If you’ve ready my other, somewhat irregular Soundtrack for Writing posts (all conveniently located in the Music category on the right), you know the drill. I talk about writing, and how music from the mentioned artist has inspired various stories or writing breakthroughs.
That’s not entirely the case with Nirvana.
It’s not that I don’t like them. I appreciate their contribution to rock ‘n roll, and find several of their songs surprisingly well written. And there are a few that I downright enjoy – “Come as You Are” being the first one that comes to mind. But I don’t own any of their albums. Probably never will. Again, it’s not that I have anything against Kurt and the boys. I’m just not exactly a fan, and wouldn’t think to put on one of their albums if I did own one. The only likely exception would be their unplugged gig, but that would mostly be for their delicious cover of Bowie’s “Man Who Sold the World.”
And therein lies the inspirational root for my story “The Invitation” in Blood Bound Books “Rock ‘N’ Roll is Dead” anthology. (As an aside, I’ve read the whole book at this point, and though I’m loathe to review an anthology in which I appear, this is a damn good, genuinely spooky, and occasionally disgusting read. Check it out.) The call for submissions was looking for stories inspired by a specific song of the author’s choosing.
As often as my writing is inspired by music, how could I pass this up? The short answer: I couldn’t. I chose, not a Nirvana song (stay with me here, people), but one of my all-time favorite David Bowie songs. And probably not the one you expect. I picked “Rock and Roll Suicide,” primarily because of the impact it had on me the first time I heard it. I used to put it on a constant loop, listen to it six, seven times in a row if not more.
And when you think famous rock suicides, Cobain is generally one of the first names you think about. It should come as no surprise that his corpse turns up as the conversation partner for our protagonist in “The Invitation.”
Inspiration is a strange beast. Nirvana inspires me not because of their music, no matter how good it may or may not be. Nirvana inspires me because of the mythic feeling of Cobain’s death. He was such a part of the culture, so much a part of the public eye, (both of which might be responsible for his life-ending depression), that when he died, it made a huge impression. But what if he had wanted to make his death stand for something? What if he decided, “Well, I’m pulling this trigger anyway. Everyone is going to be looking and picking this apart. What message do I want to send? What do I want to stand for, be remembered for?”
My first Cobain-related story was called “Gospel Truths” and appeared in a long-forgotten college literary journal less than a year after his death. In it, I turned the front-man into a guy who wanted to change the world, and seeing the band’s popularity as the short-lived beast it was likely to become, arranged a Christ-like martyrdom during a live concert. Before the body was cold, the surviving band members split the scene with a box full of un-released songs filled with the lead singer’s political and social message.
But it’s the third piece that is the odd man out. A straight-up mystery novel set in Tuscon, AZ, it asks the question, “What if, after the end of Nirvana, Dave Grohl left music, moved to the desert to be close to his estranged family, got a few Boston Terriers, and when he got bored, solved an occasional mystery?” Not that it was Dave in my novel. In many ways, it was a wish fulfillment novel for me, where I got to own a motorcycle, a couple of adorable dogs, and not have to work again ever.
But for all intents and purposes it might as well have been Dave, which is sad, in a way. Because I enjoy the Foo Fighters more than Nirvana, and if Dave had retired to the desert, we never would have gotten “The Pretender,” which kicks ass. And who knows. Maybe that song will inspire a story from me somewhere down the road as well!