to heal the wounds, or you can keep wounding yourself and pretend that it’s pretty.
Undersized and whiny, Cobain found himself a misfit during high school. He claimed his classmates repeatedly beat him up and called him a “faggot.” He said such experiences gave him a “real hatred for the average American macho male.” In retaliation, he’d spray-paint things such as HOMO SEX RULES and GOD IS GAY on vehicles and buildings in Aberdeen. Although he said he was biologically attracted to women, he would hang with gay friends and “pretend I was gay just to fuck with people.” After becoming a rock star, he would perform in dresses, kiss his bass player Krist Novoselic onstage, write lyrics that claimed “everyone is gay,” and utter inanities such as “I am not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes.” In diaries that were later released in book form, he said that all homophobes should endure forced vasectomies.
Much of his political indoctrination occurred after high school when he moved to Olympia, WA, breeding ground of a virulent strain of testicle-smashing pop-culture feminism known as the “riot grrrl” movement. Olympia was where Cobain, according to a biographer, “had found his true artistic muse,” allowing him to augment his anti-heterosexual militance with the cold twin prongs of anti-white and anti-male militance. It apparently slipped Kurt’s mind that through it all, he remained a heterosexual white male.
Kurt entwined his hairy armpits with those of the riot grrrls in hating men. He would write, “never met a wise man…if so it’s a woman.” Ironically, he eventually married and bred with Courtney Love, a woman whose very existence justifies misogyny.
Excerpts from his personal journals reveal someone who had not only found a safe haven from Aberdeen’s purportedly racist inbred jocks and was now able to live and let live—he called for his former tormentors’ extinction. He joyously indulged in the sort of totalitarian misfit revenge fantasies that stain so much of leftist psychology:
Yeah, all Isms feed off one another, but at the top of the food chain is still the white, corporate, macho, strong ox male. Not redeemable as far as I’m concerned….I am in absolute and total support of…full scale violently organized, terrorist-fueled revolution….It would be nice to see the gluttons become so commonly hunted down that eventually they will either submit to the opposite of their ways or be scared shitless to ever leave their homes….Arm yourself, find a representative of Gluttony or oppression and blow the motherfuckers head off….And the hairy, sweaty, macho, sexist dickheads will soon drown in a pool of razorblades and semen, stemmed from the uprising of their children.
It didn’t matter that this animal-rights activist collected animal porn and killed a cat while a teenager. It didn’t matter he postured himself as a feminist even though he’d molested a retarded girl, or, according to lifelong friend Dylan Carlson, privately continued referring to women as “bitches.”
It’s what he symbolized that was important. Cobain became a hero to a generation of kids who’d also felt picked-on in high school but, even far into adulthood, never seemed able to get past the trauma. He was an alienated innocent who helped hordes of alienated people feel like they fit in while still being alienated, yet all together at the same time as puzzle pieces in some ill-conceived mass movement.
Nor, in an upside-down milieu that glorified destruction and deconstruction, did it matter to them that he was a junkie. He had a lot of pain to deal with, so it was OK if he kept running and running and running from it. According to his apologists, he spent his adult life “battling drug addiction,” which is a gentle way of saying he “did lots and lots of drugs.”
Who causes more demonstrable human suffering—the average “racist,” “sexist,” and “homophobe” that Kurt Cobain sought to exterminate, or your typical scab-covered, money-scamming junkie lowlife? There are exceptions—some people can handle their heroin while others can’t handle their racism—but when it comes to systemic damage, I’d say junkies do more harm to themselves and those around them.
When Kurt Cobain died, his blood contained what an investigator described as “three times a lethal dose” of heroin, even for a seasoned user. When he left this world, he left behind a nineteen-month-old daughter. He left her with a woman that everyone I know who’s known her—and they are legion—describes as a malignant tumor in human form. Permanently damaged by a broken home, Kurt’s self-involved emotional pain overrode any concerns that he’d leave his own daughter in a broken home. And he left his hordes of delusional fans, maladjusted kids and emotionally arrested adults whom he’d helped to feel not quite so alone, feeling alone again.
In the song “Stay Away” on Nevermind, Cobain sang that he’d “rather be dead than cool.”
He got his wish.
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