Musical Rant: 20 Years Gone, 20 Years of Exploitation

Cobain tribute

This year marks 20 years since Kurt Cobain’s death. Every year there’s usually one publication doing something special to commemorate the date, but since a significant amount of time has passed, many websites, magazines, and authors have their tributes planned. While it’s always nice to see people who appreciate Cobain and his contribution to music, all the photos, books, interviews, and dedications can get down right overwhelming. After clicking on numerous links and seeing yet another book on Nirvana coming out in April, you begin to see most of it is a way for companies to make money off of loyal fans by rehashing the same information.

I am a music collector and I love Nirvana books. There used to be a time when a new one was announced I would get excited and put in my pre-order. But last year I noticed books were coming out on the band when nothing was going on. No big developments, no anniversaries, just random authors putting out books on the band. After a while I got annoyed and began to ignore most books on the subject. Don’t get me wrong, I want them for my collection, but I don’t plan on paying full price. Why do I mention this? The same thing is happening now. Of course, this is not a new development. Several books were published the same year he died talking about the band and Cobain. While they are nice collector’s items, they really have nothing new to say on the situation like many of the books now.

By the end of last year, I saw that there were at least two new Nirvana books planned for 2014. As it got closer to Cobain’s death anniversary, more and more books were steadily released. The worst ones were authors re-releasing their previous books on Cobain with a new introduction (see Heavier than Heaven). The one case that really pissed me off was a book I found title Kurt Cobain: The Nirvana Years. It looked really promising, but as I flipped through the pages I swore I’d seen it before. I got home and figured it out: it was the same book I had only under the title Nirvana: The Day to Day Illustrated Journals. It was even by the same author Carrie Borzillo. Even worse there was no mention anywhere that this “new” book of hers was already issued years earlier. It may not be her intention, but it felt dishonest, like she’s trying to pawn off a “new” book on eager Nirvana fans.

Magazines have joined the bandwagon too. Issues dedicated to one artists can be wonderful things, but often pricey. There are currently three magazines all about Cobain out on stands now, that I know of. They all have nice pictures and such, but what’s disappointing about them is they’re rehashing the same information most fans already know or in the case of the Rolling Stone special, have already read before. Some of these publications are at least kind enough to have someone write new retrospectives on the band and Cobain, but a lot of them are using interviews and articles from their old magazines. This wouldn’t be a huge problem if they didn’t already release books with these same interviews. There’s nothing wrong with republishing a great interview with said artists, but when you only have that and no other new perspectives on the band, it’s pretty shitty to expect people to pay $13 for it, especially since most of it is easy to find online.

Cobain isn’t the only dead celebrity to be exploited for money, but I personally hate all these books, magazines, and poorly drawn comics that are continually being release that offer no new information whatsoever. I could understand if they were being written by people close to the band or even the band members themselves, but most of the they are not. This is why books with a different angle on the band are so interesting. Books like Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe 1989, which chronicles their first European tour or even Love and Death, though controversial is still interesting because it’s looking at Cobain in a different light. I know we can’t stop people from publishing books with the same information just to make money, but fans should know which books are worth their time. So I give to you essential books every Nirvana fan should pick up:
Heavier than Heaven by Charles R Cross: The definitive biography on Kurt Cobain. Be wary of the report on his supposed last days. And be warned Courtney Love did help with this book.

Cobain Unseen by Charles R Cross: The information he provides isn’t all that new, but the never before seen photos are fantastic and there are even replicas of their tickets and posters to pull out and place anywhere.

Come As You Are by Michael Azerrad: The only official biography on the band by the band. This was released when they were still active and does give some great insightful information. But be warned that Cobain was concealing his drug use at the time, so not all the information will be accurate.

The Rough Guide to Nirvana by Gillian G Gaar: This is great for anyone just getting into the band or for long time fans. It gives a great background on the band’s history and also provides cool guides to great Nirvana related books, movies, and tribute albums.

Everybody Loves Our Town by Mark Yarm: So this isn’t exclusively about Nirvana, but it is an oral history about the Seattle scene as told by people who were a part of it. Of course Cobain and Nirvana comes up a lot and it’s interesting to get the different opinions and outlooks about him from the different musicians.

That being said, let’s remember Cobain and Nirvana for the wonderful and beautiful music he left behind. Though his life ended tragically try not to focus on those details. Remember him through music not by gruesome photos posted by the Seattle police. Whatever happened 20 years ago happened and sadly there’s nothing we can do to change it. But it may put a smile on Kurt’s face, wherever he is, to know someone is rocking to Nirvana out and rediscovering what the band means to them.