Generation X Sold Out Cobain and Biggie
-- Kurt Cobain, from Nirvana's Serve The Servants
Spread love, it's the Brooklyn way.
-- Notorious B.I.G., Juicy
PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Well, Generation X, we hope you enjoyed nodding or banging your head along to the songs above, because you sure weren't listening to them.
Within the last month, attempts to bestow posthumous accolades on both Kurt Cobain and Christopher Wallace -- Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls -- said more about the generation that grew up on their music than it probably would have liked. In mid-October, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced that Nirvana had been chosen as finalists for induction in 2014. Around the same time, an effort to name a street corner in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill neighborhood after Christopher Wallace -- the exact wording was "Christopher Wallace Way" -- made its way to that neighborhood's community board.
The end result of either platitude was likely not what either of the deceased artists ever had in mind.
Let's get something out of the way first: Cobain silenced his voice in any of this when he took his own life on April 5, 1994. He hasn't had a say in nearly 20 years and all of the posthumous album and video releases, big-money multi-disc reissues, films, documentaries and everything else that has surrounded Nirvana since then is strictly in the hands of Courtney Love and Cobain's former bandmates Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl. Any "that's not the way Kurt would have wanted it" discussions after the time he left this earth are moot.
That said, this induction isn't exactly a Nirvana decision or that of an organization that existed during Nirvana's tenure. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was the pipe dream of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner and a bunch of attorneys and record executives. Please note the lack of, you know, musicians in that lineup.
This group basically picked artists it liked and started "enshrining" them in their offices in 1986. It wasn't until 1995, after the Hall of Fame folks passed the hat around the country and got $65 million in public funds from Cleveland, that they gave the Hall of Fame its current home on Lake Erie. While a nice tourism draw for Cleveland, the Hall is basically filled at its braintrust's whim, takes few token votes from the public, ignores petitions and overlooks entire genres. Its induction ceremonies are $25,000-a-table back-patting sessions for the recording industry that surviving members of the Sex Pistols famously referred to as "a piss stain" while spurning their own induction in 2006.
Cobain had already formed a few not-so-favorable impressions of the industry just before his death. Nirvana's third full-length studio album, In Utero was an aggressive push back against the surge of popularity, press and industry approval the group received in the wake of 1991's Nevermind and its anthemic breakthrough single Smells Like Teen Spirit.
In Utero turned 20 years old this year and is still the brash, unwelcoming work it was then. Serve The Servants opens the album with an indictment of the Nevermind period, while the wall of noise behind Milk It, Tourette's and the executive jargon-titled Radio Friendly Unit Shifter defied the suits to find a single. "They want another Nevermind, but I'd rather die than do that. This is exactly the kind of record I would buy as a fan, that I would enjoy owning," Cobain told writer Michael Azzerad, who later used the quote in his 1994 book Come As You Are: The Story Of Nirvana.
But In Utero didn't make it stop. Cobain's stomach ailments, the heroin he was using to self-medicate them and his loathing of the industry and the artist he'd become all grew too much to bear. In his suicide note, he went into depth about how the music and the process were not only no fun anymore, but killing him. "..when we're back stage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowds begins, it doesn't affect me the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury, who seemed to love, relish in the the love and adoration from the crowd which is something I totally admire and envy. The fact is, I can't fool you, any one of you. It simply isn't fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I'm having 100% fun. Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch-in time clock before I walk out on stage. I've tried everything within my power to appreciate it (and I do, God, believe me I do, but it's not enough).
So would Cobain want to shell out five figures to sit at a banquet table among the execs and big stars and play in a big, show-stopping jam with Paul Westerberg, Kiss, Public Enemy and whoever else jumped up on stage? Maybe not but, again, he lost his opportunity to weigh in on that a long time ago.
The B.I.G. Sleep
Christopher Wallace, meanwhile, didn't get the choice. Shot to death in Los Angeles on March 9, 1997, on his way home from a party at the Petersen Automotive Museum by a still-unknown assailant, Wallace left behind only his children, his mother Voletta, his friends including Sean "Diddy" Combs and his music.
Wallace's life was by no means uneventful or even enviable. From his debut single Juicy off the 1994 album Ready To Die, Wallace referenced "all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustlin' in front of that called the police on me when I was just tryin' to make some money to feed my daughters." He was arrested on multiple occasions before his career for dealing crack cocaine and on various weapons charges. Even during his career, he was arrested for attacking autograph seekers and having guns and drugs in his home in Teaneck, N.J.