(7/2005 Note: This is what it is. I thought I had written all I was going to about Nirvana and Grunge, etc, in Newsletter 9.1 a few days before I wrote this in April 2004. Then the 10-year-anniversary Kurt media frenzy got into full swing, and I was driven to rant even more. But in the end I decided not to send it out... I figured I'd let my "last word" on Nirvana (right!) be the more hopeful Newsletter 9.1. Little did I know at the time, that the Box Set was about to get the final go-ahead, and that in a few months I would be plunged into Nirvana minutiae one more time! Now, a year later, this seems like one of the clearest things I will ever write about the subject of "mythologizing". - JE)
I thought I wasn't going to write any more about this. Apologies, cuz this is going to get even denser than my rant of a few days ago. I went on the air at 5 PM Monday on Seattle's KNDD with old pal DJ Dick Rossetti, and we had a good freewheeling talk about Bleach as we went thru a few of the songs, and then played a few other Nirvana tunes. I also got to play a Gits tune (the murder trial just finished days ago) and, for old times sake, we finished with a Skin Yard tune... "Hallowed Ground", recorded on the same eight-track machine that recorded Bleach, a year earlier. Probably the only time my band Skin Yard will ever be played on mainstream radio in Seattle... 16 years later... and it sounded awesome. Dude.
As I left, he gave me a copy of the special Nirvana issue of UNCUT that I hadn't yet seen. I took it home and tonight I got pretty depressed looking at it. It's a huge, color, glossy UK magazine in which every page is about Nirvana... Essentially, a whole book's-worth of info in magazine form. If they're smart, they will republish it as a book in a few years; wait for it. Why people keep feeling the need to do cover-to-cover recappings of this A-to-Z history baffles me... I'm not sure if any US magazines have been that over the top. It all seems to get more and more inaccurate as the years pass.
In fact, that's the truly depressing realization that hit me, as I encountered misconceptions and factual errors galore. I realized that those of us "who were there", who are tired of talking and thinking about "grunge" and about Nirvana, who refuse to be interviewed, who want to be left alone, who are still too sad to talk, or who are simply busy having a life, are the only ones who could ever really set the record straight on so many things... but before we ever manage it, the myth will have become the truth, regardless of what actually happened. Right in front of me, I could SEE the truth slipping away as I read page after page... memories fading, approximations and hearsay slowly becoming set in stone, dry facts transformed into glamorous legend.
And the amount of record-straightening we'd have to do would be the work of years. Horror filled me as I realized that it can't and won't ever happen. Who of us who actually KNOW and were THERE would devote a lifetime to this? We're sick and tired of it. The only people who really have the time to write all this stuff NOW are the journalists who weren't really there, and this includes ALL the foreign journalists who at best made a few visits, saw a few shows and wrote a few articles. Even Everett, God bless him. Those of us who were here, doing it, 24/7, for years, know what happened... we all played our part, we all lived it day by day. But how many lifetimes would it take to tell it? I could do a book myself, if I went around to all the old-timers I know... the ones who were never interviewed, or refused; the survivors who didn't get famous. I run into these people all the time, and occasionally someone reminds me of something uproarious or scandalous or insane that happened years ago, some piece of the puzzle that I had forgotten, that has never been told. But it would take me years of my life to collect it all and do it right... and I already have a nice life, thank you very much, and it is recording bands and producing records. And that is the problem for anyone of us who actually knows anything first-hand AND has a life. In my case, the only way it would happen is if I was suddenly stricken stone deaf tomorrow... then writing would be all I had left. (Call it plan "B".)
Even supposing that someone who was "there" would actually want to devote years of their life to uncovering and revealing in book form yet another "REAL STORY!" about something as ULTIMATELY TRIVIAL as a mere pop-culture explosion, the irony is that such a book might be very dull. Some things and events can be pretty dry and uninteresting, but here's the secret to pop culture journalism: if a context is constructed and applied later as a framing device, empty events and things are poured full of meaning... a meaning which may not have been apparent until later... or a meaning which may not have ever been there in the first place. I do not think I am sufficiently well-armed as a semiotician to dissect this process, but like pornography, I know it when I see it. In this week of Kurt-memorials I'm feeling AGAIN that same looking-glass-unreality feeling I had back when the grunge explosion first hit mainstream culture in 1992. I've realized I'm seeing history literally being "made". And, staring nakedly into the actual PROCESS by which it is "made", in real time, right before my eyes, I am reminded: "Don't believe everything you read." Yeah, Kurt was a little ahead of me on this... and it's not like I needed reminding after 3 years of Bush!
In fact, I imagine myself, and anyone else who was here as part of the Seattle music scene explosion from the early days, reading about Nirvana, about grunge, and about ourselves, 30 years from now; and as the story gets more and more distorted, the truth more and more unretrievable, we will bang our heads against the walls in frustration... and then the nurses will come with our medication.
What a totally depressing thought that is.
I just went back and looked through all 146 pages of this UNCUT special issue, and it suddenly hit me that except for a story about Charles Peterson's photography, a 1-page article by Charles Cross, and a few paragraphs they got from me by email about Bleach, there appears to be not one single person from Seattle quoted in it! No one! Think about this! This "bible" has no gospels! No one from Seattle has volunteered for an Apostle role in the Kurt cult. (Well, almost no one... hmmm.) And I think I know why.
A slice of pop-culture history, the one part I have first-hand knowledge of, may have died and begun a process of decay and fossilization as of April 1994, but I, and everyone else I know from those days who survived, refuse to become part of this process, whether we have consciously articulated this to ourselves or not. Part of it is that nothing really died; the creative juices kept flowing in Seattle, and are still flowing today, in spite of the press seeing what they want to see. We all know it. That's why we don't talk to the press. It's futile. In fact, it's too late. The Kurt/grunge myth is out there, and we can't call it back. It has a life of it's own, like a virus. Therefore... we move onward with our lives. There will be (and have been, and are) more great bands and music from here. And coffee, and software, and maybe future writers and politicians. In my case, there are lots more records to make, people to meet, places and cultures to see. Kurt, and "grunge", will just have to take care of themselves. I've got work to do.
You gotta admit, it all makes for a pretty good story though. I wonder what Gus Van Sant will do with it. Oh, didn't you hear about that?