Friday, February 1, 2008


During a recent trip to my local library (part of my strategy to buy less) I borrowed the soundtrack to the documentary Kurt Cobain: About A Son. What immediately struck me was that it was a smart choice to include the music that inspired Cobain on the soundtrack rather than just rehashing a bunch of Nirvana songs that everybody has heard already.

It provides insight into his rich internal world when you hear some of the tracks that shaped his young imagination and lead to his own dynamic art, including; Iggy Pop - "The Passenger", Bad Brains - "Banned in D.C.", The Vaselines - "Son of a Gun" , and Half Japanese - "Put Some Sugar On It".

These tracks were part of the punk landscape that in many ways shaped Cobain's identity and provided escape from boredom and gave expression to the rage that plagued his young mind. Interestingly, the soundtrack also includes audio excerpts from interviews, including this quote where he articulates the influence punk rock had on his life;

"I am so glad that I got into punk rock at the time that I did because it gave me those few years that I need to grow up and just put my values in perspective and realize what kind of person I am".

It is clear that the music of the punk scene provided a rich landscape for Cobain to express himself and find meaning. Also of interest though are the older artists that were an influence as well, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, folk poet Woody Guthrie, and going even further back with Leadbelly , the enigmatic blues singer who died in 1948.

Listen to this track by Lead Belly,"Where Did You Sleep Last Night". It is haunting and graceful in it's simplicity, capturing the thoughts of a jealous and insecure lover. You can see how the tortured thinking behind this track would have been appealing to Cobain;

For me it is a meaningful exercise to dig behind the music or art of someone who inspires me and discover the sources of their own inspiration. It reinforces the notion that the dynamic expression of one creative soul can achieve a form of immortality, giving birth to bold new offspring that add further dimensions to their source material.

It is a constant cycle of creative birth and rebirth. Kurt will continue to inspire, as will those who helped give him shape; Iggy Pop, Woody Guthrie and even going back to Lead Belly. The whole family tree if drawn out would be staggering to the imagination, always growing in dynamic new directions with roots digging down ad infinitum. Such is the power of the muse.


dguzman said...

I really liked Cobain's version of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" on the Unplugged CD.

Westcoast Walker said...

I agree, that is a great cover version. The Nirvana Unplugged In New York was one of my favourite albums of the 90's. I was genius move of Cobain to not only play their hits, but to include a bunch of obscure cover versions that many of the MTV crowd would likely ever have heard of. I mean, when else would someone hear a Lead Belly or Vaseline's song on mainstream TV?

Comrade Kevin said...

I like one of the forgotten gems that was only on the box set. "Opinion".

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