I watched a movie made in the 90s recently and that got me thinking about the current prevalence of falsifying and distorting reality in the media. Back in the 90s, the actors were not heavily made-up nor were they digitally enhanced. They looked like real people. And I smiled to see a truth that has been denied us for so long now.
Here’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Seinfeld around 1990/91
vs the same beautiful woman about 25 years later
That made me think about some of the changes that have happened in Western society in the last 20 years, and some of the visionaries that have left a legacy, whether that legacy was a direct change like altered legislation or not. Thinking about art and its capacity for leading change. As much as this is the age of scientific and medical discoveries, which, it could be argued, has been allowed to advance because of the relentless capitalist machine, I strongly believe that art has a greater capacity to impact the way we live our lives.
And I’m thinking about this tonight because I’m thinking about Cobain who wrote Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle and Rape Me and Polly and Negative Creep. Thinking about the fact that it was 1983 in Canada when the law was officially changed to focus on the “violent rather than sexual nature of the offence”. (statcan.gc.ca, archived text last updated 2008)
We have come far, we have far to go. The fact that rape is still considered by a majority as having a sexual nature means we have farther to go. And in one way or another, there will always be another length to walk. It’s part of human nature and the duality of being social creatures leading autonomous lives.
It must have been really fucking hard for Kurt to be so bitterly misunderstood and ruthlessly used to promote the agenda of whoever’s mouth was talking. To see how sideways society is at any given time can cause a venomous anger, an outrage, a kind of half-way-arms-in-the-air-surrender while keeping our legs free to kick our way out when the confused masses get too close. It can be tiring, draining. It can lead to disillusionment. Or, with a lot of hard work and some perspective, it can be seen as a joyous privilege for which we are grateful. We can learn to see the good and the bad and weigh them as equally important. I think Kurt really tried. He did some amazing work. But he was depressed. Depression greatly affects your perception and your ability to feel empowered to affect change. Imagine being thrown into the position of popular leader of malleable minds because of your authenticity, and feeling disempowered by the limits of that time frame?
From the perspective of the artist, the creator of the work, what’s the worst possible response to art? It’s no response at all. Love it, hate it, but oh God, please don’t let me be misunderstood, because if the truth in the art isn’t seen the response to whatever you put out there feels like no response at all.
Young lovers of Cobain, those who came to know his work the year he committed suicide or maybe after, have set up their lives as permanent vigils to his work. I’m not sure why Albee didn’t create the same quiet uprising, or Vonnegut, for that matter. Why, I wonder? What was it about Cobain that still inspires people to live their lives dedicated to acridly pointing out the ironies and absurdities of humanity that spill so effortlessly into daily life and therefore society? Is it some form of guilt because these young lovers found him when it was already too late to understand him and therefore somehow save him? That would imply that understanding him would somehow have saved him from an early and tragic death.
Cobain was a reticent pioneer of this quiet revolution. He had anger about things that few understood. But even though few understood, many loved him. His authentic passion resonated with the masses. But it’s the misunderstood ironies that his followers want to emulate.
I wonder what Cobain would rage about today. What would he see that nobody else is ready to see? Where are my fellow visionaries? I know you’re out there. So here’s my question to you: visionaries, will you teach your followers how to read you like e.e. Cummings taught his audience to understand him? Will you find a way to communicate across the gulf to affect change? Is it possible that doing so would also honor Kurt’s legacy?
Obviously, seeing the collective denial and trying to do something but failing can be painful. But seeing the collective denial and letting that knowledge sit in your tummy, constantly flicking acid and bile up the back of your throat, is more painful in the long run.
*This post is dedicated to Kurt Cobain with deepest respect and gratitude for his art and his legacy*