Ward “All Apologies” Sutton, resident comic/satirist for The Village Voice, imagines a “what if” scenario for the patron saint of tortured musicians, Kurt Cobain, in the form of a 17-panel webcomic entitled In Bloom:The Alternate History of Kurt Cobain. It details the life and legacy Cobain would have left behind had he lived well in to his 70’s, “fading away” rather than “burning out.” April 5, 2009 brings the fifteenth anniversary of Cobain’s tragic suicide, prompting many media outlets to pump out tributes, retrospectives, and state of the union type features concerning the current climate of popular music in relation to Cobain’s influence.
Sutton’s elegy provides an all together unique and challenging perspective to this generation-defining event, fleshing out a fantasy that many Nirvana/Cobain diehards have thought and philosophized about for the better part of two decades. The result is something much less than a grand celebration of a fallen rock god’s possible life, as Sutton looks back on Cobain not with rose colored glasses, but with the subtle understanding that even if he had decided not to take his own life back in 1994, the staggering weight of expectation and prophet like adoration would gradually crush and subdue Cobain over time.
I lived through Nirvana’s heyday (which in terms of mainstream acceptance, I’ll claim spanned from 1991-1994), but only began absorbing popular music, and MTV in particular, during the hype surrounding the release of In Utero in the winter of 1993. Even then, I was only an 8-year-old attempting to grasp the apocalyptic stops and starts of “Heart Shaped Box” accompanied by the terrifyingly disturbing music video that haunted my dreams for months. Besides listening to Pittsburgh’s perennial oldies radio station, 3WS, and a worn out tape of ” Cheeseburger in Paradise” by Jimmy Buffet, I had little knowledge or appreciation of music before the winter of 1993. My tabula rasa quickly became a battlefield between two distinct musical genres: Dr. Dre’s g-funk influenced, west coast gangster rap, and the death rattles of the unfortunate and unfairly titled Grunge, which was quickly becoming saturated with formulated Pearl Jam impersonators, and hedonistic, narcissistic frontmen (re: Scott Weiland) something the Seattle scene had made conscious moves away from.
I could easily wax poetic about Nirvana’s influence on my life, but it was never that simple. I always kept them at arms length, afraid to embrace music that seemed so nihilistic (although I wouldn’t have described it that way at my age) and determined to keep an aura of dark ennui hanging over every song. Nirvana planted seeds in my head for sure during that winter, but it was not until I purchased the somewhat underwhelming, eponymous greatest hits album in the fall of my junior year of high school did I hold their songs close enough to enjoy, let alone appreciate with fervent idol worship.
Listening to that album and rediscovering the band that was Nirvana, minus the hype and sadness, was a very personal experience for me. I don’t feel as if I can describe that feeling in length here with any sense of logic, nor do I want to. I will say that Nirvana isn’t necessarily a band you “get into” for a while and leave behind for greater musical conquests. For me, when listening to any other band in particular, Nirvana always seems to linger somewhere in the back of my mind, giving me an unconscious barometer for my emotional connectivity to music. In some ways they have ruined my ability to open up to new sounds and styles, in other ways they have enhanced it. Nirvana will always be an influence on me, whether I like it or not.
What Sutton’s piece gave me was an intensley sad, anticlimactic piece of closure. While that sounds like a negative response to the webcomic that wryly presented an alternate ending to one of rock’s most tragic tales, it was actually a touching anecdote added to the growing pile of speculation I had acrued over the past seven years. Yeah, it might have played out that way, or it might not have. All I know is that Nirvana will always be present in my musical landscape, quietly carving out its own place for permenant residence in the back of my head.