Given the extensive discussion related to the Sound City story in numerous other locations, I’ll admit I haven’t really focused on it too much — I’d hate to be a repetitious presence even for just ten minutes of your day. But…Well, to clear it out of the way…
Even the Daily Telegraph, a respected British broadsheet newspaper of a mildly and moderately right-wing bent, is getting in on the ersatz-Cobain act suggesting Kim Gordon, Courtney Love, Neil Young, Daniel Johnston and Black Francis/Frank Black. Over on LiveNirvana discussion centred on the NME tabloid-styled reporting of PJ Harvey as the key candidate and I admit to accidentally touching sensitive nerves with a suggestion that they may as well tease fans and see what an Eddie Vedder or Axl Rose rendition sounded like — I admit it, that was baiting trouble.
Ultimately, however, I think the core issue is that whoever Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear chose to play with, there’d be challenges; the importance of that trio is centred around the death of a particular individual who has attained Godhead status making any cooperation between them both noteworthy and fraught — the only reason anyone is bothered is because it’s Nirvana and by extension, it’s Kurt Cobain, otherwise who would notice? Similarly, playing the songs, songs the individuals concerned acknowledge were primarily the product of their absent friend’s creativity, has a certain weight. It makes it too easy to provoke howls by employing an individual who somehow doesn’t possess the air of authenticity or achievement that is required when looking for a simulacrum to stand in place of the original.
On the other hand, simply looking for a karaoke performer, someone capable of a functional rendition; that would seem shameful, a reductionist approach not in keeping with the ‘spirit of Nirvana’. But does anyone genuinely want to hear something more than a repeat? Imagine a situation similar to the Peter Hook/Joy Division scenario where the band continually resurrect, revise and repeat the dead past with tweaks and new voices — it can end up unpalatable despite all the avid consideration of who might lend a voice to the project.
The back history slams right into the knowledge everyone has that three friends collaborating shouldn’t be much of a worry, there’s no reason for it to matter beyond the “aw, that’s nice” aspect of talented individuals getting together and playing music again. That uncomfortable collision — “it matters but it doesn’t matter” — is what makes it such a newsworthy subject. In my opinion it ends up tied to the Freud-originated concept of The Uncanny, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny) The performance of Kurt Cobain’s music, by his original band draws attention to his absence meaning the live performance is simultaneously a reminder of death, of disappearance; the greater the similarity of the performer to the original, the more attention is focused on how it isn’t the same, how it might look and sound right but there’s a hole right through it that the human mind can’t avoid circling. Plucking the voice, the image, the words from their original context —irrevocably tied, in popular media imagery, to violent death, debilitating drug addiction and despair; a web firmly woven around Nirvana — can’t help but cause disquiet no matter how well selected the chosen individual who plays mouthpiece and mannequin for the renewed act.
This isn’t a criticism of anyone’s intentions, I feel it’s intrinsic to the topic. In my view, the three individuals at the core of things have been working extremely hard to navigate the waters without causing offence. What I’ve noted is that the band refuse to place the name Nirvana on top of anything they’ve done in relation to Sound City while looking at PJ Harvey as a replacement means they’ve considered people who would meet a range of criteria; Kurt Cobain’s potential approval, indie-stardom and achievement, and arguably taking things in a different enough direction that making a direct comparison is exceedingly difficult. The only issue is that handling the music of Nirvana with such caution and care reinforces the message that this is the equivalent of touching fragmentary remains of the true cross; relics requiring ritual, appropriate priestly interpreters, a coterie of worshippers circling the chosen altar. By being so decent about things it makes it even harder to simply play the songs.
Ultimately, for the next ten years, at least until the survivors of Nirvana are in their sixties and hopefully far too occupied to stage a return, these reunion tales will reoccur over and again. Get used to it; we’re going to be rereading and rehashing the same ol’ “who could take the place of Kurt Cobain” games a good few times to come. Save the articles somewhere and enjoy seeing how egregiously the newspapers rip off their own past coverage to quickly and effortlessly fill column inches. As for the Sound City tribute album…Whatever, it’s a tribute album melding a blur of old school hard rock musicians and modern mainstream rock musicians together; like all hard rock, it’s enjoyable but is it anything I’d want on the shelf? Not really.
And the core item, Grohl, Novoselic, Smear and McCartney’s recording Cut Me Some Slack? You’ll make up your own mind, I’ve no intention of my opinion taking any priority over yours — music is personal. In my opinion it’s echoes of U2’s Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me melded to The Beatles’ Helter Skelter — fine references in the hard rock canon but bugger all to do with Nirvana and the corpse of alternative rock. Maybe with critical distance we’ll look back and it’ll be further evidence of the aging of Dave Grohl from hardcore punk (Scream), to alternative rock (Nirvana), to FM-friendly rock (Foo Fighters) to, essentially, M.O.R. smooth sounds of the Seventies. Some heroes get old enough to fade away on a lulling wave of applause and friendly acclaim; the river reducing boulders to soft pebbles.
Having said that…It’s still kinda fun…