Sunday, April 04, 2004

I REMEMBER KURT: A round-up of some of the early coverage of the tenth anniversary:

Dominic Moron, sorry, Mohan (that never gets tired, does it?) calls Kurt the “last great Rock hero” in The Sun, a paper which somehow you can just picture Kurt sitting down to enjoy of a morning. He’s fighting, dammit, for Cobain’s legacy: ”Do you really think The White Stripes, Radiohead and Coldplay would exist if there hadn’t been a Nirvana? Not to mention Grohl’s Foo Fighters and the nu-metal movement, of course.” Erm... Dominic? Radiohead were contemporaries of Nirvana; Coldplay clearly draw on the influence of Oasis and Suede and Britpop, which was more of a ‘despite’ than ‘because of’ grunge movement, and The White Stripes? Would they have existed without Nirvana? Almost certainly; if you knew half as much about creativity as you claim to you’d see that Jack White is a man who would be producing music even if he’d been brought up in a small, soundproofed box for the first twenty years of his life. Dominic could have cited Dizzee Rascal, who's busily citing Kurt as an influence at the moment. But we’re sure Dominc really was a fan. We can picture him singing along and shooting his guns, right down the front row.

Writing in The Age, Helen Razer struggles to cope with the Cobain myth. Rather clunkily, she kicks off "In the first quarter of the past decade, any kid with their antennae trained to pop culture knew and understood an object called Kurt." An object? And surely, erm, part of the problem was that while everyone thought they knew Kurt he kind of pointedly revealed that nobody ever quite understood him. But nice to reduce the man to an object as his memorial. It gets worse: "To gauge Cobain's popularity is simple: he claimed enough airtime, ink and eyeballs to be a bona fide celeb." He may also have made a record or two, we hear. Tim Rogers, of You Am I, toured with Nirvana, and remembers the night his death was announced: "Our band was playing a gig in Perth and the club DJ made an announcement before playing a song from (Nirvana album) Nevermind. Something very cheesy and cynical like 'This one goes out to you, Kurt!'
(Former You Am I manager) Kate Stewart walks up to him and swings at this guy. I'm not sure if she made contact. She certainly managed to express how inappropriate it was to trivialise his suicide."
Not entirely sure what a club DJ would be expected to say that wouldn't be seen as "trivialising" his suicide, and why it would be any worse to dedicate a song to the recently deceased than, say, take part in a Ten Years On background colour piece.

Of course, if he hadn't died, Kurt would have been able to clear exactly what did and didn't count as proper respect for us, but we're left to speculate. In the same way, the Tacoma News Tribune speculates on what might have happened if Kurt had survived that night - by now, he might have been recording with Michael Stipe. Or, on the other hand, he might been swept back into obscurity. Oddly, the don't bother to suggest other, equally plausible possibilities: he might have joined the church, or co-anchored the Daily Show alongside Jon Stewart, or moved to England and opened a pottery shop, but the News-Trib had already filled the space up and didn't need to. has got a wider range of contacts and far stronger credentials to fall back on - after all, there's no doubt that the world's biggest selling rock weekly (and, more especially, the now-defunct Melody Maker folded into it) got Nirvana, and got Nirvana quickly. Although it could perhaps do a bit better on the website than pieces by Evan Dando and, um Lars Ulrich, but then much of the paper's powder is being kept dry for this week's special edition, we guess. And they have taken the trouble to remember the man through his music, compiling the 20 best Nirvana tracks.

The Associated Press’ standard drop-in to mark the anniversary reminds us all that we don’t actually know quite when we’re meant to be lighting the candles - although we all know when the body was discovered, the closest we actually have to a fixed point of death is a vague “within 24 hours" - so it could be that we've all missed the moment, or are all jumping the gun, in a kind of grim, literal way.

The timing of Cobain's death gave rise to another commonplace misconception, that we can remember trying to squish back in 1994 through the pages of an almost unread fanzine: that the mainstream papers chose to ignore Kurt's suicide. We were surprised to see the same complaints resurface this weekend in the Independent [subscription required] when David Lister tut-tutted over how few column inches Kurt received the morning after the electrician came a-calling: "The Times just had a short report on page three; the Guardian a mere 147 words... The Daily Telegraph also a short, page three report. The Independent did better, running the story at the foot of page one. Younger readers were bemused at this lack of coverage..." Maybe they were, David, but surely a person who works in the newspaper industry would not be so surprised that a death that by eight in the evening, British time, hadn't even been officially confirmed didn't pick up very much coverage in a Saturday paper? With very little time before the presses rolled - and certainly no time to get a reporter up to Seattle, and most of the obvious people to call for quotes already out drowning their sorrows (or preparing elaborate 'I remember where I was when I heard the news' myths), there was precious little for the papers to put into their reports; so little it would hardly have been judged worth massively overhauling the layout of the paper to make extra space to fit in what would have been little more than cuttings and puff. It's true, as Lister says, that no subsequent extinguishing of an icon has been quite so under-reported (least, not in proportion to their perceived cultural significance), but that's because the only icon who's died at such an awkward time for the UK press was that former Princess, and she was deemed worthy of a last-minute rejig or two.

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