Thursday, April 3, 2014

Let’s Face It: Kurt Cobain Sucked.

Two decades after the Nirvana front man’s self-administered demise, we reflect upon the grunge icon’s hallowed legacy. And as it turns out, he probably doesn’t deserve any of the reverence. 


It’s an illogical statement, I know, but I’ll say it anyway: I’ve more or less always been a pretty big fan of Nirvana, but at the same time, I’ve always detested Kurt Cobain.

Yes, as a ‘90s child, I’ve always fostered a certain affinity towards the “Nirvana sound,” if you will, but I never really bought into Kurt’s retroactive deification, either. From a musical standpoint, Kurt was clearly the least talented of his bandmates, and his faux-philosophical, anti-Guns N Roses, new-new-wave, ultra-liberal shtick more or less opened the floodgates for a million, billion wusses like Trent Reznor and that crybaby from Radiohead to make miserable, woe-is-me alternative the default setting for mainstream rock to this day.

Here, on the 20th anniversary of Cobain’s suicide -- or, depending on how much of a crackpot you are, the date Courtney Love either killed her husband or hired somebody (but not that dude from The Mentors, of course) to do it for her -- I believe it’s a most opportune time to reflect on just how overrated Kurt Cobain was, on every conceivable level.

First and foremost; Kurt Cobain was a shitty guitar player, a fact that doesn’t keep him from routinely being ranked on top 100 all time greatest guitarist lists, you know, just ‘cause. With a voice that sounded like dual recordings of Edward Furlong’s screaming outtakes from “Terminator 2" and Pepe Le Pew doing a drunken karaoke ballad, Kurt’s “signature” singing style was similarly a less-than-impressive display. It may not have been as imitated as the “Vedder Voice,” but seeing as how easily fourth-rate alt rock acts like Seether and Puddle of Mudd were able to faithfully recreate that soulful Cobain howl, I think it’s safe to say we weren’t dealing with an all-time crooning legend, either.

As for Cobain’s music, I think the entire Nirvana discography is horrendously overrated. Cobain himself absolutely hated “Nevermind” and “In Utero,” considering the first to be an overproduced turd and the second a reluctant compromise between him and the record company. All in all, the band was responsible for perhaps only one and half truly decent albums -- the beautifully unpolished “Bleach” from 1989 (a grimy, under-produced classic that stands out as the band’s one truly uncompromised release) and the glorified B-side collection, “Incesticide” -- and before you give that one too much credit, just recall that half that album more or less consists of cover tunes, which is also a criticism you can lob at the band’s much revered “Unplugged” set, too.

For a composer that’s frequently hailed as the voice of a generation, Kurt’s lyrics were suspiciously cryptic, disjointed and largely apolitical. Whereas Bob Dylan at least referenced social issues in his “decades-defining” songs, Cobain’s lyrics were really just a grab-bag of fragmented poetry pieces, seemingly tossed together at random. In fact, he actually said that’s how he wrote his songs, on numerous occasions. For an alleged voice of an entire decade, old Kurt’s music had astoundingly little to say about anything at all.

As far as the much-acclaimed “Nirvana sound,” by now, we all know it was mostly just a restructuring of classic rock tunes -- “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is basically just “Louie, Louie” and “More than A Feeling,” only played faster and shittier, while even early Nirvana tracks “Spank-Thru” convey a certain Credence Clearwater Revival-esque vibrato. Cobain’s adulation/imitation of the Pixies is well-documented, so there’s really no need to drudge up how much of the Nirvana discography is derived from “Surfer Rosa” and “Doolittle.” However, I’ve always thought the Nirvana’s “iconic” sound was actually more of a rip-off of Steve Albini’s post-punk outfit Big Black -- just take out the synth and amp up the distortion, and you’ve more or less got “Nirvana” before there was a “Nirvana.”

And of course, how could I talk about Kurt Cobain’s revolutionary “creativity” without talking about the second-most iconic track off  “Nevermind?” A song, by the way, that is a direct rip-off of the Killing Joke song “Eighties,” which itself is a rip-off of The Damned’s “Life Goes On.”

Compared to the glut of Seattle-area bands, I still find it weird that Nirvana, out of the deluge of groups, is the one that gets the most credit for kicking off “The Grunge Revolution.” Yeah, “Nevermind” is said to have been the turning point, but a lot of people tend to forget that both Soundgarden and Alice in Chains’ big mainstream breakthroughs were released long before Nirvana’s 1991 opus. And any number of bands -- from The Melvins to Green River to Mother Love Bone -- could rightly lay claim to pioneering the “grunge movement,” years before Nirvana was even a fully-formed idea in Kurt Cobain’s noggin. The theory I’ve developed over the years was that the Grunge Takeover had always been something of a ploy by David Geffen and his kindred to supplant the dried-out hair rock movement, and Nirvana was just the right act at the right time to get all of the engineered publicity to turn the tide; with enough mass marketing and enough sound mixing, really ANY of the Seattle area bands could have had a “Nevermind” sized breakthrough. Clearly, Cobain’s ascension as pop icon had a whole hell of a lot more to do with luck than it did talent...and most certainly, ambition.

And what about Kurt Cobain, the individual human being? Well, for starters, he was bold-faced hypocrite, the kind of soul that liked to champion himself as a defender of women’s rights when he himself admitted to once molesting a developmentally disabled girl in his youth. His notebooks were filled with hateful diatribes against “jocks,” decrying their meat-eating dispositions, when Kurt was responsible for intentionally killing cat when he was a kid. He routinely mocked the macho excesses of the hair metal movement, even though he was pumping lethal drugs into his veins habitually and publicly priding himself on his own sexual conquests, too. And the ultimate tragicomic punch line to the Cobain life story? After literally making a fortune regurgitating the same-old, same-old “my parents are sell-outs and the break-up of our family royally screwed me up” drivel, he then proceeded to become a sell-out himself who voluntarily decided to break up his own family by blowing his brains out.

A lot of people like to speculate how Cobain’s music would’ve progressed had he not played the shotgun clarinet that fateful spring morning in King County. Odds are, he probably would’ve progressed down the Metallica path, abandoning the tried-and-true Nirvana sound for something a little more radio-friendly. Legend has it that the never to be “last” Nirvana album was going to be a stripped down, mostly acoustic, “Automatic For the People”-inspired detour, which is exactly the kind of thing you hear before a band starts playing half-hearted, bland-ass music that clearly indicates the outfit’s lack of good ideas anymore. The “In Utero” studio follow-up, as such, would have likely been Nirvana’s “Monster” -- a critical flop that signified the slow, boring downfall of the formerly influential and inspiring.

Of course, that scenario skirts perhaps the most important aspect of who and what Kurt Cobain was, and that was a sad-sack junkie. In reality, any fantasizing about what Cobain would be up to “today” is just pointless, since had Cobain not offed himself when he offed himself, he no doubt would’ve been dead before he turned 40, anyway. Perhaps the allure of Cobain is that he had the good sense to kill himself at a time when it was still fashionable and attractive -- going down at one’s peak is a hallmark of the legends, while disappearing into a decade of drug dependency, only to resurface as a bloated, O.D.’d corpse five years after last releasing an album just makes you Layne Staley.

What is Cobain’s lasting legacy, ultimately? Well, for one thing, he made suicide and flannel shirts fashionable -- at least one of which is still considered en vogue at the moment. And his stardom went a pretty long way in “normalizing” heroin addiction as a common occupational trait among rock stars. Musically, he’s probably the most culpable party responsible for the rock and roll industry’s shift away from good-time, nostalgic party and driving music to music more befitting anti-depressant-fed teens that paint their nails black and cut themselves on the third floor of their suburban mansions. Yes, he was responsible for eliminating the grandiose vapidity of Guns N Roses from the national consciousness, but nobody really brings up the fact that all Nirvana really did was replace it with a more nihilistic form of grandiose vapidity.

At the end of the day, though, I suppose Nirvana had some good songs, and if given the option of listening to a decade of bands that sounded like Silverchair and Oasis or a decade of bands that sounded like Trixter and Firehouse, well, shit, the answer ought to be downright obvious. But all of this retroactive mourning and retroactive reverence -- now stemming from youths who weren’t even born when Cobain made the choice to end his own life -- that he gets?

Well, that’s just stupid, and unfortunately, contagious.

42 comments:

  1. His voice, lyrics, song writing and guitar playing best describe cancer... I don't understand why everyone loved him so much when he was clearly a bad musician :/

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    1. Subjectivity, an extremely simple concept I thought anyone could understand.

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  2. TY for this. There more Nirsucka fanboys than one can shake a dead cat at, and their opinions are "always fact". If you don't like Nirvana, "ur rtded!" "ur troll u goe nao" bullshit. A suckass, talentless, overrated "musician" shot himself, over being married to Whortly Love, or he was out of smack, or both. Happens all the time. Let's mourn over a good talent that passed away from choking: John Bonham. Or Mama Cass, or Andrew Wood of MLB, etc...You know...one's that actually had talent! Tell this to the fanboys....make sure to wear your flame proof vest.

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    2. Devil's advocate and rebellion as a form of conformity describes this post completely. Sure you can become famous without too much musical talent only riding on personal charisma. But to hit a nerve and become immortalized you have to be at least a notch above the competition in visceral songwriting talent and originality. Like other over-exposed bands that show no sign of dying as the decades pass, this is something Nirvana had on a consistent basis. To be honest, even their B-sides have more depth and surprise than the average hit songs by anyone else.

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    3. what the fuck were you smoking and drinking when you posted your reply?? man i'd like to get some of that shit

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  3. some lemmings actually thought back then that Nirvana was "Grunge" and Pearl Jam was cashing in on "Grunge success". I guess they didn't Know that Ament and Gossard Founded Green River Long Before Nirvana existed. Kurt cobain was out of place to out rightly stating who he thought was authentic and who was not. who did he think he was the guy who determins whose alternative and whose not? its all rock n roll man

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    1. all so called seattle music [sucks and still does] where grunge
      originated. grunge has been noted as the cockroach of music and rightfully so. the 90's thru the 2000's were voted worst decade for music, fucking true. clone after clone, look a like after sound a like, imitator after imitator, the 70's was the best decade for music except for 1978 1979 disco, but hey disco sounds good the shit out today

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  4. Wow, this is an excellent commentary and very accurate. Probably the first attack on Cobain I've said that didn't just dwell upon his lack of technical musical talent and actually deconstructed his derivative, cookie-cutter songwriting style and nonsensical lyrics. The points regarding his personality were also spot on.

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  5. Wow, this is an excellent commentary and very accurate. Probably the first attack on Cobain I've said that didn't just dwell upon his lack of technical musical talent and actually deconstructed his derivative, cookie-cutter songwriting style and nonsensical lyrics. The points regarding his personality were also spot on.

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  6. I'm not here to hate on this. Your grammar was correct and this was a well written post. But; I disagree completely. Many people I know love Cobain as much as I do. I've read his biography twice now. Cobain was a happy child, always smiling and making sure to make the people around him smile as well. Then when he started getting into his 'always-happy-and-wanting-to-play' phase his father didn't like it, so he made his mother Wendy give him Ritalin to calm him down. It messed up his brain activity completely, he didn't know what he was doing and became angrier. He grew up hating himself and everything. He moved from home to home, and ended up even living in a hospital for a little while. Yes, he killed that cat but under the influence of LDS while he was around 14-15. Plus, he never raped a disabled girl. He got grossed out by her and left. He felt ashamed, and even admitted it in an interview. You forgot all the good parts about him, next time you need to include that in your argument. Cobain was a troubled, depressed man. He killed hims3of because he created a family and it was falling apart. The pain he felt was unbearable, not to mention his physical pain which was unrecognizable by doctors he visited. The drugs he took finally couldn't take away his pain, he left the world. I'm pretty sure if he would have thought it out he would have stayed.

    Plus: lyrical coherance shouldn't be a reason he is such a bad person. The fact you could hear every raging emotion throughout his music was enough for me, and many other fans to have noticed. Mainstream or not if music is good people will listen to it. That's like saying you hate Alice In Chains or The Doors because their lead singer killed themselves. Don't focus on the negative, think about how things caused him to do this. Anyways, good structure.

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    1. I dislike the people that rip apart music that was enjoyed. Many people liked Nirvana's music. I never was a big fan but I did like some of their music. They DID have a unique sound and interesting sounding minor chords. It worked, why do we have to dissect it? After all, it's only rock and roll, but I like it.

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    3. He isnt ripping on nirvana or Cobain anymore than you are trying to justify how the writer is a cunt for stating an opinion that you obviously disagree with.

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    4. lyrical coherance shouldn't be in the english library autotune and lipsinging is and why is that????????????????????????????????????????

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  7. I'm not here to hate on this. Your grammar was correct and this was a well written post. But; I disagree completely. Many people I know love Cobain as much as I do. I've read his biography twice now. Cobain was a happy child, always smiling and making sure to make the people around him smile as well. Then when he started getting into his 'always-happy-and-wanting-to-play' phase his father didn't like it, so he made his mother Wendy give him Ritalin to calm him down. It messed up his brain activity completely, he didn't know what he was doing and became angrier. He grew up hating himself and everything. He moved from home to home, and ended up even living in a hospital for a little while. Yes, he killed that cat but under the influence of LDS while he was around 14-15. Plus, he never raped a disabled girl. He got grossed out by her and left. He felt ashamed, and even admitted it in an interview. You forgot all the good parts about him, next time you need to include that in your argument. Cobain was a troubled, depressed man. He killed hims3of because he created a family and it was falling apart. The pain he felt was unbearable, not to mention his physical pain which was unrecognizable by doctors he visited. The drugs he took finally couldn't take away his pain, he left the world. I'm pretty sure if he would have thought it out he would have stayed.

    Plus: lyrical coherance shouldn't be a reason he is such a bad person. The fact you could hear every raging emotion throughout his music was enough for me, and many other fans to have noticed. Mainstream or not if music is good people will listen to it. That's like saying you hate Alice In Chains or The Doors because their lead singer killed themselves. Don't focus on the negative, think about how things caused him to do this. Anyways, good structure.

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  8. Jimbo X, this was a bit sad and pathetic really. I would tell you to fuck yourself in the face with a switchblade knife but I don't think the disfigurement would improve your intelligence, it would just make me laugh and I'm not that self indulgent.
    Stick to writing about Britney Spears, her work is probably more on your level. You really failed to come close to understanding Kurt Cobain's psyche.

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    1. Please, explain Cobain's "psyche" for us.

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  9. Never understood the fascination with Cobain.

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  10. Now that I'm thinking about it I don't know how Dave grohl hasn't lost his shit by now. I mean he was there for every mediocre song then went on to have this robust music career. Genuinely participating in and inspiring the past 20 years of rock music.

    And there is always that cock sucker that wants to talk about Cobain. Cobain! You know that guy that he worked with 20 years ago. I think that's what bothers me. The guy has been dead for two decades now. Move on people.

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  11. I've been a fan of Nirvana since I was a teenager in the mid 90's, and when I saw the title of this article, I expected to post a counter-argument. That being said, something about Kurt himself never really sat well with me (aside from the suicide), and I never could put my finger on what it was.

    Sir, I can't disagree with a single word that you wrote. Well done

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  13. All I will say is if Cobain is so untalented then why do people still discover and love his music today? He made an emotional connection with millions, and if that's easy to do - then you do it!

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  15. The fucking fact that you posted this two decades after just proves how resounding Cobain's music was. And when I say Cobain's music, I mean the majority of Nirvana's music. Cobain HIMSELF wrote most of the music for the band and inspired countless musicians and others to this day including you to the point where you write a PhD thesis attempting to debunk his status.

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  16. This is a very well though article. Kurt Cobain is supremely overrated. I will say that Nevermind was and still is a great album. However, Kurt was more limited as a musician. His guitar skills seemed more repetitive and his voice teetered on the irritating side after a while. If he had more to show than the typical grunge sound, then maybe it would be different. It's the media, MTV, Rolling Stone, and the assortment of other hipster/music rags that have propped Kurt up over the years.

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  17. I don't get this blog post. You spend the entire thing talking about how terribly overrated all the individual portions of his performances were. How lackluster and derivative his songwriting was and so on and so forth.

    It's all completely irrelevant. Music is subjective and no amount of fake, world weary cynicism and armchair expertise can change that. People still love and listen to Nirvana. People will continue to admire Kurt and the feeling he imposed upon a bloated and boring dinosaur called rock. He lifted the pompous twattery of the 80's and tossed it in the dumpster.

    None of the sum of his parts were incredible. It was the way in which they were assembled that were special.

    But again, even what I say is meaningless because music is 100%. Which is why music critics are pointless.I fail to see their purpose.

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    1. sorry the sentence should say: "But again, even what I say is meaningless because music is 100% SUBJECTIVE". Why can't we edit our comments ffs?

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    2. sorry the sentence should say: "But again, even what I say is meaningless because music is 100% SUBJECTIVE". Why can't we edit our comments ffs?

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  18. I don't get this blog post. You spend the entire thing talking about how terribly overrated all the individual portions of his performances were. How lackluster and derivative his songwriting was and so on and so forth.

    It's all completely irrelevant. Music is subjective and no amount of fake, world weary cynicism and armchair expertise can change that. People still love and listen to Nirvana. People will continue to admire Kurt and the feeling he imposed upon a bloated and boring dinosaur called rock. He lifted the pompous twattery of the 80's and tossed it in the dumpster.

    None of the sum of his parts were incredible. It was the way in which they were assembled that were special.

    But again, even what I say is meaningless because music is 100%. Which is why music critics are pointless.I fail to see their purpose.

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  20. Nevermind and In Utero are miles ahead of Bleach as far as quality production, songwriting and lyrics. Bleach is interesting mostly for the fact that you get to hear Kurt learning how to sing.
    About a Girl for example would have been far better had it been recorded for In Utero, on Bleach Kurt seemed to be stuck in the middle of yelling/singing it and it comes off a bit awkward, otherwise it's a decent song. The last half of the album takes a dive and they hardly ever played any of that material live. During their gig in Austria 1989 you can catch Krist suggest that they play sifting to which Kurt replied "that song sucks."

    "For a composer that’s frequently hailed as the voice of a generation, Kurt’s lyrics were suspiciously cryptic, disjointed and largely apolitical."

    They put that label on him, that doesn't somehow downgrade his lyrics just because they don't exactly fit what they thought they ought to be. Kurt didn't like obvious lyrics, he might put in a few but like he said many times he'd have to immediately make fun of them in the next line.

    "As far as the much-acclaimed “Nirvana sound,” by now, we all know it was mostly just a restructuring of classic rock tunes"

    You mean Nirvana actually had influences? I wouldn't have guessed it. Bands usually come from nothing at all.



    "he was bold-faced hypocrite"

    You mean like every single person who's ever lived? Yeah, some people are better at hiding it. The basis of this attack comes down to "Kurt was flawed" yeah no shit, as if the music wasn't evident enough.

    "What is Cobain’s lasting legacy, ultimately? Well, for one thing, he made suicide and flannel shirts fashionable -- at least one of which is still considered en vogue at the moment. And his stardom went a pretty long way in “normalizing” heroin addiction as a common occupational trait among rock stars."

    No it didn't. His death was tragic and sad, in did nothing in the way of making suicide fashionable, that's just a bizarro cynical smug statement. And now that Montage of heck is out there I don't think there's anyone in their right mind, especially fans, who think that heroin addiction is normal or glorious. Kurt never championed his drug use.

    " Legend has it that the never to be “last” Nirvana album was going to be a stripped down, mostly acoustic, “Automatic For the People”-inspired detour, which is exactly the kind of thing you hear before a band starts playing half-hearted, bland-ass music that clearly indicates the outfit’s lack of good ideas anymore."

    I guess you missed the unplugged performance, no lack of ideas there. If anything it opened a door for them of what could have been. An acoustic album in the vein of R.E.M. with Scott Litt as producer which is who Kurt wanted would have been an incredible piece of work.

    The shift to that if I had to guess would be for stress relief. Nirvana cancelled their last ever tour because Kurt had severe laryngitis, he was told that because of his singing style he was destroying his voice. He knew he couldn't do that style forever. This was most likely the impetus for the change that unfortunately never came.

    His legacy is that he wrote great songs and made a generation of kids (and still more) feel less alone. Whether you like the guy personally or not, that's an admirable accomplishment. His legacy is the music, the behavior and drug use are secondary.

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  21. "His legacy is that he wrote great songs and made a generation of kids (and still more) feel less alone. Whether you like the guy personally or not, that's an admirable accomplishment. His legacy is the music, the behavior and drug use are secondary."

    Oh man, he made a bunch spoiled kids feel special with this unintelligible lyrics. This is just what we need, more generations of snowflakes needing their safe space.

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  22. I agree that Cobain was overrated. The claim that Nirvana and SMTS killed Hair Metal (or what I call Party Metal) is a myth. You know what song killed Hair Metal? Cherry Pie by Warrant (in the summer of 1990).

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  23. In my opinion, all the arguments here are developed over a lack of understanding on Kurt cobain. It is not that easy to see the world from someone else's perspective and a lot of empathy and emotional intelligence is needed for that. As a psychology student, I'm not al all similar to Kurt cobain, and I don't share any aspects of his personality, but most of his actions were driven and triggered by deep traumas from the past, suffering and he was just confused, and in my opinion that's why his work it's a reflection of what was happening inside his mind, too many thoughts, disappointment, lots of emotions, anger... and as I said confusion. He was projecting his artistic and impulsive desires in what he did, it didn't always have to make sense, but actually, in that sense it always did. He didn't have to be the best at everything by the known standards(singer, guitar player, songwriter...) he was unique because he knew every person is and he did whatever he wanted. This is just my opinion of corse, but I don't think there is wrong or right, I think there are just many different opinions. For me he was extremely interesting, an artist and a genius, although I don't share or agree whith everything he did in his life, but we all make mistakes...

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  24. Nirvana has one good song, heart shaped box. That's it. All the rest is garbage

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  25. Thank you so much for this. As an amateur vocalist, I have never understood Cobain's cult-like following and practical worship (Seriously, people I have talked to have made him akin to a god). Aside from his meh-level of guitar expertise, as a vocalist, he kind of repels me. Not because he can't hit notes or misses them, his vocal style is just so... boring. People say there's so much emotion in his music, and I disagree entirely. I hear very little emotive anything from his words and tones, it's just words. It's the same thing in every song, with one exception. The only song I like, as brandonvand above me said, is Heart Shaped Box, and only because it doesn't sound like Nirvana.

    Fantastic article, thank you for it.

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  26. Kurt never raped or molested a disabled girl. That was a short FICTIONAL story he wrote that unfortunately has been taken as fact for far too long.

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