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Nineteen years later, the death of Kurt Cobain is a Gen-X cautionary tale

I remember clearly the moment the news of Kurt Cobain’s death was announced, nineteen years ago.  I was 23 years old then, and I remember being restless the entire afternoon.  I couldn’t wait to get off work.  I needed to get home and make some calls.  I had been in negotiations the previous week to buy an autographed photo of Cobain and his fellow bandmates, negotiations that obviously fell through because that photo tripled in value in a matter of minutes.  I was crushed, but not for the reasons you probably assume.

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I remember clearly the moment the news of Kurt Cobain’s death was announced, nineteen years ago.  I was 23 years old then, and I remember being restless the entire afternoon.  I couldn’t wait to get off work.  I needed to get home and make some calls.  I had been in negotiations the previous week to buy an autographed photo of Cobain and his fellow bandmates, negotiations that obviously fell through because that photo tripled in value in a matter of minutes.  I was crushed, but not for the reasons you might assume.  I had had what I can only describe as a hunch — not a full-blown premonition, but more of a gut feeling — that Kurt wasn’t going to be around much longer, and quite frankly, I wanted to cash in.

You’re probably thinking that sounds awfully mercenary, and you’d be right.  But to be perfectly honest, Kurt Cobain’s music — the entire grunge movement, really — never had much of an impact on me.  I thought some of it was quite good (I was much more of a Pearl Jam fan, and even then it was a casual fandom), but it never grabbed me the way it did the majority of my peers.  I was still a diehard fan of New Wave and Synthpop, and no way were these flannel-swathed ragamuffins going to pry my fingers loose from that Korg.  I should probably also disclose that I held just the tiniest of grudges against Mr. Cobain and his band.  You see, Nirvana ruined my chance to be a pop star.

Okay, that may be slightly exaggerated.  I was, for a brief time, in a synthpop band.  Like, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it brief.  I can’t even remember what we called ourselves.  I had teamed up with a couple of guys from the local record shop, and for nine weeks we practiced, learning various selections from Depeche Mode, Ultravox, and Camouflage.  We were ready to go and had a line on a gig at a bar near Arizona State University . . . and then “Smells Like Teen Spirit” exploded onto the airwaves like an atomic bomb.  Needless to say, that was the end of the gig, and the end of the band.  So you can understand why grunge wasn’t exactly my favorite musical genre.

Still, I remember hearing reporters and rock journalists and disc jockeys saying over and over that Kurt Cobain was going to be remembered as one of the greatest influences in rock history, that his contribution to music would be felt for decades to come.  At the time, I agreed.  Time marches on however, and that promise has not been kept.  I really don’t hear any lingering remnants of grunge in today’s music.  Cobain and Nirvana were the spark that lit a brief fad, and like all fads, it’s a product of its time that we look back on with wistful smiles, and then dismiss with a shake of the head, a nod to our youthful folly.

“Kurt Cobain did leave behind a legacy, a much more important one than mere artistic. ”

He has left behind an emotional blueprint mapping the tragic consequences of thrusting sudden overwhelming fame upon a deeply wounded soul unable to carry the burden of the label “Voice of a Generation”. He is not the only one; certainly Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson fall into this category.  But unlike Cobain, their self-induced demises were protracted — long, drawn-out, messy affairs.  Cobain’s death came suddenly at the apex of an incredibly successful career.  Suddenly to most, but not to the few who read between the lines and saw laid bare the pain and doubt hidden behind the Sturm und Drang.  Kurt Cobain was young, immensely talented, idolized by fans and lauded by critics, and tragically ill-equipped to handle it.

This story has no end;  Richey EdwardsChris FarleyHeath Ledger and Amy Winehouse, are more recent chapters. Sadly, there’ll probably be more.

Shannon Daley has been hanging around online corners for over twenty years. She contributes on an American's perspective, on politics, culture and technology. Location: Southwest by South.

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American Eye

Digital Killed the Analog (Music) Star: The Death of the Mixtape

No one makes mixtapes anymore. It’s heartbreaking. As a teenager I was the mixtape queen. I had
high_fidelity_coverrather exotic musical tastes for my small town and I delighted in putting together the more obscure selections of my cache for friends, friends of friends, acquaintances — anyone who would ask, really.

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A few months back I had a discussion with a friend about music: what we were listening to now, how our tastes had changed over the years, and so on. At the close of the conversation my friend said “Next time we get together, can I go through your phone and pick out some songs?”

This was just the bait I’d been waiting for, and eagerly I jumped at it: “Why don’t I make you a CD and you can burn it to your iTunes?”
He looked at me as though I were an obsolete relic from the 1980s pulled from the Atari landfill. “Or I can just rip your whole collection directly from your phone. I have an app.” I grappled with the urge to sigh.

“The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. It takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick it off with a killer to grab attention. Then you gotta take it up a notch. But you don’t want to blow your wad. So then you gotta cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.” — “High Fidelity”

No one makes mixtapes anymore. It’s heartbreaking. As a teenager I was the mixtape queen. I had
rather exotic musical tastes for my small town and I delighted in putting together the more obscure selections of my cache for friends, friends of friends, acquaintances – anyone who would ask, really. It was a point of pride for me that I had stuff that no one else had, and to truly be in the know musically they had to come to me. Pride, and a certain amount of bragging, was the first reason I made mixtapes, and I suspect it’s the same for most people. It’s the same reason people invest in eardrum-shattering sound systems for their cars, and why they blare the music from those systems at maximum with all their windows open: “This music is who I am and I want you to know it. Recognize my impeccable taste! Revel in my utter coolness!”

Barry: Here’s the thing. I made that tape special for today. My special Monday morning tape for you. Special.
Rob: Well it’s f***in’ Monday afternoon, you should get out of bed earlier!
— High Fidelity

Later, of course, my mixtapes went from merely sharing my offbeat music with random people to trading more symbolic playlists with selected friends. At first it was just my favorite songs, the ones with lyrics that spoke to my personal Sturm und Drang (needless to say, there were a lot of Smiths tracks on my mixes). Once those were absorbed and accepted, we would up the stakes by making themed compilations — love and death featured heavily. My personal favorite — and typically the most risky as far as maintaining one’s coolness factor was concerned — was the guilty pleasures mix. You really put your reputation on the line with these, and only the most trusted friends were privy. In my experience, the guilty pleasures mix is the most revealing of all compilation tapes. All pretenses of cool are dropped and you get to see what really makes a person tick, or dance, or sing loudly (and badly) in the car. Besides, where else are you going to hear Wham!, Frank Stallone, Olivia Newton-John, and Tony Joe White back-to-back-to-back? A no-holds-barred guilty pleasures mix is a thing to behold. Have a few friends over, play the cheesiest selections from everyone’s iTunes, add copious amounts of alcohol, and you’ve got yourself an awesome get-together.

Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts. First of all, you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing.High Fidelity

Then there’s the love mix. I don’t know anyone that hasn’t, at one time or another, made a mixtape for a boyfriend, girlfriend, potential romantic interest, or infatuation. These were the mixes that were themost thought-out, the most angst-ridden. After all, you had to find just the right blend of romance and lust to convey all the feelings you were either too shy, too embarrassed, or too scared to reveal in your own less-than-poetic, barely-articulate lovestruck words, especially in the case of an unrequited crush. These were almost always delivered via third party, after which you waited for days in a state of anxious anticipation for word to come back from the object of your desire, good, bad, or indifferent. It was the artsy teenager’s version of the note passed in class that read “Do you like me? Check yes or no.” Of course, the love mix can backfire on you — today’s romantic compilation is tomorrow’s heartbreak mix when you split up. To this day, there are songs I can’t bear to listen to because they were part of a mixtape made for me by an ex-boyfriend. The feelings for the men are long gone, but the music still manages to find the scar tissue from those breakups and poke at it like needles.

[“If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago comes on the juke box] Ed: [glaring at the juke box] Who the hell put this on?
Shaun: [With tears in his eyes] It’s on random.
“Shaun of the Dead”

It’s amazing how much power lies in the choosing and arrangement of a dozen or so songs: the power to impress, to inform, to invite, to take the art of others, which has moved you, and create a new and unique expression of your very own with the hope of affecting others. But the mixtape is a dying art form, slowly suffocated by the cold and dispassionate efficiency of 21st century technology. It’s easier just to upload your entire music catalog to someone’s computer or mobile device without thought or meaning, and for the recipient to scroll through a playlist and pick-and-choose what suits them, which makes it an ineffective delivery method. Even if you did take the time to assemble a compilation for a friend, would they have the time and patience now to listen?

The memories of those long-ago mixtapes fills me with a wistful longing for the good old days of cassette tape in all its analog splendor. Perhaps I’ll begin a new mixtape, songs from the past for the person who is as nostalgic for the art of compilation as I am. And who knows — there might actually be such a person out there.

External Links & References

  1. High Fidelity, 2000 @ IMDB
  2. The Mixtape (explained) : Wikipedia
  3. Mixtape History @ MTV.com

 

Image credit:8trackmixtape by Original uploader was Teamgoon at en.wikipedia – View original.

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American Eye

Help! My Doctor is a Conservative.

My doctor, as it turns out, is a Republican. And not just any Republican. He is, it appears, one of the GOP’s go-to guys in their war against the Affordable Care Act. He has testified before Congress, written several op-eds for prominent conservative publications and blogs, and is a frequent guest on right-wing radio. This guy is no lightweight. I felt a sinking feeling in my gut, and the more I read, the worse that feeling became.

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When I was a young college student, my father and I spent many hours discussing world events and debating politics.  My father was a hardline Republican – were he alive today, I have no doubt that he would be a Tea Party affiliate and a vocal Birther.  I, on the other hand, was proudly liberal and a newly registered Democrat. Despite our repellent indubitable beliefs our discussions were never angry or ugly.  He never berated me or talked down to me. He never told me I was wrong for believing as I did. When I voted for the first time in my state’s Democratic primary, it was my father who offered to drive me to the polls. That type of civility in political discourse is hard to come by these days.  Both sides deal with the other with open derision and hostility, and it gets worse every year.  Is it possible in this divisive political climate to be completely politically opposed to a person and still like them?  How much trust could you put in someone whose beliefs were a photo negative of your own?

I recently needed to reach my orthopedist’s office, and not being able to locate his number amongst my paperwork, I took to the internet. What I saw was, to say the least, surprising.  My doctor, as it turns out, is a Republican.  And not just any Republican.  He is, it appears, one of the GOP’s go-to guys in their war against the Affordable Care Act. He has testified before Congress, written several op-eds for prominent conservative publications and blogs, and is a frequent guest on right-wing radio.  This guy is no lightweight.  I felt a sinking feeling in my gut, and the more I read, the worse that feeling became.

At that point I began to think to myself, should I find a new doctor?  My health was in his hands; my future mobility was dependent upon his care.  How fully could I trust this man, whose opinions on the subject of healthcare I so vehemently opposed?  But my earlier visits with him had been good ones — he was taking good care of me, and I couldn’t deny that my healing was progressing well under his care.  I know many doctors who, upon seeing the extent of my injuries, would not have hesitated to put me under the knife.  My doctor, however, had balked at immediately ordering surgery, opting instead to see how my body healed itself under its own power, a decision that turned out to be the right one.  On top of all this, I actually liked him.  He was a nice guy!  Pleasant, good-natured, and he didn’t exude an air of superiority to me the way many doctors can.  In the end, I decided to take the high ground:  I’ve kept him as my orthopedist, and I haven’t regretted it.  The fact that I am almost completely back to my pre-injury self today is testament to his expertise.

Would he be as forgiving of me if he were privy to my political views?  I don’t know, but I like to think so.

I have to believe that in this age of political hostility, some of us can put aside our differences for a while, for our own mutual benefit as well as the benefit of others.  It’s nice to know that at least I still can.

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American Eye

How a Broken Ankle Nearly Broke My Mind

I hadn’t written in over two months. The ideas came but the words would not follow. They just hung in my mind, disjointed fragments that I could not string together. Like the shoes you sometimes see hanging from electrical wires, you know how they got there but retrieving them is impossible.

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I hadn’t written in over two months.  The ideas came but the words wouldn’t follow, instead hanging in my mind; disjointed fragments that I just could not string together.  Like the shoes you sometimes see hanging from electrical wires, you know how they got there but retrieving them is impossible.  Writers block is something that plagues everyone who writes regularly, and for most it’s an elusive, unexplainable thing.  For me, my block had an obvious, tangible cause, as plain as the nose on my face — or the foot on my leg.

Days after writing my last piece, I suffered an accident in which I seriously injured my left ankle.  I knew the moment it happened that something was definitely amiss, but ten hours later (six of those spent in emergency) I discovered just how extensive the damage was: comminuted avulsion fractures of the distal fibula and calcaneus, with a minor fracture of the talus and a 9mm displacement of the cuboid. In layman’s terms, I had shattered my ankle and done a fair bit of damage to my foot.  Two days later an orthopedist swapped out my temporary splint for a lovely purple fiberglass cast, told me to stay completely off my foot for the next four weeks, at which time I may or may not need surgery to repair my shattered bones, gave me a prescription for pain medication and sent me on my way.

At first, the whole thing was amusing — my klutziness now had a body count!  Even the incident itself was ridiculous:  I had tripped and fallen down a step that was all of two inches high.  I didn’t even have a story to tell!  And there was a certain amount of novelty to it.  I had a relatively illness-, pain-, and injury-free childhood.  I never contracted chicken pox, measles, mumps, nothing more serious than tonsilitis and one food allergy reaction; I’d never broken a bone, sprained an ankle, jammed a finger, required stitches, or taken a ball to the head. The one and only time I fell off my bike (I went hurtling down a hill straight into a thorn bush) I was left with a few scratches and bruises and nothing more.  And with the exception of easily-treated injuries to my back and knees and one minor surgery, my adult life had followed suit.  So this broken ankle of mine was entrance into a club of sorts.  I could now empathize with all the tales of broken bones I had heard from my friends.  That feeling lasted about twenty-four hours.  Then the reality set in:  I was hurt, badly enough that I had been sidelined, and for how long no one could say.  My life as I had known it was now put on hold, and everything now centered upon my injury and the healing process.  And this, I was to discover, was even more painful than the initial injury.

My spring semester in college, which was supposed to be my “gap semester” spent taking all the fun courses I hadn’t had time for the year before, was ended before it even began.  My gym routine and my plans to begin running came to a screeching halt.  My rose garden sat neglected and bloomless without my daily ministrations.  The trip I had planned to take during spring break was now indefinitely shelved. No movies, no shopping, no lunches with friends.  Even being able to go to the kitchen by myself was vetoed by my mother after catching the leg of my walker led to a second fall three weeks later.  I hesitated to venture anywhere that I might encounter an obstacle.  My world had shrunk to an area of roughly 20 feet.  The days were endless, and the loss of autonomy was maddening.  For my birthday, I received a wheelchair.  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  When my cast came off four week later and I was fitted with a fracture boot, I was devastated to learn that I was not as healed as I’d hoped:  although I would not require surgery, walking again was going to take much more time than I had thought, and I was plunged into a chasm of depression the depths of which I had not experienced since my teens. My distaste for self-pity only served to make it worse.  It was the darkest point in a tunnel whose end I could not yet discern.  But, I thought to myself, at least now I have plenty of time to read or write.  That turned out to be easier said than done as I found my mind consumed with the mechanics of everyday life.

Things that we all do every day by rote I now had to carefully plan out.  Things as simple as dressing and bathing became meticulously plotted procedures.  Navigating the step at my front door on the few occasions when I left my house became drama-filled affairs.  This left precious little room in my brain for anything else.  Topics to write about came to me often, but this became an annoyance rather than a welcome distraction.  They were an itch I could not scratch.  I tried to read but when I went back later to my stopping point, I found I couldn’t remember what I’d previously read.  Mindless television and Angry Birds were all the diversion my poor taxed brain could handle.  Any intellectual thoughts I had were barricaded behind a wall of mundane routines, and that wall became more impenetrable every day.  I began to wonder if, like my unexercised leg, my writing muscles would atrophy to the point of becoming completely useless.

But time heals all wounds, and my poor shattered ankle is no exception.  Fittingly, on the first day of spring, the end of the long dark winter of my discontent finally came in sight:  I took my first halting steps in over two months.  My walker was retired and a cane took its place. And with that simple transition, the wall began to crumble and finally, at long last, the words began to tumble free.  The mercury pushed spring forward into summer and my fabulous taskmaster of a physical therapist pushed me forward along with it.  I’m now cane-free and, for the most part, pain-free.  I’m walking again, living self-reliantly again, and thankfully I’m writing again.  And as it turns out, there was a story to tell after all.  I just had to wait for the words to come.

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Thanks to Dave Shea for X-Ray image.

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