In response to the column titled “Great Icons Mark the Passing of One Generation to Another,” (Daily Nexus, Feb. 15) by Henry Sarria, I agree with many of his sentiments regarding our cultural heroes and pushers of the musical, comical and artistic envelope. I disagree, however, in his attack on the worth of Kurt Cobain.
Sarria criticizes Cobain for being “whiny, bitter [and] constantly complaining.” I will not refute these allegations; he did indeed wear his sorrow like a crown and his songs reflect an unabashedly bitter lens. The point over which we disagree concerns the value placed on this tone in music. Sarria belittles such a blatant celebration of melancholia as whiny – I see it as genius.
Cobain unapologetically explored the complex emotions of sadness and despair. He chose not to mask his struggles and wrap them in a false, optimistic pretense, but rather he left them exposed for all to see. The product of this boldness is a legacy of sincere music with a raw, honest quality that endears it to fans, especially the angst-filled youth who identify with his search for purpose and strength in an often austere, unforgiving world.
If one believes, as I do, that the job of an artist is to capture the world as he or she sees it – complete with personal views influenced by a unique life history and emotional threshold – then bashing an artist for being self-pitying is inherently inconsistent. If an artist is bitter, the songs should also be bitter. In this Cobain follows the tradition set forth by Petrarch – the pessimistic 14th century poet who spent over 20 years of his life lamenting about his beloved Laura – a woman for whom he burned but could never grasp. Would Sarria derisively label the Italian sonnet as bitter and whiny as well?
If life gave Cobain lemons, would it have been better if he had concocted a musical brew of sugar water, with only a faint lemony suggestion, and sold this to the world? Cobain did his best to recreate the lemons in their entirety, even though this made his sentiments more difficult to swallow. It is true that he was a sad man who lost the battle with his demons, but because he created such an honest span of music documenting this struggle, we are able to fall with him. If Sarria does not believe that this constitutes iconic status or influential recognition, then he can drink his lemonade and enjoy his rose-tinted world. For me, I’ll turn up the grunge and wallow in it for a spell.
Claire Poissonniez is a senior physical anthropology major.