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Monday, May 5, 2014

"Better To Burn Out Than Fade Away"

For the fans and families of iconic Seattle-based Rock band Nirvana, the year 2014 presented the perfect convergence of events to celebrate their music and remember frontman Kurt Cobain on the 20th anniversary of his death.  The timeline almost makes their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (in the first year of eligibility) seem suspiciously opportunistic, but occasionally it's perfectly acceptable to accept such timing as fate.

Not only has the anniversary of Kurt's death and their induction re-ignited the passion of Nirvana's fanbase, but also refueled the widely shared opinion of foul play surrounding his death, ruled a suicide by Seattle PD following a very short and horribly flawed investigation.  For 20 years, fans and so-called "conspiracy theorists" have challenged the investigation and conclusion, almost universally pointing the finger at Kurt's widow Courtney Love.  The work of private investigator Tom Grant, originally hired by Courtney, has revealed a far more contemptuous relationship than the final section of the note she read publicly upon news of his death on April 8th, 1994.

Nirvana was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame on April 10, 2014 by R.E.M frontman Michael Stipe.  After their acceptance, drummer Dave Grohl, bassist Krist Novoselic (on accordion), and guitarist Pat Smear played a 4-song set of Nirvana tracks featuring an all-female cast of guest vocalists, accomplishing the same kind of uniquely unorthodox result they had achieved with their appearance on MTV's "Unplugged" series.
  Following their induction, the same lineup performed a secret invitation-only 16-song set at Brooklyn's Saint Vitus club.  Among the documented highlights of their induction was a gesture of peace between Courtney Love and Dave Grohl, ceremoniously ending their headline-grabbing public feud.  Of course, the sentiment is only truly relevant to those who have never questioned the circumstances of Kurt's death. 

As a fan of the "Big 4" from the Seattle music scene of the early 1990's (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains), I recognized and followed them all, but my allegiance weighed most heavily towards Pearl Jam.  That's not to say that I didn't recognize the impact that Nirvana's massive breakout album "Nevermind" had as its early buzz quickly escalated to a thunderous ripple in the musical landscape.  The success of the album occurred so quickly that the band was still driving a van with a U-Haul trailer on tour as the album reached Gold status.  Their 3rd album "In Utero" was released in September 1993, followed closely by their acclaimed performance on "Unplugged", which has become one of the most highly regarded of that series.  At the peak of their career, Kurt was found dead in his home by an electrician after leaving rehab early and flying home alone about a month after Nirvana's final show as a band.

Kurt's contempt for the fame and business associated with the music he made, likely exacerbated by his heroin addiction, was highlighted in the note that Courtney read to the public.  The line "better to burn out than fade away", borrowed from a Neil Young lyric, offered a glimpse into his struggle with the trappings of success and how it left him disenchanted and unable to enjoy or appreciate the connection his music made with fans.  Neil has said that seeing his lyric associated with Kurt's death affected him deeply, and that he had attempted to reach out to Kurt to offer some advice.  There's no telling to what level Kurt had wanted to achieve success (or fame, if any) but when it comes at such an accelerated pace, along with the other stressors in his life, it certainly took its toll.  However, Kurt was on a path of rejuvenation, starting with rehab, and had appeared in excellent spirit shortly before his death.  It's likely the note he had written reflected an attitude he was looking to leave in the past upon returning from rehab, but the next chapter in his life never began. 

There are several cliched phrases which can be attributed to that feeling of finally appreciating Nirvana as they bask in the afterglow of their induction and enjoy this renewed attention.  While I wasn't among their biggest fans I certainly enjoyed their music but I've embraced its power and impact recently more than ever, especially as it was captured in their Unplugged performance.  There is no doubt that Nirvana's music will captivate and inspire future generations with no end in sight.  Whether the renewed attention on the case surrounding his tragically untimely death will lead to new activity
remains to be seen but this year will prove to be monumental for celebrating and appreciating the magnitude of Nirvana's impact.

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