Sometime in the recent past, Gus van Sant made a poorly-received film with an actor pretending to be Kur(d)t Cobain in his Last Days on Earth. I forget the name of this film — Heart Shaped Coffin? All Apol-Eulogies? Suicide Solution? — but apparently the movie crescendos with the mopey guy in the blond wig singing a song of his own creation “inspired” by Cobain’s work. Perhaps Pavement’s “Flux = Rad” was unavailable for licensing.
Now, Japan’s most sincere and upright music label Avex has released a compilation album “inspired by” the van Sant film, entitled LAST DAYS~tribute to Kurt~. I’m glad they used “Mr. K” because I honestly cannot think of a more appropriate nickname for the Cobainster.
When I was fifteen and on Spring Break, I remember watching a local newscast announcing the suicide of Mr. K, and I told my friend, “Hey Tim, Mr. K killed himself.” If Grunge and Alternative were my generation’s My Generation, Mr. K was John and Paul and Jimmy and Janis all rolled into one. Upon learning of Mr. K’s death, we knew that Eddie Vedder had to quickly step up to the plate and become a semi-underground/semi-corporate symbol or otherwise the jocks would retake their place at top of the high-school social hierarchy. Remember: Mr. K suddenly made weirdos and bad guitar playing tolerable in the teenage world and pushed semi-artsy/semi-hot girls teetering on the edge of respectability into wearing sexy Doc Martens with black-and-white stripe tights.
Avex’s collection no doubt sums up all this American adolescent social turmoil by bringing together a cavalcade of domestic Japanese musical talent. Kicking things off is MCU from Japan’s hip-pop powerhouse Kick the Can Crew, who kicks K’s ass into gear with some smooth rhymes and un-Can-like beats (I have not heard any of the songs on this album.) Shonen Knife also appear, making me think that Mr. K would have actually given this album a listen, if you could somehow play CCCD’s in heaven.
But the fundamental problem with “Music Inspired by A Film Inspired by Kurt Cobain” is that Mr. K had exactly one musical idea. Admittedly, that idea was a very powerful idea at the time of its launch, but I’m not sure anyone is still mystified by the “bass verse,” the “lead melody line guitar solo,” guitar “distortion,” incomprehensible “lyrics,” etc. Nirvana was one of those bands who boiled rock down to its bare essentials, so copying Nirvana is like cracking Duplo blocks in half. Throw in some major seventh chords and you’re violating the Mr. K inspiration. Do everything the Nirvana way and you sound like Puddle of Mudd.
But as Avex surely understands, the greatest way to honor a man who bit off his own head rather than let himself become a rock demigod is to honor him in Stalinesque glory. Tribute Michael Jackson all you want, but you’ll never be able to outdo the cover of HIStory. I don’t think Mr. K ever wanted statues, let alone gimmicky CDs from the Jpop Factory. I would hope that the royalties go to the Francis Bean Scholarship Fund, but seeing that there isn’t an actual Cobain song on the CD — what royalties??