Archive for the ‘People Near Nirvana’ Category

The best existing summary for the camp arguing Kurt Cobain was murdered is found at the well-meaning Justice for Kurt site. Take a look. While I respect the efforts of the site’s creators who have effectively synthesised what was an increasingly sprawling online presence for this side of things what still strikes me is the updates made since 2001 to the site are predominantly hearsay (“so and so says…”) or marketing for commercial product based on the murder theory. I think that’s a fair summary of what I think there is to show for near on twenty years investigation. The site is at least good for drawing together a lot of the primary source material available.

Anyways, returning to Who Killed Kurt Cobain, the introduction of Tom Grant doesn’t help much. While setting him up as the skilled and intrepid seeker of truth with the detective background they have to admit that this was a gentleman who failed to last longer than seven years in professional policing and where, while they state he was a rising star detective the biggest quote they can find is he was a “very good patrol deputy.” My second disquiet is the first appearance of Mr. Grant involves the very deliberate scenes in which he turns down work and states “…I’m not much of a businessman…That’s illegal. I don’t work like that. A lot of P.I.s will do it, but not me.” The authors’ intent in writing this scene is to create a character, one who is above pure commercial motivations and whose integrity is without question; yet, this is exactly the kind of staging that he accuses Love of doing to him. Either the authors or Grant himself have decided to set up a tableau for the reader in which he turns down work for reasons that serve the book’s plot.

The finest example of simultaneously creating the hero image and simultaneously not permitting truth to get in the way of the accusations comes on page 264-265 where they state “Grant has refused countless financial offers to tell his stories” — impossible to prove — then on the next page go with the very provable reality that Grant has charged money and accepted donations since 1997 but it’s OK because if he didn’t then “Courtney wins.” So, the statement on page 264 is palpably untrue given the overall and very definite flow of money to Grant. The fact the authors of this book have made money off the murder theory is also true but there’s no discussion of their own financial benefit from the tale nor of whether the reporting of Grant’s claims and material via them is bringing benefit to him whether directly or in publicity. Also, just to check here, he’s been accepting contributions for sixteen years now and yet when I look at Mr. Grant’s website ( the evidence hasn’t changed since this book came out — that’s a stunning track record for all that money and such a lonnnng investigation.

The mercurial Mr. Grant claims he has evidence linking Courtney to her husband’s death but “he is saving it until the case is reopened by the FBI”. Twenty years later we’re still waiting for actual proof but it’s OK, because, yet again, it’s Courtney Love’s fault for refusing “to allow the police and the medical examiner’s office to release”. It’s circular argument; I have evidence that Courtney is guilty but I can’t show you it and anyway it’s not evidence until I have evidence that Courtney won’t let me see. So, if you’ll permit me to summarise, it’s NOT smoking gun evidence. Maybe the FBI might reopen a case if there was evidence and maybe a former detective might know that and choose to involve the authorities if there was something there.

Simultaneously, the authors are fine forgiving the fact that Mr. Grant continued to work for a woman he claims he believed was a murderer for several years. Again, the blame and responsibility is placed on Courtney Love — everything in this book is turned around, I’m left doubting if anything in the world happens without Love’s Illuminati style control. Another volte-face is written in which Mr. Grant refuses to take more money for his investigations of Cobain’s death, signalling what an honourable man he is, but is happy to continue taking her money for other investigations. Forgive me for not seeing the difference nor why it suggests he was being paid off or manipulated. As ever, Grant is allowed to make his own claims at face-value and with no deeper interrogation — the authors’ feel no responsibility to investigate the material.

Both Grant and the authors then engage in an ever-increasing avalanche of carefully couched accusations against Courtney Love. It’s a book of endless suspicions, of “isn’t it strange that so-and-so didn’t do X/say X” or “isn’t it strange that they did X/said X” — it’d be delightful to have a scrap of evidence so they could quit the use of rhetorical questions. For the record, trying to suggest that every action or word should, in a screen-scripted world, be other than what it is in messy reality does not constitute evidence of anything at all. If the authors drew together what they are seeking to show are contradictions in the actions of Courtney Love and others into a stronger argument I’d be more impressed, instead, due to the weakness of each statement they leave them hanging in mid-air with no elaboration, often with a post-hoc admission that what they’ve just written doesn’t mean anything. Look for the number of phrasings like “it is interesting to note” and you’ll find mystical statement after statement, each positing an alternative reality and each providing no evidence at all — they’re not even the kinds of strong divergences that would form a fair suspicion. The book is a litany of claims of significance all spilled out over things that have none. The result is wonderful, it’s possible for both readers and authors to discard details at will and to remain so buried in minutiae that it’s possible to forget the overall argument and the wider lack of evidence; it’s a key reason why the murder theories are so persistent — if any item proves weak (and all of them are) then the acolyte can just move onto the next in an endless loop while claiming that the mere existence of so many unsupported or poorly supported ideas gives them a greater significance.

The cast of characters just gets better. The claims of alcoholic, drug user, known crazy and controversy/publicity seeker El Duce are unbelievable right up until “there was an eyewitness”; who? Oh, just El Duce’s friend who says he was at the scene too and who takes El Duce’s messages for him. The conflict of interest is clear and that’s without having to mention the cartoonish nature of the image; Courtney Love drives up in a limousine. But that’s OK because El Duce’s taken a lie detector test ignoring the massive controversy around the effectiveness or otherwise of polygraphs — I’ll let you look up the Wikipedia entry but basically we’re back in the land of TV-based reality where every crime has a technological solution, a basket-load of usable forensic evidence that all points irrefutably to an answer.

Courtney Love’s father Hank Harrison ends up filling me with a genuine sympathy for a woman I otherwise find very difficult to empathise with. His book on Kurt Cobain is available online, various excerpts did make it out. While I’m on the topic of releases about the murder of Kurt Cobain, feel free to check this one out too:

Mr. Harrison’s contributions are the best indicator of this book’s ultimate malice; he’s utterly untrustworthy, a man with a wondrous drug-addled aspect that makes the rest of the book’s contributors seem almost realistic. He is openly vindictive toward his daughter and constantly seems to be baiting her while making sure to retain the moral high-ground by claiming care and concern even as he damns her word after word. He certainly never takes any responsibility for what seems to have been one of the most confusing childhoods ever created. At least this time the authors admit that this individual has made attempts to benefit financially from his relationship with Courtney Love and, by default, the Cobain topic, whether to bolster his position in the community, or directly in cash. But, once again, like Mr. Grant’s grand evidence unveiling, Harrison’s law-suit to force the reopening of Cobain’s case has never happened.

My hopes for an impressive piece of investigative journalism went sorely undelivered in this case. A cast of no conviction, trial by innuendo, a range of con-tricks on the reader and worst of all a simple lack of proof all delivered by two guys who demonstrably did make money from stating all this and mainly on the back of an investigator who has been taking money and investigating for twenty years now without moving any further than he was right back when he started and with no record of what that money has been spent on — it took me a few days of breathing exercises to work up to Love & Death…

Note that this post is one of four linked articles on the topic:


Just to commence, Tom Grant’s own book series regarding his investigations into the death of Kurt Cobain has entered publication and is available here. And yes, I must admit I’m intrigued, at twenty years distance the whole topic is infotainment and I’d very much like to read it even if I have severe doubts whether I agree with him.

After many years I finally decided to read the Max Wallace and Ian Halperin books on the basis of a gentleman called Brett Robinson who quite reasonably said to me back last year “my biggest qualm is that people aren’t open to the idea that the story as we have been told has been completely misrepresented.” I’ve always been a fan of the idea that one should be open-minded but not so much so that one’s brain falls out or one abandons any willingness to accept a consensual reality — yes, everything can be denied, but in reality everyone compromises. Anyways, I decided it was time I stopped doing my best Sid Vicious curled upper lip look at the mere mention of murder.

Just to be at least a little bit surprising, yes, I think those who have read a significant number of the two hundred plus articles on here might have noted I’ve little time for the murder theories. On the other hand, as a spoiler, I’d like to state from the start that I was surprised how much merit I found in certain elements of the murder theory. Permit me time to get to them in amidst the areas in which I simply thought “this is shockingly poor reportage, poor literature, poor evidence and gross profiteering.” I’ll admit to both reactions as we go and naturally I am very cool with the idea that many opinions have been spilt over this topic and mine is just one more addition with no greater answer.

Today I’m focusing on just one item; Max Wallace and Ian Halperin’s Who Killed Kurt Cobain book from 1998. I’ll then move onto Love & Death from 2004 — a book I was glad, having concluded the former, that they chose to take more time to put together.

The opening chapters of the book rapidly provoked my ire; anyone who relies on Christopher Sandford’s Kurt Cobain bio is immediately suspect to me given that book’s political agenda and many flaws. Intriguingly, Mr. Sandford’s agenda focused on a belief that Kurt Cobain’s suicide acted as a trigger for other teen suicides and therefore that rubbishing Cobain — calling him a rapist, a violent man who beat another into a coma and laughed about it, an active homosexual, an untalented songwriter and musician, a mummy’s boy… — was legitimate if it tarnished his image among young people. Intriguingly the Halperin/Wallace books have precisely the same underlying agenda; the first book is dedicated to “sixty eight lost souls”, the sixty-eight suicides supposedly sparked by Kurt Cobain’s death or influence. The book’s most clever sleight of hand is that, while Sandford attacked Cobain himself, Halperin/Wallace blame Courtney Love rather than Cobain; she “owes it to the families of sixty-eight dead teenagers…To thousands more who still suffer acute depression over the death of their hero.” By arguing that they are the friends of Cobain’s fans they’re able to target the same cause as Sandford but attract loyalty and partisanship rather than opposition.

This posture means they’re forgiven the toned down hatchet job on Cobain in the early chapters of their book — their reading is basically that whatever Kurt Cobain does for over two years is the fault of his puppeteer; Courtney Love. The core function of the first one hundred plus pages is to repeatedly tie Cobain’s actions to Love’s influence — they reduce Cobain to a drooling imbecile incapable of doing anything more than obey. Similarly, within pages he’s delighted to be famous or lying about how much he disliked it then making anti-commercial recording and touring moves with the contradiction never addressed — he’s not permitted to be real. Likewise, he’s an addict because of fights with Courtney and because of stomach problems — again, both might be true but the slinging of mud is never synthesised into a single argument, points add up without being pulled together coherently. Just believe the worst of Cobain and you’ll be fine.

The authors’ most regular trick is to distance themselves from their own work; the appearance of the detached observers when they, in fact, are not. The book claims, and the authors have claimed, that they’re an impartial summary of what’s been stated by others. Yet the actual work is a highly partisan and highly biased case for the prosecution – there’s no critical distance, no balance and the emphasis is very firmly on claiming that Kurt Cobain was murdered. Throughout the book they adopt an (im)plausible deniability where they can claim that they’re reporting claims, not judging sources, nor making any claim of their own despite the very clear and overt selection and emphasis placed on the statements that they want to put forward.

The result is a book where its authors’ create a chain of supposed evidence that they simultaneously point out is unprovable, fabricated, unlikely to be true — an overt compendium of lies by two people who claim they’re not pulling the strings. As an example, while wrapping the book up in a moral mission to save the youth from the Cobain legend they do take time to point that “obviously, nobody takes their own life just because of a dead rock star…There are always other factors involved…” Too darn right, but in which case why are they writing a book to deflate the Cobain suicide and stating it’s because of kids committing suicide if they believe there are far more significant factors? It’s OK, they revert quickly back to the claims that Kurt Cobain holds a semi-magical talismanic power over the young. I think it’s that lack of courage, that overt duplicity — the equivalent of the gossip who when confronted says they didn’t say anything, they merely repeated what they heard in a complete abdication of responsibility for the potential effects of their unwillingness to think or consider what they’re saying.

It’s a long book…There’s more. Part two tomorrow…

Note that this post is one of four linked articles on the topic:

This’ll be round everyone imminently I’m sure but R.I.P. Leland Cobain, an apparently decent man, someone his grandson trusted and seems to have held onto as a connection within his family despite the breaking of links to his father. He’s been a warm and open presence for Nirvana fans in the decades since. It’s nice to see people embracing the world in that way and these simple courtesies deserve remembrance in a world where they sometimes don’t get enough credit.

Much gratitude to the individual who posted this video, two very listenable interviews with Dave Grohl in which he comments on having shared music with Kurt Cobain, then later mentions the state of estrangement within Nirvana. If you can tolerate the tedium.

Dealing with the latter first, he’s fairly plain-speaking about the division in the band; “I don’t do drugs…There was, like, the people who did the drugs, then the people who didn’t do the drugs. I didn’t do the drugs so I was just out of that world you know? And if you’re in it, you’re in it, if you’re not, you’re out.” He then moves onto say, in response to a direct question about whether the band was breaking up, “it was important that we take a break. I think everyone felt that way, it was time to take a break.”

Certainly no criticism of Dave Grohl, but I admit I see this last comment as rather a salve for the soul rather than a fair representation of the position of Nirvana in early 1994. Why so? Well, Nirvana had already staged their break — Nirvana played not a single show for five months of 1992, a total of sixteen shows June-October but most of that in the June-July spell in Europe. 1993 was even more barren; five shows in nine months, only three after the duo in Brazil in January. And it wasn’t like the band were studiously practising either, Kurt joined them for a maximum of 21 days in studio for the entire two and a half years after Nevermind — and remember, at best estimate, the band played for six days at most of the twelve days at Pachyderm. I’ve already commented numerous times on the trend in Kurt Cobain’s song-writing also, in each previous year of Nirvana’s existence he’d brought six-twelve songs forward to the band; in the final year…Well, you all know the answer there.

Given the broken state of the band long before April 1994, it’s hard to see how anything other than the total dissolution of Nirvana would have solved whatever issue Kurt Cobain had with being part of the band as a business entity, as a musical vehicle, let alone as a functioning community of creative companions. I’ll admit that Dave Grohl’s comments here do remind me to place more emphasis than I sometimes do on the influence of the drug factor as a divider between Kurt Cobain’s cocoon and his band mates. Note made.

With regard to the initial comments, Dave’s comments are very clear indeed; Kurt was aware of two songs — Alone+Easy Target and Exhausted. This conforms to the best sources (basically check LiveNirvana, it rocks) but what interests me is the nature of his reaction to the songs. He loves the music for Exhausted but wants to use the music while remaining in control of the lyrical aspect of Nirvana. While he’s the known voice of Nirvana, while he’s rightly recognised as the key creative force, it makes it clear how much the band was a vehicle for his self-expression and, within that, how much emphasis he placed upon the words. Even with his own writer’s block in latter years it seems that sharing writing duties simply wasn’t going to happen. As an aside, for Alone+Easy Target it seems he wanted to snatch the chorus though whether that refers to the chorus line or the backing riff it’s unclear.

Kurt Cobain’s literary nature is underrated. His lyrics were not ad-libbed live, he wasn’t an improviser. Dave Grohl explains “he’d stay up late at night, for hours, with a notebook just writing and writing and writing…He enjoyed writing a lot.” Cobain’s closest connection to the blues came from the way the guitar was a way of accompanying words, not a raison d’être all its own. Cobain was brutally critical of his own guitar-playing skills and he was increasingly disparaging of the limitations of the instrument and its clichéd nature by the early Nineties. On top of that, in all the years the band was in existence, all the time they shared with true innovators of the guitar, like Sonic Youth, there’s no indication he ever actively sought to expand or advance his guitar vocabulary or to learn more about his instrument. The guitar was a functional object serving the song form and, in turn, the words.

The switch in Kurt Cobain’s lyric-writing, from early story songs and character sketches, toward a more impressionistic grab-bag sourced from his Journals, can be seen as a reaction to the increasingly hectic schedule of Nirvana as the time to whittle away at a single piece of WRITING (not just a song, true writing) fell away. Its notable that his most extensive phase of writing — winter 1990 through spring 1991 — coincided with a long period of relative quiet for Nirvana.

I finally, at long last, finished reading the “Whatever Happened to the Alternative Nation?” articles yesterday:,46507/

In one piece, the very reasonable comparison is made between Axl Rose and Kurt Cobain. The obvious comparisons – small town misfits, serious parental issues, physical similarities which is why they could both fit the required rock star mould of 1991-1992 – are made but the most crucial one is the yearning of each individual for control over their own creativity, a desire to be free of the constraints either of poverty or of management, fans, press and so forth. The crucial realisation, of course, is that a human personality is such a complex accretion of memories, moments and impulses that despite the similarities between the two individuals, an identical outcome couldn’t be guaranteed.

In the case of Axl Rose, aggression was always launched outward; violence toward girlfriends, trash-talking in the media, pointed and explicit lyrical tirades, a refusal to ever take public responsibility for anything that has ever been less than ideal at any point in a twenty-five year musical career. In the case of Kurt Cobain, the aggressive impulses within him were, near constantly, aimed inward; he would commence criticising his own music in public almost as soon as it arrived in the hands of the public, his lyrics dripped in disdain for his various supposed failings, he talked about himself in a persistently downbeat manner in interviews and in private with the hangdog style drawing understandable sympathy. Yet Kurt’s own record wasn’t devoid of violence or threats thereof; he readily admitted to the voicemails left for the two authors attempting to write a book on Nirvana in 1992; he cheerfully made threats related to the Vanity Fair article; domestic disputes did lead to police call-outs… Neither artist was devoid of minor sins; Axl was far more persistently hubristic about it all – Kurt was a sweeter creature when he wished.

Yet there are similarities in their reaction to audiences and the other demands of fame. Axl Rose’s crimes against courteous concert-hosting are well-known ranging from provoking a riot at the St Louis show, to more recently slow-clapping a fan out of the venue, to massive delays in shows, walk-offs and so forth – if it wasn’t Axl Rose involved some would consider it reasonable to walk off stage if things were thrown at a band. Kurt Cobain, on the other hand, had his own sins such as significant numbers of cancelled shows, responding to on-stage provocations by walking off (or in the case of one show peeing into a shoe that was thrown at him), more positively (in some ways) perceived acts of sexism by audience members were responded to with Nirvana halting shows and having a go at audience members. In each case, the band took it as their role to police the audience and react to what they didn’t like.

Yet Axl Rose represents something else within the Nirvana story; the way out. Axl Rose’s willingness to ignore the wishes, hopes and desires of all other individuals made him supremely able when it came to building a life outside of the spotlight. His sobriety, compared to the persistent drunkenness or drug issues of his band members, made him the only able to play dictator. Kurt, by contrast, was dictator of Nirvana yet increasingly was unable to steer the ship. Both men increasingly rejected contact with the press if they couldn’t control the nature of the dialogue, similarly time in the studio became a scarce commodity for each band; Kurt barely showed up for band sessions after Nevermind, Axl meanwhile did much of his work for Use Your Illusion separate to the band, then didn’t even appear in studio alongside them for the recording of The Spaghetti Incident? album. A significant area of contrast, at first glance, would be the difference between Nirvana’s relative retreat from live performance versus Guns n’ Roses embarking on mammoth world touring throughout 1992-1993. Yet looking a little further back, Guns n’ Roses gave only 21 concerts in 1989-1990, a wonderfully comparable situation to the 21 shows Nirvana managed between March 1992 until October 1993.

While Kurt Cobain’s control over his environment increasingly fell apart, Axl’s increased as he purchased the Guns n’ Roses brand, shed recalcitrant band members, dispensed with managers and girlfriends until eventually all that was left was Axl and his loyalists. Kurt went through a similar distancing from his former comrades, yet his retreat was toward the companionship of his wife and child on the one hand, and drug buddies on the other. The contrast between the chaos around Kurt and the increasing stillness around Axl is noteable. Axl’s decision was one Kurt Cobain would have envied. Axl never stopped his creative endeavours, this was a man who taught himself rhythm guitar in the early nineties purely to allow himself to more fully realise his own visions and to dictate directions to his band, yet one who simultaneously was willing and able to hook in a large number of collaborators to be spliced into the ever more gargantuan constructions he was trying to fashion. Axl simply stopped participating in the business of music; no press, no live performance, “no” to whatever management ever asked of him (including one alleged incident when apparently, having been pressured to finish some recordings, Axl drove an SUV over the CDs sent to him by his manager) – he refused to be made to treat his music as just a job, or to kowtow to any expectations.

It relied on a very visible rudeness and an unwillingness to please anyone except himself, it needed him to be free of any need to earn money – which was something Guns n’ Roses’ success had already earned him – but Axl Rose did make the great escape. It led to him being criticised rather than praised given he wasn’t playing the game, the music industry machine had been cheated of one of its biggest stars, but Axl Rose survived and made music the way he wanted to regardless of external pressures and now tours, pretty well, as and when he wants. Kurt Cobain rejected the performing, recording and talking aspects of his role, was towed back into it for the In Utero tour and once again ran from it. Yet he didn’t have the same cocoon ready to receive him; and his music hadn’t yet opened up to significant quantities of collaboration; the expression of his visions rested firmly in his own hands and he wasn’t used to letting others craft the sounds around his words or vice versa. He was early in a journey it took Axl Rose from 1987 until 1995 to execute; Kurt Cobain was barely two and a half years into his flight from the music industry.

That’s often how I look at the aged Axl Rose, not as a has-been or a man out of touch with the music world and begging to be let in. Axl Rose shows no interest in whether his record company makes money, there’s not been much mellowing in his refusenik attitude to the media, he still comes out to play as and when he darn well feels he’ll perform his best – it’s very easy to dislike his way of doing things but I think he’s a man who rose to the peak of the industry with all its necessary compromises and pressures, then found the strength and stubbornness to walk away. Kurt Cobain would have loved to take that same walk but had a conflicted desire to be decent to people and to fulfil his responsibilities that meant he couldn’t leave but nor could he stay.

Anyways, here’s Axl Rose on Jimmy Kimmel. Funny, and I want a Halloween tree:

An immediate apology for flippantly using the term ‘birds’ just to come up with a slightly more catchy title to what is a relatively flippant bit of data-play. As a proviso it’s safe to say that this post isn’t entirely serious — it’s merely a tumescent growth that arose from the work done this week on Kurt Cobain and the subject of his living arrangements. There’s a risk in the title, of course, of suggesting that one or another individual could be held ‘responsible’ for whatever peak or fall occurred in Kurt’s creativity — as I’ve made clear before (see the “” post) I genuinely don’t believe anyone other Kurt Cobain was responsible for these trends.

Having looked at the matter of where Kurt was when he wrote the majority of his songs, I wanted to examine who was his key, official, partner during these periods of time. As a second disclaimer, I’m doing this because I’m feeling playful; as an exercise it’s a perfect example of how any data can be compared to any other data whatsoever without leading to enlightenment or meaning — why do it then? Sheer curiosity. Not everything has to lead somewhere or mean something to be worth taking a crack at.

Discounting Mary Lou Lord who apparently backed up Kurt’s statements that they had never been romantically involved, Kurt Cobain was attached to three individuals between early 1987 and his death; Tracy Marander, Tobi Vail and Courtney Love. In each case, the relationships have been reduced in the retelling — to dependence, one-way head-over-heels, to mutually destructive passion — which probably has nullified any sense of the enjoyment and pleasure taken from all three. That’s not uncommon, question most people about their ex-partners or judge the relationship in the rear-view mirror and they end up being judged by the outcome not the time-specific experience, which is a shame.

Tracy was Kurt’s first real girlfriend and lasted from around January 1987 until May 1990 — 41 months. Tobi was the whirlwind in the middle making it less than six months from May to November 1990. Courtney arrived as a permanent fixture in October 1991 — 30 months:

KC_Girlfriends_Time Spent

Now…What did Kurt Cobain do during those periods of time?

KC_Girlfriends_Songs Written

A solid victory for the time spent in Olympia with Tracy Marander but, as usual, fun to look at the percentages also:

KC_Girlfriends_Songs Per Month

Told you it was fun to look. Suddenly it seems that the periods of domestic stability didn’t come close to the rough n’ tumble of Tobi and her loss. So, if I felt like being cynical I’d say “guys, if you want to make things happen in life — ditch the comfy woman!” But I’m only teasing. The coincidence of Kurt Cobain’s freedom, solitude, non-drug addiction, favourite drummer, major label shot and so forth all made late 1990-early 1991 a massive time for Kurt Cobain. What we’re looking at is a flaw in the data; it’s unclear how many of the songs I’ve placed in the second half of 1990 were in fact created prior to Kurt being dumped by Tobi, just as it’s unclear how many of the songs written in the first half of 1991 were finalised before Courtney’s arrival.

Sighhhhh…All this work just to conclude that not everything gives a meaningful correlation and that statistics are indeed the playthings of the data devil. Oh, because my friend asked (thank you Josephine! This one’s for you!), here’s the full record of Kurt Cobain’s known dalliances with the female of the species, as noted in the book Heavier Than Heaven, just for her. And yes, it feels voyeuristic and intrusive listing all this but for the sake of completism:

KC_All Girlfriends and Female Encounters_Table

Addendum: Cheers to Selena for raising this. The summer 1983 incident is controversial. Buzz Osborne has suggested its completely untrue – meanwhile it’s been cited twice including a full audio recording of Cobain seen in Montage Of Heck. Unfortunately, despite the ‘story telling format’ of the audio recording, despite Buzz’s reservations regarding whether public shaming in school happened at all, it’s impossible to say to what extent it was just a bizarre fantasy by Cobain – or, alternately, based on some personal experience. There’s no evidence determining that Buzz’s word should be credited over and above Cobain’s voice. Either way it’s one heck of story and pretty disturbing if it’s an invented tale of sexual discomfort, manipulation, inability to perform, shame, etc.

Anyways, context: this was a throwaway post written in December 2013. It’s neither scientific nor particularly interesting. The core of this blog is about the music of Nirvana and that’s where the heart is.

It seems that the idea of ‘a rock star’ has been whittled down to a final form easily recognised and described by everyone. It makes it hard, however, to recall how recent the clichés involved are. The entire industry of pop music, let alone rock music (a 1970s creation), didn’t exist until the mid-1950s. In retrospect the worship of Elvis, or the hysterical reactions to The Beatles seem hard to comprehend but in each case these artists were the first of their kind, there was no mould to be filled early in their careers and, afterwards, no template for what a mid-career music star should do or should behave. The association with sexuality (albeit a gentle sexuality at the time) began with Elvis; the drug connection (while quietly present within jazz) surfaced in The Beatles; the wildman image was already appealing and became a core part of the identity we’re describing here thanks to The Rolling Stones.

The Seventies solidified and deepened the ideal that had been forged. The drugs became omnipresent and almost celebrated as a sign of wealth and decadence. The sex became essentially a form of public display with groupies and orgies replacing the quieter awareness that flocks of girls were surrounding the stars. The bad boy image was fleshed out with destructive acts carried out on musical instruments or hotel rooms, flirtations with black magic or Satanism or whatever other flavour of the month would rile people. Again, while historical precedents can be found in the blues (whether Robert Johnson selling his soul or Lead Belly’s repeated arrests for violence) these elements only cemented into an identity at this point, one that would be worn like a uniform in the Eighties rock scene.

Punk stripped down the musical style and rejected the increasing move to omnipotent and untouchable rock god status — yet it did so by retaining the focus on certain core pieces of the, now established, identity; the violence, drugs, sex, the bad (and photogenic) behaviour all wrapped up in a package designed to appeal to an audience on lower budgets. Punk didn’t produce a brand new rock star image, it selectively embellished the existing one in the interests of accessibility – anyone could do it and it doesn’t take much effort to mimic something sordid. The same era also saw the question posed, for the first time, what does an aging star do? The answers were semi-retirement (Lennon), finding God (Dylan), vast over-indulgence (Elvis) or increasingly soft and friendly tunes and plenty of quality-lite collaboration with friends (Jagger, Bowie, McCartney) with the occasional death to spice it up and make it dangerous again.

The Eighties didn’t revolutionize this image; the Eighties were basically a blending of aspects of punk with the now stable vision of the rock stars. What occured instead was a constant escalation into cartoon realms; who could do what, with whom, who did the most – the image of the rock star reached its grand finale. With the mainstream model so rigidly defined, it was the first time there had truly been an underground bubbling away, an all-encompassing term for bands that departed from the image that would be promoted, funded, given access to recording facilities. A lot of the older generation, who had set the model, were now so firmly established that they were now core to the pop scene rather than living separately in a rock ghetto.

Nirvana’s ‘revolution’ was therefore less a case of a fundamental musical shift, it was about the change in the image. The music itself was a merging of existing styles, definitely radio-friendly, not that divorced from existing rock modes. But Nirvana explicitly rejected the rampant sexism, the charmless and nihilistic violence, the self-aggrandisement (marrying models, flagrant consumption, extroverted partying, fast cars…) It didn’t make them saints, or pure beings, but it was the first time a female-friendly, pro-gay rights, enlightened rock image had been projected in an uncompromised fashion since the age of The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Nirvana knew it too, they spoke again and again about their opposition to, and difference from, the established view of what it meant to be a rock star, how it was the music that differentiated them from heavy metal, how bored and played out rock was. The glitch in what they were saying was, however, that their problem was not one of music — it was about the entire concept of what being a rock star was. Nirvana didn’t tear down rock music, they tore down the ROCKSTAR.

Having shown how false the image was, it was impossible to put the idea of the rock star back together again. Kurt Cobain personally killed the heroin chic that had ruled since the early 70s by being brought low and, in the eyes of many, destroyed by it all within barely two years of the early 1992 peak of fame. The decline was so fast it retained the ability to actually shock; from peak-to-trough it had never been so swift or so submerged in sordid detail — the junkie baby rumours were important for a much broader reason which is that it killed the sense of deviant fun that had somehow survived even Sid Vicious’ ending (at the time seen as an overdose.) There had been drug deaths before, there had been long declines, but there hadn’t been many deaths while still firmly in the spotlight, few cases in which the grossness of the experience had been so visible to the public eye and so indefensible. It was hard to celebrate the drugs.

Kurt simultaneously wrecked the idea of the all-conquering rock God by abdicating his throne; rock stars didn’t quit, they were immortals who could only be destroyed by outside forces. Kurt Cobain ruined the ideal of the rock star as the most fun a man (almost always a man up to that point) could have by never ceasing to show he despised it. Others had reacted to fame by retreated from the spotlight but it had seemed an affectation that could only be afforded by the very rich; one they’d repent when they needed the income or attention and in the meantime they’d sit very nicely in their penthouses drowning in entertainments. Kurt was the biggest rock star in the world and just at the crucial moment when everyone was looking his way…He laid waste to a few of the clichés. It was fitting that his suicide came with both heroin and a bullet; symbol of hedonism and metaphor of manliness forever stained all in one fell swoop.

There’s not really been much since. Billy Corgan was the last rock star of the old mould but only on record, in person he was very much the new generation intent on hauling down the idol of the ROCKSTAR. The components of the image — drugs, hedonism, sex, self-aggrandisement, destruction — are all still there but the arms race that had flowed from the fifties onwards had ceased when Kurt Cobain one-upped the entire world. There was no way to top what he did, nor to restore the pieces he showed were simply laughable. The baton passed to the world of hip hop which has been busy running through a remarkably similar and tired tale at high speed from initial revolution, through excess, into cartoon, division into mainstream and underground, finally coming ending up indistinguishable from pop music and certainly with not an ounce of rebellion left in it.

Its why the article below stirred a certain nostalgia in me; it fondly reminded me that revolutions rarely demolish what came before, they either adopt them or mutate them into tweaked shapes.

Rock star guests, casual collaborations among old friends who share vanity labels and private studios, tributes to their own history, the ability to toss half-baked projects out on name alone, diversions into other business ventures and kids kicking off their own bands…It may be enacted by bands I adore, but it all feels kinda familiar. And all with the same friendliness the Travelling Wilburys or Live Aid brought to a previous generation.