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Ten years gone (continued)

Because the real tragedy of Cobainís suicide for those of us who didnít know him is that it ended the music. Itís easy to forget that Nirvana released only three bona fide studio albums ó Bleach, Nevermind, and In Utero. There are outtakes and B-sides and Incesticide. And now thereís a live album and a retrospective compilation with one previously unreleased studio recording. But thatís precious little music from a band who are considered to be as important as Nirvana. And thereís a lot on In Utero and Unplugged to suggest that, in spite of his heroin addiction, Kurt was still capable of immense growth as both a songwriter and a singer.

There are also Cobainís own words, neatly preserved in the liner notes he wrote for the odds-and-sods collection Incesticide: "At this point I have a request for our fans. If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us ó leave us the fuck alone! Donít come to our shows and donít buy our records." Those are the sentiments of an artist struggling to maintain his own identity and integrity in the face of the homogenization that accompanies pop stardom. One hopes, and I believe, that he would have made good on those words, even if that meant reaching a smaller audience. Itís one more thing weíll never know.

In the wake of his suicide, a lot of people compared Kurtís death to the murder of John Lennon. In both instances, a voice unlike any other was silenced. The Chosen Rejects (St. Martinís Griffin), a new Nirvana biography written by Kurt St. Thomas with the help of Troy Smith (both former WFNX program directors), goes so far as to suggest that Nevermind was the "most influential rock album since the Beatlesí Sgt. Pepperís Lonely Hearts Club Band." Never mind that other important albums would invalidate that assertion for a number of people (the Sex Pistolsí Never Mind . . . , the first Zeppelin album, and at least something by the young Bob Dylan are the first three that come to my mind). All Top 10 lists are subjective, and Nevermind certainly had a cultural impact that went well beyond its 13 tracks.

More important, even if you donít believe that Kurt Cobain was as significant a figure as John Lennon, comparison between the two highlights what made Kurtís suicide so frustrating ó and why itís been so hard to close the book. Lennon was around for long enough to complete an immense body of work. His life was documented by so many people in so many forms that anyone who cares to can spend an entire lifetime sifting through the minutiae. Kurt, on the other hand, was just getting started. The body of work he left feels unfinished. And it always will. Itís telling that The Chosen Rejects is based largely on three interviews St. Thomas conducted, only one of which was with Cobain. The book covers the same terrain and tells pretty much the same story as Christopher Sandfordís Kurt Cobain (just republished in a revised and updated edition by Carroll & Graf) and Charles R. Crossís heavily researched Heavier Than Heaven (first published in 2001 by Hyperion), both of which simply added to the tale Michael Azerrad told in his 1993 bio Come As You Are. Thatís no indictment of St. Thomas: itís simply a reflection of the truncated and relatively secret life lived by its subject. Carrie Borzilloís Nirvana: The Day-by-Day Eyewitness Chronicle, published by Thunderís Mouth Press in 2000, is only 192 pages long. Any similar accounting of the Beatles, much less John Lennon, would fill volumes.

Perhaps some day something will surface ó a recording, an interview, a note, a video, a photograph, anything ó that will answer some of the questions Kurt left dangling when he pulled the trigger. But that doesnít seem likely. Instead, weíre left with an unfinished puzzle, its bits and pieces scattered among songs, stories, sounds, and visions. Iíve gone back to my Nirvana albums. And Iíve found them very much the way I left them: a work in progress . . . incomplete.

Kurt St. Thomas and Troy Smith will rejoin WFNX 101.7 FM this Monday, April 5, for a day-long commemoration of the anniversary of Kurt Cobainís death that will include the playing of Nirvanaís music and archival interviews.

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Issue Date: April 2 - 8, 2004
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