Posts Tagged ‘Kurt Cobain’

April is an unusual time of year: the bitterness of winter is finally over, spring is (supposedly) here,  and summer is just around the corner. It’s a time for new beginnings, fresh starts, looking on the bright side. Except every April 5th, there’s a  heaviness that sets in which began in 1994: when Kurt Cobain died.

Now, if you grew up in the 90s, you know who Cobsin is whether you listened to his music or not: the lead singer of  Nirvana. A band that penned “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” personified grunge and became poster boys for angst-filled anti-everything Gen-Xers. Behind the scenes, Cobain suffered from depression, was big on heroin, and uncomfortable being in the spotlight. Nirvana released three albums over a four-year period and sold over 15 million copies. On April 5th 1994, Cobain was found dead: he committed suicide by shotgun, though conspiracy theorists remain convinced it wasn’t an accident. He was 27.

Musician Brian Jones not only formed The Rolling Stones, he also named them and contributed as a songwriter. He primarily played harmonica, keyboard and guitar, but brought several instruments to the band’s sound, including the sitar. He’s performed with Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles and while with the Rolling Stones, appeared on ten studio albums, selling over 8 million copies. Due to a chronic drug habit, Jones was asked to leave the band and shortly after, on July 3rd, 1969, he died by drowning in his pool. He was 27.

Jimi Hendrix is widely responsible for making the electric guitar a star with his immeasurable creativity, putting psychedelic rock, funk and blues together, and mainstreaming the use of feedback, distortion and amplifiers. He headlined Woodstock in 1969, released three records and sold over 7 million copies. He was a known drug user, mostly marijuana and LSD. Though the events surrounding Hendrix’s death on September 18, 1970 remain controversial and unclear, it appears he died due to asphyxiation on his own vomit as a result of mixing alcohol and drugs. He was 27.

Janis Joplin was a pioneer in blues/country/folk/psychedelic rock. She was known as “The Queen of Rock ‘n Roll,” and has influenced musicians like Florence Welch and Stevie Nicks. She headlined Woodstock in 1969, put out two albums as a solo artist selling more than 5 million copies; she also released two albums while lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company, which sold over 3 million copies. Joplin died on October 4th, 1970 – 16 days after Hendrix – of a heroin overdose, allegedly accidental. She was 27.

Jim Morrison was lead singer and songwriter for The Doors, a 60s psychedelic/blues rock band, the definition of classic rock. He was also a poet, influenced the likes of Scott Weiland and Iggy Pop and the leather pants he often wore apparently gave them their rock star association. He was dark and mysterious and well known for his on-stage personality: charismatic, sexy and full of antics. The Doors released six albums over four years and sold well over 6 million copies. Morrison died on July 3rd 1971 in Paris, supposedly of a heroin overdose. Because there were no signs of foul play, no official autopsy was performed, as was French law at the time. He was 27.

Amy Winehouse was the perfect blend of R&B, soul, blues and jazz while bringing her own rawness to the table. She was definitely not the “cookie-cutter” type, she was unconventional yet still set the mainstream on fire – she was just that talented. She released two albums over three years, selling over a whopping 20 million copies. In 2006 she won five Grammy Awards, the first British female artist to do so, paving the way for Adele and so many others. She had a long history of drug abuse, alcoholism, violence and mental health issues including manic depression. Winehouse died July 3rd, 2011 from alcohol poisoning. She was 27.

The 27 Club refers to a group of famous musicians who died at 27 years old, and these were just a few. All members had major impacts on the music industry: they were pioneers who opened our ears to something new, icons, phenomenal musicians and full of promise, who died in the prime of their careers. But they were also suffering: with drugs, alcohol, their mental health. Which makes you wonder whether this contributed to their innovativeness and genius? Did they need that outside assistance to pull out their musical creativity? On the other hand, was 27 years all they could give of their music? Would they have had anything left to offer had they lived any longer? The 27 Club is an exclusive one where nobody wants to be a member. However becoming a member also means you’ve impacted the music industry in ways most never will. Catch 22?

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1991 was a big year for music: U2 dropped their epic album Achtung Baby, Dave Matthews Band was formed, Michael Jackson released Dangerous, Metallica let loose their self-titled debut album, and grunge music was born. Most importantly though, three albums were released which impacted the music industry in ways beyond anyone’s imagination; and opened my ears to a whole new world.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Pearl Jam released their debut album Ten on August 27, 1991. As of 2009, it has sold over 9.6 million copies according to Nielsen Soundscan and has been certified thirteen times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Not too shabby for a group of guys from Seattle. Ten gave us eleven songs full of angst, misunderstanding, social divide and dissatisfaction with the way of the world. “Even Flow” paints a picture of homelessness, “Jeremy” displays teenage violence and my personal favourite off the album, “Black” deals with the anger that comes with loneliness and loss. I know this may not sound too appealing, but twenty years ago, this album exemplified grunge music and it was a big deal.
Younger people especially connected with this music because it reflected in large part how they felt – outcast, alone, and frustrated by the unfairness of the world (we’ve all been to high school haven’t we?). On this album, Pearl Jam dealt with real life issues and got us angry about it; the tracks were simple, direct, and made a statement. At this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, they debuted a film called PJ20, recapping their first twenty years together, to rave reviews. To support this film and their career, they put on a tour and I was lucky enough to go see them – right off the bat Eddie Vedder was wailing on the mic, to a backdrop of unbelievable guitar solos courtesy of Mike McCready. The energy was high, like they were twenty years younger. And then so was I.

Red Hot Chili Peppers released their fifth studio album Blood Sugar Sex Magik on September 24,  1991. Yes, I said fifth. Die hard fans aside, chances are you haven’t heard of their first four albums or like me were too young when they came out. No matter which way you slice it though, this album really put them on the map. Their sound is rock ‘n roll coloured with punk and funk, contrary to their earlier albums which were a lot more heavy metal. It has sold over 15 million copies worldwide (compared to 2.1 million by its predecessor, Mother’s Milk) and been certified seven times platinum by the RIAA. Sex, lust and sadness are common themes showcased throughout the album. “Under the Bridge”, easily my favourite track of all time, describes the feelings surrounding drug use and loneliness. “Suck My Kiss” is a guy’s somewhat provocative way to convince a girl to be with him.  “Breaking the Girl” tells the story of heartache and break ups. It’s a fun, soulful and very creatively written album, which was essential in catapulting their career and mainstreaming their music.

Arguably the most historic release of 1991 was Nirvana’s sophomore album Nevermind, also on shelves September 24, 1991. The unwilling poster boys for grunge music and everything it represented was obvious in all aspects of Nirvana: from music, to lyrics, to their appearance on stage. It has sold thirty million copies worldwide (compared to a feeble four million copies of their debut, 1989’s Bleach). It has been certified diamond in the US, Canada and France. Impressive for yet another group of guys from Seattle. I didn’t really start listening to this album until a few years after its release but it still managed to reach my generation and speak to us. They were jaded, and sometimes so were we and that’s why their music made sense. Kids started dressing like them: plaid shirts, baggy jeans, and boys would even grow their hair out and would purposefully sweep it to the side in an unkempt manner. It’s a pretty dark album but also very deep; twelve anthems about drugs, suicide, death and teenage angst. We always played Nevermind at birthday parties during which we would jump around, mosh and head bang our little hearts out.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Sadly, Kurt Cobain committed suicide via drug overdose on April 5th 1994 and I still remember hearing it on the news: the candlelight vigil that was held out in Seattle, the number of kids at my school sporting a t-shirt with his face and the years 1967-1994 printed on it. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” evokes the exact sentiment of teen boredom and feeling like outcasts. Its stop and go sound, from soft to loud just adds more fuel to the song and gets the listener that much more into it. “Lithium” puts a spotlight on how drugs are used to mask real feelings, keep things under control. “Come As You Are” presents the eternal debate between being who you are and being who society expects you to be. Even the album cover generated mass media hysteria because it depicted a naked baby underwater swimming toward a dollar bill attached to a fishing hook. So much meaning in one work of art. That’s Nevermind for you.

Many more albums were released in 1991, but these ones stood out because their impact lasted for years after, and still to this day. All three bands released other albums after these ones, but none had the same kind of effect on their music, their career or their fans. These albums brought them into the spotlight, highlighted talent that would’ve otherwise gone unnoticed. Music about violence, depression, alienation and loneliness became mainstream. No fancy production needed, no back up dancers, no costume changes, no alter egos, no lip-synching  – just the music and the lyrics, and telling it like it is. It was finally time for the outcast/loner kid to get a voice. And it worked because the audience was ready to listen; they were waiting for someone to get it, to help them out. It’s hard to say if today’s listeners would be as receptive because music has evolved in so many ways since that time. These albums made a difference because they spoke to a generation in a way no other album had yet. Twenty years from now, they will still resonate with us, still make a difference. And that my friends is a beautiful thing.

When engaging in a conversation about music, or anything really, I feel it’s imperative to know what you’re talking about; to have a basis or reference for why you’re saying what you’re saying is really not that difficult. We don’t have to agree on everything because let’s face it, at the end of the day everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But the ideas being thrown out into the discussion should be based on truth. What really irks me, is when people make things up for no reason. They use a tiny bit of true, and a whole lot of false to make themselves appear more intelligent. Allow me to elaborate.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                           To give you some history, I have always had a penchant for rock/alternative music, likely due to being a by-product of the grunge era (think Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, etc) that exploded in the 90s, when I was in high school. Which is why the following incident was so troublesome. I was driving with someone and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” comes on the radio. For those of you unfamiliar with grunge music, Nirvana essentially defined it. They had the look (plaid flannel shirts), the hair (head banger hair as I used to call it) and the sound (angry enough to instantaneously induce mosh pits). And “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became grunge’s anthem. So the person I am with, who clearly does not listen to any music of this genre, but has heard of the band, proceeds to make a statement suggesting that it was amazing how famous Nirvana became, after only making one album (ie Nevermind) before lead singer Kurt Cobain committed suicide. My immediate reaction: shock, followed by horror.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            What ensued was a very disturbed and confused me, trying to convince an ignorant her that Nirvana had in fact recorded more than 1 album, as I own at least 2 others (1. In Utero with my all time favourite “All Apologies”; 2. Unplugged in New York including an amazing cover of Bowie’s “Man Who Sold the World”, which never fails to give me chills).  I shit you not, she refused to believe me. What frustrated me the most was this was a textbook case of someone trying to look like they know what they’re talking about. Needless to say, we no longer hang out.
Name-dropping is another variation of blending true and false. Just because you can drop the name of an obscure indie band no one else has heard of, it doesn’t mean you’re into indie music. If you tell me you like Interpol, you should be able to name at least one of their songs. I’m telling you, there’s nothing worse than pretending to know something. Whether it’s to appear more intelligent, to make it seem like your taste in music is expansive, to make others think you’re interesting, or even to hide the fact that you’d be perfectly happy just listening to Lindsay Lohan’s “Rumors” on repeat, it’s inexcusable. Here’s the thing, if you want people to think your taste in music is “different” and “interesting” and “so not mainstream”, try actually listening to music that is different, interesting and so not mainstream – who knows, you may actually like it.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            All I’m asking is for everyone to be honest. Educate yourself. It’s just like anything else in life, if you are going to make a statement you think is fact, then make sure it’s fact. If you haven’t heard of a band – admit it. If you like music you think will get you made fun of – own it. Please, just stop pretending, is that too much to ask?