Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Sunday, December 15, 2002  

The UK Guardian again. (Forgive me, I've a whole heap of issues of the actual newspaper in my hands). This time it's the review of the Kurt Cobain journals, available in print for the first time since his death and written in Cobain's own chaotic scrawl. As such, it's fascinating,

'But is it worthwhile literature? Well, certain passages stand out...Then things start to deteriorate. There is a lot of tedious twaddle about the liberating spirit of punk rock that would not be worth the space even in a fanzine. Then fame happens and the tone suddenly turns very petulant and whingey. By the time heroin enters the picture - just over half-way through - Cobain's capacity for objective reasoning has been shot to hell. He tries to write, on occasion, like his hero William Burroughs circa Naked Lunch and the results are just pitiful. Towards the end, his self-loathing is overwhelming. He expresses a psychotic hatred of English journalists, alienates all his old cronies, drops constant hints that he is not long for this world and tries to tell himself that he's addicted to heroin simply because the drug helps alleviate his chronic stomach condition. There are several entries where he tries to express the torment of what drug addiction and depression are putting him through, but too often he settles on a position not a million miles from flat-out denial.'

This is precisely why I have no interest whatsoever in these journals. Kurt Cobain had the gift of being able to distil his tortured life into three and four minute sonic riots that mixed pathos and irony, self-deprecation and wry observation, cynicism and heartfelt passion. Songs that - and here was the essence of Cobain's genius - knew the difference between true angst and the ersatz drivel that a thousand imitators began churning out almost the instant "Smells Like Teen Spirit" landed on MTV.

So why would I want to shatter the myth of the latter-day Hamlet, the modern Meursault, by reading the actual man's whiney quotidian rantings? Today the art is no longer enough, we need to satisfy our prurient cravings for the details of the artist's life any way we can. Certainly knowing something of the life can make experiencing the art more satisfying, but surely one can go too far, particularly if it detracts from the experience, the understanding, what the art itself is trying to say.

The music makes the man, and that is all I need.

posted by Jonathan | 12:54 AM 0 comments


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