why does Kurt Cobain get to be reimagined as Trans, but not, like, “Poison” ?
— Silenced on Site (@77_steeze) December 19, 2023
As he says in his next tweet, it’s a rhetorical question, of course. Grunge music was counter-cultural in ways that haven’t changed much in the last 30 years. It was “against” all the right things. As Justin Quirk wrote in his history of glam metal, Nothin’ But a Good Time:
The line that was drawn in the sand by grunge wasn’t between the artificial and the real. While Nirvana’s delivery may have appeared simpler and more straightforward — and visually, it was — what it marked was the point where mainstream American rock music moved definitively from the modern to the postmodern. While glam metal had its layers of artifice and construction — especially in its sound and fashion — it functioned in a relatively one-dimensional way. Grunge looked at the world with a roll of the eyes and put things in quotation marks — glam metal was led by far simpler urges. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” appropriated its title from a wholesome TV deodorant commercial, and interpolated the riff from “More Than a Feeling” into live versions of the track because there’s something inherently funny about independently-minded punk-inspired misfits feasting on the carcass of one of the biggest mainstream rock hits of their parents’ era. By contrast, Blackie Lawless shot fireworks from his codpiece because it just looked incredibly cool and made the crowd scream. Grunge fashion recycled the lumberjack shirts of manual workers as an ironic kick at macho norms. Even the title of the genre’s lodestar album, Nevermind, came freighted with a kind of weary sigh, as though everything was just so much effort. Glam metal did exactly what it said on the label and traded in very obvious signs and signifiers, whereas grunge embodied a culture where everything worked on two levels. The music was heavy, but sensitive; it was popular, but didn’t want to be; it was noisy, but it didn’t rock; it was successful, but didn’t want to look like it. What glam metal was and what it stood for was glaringly obvious. Suddenly, with grunge, the whole business of what was real and what wasn’t, what was permissible and what was now beyond the pale, became extremely slippery.
Glam metal stars dressed like flamboyant drag queens with a wink and a smile. There were no pretensions of subversion and transgression, let alone social consciousness. They became rich and famous and attracted tons of groupies while having the audacity to love every minute of it. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if people were trying to retroactively claim Kurt Cobain for transgenderism. His self-loathing angst, his reverse-snobbery, his political correctness wouldn’t seem outdated at all if he were still alive today. Glam metal bands will never be useful in that way. They took something like gender-bending, which was supposed to be transgressive and threatening to mainstream norms, and made it into a superficial costume. Worst of all, they were accepted and rewarded for it. Not only was the mainstream not threatened by the spectacle of dudes wearing makeup, hairspray, and tight leather pants, they embraced it in the same spirit of superficial fun and got down to the perennial business of partying and getting laid. Those bands, and those fans, will never be forgiven for enjoying themselves.