Kurt Cobain and Nirvana used their fame to fight sexism, racism and homophobia. They berated audience members who would grope girls in concert; they kissed live on one of America’s biggest TV shows; they gave performances in support of these causes; he gave an exclusive interview to The Advocate magazine and was delighted by Pansy Division’s affectionate cover Smells Like Queer Spirit. This was a band determined to tell people that no one has the right to invade another’s right to privacy or to use fear and intimidation to impose one’s will upon them.
Which is why the news of a break-in at the home of Frances Bean Cobain is so disturbing:
It’s a horrendous incident; the invasion of one’s home, of one’s place of safety is deeply traumatic for anyone. The added elements, the potential murder plot plus the link to a father one last seen when not even aged two, makes it worse.
Yet one thing that is clear, no one who had absorbed the music of Nirvana and had any respect for the band’s social/political opinions would believe they had the right to commit such an act. This man was sick, psychologically disturbed, dangerous…But not a Nirvana fan. The definition of a fan is (variously) “a devotee”, “a supporter”, “an admirer” — for someone to claim an identification with Kurt Cobain or Nirvana and then to act so much against the spirit of the individuals concerned refuses him entry to the community of fans.
As a wider question, there’s always an unsettling relationship between bands and their audiences. The (excellent) Nirvana Live Guide website records numerous incidents during the 1993 In Utero tour of Nirvana stopping shows to prevent male audience members groping unwilling girls in the crowd. Nirvana were certainly sensitive to this issue, look at the liner notes from Incesticide in which Kurt Cobain demands that anyone homophobic, sexist or racist “leave us the fuck alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.”
But a band doesn’t get to dictate who likes its music. An audience does get to declare a band’s behavior beyond the pale via its power to give or withhold support. It’s also good that fans don’t slavishly follow the often dim-witted and thoughtless behavior of artists. Maybe the answer is to separate being a fan of a band or an individual from being a fan of their music? Declaring oneself a fan of Nirvana’s music means one likes the music. Declaring oneself a fan of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana means one shares many of their views and identifies with their positions. If one wants to be a true fan of Nirvana, not just a consumer of their catchy tunes, then there must be actions to back it up. Words are not enough.
As a final comment on the incident at Frances Bean Cobain’s home I’ll turn to an old Calvin n’ Hobbes cartoon: “a man’s home is his castle, it shouldn’t have to be a fortress.” The same goes for the home of any woman.