There is a connection
Chatting in the kitchen this evening, we went from the French singer Serge Gainsbourg to Kurt Cobain. I don’t know Gainsbourg well, but was intrigued after watching a documentary about him a couple of years back. His lyrics seemed different.
“Don’t write about Gainsbourg.” said Frédéric… “Write about who you know.”… “You could write about Kurt Cobain?” I don’t know Kurt Cobain nor his group Nirvana that well either… and I probably will write about Gainsbourg one day (when I have familiarised myself with at least one piece of his music!). Frédéric was right though, I do know more about Cobain. Gainsbourg and Cobain might also be one of a kind… (present tense intentional). Both were musicians with unusual creativity. Both struggled greatly with their existence in this world.
Rebellious schooldays (kind of)
I first heard Nirvana, interlaced with Guns n’ Roses (Live and Let Die time), at parties. These gatherings were in dark rooms, the food was not great and there might have been some cheap sparkling wine. They took place at the houses of rebels, the lost ones from school. I wanted to be with the others (when I wasn’t hanging around with the ‘boffins’), so tolerated the music but the penetrating riffs of “Come as you are.” and Cobain’s voice made me feel like I’d just had a bad dream.
A few weeks back, on Arte (that TV channel that I rave about) we came across a montage of Cobain’s music, art, writing and the rest of his life. Despite all his troubles, he seemed to be constantly creating; writing lyrics, notes, journal entries, doodles and other art. The documentary was touching, sad and inspiring.
I began to see him and Nirvana in a new light. I can now listen to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ without being taken to a dark place. Yet, right now I am especially taken with the raw beauty of an acoustic concert. There is much emotion in the cover of Lead Belly’s song “Where did you sleep last night?” and I love the mysterious “The Man who Sold the World” written by Bowie (both are ideal for English reading/listening/speaking practice too…). This concert is a lovely way to remember Cobain and its positivity contrasts with the tragedy that he took his own life not long after.
There is also a gem of an interview in Seattle where Cobain comes across as a sensitive soul. He talks about his obsession with the novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind. He describes how a main character is disgusted by human beings and needs to get away from them, so he escapes into the woods and hides. He could relate to that, so he said.
In this informal interview, he also spoke about how he would have liked it if people would have described his music as ‘New Age’. That seems right somehow, I prefer it to ‘grunge’.
There will be more posts about Cobain. I feel there is much to learn and inspired by from his life. Look out for a post on Gainsbourg too…
I plan to post on music every Friday. For some Chilean folk music, see last week’s post on Victor Jara.