Steven Hyden Takes A Good Long Look At The ’90’s

I love my kindle. I read every night before bed. Using Instapaper, I just added a ten-part long series of Onion AV Club articles by Steven Hyden titled “Whatever Happened To Alternative Nation”. A a child of the ’90’s, it’s both a nostalgic and stomach churning look back at a decade, one year at a time. Man, that video for Pearl Jam’s “Jeremey” hasn’t aged well, now has it?

Part 2 deals with the Axl Rose/Kurt Cobain feud, and in Part 3 (when Eddie Vedder Controlled and Loathed The World), I noticed a similar dynamic. From the deuce:

Rose longed to hear Nirvana cover “Welcome To The Jungle”—he wanted it done “their way, however it is”—and put out a request for the band to play his 30th birthday party. Publicly, he reached out for Nirvana to join GNR and Metallica on their massive stadium tour, which would’ve been an incredible boon for any band trying to establish an audience at the time. (When Nirvana said no, Rose instead asked Soundgarden, another Seattle band he praised in the media before most mainstream rock fans had heard of the group.)

Say what you want about Axl Rose, but you can’t accuse him of not putting out the welcome mat for new pledges in the rock-star fraternity. More than anything, the guy just sounds like a fan; I know I would have asked Nirvana to play my birthday party in 1991 if I had the means. Unfortunately, Axl Rose embracing Nirvana seemed to confirm Kurt Cobain’s worst fears about signing with a major label. For Cobain, Axl Rose represented everything horrible about corporate rock. On a personal level, he found Rose to be a despicable human being, the epitome of racist, sexist, homophobic, proudly redneck and macho assholes that his music was intended to irritate and destroy. . . .

The irony of the Kurt/Axl rivalry is that Cobain—the wimpy feminist who took to wearing layers of sweaters in order to look less scrawny—was the clear aggressor while Rose, who demanded that any and all critics “suck his fucking dick” in “Get In The Ring” and once threatened to fight Vince Neil of Motley Crüe outside of Tower Records in L.A., seemed to shrink away from a man he seemed to have genuinely admired. It’s sort of sad, really, though Rose was not above insulting Cobain; when Nirvana turned down the GNR/Metallica “Get In The Ring” tour, Rose crabbed to Metallix magazine, “They would rather sit at home and shoot heroin with their bitch wives than tour with us.” (Artless wording aside, Rose wasn’t completely wrong.)

There’s the great story of when Cobain and Rose got into it backstage at the MTV awards, which might be the only nice thing ever written about Courtney Love. But in Part 3, Eddie Vedder has to open his mouth. My problem with Pearl Jam has always been that they (Eddie) need to portray every little thing as some grand portentous omen.

And yet when it came to his own band and the intense connection Pearl Jam’s fans had to his public persona, Vedder’s discomfort frequently boiled over into hostility. And it would only get worse after April 8, 1994, when Kurt Cobain was found dead at his Seattle home with a gaping shotgun wound in his head. Vedder and Cobain weren’t close socially; their relationship appears to have been one-sided, with Vedder playing the adoring admirer and Cobain the ambivalent would-be rival. Cobain openly hated Pearl Jam’s music, but he thought Vedder was a good person, and the two reconciled backstage at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, the same night as Cobain’s infamous confrontation with Axl Rose.

When Vedder learned of Cobain’s death while on tour in Fairfax, Virginia, he reacted as a fan, launching into a violent emotional outburst and tearing apart his hotel room. That night he told the audience gathered for Pearl Jam’s show, “I don’t think any of us would be in this room if it weren’t for Kurt Cobain.” But in subsequent interviews, rather than focus on all the good that came out of Nirvana’s stardom—namely, that it allowed millions of people to discover Cobain’s music, and use it as a skeleton key to discover loads of other artists—Vedder instead pontificated about the burden of being beloved. It didn’t matter that Cobain had been an unhappy person for a long time before he was famous, or that he died while in the grips of a harrowing, seemingly unbeatable heroin addiction. Nope, it was the fame that killed him, pure and simple; Cobain’s demise had made him a martyr for sensitive, camera-shy artists, and Vedder rushed to pound the nails in.

Pearl Jam has periods of great brilliance, but there’s a reason that Vedder seems more like Bono than Cobain. I look forward to the rest of the series.

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