The ultimate sell-out? Dig a bit deeper.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 5 years, you’re probably acquainted with Activisions Guitar Hero franchise. What started out as an innocuous concept (you press coloured buttons on a small plastic guitar as the corresponding colors show up on a virtual guitar neck on screen, enabling you to ‘play’ along with popular guitar-based hits of past and present), has morphed into one of the most lucrative and popular names in gaming. Along the way, rock gods such as Slash, Aerosmith and Metallica have been digitized into playable characters, cartoon versions of themselves that the user can use as an avatar. Now comes word that perhaps the most recognizable musician of the past 30 years, Kurt Cobain, has received the same treatment.
Cobain, of course, is known primarily for three things; the ingenious, visceral music that came out of his heroin-ravaged body during his life, and the shotgun blast that went through his head to end it are the two most people choose to discuss, if only because of the subjective nature of music and the controversy surrounding his death. The third thing Cobain is known for is his myth; that by working within a punk rock ethos, and by maintaining a stringent level of integrity and authenticity, he managed to kill of the excesses that had surrounded the rock stars of the decadent 80′s. Nobody debates this anymore, because it’s been repeated so often it’s transcended into a fact. And because of this ‘fact,’ Cobain’s inclusion in Guitar Hero 5 will be decried by his many, many fans as a cash-in by his widow, the always entertaining perpetual mess that is Courtney Love. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, and one that will be perpetuated by the masses who accept Cobain myths, which now contain none of the subtleties and contradictions that made the guy so beloved in the first place. Kurt became insanely popular not because he was a pure punk rocker; if that had been the case, he’d probably have ended up in the same history trash bin as Johnny Thunders: revered by a small cult, totally forgotten by others. At best, he would have been a younger Henry Rollins, releasing acclaimed noise albums and eventually growing into a ‘Godfather’ figure. Kurt was awesome because he wanted to have the integrity that punk implied, but more importantly, he had a dream that’s much more common among youth. Kurt wanted to be cool. He wanted to be a rock star. I think many would be surprised to learn his first concert was Sammy Hagar. As recounted in Charles Cross’ acclaimed biography ‘Heavier than Heaven,’ Kurt loved bands like Van Halen, KISS, Led Zeppelin… This was a guy who worshipped at the alter of metal, and loved the poses and imagery that went along with it. He also had a healthy sense of humour about himself. Example: The story of Kurt’s first appearance on Saturday Night Live has become a key part of his folklore. That performance of Smells Like Teen Spirit is what likely pushed the Nevermind album from ‘moderate hit’ to ‘cultural touchstone.’ According to Cross, Kurt was so whacked out on heroin prior to the show he could barely speak. However, he took joy when he received a call from Weird Al Yankovic, asking permission to parody Cobain’s hit song. Can you imagine if that phone call had been from one of the guys at Activision asking if he’d like to be made into a cartoon for Guitar Hero?
So don’t boycott, don’t cry over his spoiled legacy. Just accept it for what it is: really, really fucking cool.