Kurt Cobain ascended the golden ladder which would lead him to the mythic room of Rock Stardom.
It’s a ladder most never glimpse.
He climbed to the very top…and saw a curtain, behind which was the room.
He reached over the ladder and peaked behind…
And for whatever reason…
After years of imaging the solace he might find….
Whatever Kurt saw back there…
He didn’t want to take another step after that…
He just wanted off the ladder by any means necessary.
I wrote this last year, and it wasn’t easy, because to sum up in words the effect Kurt Cobain has had on me, and to do his legacy justice to the millions of fan out there who’s lives he has also altered was a responsibility I took extremely seriously.
Looking at Kurt was looking into a mirror for many of us, and the talent bestowed upon him, that raw, intense and sincere emotion he conveyed to the world still speaks to the lost youth inside me still wandering the wasteland.
His lyrical genius, his honesty, his purity…
He killed himself putting it all out there…or he was killed for doing it so well.
This is a day to celebrate his life, 21 years after…I repost this article in honor of him and send my love to him, to his daughter, and to all you who, like me, just wish he was still fucking here and knew how much we love him.
April 5th, 2015
I was 17 years old when I was first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana.
Scott and I were in the backseat of Erik’s mom’s car when Erik turned around to me and asked:
“Wes, what do you think of Nirvana?”
“What’s Nirvana?”I asked…
Eric reached over to the volume knob on the car radio, and before turning the volume up loud he said…
I heard this…
“It Announced The New Guard In Rock Music…The New Regime.”
– Krist Novoselic
It was a movement.
There wasn’t a backstage anymore.
There was no longer a velvet rope.
Kurt, Krist and Dave didn’t act like decadent rock gods who placed a divide between the fans and themselves.
They were the fans.
Nirvana marched over the horizon at dawn.
Armed with a small platoon of loyal soldiers from Seattle,
they took the army of hairbands by surprise…
And the kingdom was theirs by first light.
All the former tenants of that empire were beheaded, and the king’s throne and personal quarters were drenched in gasoline and set ablaze.
But Nirvana didn’t want a kingdom to rule, they just wanted to rage, create, express.
As if we had all been under the Pied Pipers spell, it was:
&”Nevermind”that reminded us how good rock music could truly be when coming from a sincere place.
Free of the spell, we saw and heard everything clearly.
And looking back at it now, I realize we were all waiting for Kurt.
They didn’t just open doors…
They didn’t just sack the kingdom…
The movement they started had freed all the former servants and slaves, who in turn found the pied piper and slit his throat before burning the fucking castle down.
This was the beginning. The music spread like the truth, like a virus.
Many of the successful “hairbands” had never played live shows before receiving record contracts and making music videos.
They were cast, like actors in a film.
Brought to makeup and wardrobe, and finally put in front of the cameras…instructed to play catchy pop tunes and ballads written for them by song writers for hire.
MTV would play their videos continuously and tell us how each new band was now the next hot thing in rock.
MTV…still a relatively new force in the industry…had become an essential aspect of marketing popular music for the mainstream audiences.
With that control, it was only a matter of time before some greedy fuck dick decided to manufacture rockstars to sell to the public.
The market place was saturated with substandard rock music.
Then Nirvana came…
The first chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” triggered the revolt and woke us up.
Not only was the music incredible, songwriting solid, the performing tight between Dave on drums and Krist on bass guitar and Kurt on lead guitar, but Kurt’s vocals were primal.
I’ve heard that he was able to scream that way because he would stand by a river where he grew up and scream for hours to break-in his vocal cords, until finally he would get that edge to his voice.
If he was singing soft in an acoustic setting, you could hear his tone…beauty. It was the sound of his soul.
Then Kurt would scream.
NIRVANA: COME AS YOU ARE
Intelligent, thoughtful, disturbing, honest…
His words were the truth for many.
They were code, some of which we will never decipher.
And some, visions, visions that will haunt forever.
The standard had once again been raised.
They released the Teen Spirit video.
Quite simple, the 3 band members play a show in a high school gym to a crowd of teens sitting on the bleachers watching them.
As the song progresses, the energy of the kids watching gets frantic…slowly building.
One kid jumps in to the crowd wildly, then another, they can’t contain themselves, the music and energy is shaking them to their cores.
The place erupts. The kids are no longer seated…they are raging.
The band continues to play and the crowd engulf them, swallows them up and by the time the song is finishing, Kurt, Krist and Dave…the 3 band members…are no longer
playing to a crowd of kids, they are the crowd of kids…destroying their instruments…tearing apart the gym with the kids in one huge orgy of anarchy.
The video exploded.
It offered an eerie glimpse of what the future would hold for their audience.
The hairbands saw & heard this…
And they all knew…
Nirvana were the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Kurt, Krist and Dave…Like DH Lawrence…had planted dynamite in the train tracks and had derailed the gravy train for the glam rockers and their puppet masters.
The music that would follow Nirvana into the mainstream would become known as Grunge or Alternative.
But it wasn’t.
It was Rock And Roll.
Bands like Mother Love Bone…then Pearl Jam (after Andrew Wood passed), Smashing Pumpkins, Mad Season, Alice In Chains, Rage Against The Machine, Soundgarden, Tool, Janes Addiction, Temple Of The Dog, Soul Asylum…began to thrive.
Nirvana snuffed out the gatekeeper and brought the drawbridge crashing down, allowing these bands to storm the kingdom also.
We were now all bathing in incredible music, the movement took hold of the youth…
NIRVANA: IN BLOOM
Record attendance at their shows, heavy radio and video airplay, exposure they couldn’t secure before, new found success, justice.
Some of these bands had been hard at work for a decade or more already. Suddenly they were relevant to a whole new set of ears.
“Nevermind” was a harmonically pleasing sonic assault Poppy enough to seduce the top 40 crowd, hard enough to please the hard rock crowd and intelligent enough to please the cerebral crowd.
Lyrics contrasting melodies, high-polished hard-rock for music, dark poetry for lyrics.
Songs with simple structures, injected with moments of high octane gasoline.
Then Marc Jacob’s released his fall line in ’93 of “grunge” fashion.
Kurt pulled back.
In 1992 Axl Rose had asked Kurt to have Nirvana be the opening act on the “Metallica/Guns N’ Roses” double bill tour.
Kurt Cobain politely declined.
Axl Rose, was baffled.
It started to become very obvious that he really didn’t want the fame.
He said what he felt, didn’t mince words and when he said he wasn’t in it for the fame and success… his actions confirmed it.
Now personally, I believe Kurt looked at “Nevermind” and was confused by it’s reception…maybe a bit embarrassed by it.
I wish he saw how visionary it was.
How visionary he himself was.
NIRVANA: HEART SHAPED BOX
Musicians work their entire careers to create one single song that will connect with audiences as well as most of the songs on that album did.
With “Nevermind,” he made it look easy.
Nirvana released “In Utero” in 1993 (grab the new 2013 mix…beautiful)
They offered up a more complex, dark, raw hard rock album then the tonally pleasing “Nevermind”. Kurt, the creative driving force behind the band, wanted to make a loud and bold statement to all the people claiming to love him and the band.
“You love us? Ok. Then you won’t mind sucking on this.”
He was refusing to be the rock star.
There are songs on “In Utero” that are masterpieces.
“Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle”.
“Serve The Servants”
“Heart Shaped Box”
Like a mafia hit.
He came with smiles, then put two rounds into the backs of their heads in the parking lot.
Nirvana performed on MTV Unplugged in November, 1993.
Kurt would leave this world five months later.
He sat down in front of a live studio audience suffering through heroin withdrawl and offered up a version of himself to the public that they hadn’t glimpsed yet.
Most of us wouldn’t hear what the band performed that night until after had Kurt gone.
He took advantage of the acoustic setting and played stripped down versions of some of his favorite songs.
MTV suits were taken back by it.
They fought him on it, on the songs and the guests.
Then he left…and to their surprise, it outsold “In Utero” and became one of the bands highest grossing albums.
Kurt, you did it.
Did you see this from where you are now?
Did you know you had pulled it off?
“WHERE DID YOU SLEEP LAST NIGHT?”
MTV Unplugged In New York
In my mind, that performance was a hint of the diverse artistic expression we would have seen come from Kurt had he stuck around.
He was extraordinary.
He was voted as leader of a movement that he didn’t realize he had started,
and in turn,
became more alienated from people then he was originally.
If he did want to feel normal and less alone before it all started,
he got the exact opposite.
The real tragedy is Francis Bean having to lose her father.
I don’t want to get into this…and I could, believe me…i’m not sure if he killed himself or if he was taken…I lean towards the latter…but it’s horrible that she had to suffer, coming from someone who lived with the loss of a parent…you never recover from it.
I hope she is ok, I send her my love.
If it did go down as they say it did,
then he meant what he was saying all those years.
He was in a god awful amount of pain, all the screaming…may have ben pleas for help.
In the end, the key to Nirvana’s success seems to be that Kurt didn’t pretend to be anything other than who he was.
He didn’t seem to have that in him.
Maintaining that honesty, in that industry, it seems to have become excruciatingly difficult for him the higher he climbed.
Kurt would always be that kid under the bridge, blessed with talents know-one realized, destined to become the voice of millions of people.
He reached the top of the ladder most will never see.
He peaked behind the curtain,
and for whatever reason…
After years of imaging the solace he might find….
Whatever Kurt saw back there…
He no longer wanted to climb after that.
He was being fiercely honest with us, he didn’t want the limelight.
Not gonna lie, 10 years later…10 years ago…the first Nirvana song in a decade was released. one the world had never heard.
NIRVANA: YOU KNOW YOU’RE RIGHT
My buddy Mike said it best when I asked him what he thought:
“As soon as i heard it I was reminded of how fucking good they were…”
I wish he had someone close to him who had listened to him and encouraged him to climb down off the ladder and promised they would be there for him when he got down, no matter what he chose to do with the rest of his life.
It seems to me the people that could have and wanted to help him were stopped by a force that didn’t want anyone else in his ear.
I wish one of those people had broken through, had grabbed him and his daughter, got onto a plane with them, flew them to a beach somewhere hidden from the world and from the fucking vampires.
Took him and told him:
“You’re safe now. I’ve got your back. Take your time, get well and find your smile. I’ll protect you.”
I imagine that’s what the Angels said to Kurt when they greeted him. Those fuckers better have.
We love you Kurt. I truly hope you have peace.
Thank you for waking me up.
To celebrate the life of Kurt and the accomplishments of Kurt, Krist and Dave…I have assembled some videos below.
CLASSIC ALBUMS: NIRVANA NEVERMIND
One of my favorite programs is below, a fantastic series called “Classic Albums”. Each episode highlights a classic album from the past, we sit with the albums producer as he sits in front of a mixing board with the album master cued up and takes us through each track…allowing us to hear the vocal tracks isolated and drum tracks isolated…while members of the band reminisce about the album.
There are other great ones out there, Floyd’s Dark Side and U2 Joshua Tree stand out in my mind, but the best program I’ve seen them do is on “Nevermind”
We hear from David Grohl and Krist Novoselic on their experience making the album with Kurt, and from Producer Butch Vig as he takes us through not only the album…but it’s recording in the studio.
It runs 60 mins and includes a wealth of information and insight.
Incredible for the other “Super”fans out there like myself.
High-Octane Gasoline troops.