SONG TITLE: AUF WIEDERSEHEN
PERFORMER: CHEAP TRICK
SONGWRITER: RICK NIELSEN / TOM PETERSSON
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1978
SONG TITLE: SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT
SONGWRITER: KURT COBAIN / NIRVANA
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1991
COMMENTS: Too bad about Kurt Cobain. He was a talented young songwriter. Nirvana was never much of a band per se (they were barely adequate) but there was an exceptional actual melodic talent – the rarest and most critical musical component. The verse gave a catchy and nicely developed tune, though that tune conveys a desperate desire to stave off anxiety and depression. The melodic hooks were all over the place, such as “hel-lo, hel-lo, he-el-lo.” The chord riff that opens and sustains the song gives the whole record a groove, catchy as hell. You could even actually dance to this.
Sometimes the quality of the songs was somewhat lost underneath the distortion and screaming of the whole “grunge” musical movement. Much of the time, grunge is just thick noise trying desperately to cover up the fact that hardly any of these groups ever wrote a real song. Cobain himself was clearly dissatisified with the official movement and looking for other strategies. “Teen Spirit” was their best single song, but other than its absence the acoustic MTV Unplugged recording probably shows Cobain’s work better than their regular albums.
The biggest problem Cobain had in his last days, near as I could tell, was bad philosophy. He had everything else – money, fame, fans, musical accomplishment, a wife and daughter. What do you want? I know he had a bad childhood, but take a fucking number, OK? I don’t want to belittle the very real emotional pain he must have felt, but he is a good example of the worthlessness of nihilistic thinking. Yes, there is wrongness in the world, but you can take the same events often many different ways. Taking everything the worst way possible all the time, and concentrating on that worst way is not cool and urbane, just stupid and self-defeating.
The lyrics of “Teen Spirit” are indicative of an unfocused but obviously very negative and despairing outlook on the world. They are not worked out to quite make a coherent statement, as if no such thing could be worthwhile, but there is viewpoint. According to this view, nothing means anything, particularly sex – one of the top most intriguingly meaningful of human acts. To Cobain, it’s something “stupid and contagious” to distract ourselves from the nothingness of existence. The “mosquito/libido” stuff sounds like he’s bitching about having a small penis. It’s not like I’m John Holmes, but I don’t see killing myself for it. Besides that, there’s just a little group running things always and forever. There is nothing to anything.
Rick Nielsen and Cheap Trick are not particularly known for being sympathetic to victims of self-destruction. Nielsen is a homely Midwestern geek with no rich uncles in the business or anything being handed to him. As he expressed it in another song “It wasn’t easy; it was hard as hell. Didn’t get lucky in a wishing well.” It’s not difficult to read between the lines and see that he has little sympathy for those who won’t try to help themselves.He has written distinctly pitiless songs about high school dropouts, and about dumbass druggies.
And he wrote this song wishing a broad and cold farewell to all the legions of suicides. “There are many here among us who feel their lives are a joke, and for you we sing this final song. For you, there is no hope. NOOOO HOPE!” Most of the rest of the lyrics are as many ways and languages of wishing farewell as he could come up with – so long, farewell, au revoir, sayanara suicide.
The opening of the record is especially good. We start with one dramatic and foreboding chord fading up. Then there is a series of slowly rising and rapidly, anxiously strummed bass notes. They really set a nicely creepy tone.
This is probably the hardest song they ever made. It’s a little difficult to explain. I don’t particularly mean the loudest or the fastest – I would describe it as medium tempo. It’s more like this song is the most in your face, the harshest and hardest hitting. It is like being smacked in the face with a big ol’ heavy, unyielding piece of reality. They polish reality into hard shiny hooks you can see yourself in. They kick you in the head with a few syllables, pause to let you feel them, then kick you again. “For you…there is…no hope.” Then they repeat them. Robin Zander also deserves special mention for that nicely measured harshness he puts into the lead vocal.
This song along with related Trick numbers is maybe the best answer to all the stupid self-destructive behavior of the rock era. I don’t want to be mean and uncaring, but there is only so much sympathy and concern to spread around. I just figure I’ll save my social conscience for crack babies, starving third-world infants and such. Grown men who are still torn up about their parents’ divorces will just have to take responsibility for seeking therapy or whatever on their own.