Kurt Unloads

Not since Lou Reed’s nasty self-justification on the inside gatefold of Metal Machine Music (“My week beats your year”) have we seen a rock star in as feral a mood as Kurt Cobain in his liner notes to Incesticide, Nirvana’s new time-marking collection of oddities. With his nerves rubbed raw by all manner of indignities–attacks on his wife, nasty magazine profiles, weird indie infighting, worldwide celebrity, unasked-for leadership of a rock ‘n’ roll movement, and (oh yeah) heroin–Cobain finally lashes out: “A big ‘fuck you’ to those of you who have the audacity to claim that I’m so naive and stupid that I would allow myself to be taken advantage of and manipulated.”

It sounds a little shrill, but remember that he’s been forced into the humiliating position of having to defend his widely despised wife, Courtney Love, leader of Hole, a Yoko for the 90s, and–the liner notes again–a “supreme example of dignity, ethics and honesty.” It gets worse; he recounts in detail an overly sentimental story about a member of the Raincoats giving him a copy of the group’s rare first album: “It made me happier than playing in front of thousands of people each night, rock-god idolization from fans, music industry plankton kissing my ass, and the million dollars I made last year.” It’s soggy but apparently genuine. Nirvana really does idolize Sonic Youth, the Melvins, Vaselines; really does feel humble in the face of its unlikely (if deserved) success. But weird demons emerge when angry rock stars include manifestos with their albums. Cobain is honest and distressed enough to risk looking like an idiot, yet canny enough to thank the requisite music industry plankton (including Spin’s ruling numskull, Bob Guccione Jr.) as well. Self-deprecating enough to acknowledge that his band may turn out to be “the 90’s version of Cheap Trick or the Knack,” but agreeable enough to make another million on a major-label album of old stuff rather than crank some new material out. And then contrary enough to release it just a few days before Christmas, missing out on the holiday buying spree.

Is Incesticide any good? Depends. I like Nirvana for two reasons: Cobain when he’s angry and feeling tuneful, and drummer Dave Grohl. But Grohl joined after most of the stuff here, and that leaves me with Cobain, who provides the same number of tracks worthy of Nevermind here as he did on the group’s first album, Bleach–which is to say two: the raging “Dive” and the irresistible “Sliver.” Otherwise, there are two pop gems from the songbook of Vaselines leader Eugene Kelly–“Molly’s Lips” and “Son of a Gun”–and that’s about it. The rest is goofs like a cover of an obscure Devo long (“Turnaround,” allegedly the B-side to “Whip It”) and some heavy-metal lameness.

Cobain’s last comments reveal one last raw nerve: he tells the story of two of his own stupid and contagious fans who supposedly raped a woman to the tune of Nevermind’s, “Polly,” a song about rape. “I have a hard time carrying on knowing that there are plankton like that in our audience. Sorry to be so anally P.C. but that’s the way I feel. Love, Kurdt (the blond one).”

Rap gets the bad press, but surely there hasn’t yet been a cop killed to the tune of “Cop Killer.” This is just the sort of thing that fuels Cobain’s rage (what Nevermind as a whole is all about, for that matter). The artists we see enjoying stardom are smiling through their contempt. They mouth banalities and fake everything–everything–for the cameras. Stars who refuse to play the game–Dylan, Cobain, and not too many others–often offend, and often seem ridiculous, but it’s important to remember that they’re enduring the indignities, ludicrosities, and tragedies with increasing doubt and anger. Incesticide is just a minor explosion, and there’s sure to be more to come.

Jolly Coppers on Parade

The police protest before the Body Count show at the Vic December 28 was a rousing success. Every rock concert should have such a picket line: more than 250 off-duty cops who picketed directly in front of the theater and milled around on the west side of Sheffield, and another 50 or so in uniform. The only sour note was struck by Fraternal Order of Police capo John Dineen, who told Hitsville that the Police Department should have veto power over rock concerts. Hitsville agreed with him, and opined that maybe cops should keep an eye on movie theaters and bookstores too. Dineen took the matter under advisement.

Kudos go to Jam productions, which backed Ice-T’s right to perform, and to the off-duty cops, who exercised their right to disagree with Ice-T with such restraint. The only institution with egg on its face is the Tribune, which ran a picture the next day whose caption decribed Body Count’s “Cop Killer” as a song that “advocates the slaying of police.” This is (a) inflammatory, (b) incorrect, and (c) a good bet to set the paper’s KidNews campaign back a year or so as an entire generation of readers collectively rolls its eyes at the blatant bias. Trib public editor Douglas Kneeland, who oversees corrections, is out of the office this week; no correction had been published as we went to press.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chris Cuffaro.