When I heard that Nirvana, or at least what remains of Nirvana, were to reunite this year to perform for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, my excitement was inevitable. But a recent email conversation with a friend gave me pause to reflect upon the genesis of this excitement, and whether or not it is truly justified.
Turns out it is.
So rather than attempt to recreate that verbose justification for you here, it’s much more economical for me to simply repeat our exchange. I think I did a fairly good job of summarising my feelings. Interesting perhaps to see which camp you fall into…
James: You’ve seen this, right? http://youtu.be/Ag643ahnUC8
Friend: Yes I had seen various offerings over the last couple of months of the Hall of Fame thing.. Personally I wish they would never play as Nirvana sans Kurt no matter how great Lorde is or anyone else might be.. It usually just sounds wrong to me and I can’t enjoy it.. What are your opinions on the matter?
James: I’m glad they did it. I wanted them to do it. I thought the whole affair was a magical and fitting tribute to a gifted songwriter and performer who truly deserves this recognition.
I just really wish it was better.
Friend: It’s nice to have a fitting and uplifting tribute and all but I’d much rather see a bunch of people play their own songs that were perhaps inspired by Kurt Cobain/Nirvana.. Or perhaps original songs by people who were inspired to make music by the music of Kurt and Nirvana.. Like yourself..
I have to call you up on this line man: “I thought the whole affair was a magical and fitting tribute to a gifted songwriter and performer who truly deserves this recognition.”
Really? Being inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame.. I am probably considerably less clued up on his feelings about fame than you but my gut tells me Kurt would have baulked at the idea of being included in a hall of “fame” no matter how well intentioned a tribute it was..
Kurt Cobain truly deserves what recognition man? He’s dead..I’m not sure how this is getting him anything that he deserves.. I doubt very much he was presiding over the event from the heavens and if he was I’m sure he spent alot of time cringing! I’m not sure who that thing was for really.. I’m sure dead folk don’t give much of a damn and I can’t help but feel a little cynical regarding the motivations behind alive folk doing such things.. Unless of course it’s not really bad.. But then it was bad wasn’t it?
I may just be a very cynical human being but I can’t help but think that this was a moneymaking promotional event and nothing much more.
James: First of all man I think it’s wrong to assume that what a drug-addled mind perceives as cringeworthy at 27 still holds quite so true by the time you reach middle age. The anger and blind resentment fades. Even Steve Albini is no longer the rasp-tongued abusive punk elitist he was in his more naive youth. And so too have Krist and Dave found a more mature approach to navigating the injustices of the world rather than spitting venom at anything even remotely regarded as “commercial”, whatever that word actually means (in any case, this event seems to have honourable enough intentions). So would Kurt be, if physical laws permitted, sat on a cloud cringing? If of the same mind as at the time of death then yes, probably. But that was a mind that elected to shoot itself, so I’m not sure how ethically reliable that opinion may be. Maturer minds may perhaps see the worthiness of such an event. One of life’s ironies is that we all grow, in one way or another, into the establishment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing man.
As for me, I loved that band. They meant so much to me. They inspired my life, for better or worse. And watching that video made me cry for reasons I couldn’t necessarily control or articulate. Repeatedly. I found it moving. I heard Michael Stipe’s brilliantly articulated speech speak to me on such a personal and profound level, as a quiet person who struggles with emotional difficulties, constantly feeling ousted from a world I simply don’t know how to access. It made me realise that it is no coincidence I took that band to my heart. And likewise I found the image of Kurt’s friends and family united on a stage to celebrate his life and works to be utterly, utterly moving, and yes, magical, particularly the very last song – all the Nirvana players united for a last stand beneath his angel winged torso, singing his words one last time, bringing him to life once again. From each artist to the next, our life and influence is passed down, and it’s fucking incredible. I am right there celebrating that.
So can Kurt comprehend that? Of course not. He’s, as you rightly say, dead. But we, the living, where his memory and his music still lives on, can. His mother can. His wife and child can. His band mates can. And his millions and millions of fans can. The people, just like me, that he has reached with the power of his music, who would never ever otherwise see a current performance from a band so fucking important to them, if they can see past their blind cynicism for just a minute, can appreciate that tributes are there for the living to celebrate those lost. To remember them. And to be thankful for their gift to the rest of us, lest you cancel remembrance Sunday and tear down war memorials in defence of your all-pervasive quest for literacy. I’m surprised at your opinion here.
So what’s a good celebration of a talented songwriter? Play his fucking songs. Who is best placed to play them? His fucking band.
Did they sound like Nirvana from 20 years ago?
No. There’s a myriad of reasons why not that should be too obvious for me to spell out here. But did it bring joy to his fans to see his name indelibly etched amongst the upper echelons of musical talent? From a one-person field study, I conclude yes. Call that cheesy if you like. But, in words that are sadly not my own, you know what goes well with cheese? A glass of red wine.
Right, I’m off to bed.