There is a beautiful Dutch saying about positioning oneself outside a community. The saying is: ‘vloeken in de Kerk’ (swearing in Church). In a few simple words it explains what one, according to popular convention, is not supposed to do. Today I will apply it to myself and say what one is not supposed to say according to many music critics and even more music lovers.
Let me start at the beginning. There is this (in)famous ‘club of 27’, a virtual club of artists who all died at the age of 27. Jimi Hendrix belongs to it, so do Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and many others. Most died of (careless) drug use, suicide, or what can only be called a combination of the two. Point is that just belonging to this club legitimizes one’s status as an important artist. And for some it’s true; Jimi Hendrix created 4 or 5 brilliant records and revolutionized guitar playing. The same can be said of Jim Morrison, although in his case the brilliance lies more in song writing and singing.
The legacy of Amy Winehouse consists of two moderately good albums, a handful of decent songs, the adoption of ‘Valerie’ as her own (it actually is a Zutons cover originally recorded/produced by Mark Ronson, using only Amy’s voice), concert performances that were only memorable because of her degree of intoxication,and many articles in the tabloids. Her life was tragic, but her legacy as an artist is pretty similar to Pete Doherty’s, the only difference being that he is still alive.
Kurt Cobain’s story is different. Nirvana, together with some other bands (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Smashing Pumpkins) helped to revitalize a music scene that was pretty dead at the end of the 80’s. The Gospel according to Michael Jackson and Madonna, the King and Queen of Pop, dictated form over content, sales numbers over originality. Even though The Pixies were still around, R.E.M. grew bigger and bigger, and U2 released their best albums towards the end of the 80’s, Nirvana was still needed to show that art isn’t based on the greatest good for the greatest many.
If anything, Nirvana showed the power of ugliness and destruction. Nevertheless, their three official albums (I don’t count MTV Unplugged) lack substance and contain too many mediocre songs. One could combine the best songs of all three and create one perfect album, but as individual albums they are simply not good enough. Kurt Cobain should have given himself time to develop as an artist, because he definitely had talent, but as it stands his legacy is one of unfulfilled potential more than anything else.Tweet