William S. Burroughs: Kurt’s Perfect Literary Idol Part. 1

I’m instituting a week of more controversial topics I think…For argument’s sake.

Kurt Cobain’s musical career featured the work of, in essence, a nineteen to twenty-seven year old man. Yet, in a music industry that tends toward romance and excessive libido, these elements were almost absence from Kurt’s lyrics. On the other hand, there are multiple references to emasculation, numerous adoptions of the female role within a song, heck, there are more songs about rape than about consensual sex.

Kurt was not gay, there’s no evidence of that at all, but he did have a genuine challenge around gender identity. His father made clear to Kurt how disappointing his lack of interest in traditional signifiers of heterosexual masculinity was; a feeling of shame Kurt displayed in his songs years later. Being made to feel that he wasn’t a whole man seems a crucial factor in the emasculatory images used. Essentially his father’s staunchly ‘jock’ view of what being a man was left Kurt adrift once he rejected his father. The problem was that his father’s view of the world left Kurt with few alternatives; effeminacy or acceptance of homosexuality. The reinforcement given to this by school bullying, being labeled a “faggot”, led him to wear the identity just to be left alone.

The conflict is surprisingly undimmed years later in The Advocate interview; “I’m definitely gay in spirit, and I probably could be bisexual…I probably would have carried on with a bisexual life-style” he says. It’s a ludicrous but revealing quotation; Kurt Cobain was never bisexual, there’s evidence of a few girlfriends, of his heterosexual dalliances and experiments plus his head-over-heels passion for Courtney Love. There’s no evidence of a genuinely homosexual attraction to other men. By a bisexual lifestyle it’s unclear what he’s referring to bar his spells between girlfriends when he just seems to have been asexual and solitary. What it shows his how Kurt was unable to see that his creative, artistic, solitary tendencies were perfectly masculine — he’s still centred on the idea that as he wasn’t macho he therefore must be not fully heterosexual. He equates his lifestyle with non-heterosexuality by default not because it was bi-or-homosexual.

The song Laminated Effect from the Fecal Matter demo is a horrible indication of this conflict. The first verse shows the protagonist, Johnny, being raped by his father and as a consequence living an unhappy life that ends with him dying of AIDS in San Francisco. So, just to be clear, the only destiny for a male homosexual character was misery and death. The second verse meanwhile has a lesbian character being ‘cured’ as she finds out male-on-female vaginal penetration “it’s normal.” It’s not a nice song and on first reading could be taken as a simple, nasty, piece of teenage homophobia. As with most of Kurt’s lyrics, however, it’s far more about himself than any commentary on society or social groupings as a whole. It’s a song about the destruction set in motion by a father figure destroying the son and about life only being sustainable if tied to the female. It’s not a homophobic song, it’s not Kurt revealing an underlying hypocrisy in his later pro-homosexual leanings, it’s Kurt showing that he feels he’s doomed because his dad has robbed him of his manliness making him into something (“made not born” as the song’s outro claims) that can only mean a sad, unhealthy life and an undesirable end.

It’s the same conflict echoed in songs like Floyd the Barber, Been a Son, Stain, Even in his Youth, Beeswax, On a Plain (“neutered and spayed”), Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, the first demo of Rape Me…

Part Two Later Today.


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