Sunday, December 27, 2009

Eating the Dinosaur: Nirvana's Guilt Rock

This is the second part in a series about Chuck Klosterman's new book Eating the Dinosaur.

Kurt Cobain (and possibly bassist Krist Novoselic) "could not reconcile the dissonance between mass success and artistic merit" when their band, Nirvana, was releasing its follow-up to the mega-smash Nevermind album.

Klosterman tries to get inside Cobain's head to wonder why In Utero had to be "conventionally 'bad' in order for it to be exceptionally good" and "why did that fraction of badness only matter if people knew that the badness was intentional."

The author compares Cobain to David Koresh, whose Branch Davidian cult was being raided by the feds at the same time as In Utero's recording sessions were beginning, in February 1993. They both had shoulder-length hair, played guitar, had bad childhoods, often complained of stomach problems, were obsessed with guns, and had troubling taste in women.

Klosterman's comparison oddly ends there, without making any sweeping assumptions, but it appears this book could indeed be a hodgepodge of pop-culture musings. And the style works well in forcing the reader to make his or her own conclusions, which is perhaps why Klosterman is largely considered one of the keenest pop-culture critics of our time. I think his goal is to find overlooked similarities and simplifications of the weird ways in which we embrace celebrities and their culture.

But back to the bad-art-as-good issue, another interesting story Klosterman tells is how Cobain forced his wife, Courtney Love, to return the Lexus she purchased. He didn't identify with the rich-person car. At this point, Cobain "merely looked like a millionaire trying to convince people that he still wanted to be the kind of guy who refused to buy a Lexus.

"In Utero sounds like what it is: Guilt Rock."