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Death is DUMB Volume 8 - Nirvana

Welcome to WEEK 259 of MUSIC is not a GENRE (Video #85 & S4Ep26)

Death is DUMB Volume 8: Nirvana – Reopening the Heartbreak-Shaped Box

I’ve been putting this off since the very first volume of Death is DUMB. For several reasons. It’s confusing & painful. It feels too much like 1994 and yet totally not. It’s laden with commentary & assumptions & prejudices. It’s like what I said about Eminem’s “controversy” – what possible new spin or bit of insight could I provide that would justify a whole episode? But I can’t do a sub-series on major deaths in music and not include this band. That’s just plain cowardice, and abdication of responsibility that should strip me of any claim to being a good music podcaster.

So fuck it. Time to reopen the old wound and spill my guts.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. This is not about grunge. Death in music is everywhere, and while several grunge-related deaths have been high profile, they’re no more numerous than in other kinds of music. This is about amazing music, nostalgia in its truest form (“the pain of returning”), and what it all means to me. It doesn’t have to be for or about anyone or anything else. No lengthy history or patchwork biography – you can find those anywhere. No rehashing old arguments or trying to come up with whys and what-ifs.

In fact, this isn’t even going to be negative. Yes, death is fucking dumb whether it’s self-inflicted or not, and it became a big part of Nirvana’s story. But before that, the music was the story. And the more time passes, the more the story is overtaken by the music. As it should be.

The Monkees. REM. The Beatles. The Smithereens. The Pixies. Punk. Heavy metal. Pop. Harsh dynamics that often obscure the subtle intricacies and songwriting genius. The contrast of expressing the softest vulnerabilities with the loudest shouts. Nirvana did for a generation of musicians & music lovers what those other bands did for Kurt Cobain. They reminded us that in music – and in all art – there’s no such thing as “allowed”. We might seek permission by example, like Cobain did with the Pixies, but that’s us battling within ourselves. The world can fuck off. As soon as you embrace that, what comes out of you is ALL YOU, ALL REAL, and ALL NEW, regardless of what came before.

Were Nirvana grunge? Sure, okay. But at heart (and heart-shaped heartbreak), and as I believe they will be seen historically, they were power pop. Beautifully conceived & written pop songs, executed with primal & unopposable force. Freedom within form. Deeply conscientious creation infused with fuck-all abandon. Far too few artists – far too few people in general life – figure this out. We lean into structure & stricture, or we throw ourselves into self-centered self-destruction. We miss that sweet spot – that perfect state of giving ourselves over fully to our inner truth while still respecting forms, functions & relationships. We miss that nirvana.

No album of mine captures what Nirvana meant to me better than Your EP. Every song except one was a love letter to them. Soft & bitter. Hard & open. Especially “Your Sweetness” and this week’s featured song:

NICK – “Water Baby” (from Your EP)

What’s your relationship with Nirvana? What are your thoughts/feelings/memories on Cobain & his untimely death? Can you enjoy the music despite this? Do you hear the unabashed (or I guess severely bashed) pop music in their songs? What other bands do you feel expressed the beautiful heartbreak of existence? Discuss dammit!


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