Thursday 25 December 2014

Cobain . . . The Musical! Not my idea of Nirvana

Published 11/11/2012 | 06:00

Are there really any Nirvana fans out there pining to see Kurt Cobain -- The Musical? The dreaded spectre of a Broadway show based on the life and music of the grunge icon was raised last month by his widow Courtney Love's co-manager, Sam Lufti.

Cue consternation on the blogosphere, which saw the prospect of Kurt's spectacular rise and tragic fall being turned into a kitsch Busby Berkeley-style production as too much to contemplate.

The rock musical format worked for Queen, whose overtly theatrical larger-than-life schtick was a good fit for London's West End, where We Will Rock You broke box office records. But Nirvana?

Obsessed by the idea of keeping it real and maintaining artistic purity in the face of the increasing corporatisation of rock, Kurt was haunted by his own success.

Having formed a noisy power trio that was positioned defiantly left of the mainstream, he woke up one morning to find that the mainstream had come to him. Kurt didn't want MTV -- but MTV sure wanted Kurt.

We all know what happened next. His drug addiction and eventual suicide was a personal tragedy that impacted around the world as fans tried to make sense of their anti-hero's self-destruction.

Kurt's untimely demise saw him portrayed in some quarters as a martyr on the altar of rock'n'roll. He had joined the 27 Club -- taking his place alongside the sad roll call of other stars whose memory would never grow old, such as Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. (It's a wonder no-one has thought of basing a show around the music of these stars who would never live to see 30 ... What's that? Jack L's just scored a No 1 album with this idea? Oh.)

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the intense dramatic narrative of Kurt's life, with its vertiginous highs and crashing lows, was repackaged and sold as a Saturday night diversion. There they are now, entertain them . . .

Of course, Gus Van Sant has already told his story on the big screen, albeit in a fictionalised version where all names were changed. However, the parallels between Michael Pitt's character in the film Last Days and the final act of Kurt's life were there for all to see. Indeed, one of Kurt's friends, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, even had a role in the movie.

If Van Sant is to be applauded for the way he refused to romanticise his subject, portraying instead a lost, lonely and paranoid individual who is beset with fair-weather friends and blood-sucking hangers-on, it also made for a pretty drab drama.

Being a cosseted millionaire rock star trapped in his own mansion made him feel mind-numbingly bored, the film seemed to say, but how do you show such boredom without dragging the viewer down with you?

Unlike Last Days, presumably any theatrical version of Kurt's life would include Nirvana's music, the rights to which are owned by Courtney Love, who remains the chief gatekeeper of her late husband's work.

However, there have been mixed messages coming from Courtney's camp about the project. Last week, Love herself scotched rumours of such a show, saying "sometimes it's best just to leave things alone".

She also said she regrets licensing Kurt's work in the past, not least the use of Smells Like Teen Spirit in The Muppet Movie, where it was performed by, well, a bunch of muppets . . . and Dave Grohl.

One wonders what Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic made of it?

Kermit The Frog and Kurt Cobain had seemed destined to never appear in the same sentence together, never mind the set-piece of a blockbusting Hollywood children's film. Somewhere 'Kermit Cobain' is tearing his green hair out, you suspect.

And in the US, CBS is developing a new family sitcom named after Nirvana's most famous anthem.

Of course, Kurt reportedly cadged the title himself from a brand of deodorant -- so what goes around comes around, I suppose.

Still, if the curtain ever does rise on Kurt Cobain The Musical, it will be the most grimly anticipated production on Broadway in years -- could we be talking about a Springtime For Hitler for the 21st Century? Although, with the lights out, it's less dangerous . . .

nkelly@independent.ie

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