Saturday, August 30, 2008

"One more special message to go, and then I'm done, and I can go home"

So, that's the grunge list.

I'd be remiss if I didn't recognize some of the people who made this great music who aren't around to make any more of it.

It's a commonplace that rock 'n' roll and jazz are fueled by drugs. [UPDATE: This post inspired one by someone else: 10 theories why artists are so prone to drug use.] Well, it's easy to think about what actually exists for us to see and hear; it's harder to think about what doesn't exist but should.

Shannon Hoon, lead singer of Blind Melon (#24), died of a cocaine overdose on October 21, 1995. He was 28.

Layne Staley, leader singer of Alice in Chains (#14, #5), died from a mixture of heroin and cocaine on April 5, 2002. He was 34. Near the end of his life, he weighed 86 pounds despite being 6'1". He openly admitted that he no longer enjoyed getting high or anything else in life, and that he knew his use of heroin was going to kill him soon.

I vividly remember when I was 13, sitting around watching MTV on April 8, 1994. Kurt Loder announced on MTV News that Kurt Cobain had been found dead in his home and that the cause of death was "a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head." I was so young that the meaning of that delicate phrasing didn't register with me, so I asked my mom about it. She had to explain: "That means he killed himself."

He had died 3 days earlier — like Layne Staley, on April 5. He was 27. He left behind a one-year-old daughter and many others.

Kurt Cobain museum

Nirvana (#18, #9, #1) released only three proper studio albums. In a Rolling Stone interview near the end of his life, Cobain was critical of the band's soft/loud formula and talked about wanting to branch out stylistically. He said he wanted to "learn to go in between those things, go back and forth, almost become psychedelic in a way."

We'll never get to hear how the band might have developed; the analogy would be if John Lennon had died not in 1980 but in 1965. They should have done so much more. But they changed the direction of rock music in the few years they were around. (As I said yesterday, I realize that other bands have a better claim to inventing grunge, but Nirvana perfected it and reached a lot more people.)

For days after the news broke, MTV constantly reran the Nirvana Unplugged concert, and I watched it almost as constantly. I started learning to play guitar that summer . . .

Cobain tribute bench in Seattle

(Photo of Cobain gallery by Christian Payne. Photo of Cobain tribute bench in Seattle by Eric Shoemaker.)