I’ve been meaning to write my music column for BC for a while now – (for those who’ve read List of the Moment and waited, I am grateful. Know that I am working on at least two forthcoming lists.) Yet, this had to come first.
Perhaps I should reintroduce myself to Blogcritics where I have been for so very long now and one of the first places I felt at home. (Thank you Eric, thank you Lisa, thank you all.) I’ve been thinking about music (wow, big surprise) and a few things came to mind. Let me say off the bat before everyone gets up in arms (I hate histrionics), these are just thoughts, musings, opinions, rantings, ravings, etc and I am just thinking outloud. There may or may not be some validity here – I don’t know. I think so, but let’s see.
It’s Kurt Cobain that got me. It heard “All Apologies” the other day – specifically an outtake from a bootleg. I heard the slur of it and the whole GenX swagger that is sort of insecure and looking for a fight at the same time. We identify because that’s us with our baggy jeans sliding just so off our hips and our sweaters hanging over our gentle palms like the security blankets. We are not quite sure we want to let go of our multiple messy layers and our Converse sneakers and messy hair and there is (there was) Kurt Cobain. We didn’t have to imitate him (though many did after the fact) – he was us and we were him and as such, we identified with him.
It had been so long since any music had really moved me, as in moved me, until Nirvana came around and the sound just fucking changed. It was like nothing else. It was the way Little Richard changed things (There would be no Elvis with no Little Richard in my view.), and Dylan, Bob Dylan, his influences run the gamut, but Dylan too is major influence who was influenced by his major cultural icons – Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Little Richard, old blues traditions, and so on. It’s a narrative thread that you can trace back pretty easily if you care to. What interests me lately is why it is that some people – like Little Richard, like John Lennon, like Bob Dylan, like Elvis Presley, like Kurt Cobain, and others we could name here (the list is too long but you know the obvious references) – I’m not intentionally leaving anyone out here – think Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 who changed the sound of Motown forever – I just can’t include everyone. You get the point though – some people just become iconic.
Perhaps it is because they just do it better so they become archetypes. Ask my friend Paul and he’ll tell you that Shaggy from the original Scooby Doo is the original GenXer in some ways. Look at Shaggy and see traces of Kurt Cobain. It’s not about appearances alone, it’s about attitude. It’s about zeitgeist and what Cobain did and what Bob Dylan did and continues to do and this is the key here – is that they both picked up on the zeitgeist of the time.
It’s interesting that when pressed, both have suggested that this is not a particular gift (for I think it is a gift in some ways) as a curse. The ability to express for other people so that they can relate – to be like a shaman in some ways such that you express for the whole village and are, in short, a sort of conduit, is an amazing thing. You are, in Inuit and pretty much any non-western culture, a holy man. Dylan said of this ability to feel, after noting that he feels a lot, “It hurts.” I bet. I bet it hurts a lot and I bet it’s exhausting. Small wonder that so many musicians who really hit the top top top have trouble coping and turn to some deep-throated narcotic and sup like humming birds. That doesn’t surprise me one bit.
The thing is, you can’t spin it both ways – or you can, but frankly, that smells like bullshit. Sorry everyone, but it does. You want to be famous. You want success. You set out, as Dylan did, for New York City (“to meet Woody Guthrie”). If that had just been it, where was the return ticket, or the return ride home? C’mon. Why stay and why spin all the stories at the Folksinger’s Choice interview, which is highly entertaining but we all know and even the interviewer seems amused to be hearing about how Dylan grew up really all over but sorta somewhere near Sioux City and South Dakota. He has “lots of brothers and sisters” (everyone did in the sixties, sister). But he played with it and that’s cool. That Dylan is a private person does not surprise me. I am actually a very private person. Yet, I am absolutely compelled to be honest when I write. (It is a dangerous compulsion.)