Tuesday 19 September 2017

How Kurt Cobain's legacy changed all our worlds

Here We Are Now; Charles Cross It Books; hdbk, €18.99, 177 pages

Kurt Cobain's death was arguably the NME's finest hour
Kurt Cobain's death was arguably the NME's finest hour
Here We Are Now
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Grunge legend Kurt Cobain is dead two decades now – you probably noticed the recent raft of commemorations – but his fame burns brighter than ever.

Like with Elvis, Lennon and others, death is no barrier to enduring success. The records still sell by the bucket-load. The merchandising flies off shelves. Nirvana's influence is heard in every second new rock group.

Documentaries, video games, comics, you name it: the Nirvana/Cobain industry (really, man and band are indivisible) is a giant which will probably never die.

Here We Are Now examines all of this. Unlike most works on Kurt, which focus on his music or brief but electrifying life, this is about what came after he killed himself in 1994 (it's subtitled 'The lasting impact of Kurt Cobain').

Writer Charles R Cross, who previously wrote an excellent Cobain biography, divides this impact into five sections: music; broader culture; style/fashion; issues of addiction and suicide; and his hometown of Aberdeen, Washington, and adopted home of Seattle.

You're always a little suspicious when someone makes grandiose claims on behalf of a musician or actor: "Such-and-such's influence went well beyond his field and continues to resonate ... "

In this case, though, it seems valid and Cross's arguments stack up quite well.

Obviously, Kurt's impact on music is clear to anyone with ears. But to take, say, the chapter on addiction and suicide, Cross uses hard evidence, statistics and quotes from experts to make a compelling case that Kurt's self-killing – and the tsunami of publicity around it – actually prevented further suicides and opened people's eyes to the insidious problem of substance abuse.

On a lighter note, the section on fashion is convincing too – albeit beyond weird that this scrawny, scruffy nerd from a Pacific North-West backwater would still be influencing catwalks 20 years post-mortem.

I laughed out loud at the fact you can buy a clever conditioner which gives your hair that mussed-up, "just-out-of-bed" look; a look Kurt achieved by, well, not washing it very often.

The main drawback with Here We Are Now is that it's short, and feels more like a series of lengthy magazine articles than a proper book. But Cross is a good writer, and more importantly, he knew Cobain personally: from before the fame, right through to the bitter ending. Cross's own memories, his deep involvement in the grunge scene, add heft to his arguments and over-all poignancy.

Especially poignant is the chapter on Cobain's upbringing. He was a latch-key kid of divorced parents (and Irish roots: the family has been traced to Tyrone, although Kurt believed he was of Cork stock). In other words, A classic modern-American domestic tragedy, waiting to happen.

Happen it did, but not before the 27-year-old inscribed his genius across the music world, and others.

Nirvana fans will enjoy this book as an aide-mémoire to that time which was simultaneously great and terrible – and an explanation of why the time, and man, are worth remembering.

Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709 350

DARRAGH MCMANUS IS AUTHOR OF THE POLKA DOT GIRL AND EVEN FLOW

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