A neat piece from the New York Times, I enjoyed this very much…Right up to the conclusion. The author basically posits the usual either/or approach to a topic. This isn’t uncommon, there seems to be a discomfort with the idea that something can be more than one thing at once — people prefer a simplistic “it is THIS” answer, a single definition, one unified truth or experience. The conclusion seems to be that parsing and dissecting something ruins the fun of it, that it distances the listener from the music being discussed, that it destroys the mystery and removes the visceral pleasure of musical sensation.
My objection would be that the direction of music for a long time has been toward the purely physical, the voiding of active intelligence in favour of lizard-mind flashy sound. I see few supporters among mainstream musicians or mainstream music commentators who aren’t happy to treat all music as ‘dumb fun’ and leave it sitting there on the plate to be devoured like fast food, filling an immediate hole rather than any deeper nutrition.
…And that’s fine. But, as you might be able to tell from the nature of the content on this blog, I believe, as a life philosophy, that most things are more than one element all at once. Nirvana wrote bloody-knuckled, pummelling music that hits so good…They also wrote music that lends itself to deeper consideration and understanding. I enjoy it on both levels and rather than considering the application of intellect to a subject a way of annihilating its magic, it usually leads to silver linings I didn’t know existed.
Especially in a world where, to an ever greater degree, it seems we’re only meant to use our minds in service of our paid employment, I find it nice to use my mind for the purpose of pleasure, selfish enjoyment, whimsical diversion and journeys into the sounds I love. The mind and body are friends studying a picture from different perspectives, not strangers unable and unwilling to communicate. If I wanted to live the world, to engage with it, only on the physical level I’d be a dog not a man. It seems sad to be encouraged, to an ever greater degree, to refuse to engage our lives with the full power of our minds except if paid to do so.
Shifting focus though, the content of the article is great and highly applicable to Nirvana given the work thrown in to taking the lyrics apart across the years. In my case I’ll admit also to falling completely for the belief that the chorus of You Know You’re Right was “pain” rather than “hey.” Either way I like it; my original hearing seeming more revealing of what I expected of Kurt Cobain circa 1994, while the latter ties into the apparent boredom and self-parody present in so much of what he did with his final years — taking the stereotype of Nirvana to the nth degree.