Scooby Doo Versus Kurt Cobain

I’m personally conflicted by this news given my love of Scooby Doo is clearly now in conflict with my love of Nirvana and the works of Kurt Cobain. It’s typical of Kurt Cobain, however.

There’s a scene at the beginning of the film Blue Velvet (1986) in which the camera pans over an artificially pristine and drippingly gorgeous suburban scene before panning down into the grass, closer, closer, until eventually its buried in the dirt and scuttering bugs — a visual metaphor illustrating the film’s overall desire to show how much goes on behind the friendly stability and contented exteriors of both people and places. This is what I feel Cobain does a lot.

In his earlier story songs and his short sketches of character and place — primarily represented on Bleach and Incesticide — one element he dwells on is the discomfort dwelling beneath ordinary surfaces. He does this in two ways; either by warping comforting images by bonding them to uncomfortable elements, or by describing inner feeling buried. While his teenage doodles do contain a lot of simple gross-out imagery, something like the Mr. Moustache cartoon takes it a step further by wedging the simple desire of a parent to feel/hear the movements of their baby, to the emotional and violent vitriol of their wishes for what the child will be/not be, then the physical outcome of an internal forced ‘caesarean’ for want of a better word.

Floyd the Barber is the most famous example of this aesthetic, the most overt and vicious, but the duality is pulled repeatedly; Mrs Butterworth’s vision of advancement is undermined by “that piss stained mattress I’ve been sleeping on”;Montage of Heck welds cutesy samples to vomiting sounds and gushes of feedback or shredded metal; Swap Meet’s subsistence art-life goes hand in hand with frustrations held “close to the heart”; Scoff voices its accuser’s thoughts while denying them then undercuts the self-righteousness with the demand for alcohol; Sifting and Mr. Moustache undercut any positive vibes repeatedly; Sliver’s domesticity is spoilt by the narrator’s near hysterical distress; Sappy finds happiness in slavery…Most similarly to the film vision, Spank Thru surveys love, lights in the trees, happy birds…Then breaks into an ode to masturbation. Divergence between realities abound in these early songs of discontent.

Polly pulls the same stunt with a subtlety belying its relatively early writing (circa 1987.) The narrator’s attentiveness and soft-spoken calm is blown apart by the gradual hints that the object of his gaze is bound and abused. The change in Cobain’s writing style makes it one of the last clear-cut cases of this desire to undermine and show the lies in the ordinary and every-day. Aneurysm is the other with its merging of love song/rock n’ roll cliché to drugs and violence.

In terms of why there should be such an interest in things not being as they seem, there are several origins that could be theorised. For a start, Cobain’s own personality was one in which evading confrontation seems to have been a major element; the descriptions of him as a quiet and withdrawn presence suggest a defensiveness, a desire to figure out the environment before committing anything to it — there were far more thoughts, far more annoyances and aggravations that he let loose in music, in his journals, to other people. Secondly, and this may be related to the first point, the instability of Cobain’s own home-life, the fact that from age nine he went through numerous houses and, by his late teens, three spells of semi-homelessness, meant that the idea that a home might be a stable place, one of sanctuary, simply never occurred for him. Home was a place where he was welcomed in but in the background had to wonder if he was staying whether because the tension became too high for him or for those looking after him. Third, and finally, the fact that his relationship with the two people crucial to a child forming a feeling of trust in the world — his parents — had fractured, understandably damaged his ability to think of the world without seeing something ugly under the surface.

So, in the end, a juvenile doodling of Scooby Doo and Shaggy, nothing more than that — but a wrecking of a childhood image and a standard activity for Cobain expressed for years to come.


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