Adam Kandle: Note to Neil Young " There’s more than just burning out or fading away
February 13, 2009
Is it better to burn out or have a lasting career?
In one of his most famous songs, Neil Young sings, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Written during a time when Young began to question his own validity as a musician due to the explosion of punk and the view held by many that Young and his rock counterparts were now dinosaurs, the lyrics would later go on to end Kurt Cobain’s suicide note.
A recent conversation with a friend about the importance of Nirvana as compared to Pearl Jam made me realize that lyric didn’t ring as true to me as it once had. In high school, Nirvana and Pearl Jam were essentially The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones 30 years later.
To me Nirvana, and more importantly Kurt Cobain, was really the only band that mattered and Cobain’s personal demons and punk rock attitude were far more interesting to me than a guy (Eddie Vedder) who liked hanging from rafters in his videos. As a confused and miserable adolescent, Cobain spoke to me in a way that no band or singer had previously.
The problem for me at the time and apparently to Cobain was that I was not alone, not by a long shot. “Nevermind” would launch the second largest musical genre of my time (hip-hop being the first) in terms of sales and overall effect on culture and Cobain seemed genuinely angry about that. It was just this sort of malevolence that made Cobain a hero to the thralls of youth who took to apathy the way my parents’ generation took to the streets to protest.
Cobain was the non-fiction version of Holden Caulfield and the rest were just “phonies.” Falling into this category and perhaps leading the pack was one Eddie Vedder. Looking back in hindsight, Pearl Jam was The Dave Matthews Band before they even knew it. They managed to get frat kids to pick up guitars and perform the most awful renditions of their songs, then drink lots of beer and beat up kids who looked like Kurt Cobain. Remember that scene in “Animal House” when John Belushi’s character smashes that guys guitar against the wall? Welcome to my years in high school and then college.
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Anyway, Pearl Jam just didn’t seem that cool to me. They came off as wanting to be accepted as opposed to Cobain who just didn’t care. Cobain even dressed cooler. Flannels, Converse and cardigans still beats someone who thinks wearing Army shorts with long johns underneath is cool. Despite what I will say later in this article, Nirvana was and still is way cooler than Pearl Jam ” attitude is seven-tenths of the law in rock ‘n’ roll and Nirvana was all attitude.
But something happened since then. Actually, two things happened that changed my life and my view on these two bands. The first was the day Cobain killed himself. I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard the news. It was probably a lot like when my parents heard that JFK was shot. (And don’t tell me that I can’t compare those two events because it’s my life and I just did).
The second event was when I first realized that Pearl Jam didn’t suck as much as I wanted to believe. Oddly enough I can remember this too as it was just an hour after breaking up with my girlfriend and hearing “Nothingman” at a friend’s house. Since then, I have become an unabashed Pearl Jam fan and look forward to hearing everything they release.
Recently, Eddie Vedder did the soundtrack to Sean Pean’s film “Into The Wild.” The film centers around Christopher McCandless, a disillusioned kid who wants to get as far away from society as possible, and succeeds with tragic results. The soundtrack is amazing, just Vedder and very sparse instrumentation. Through music, Vedder is able to capture so well what was probably going through this kid’s head.
Fifteen years after Cobain had spoken to me so directly, Vedder was now doing the same. I connected with this soundtrack the same way I connected with “Nevermind,” only now I was an adult. It made me realize that while I’ve since stopped wearing flannel shirts and viewing people as “phoneys”, I was still connecting musically to the same things that drew me in as a teenager.
At the end of the day, I just want someone to be honest and along the way teach me something about myself and the world that I inhabit.
What Vedder showed me was that there was more than just burning out or fading away. There is a whole other option and I wish Cobain could have found that out.
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