Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Pity Da Foo

DOA - Foo Fighters (mp3)
Missing You Now - Foo Fighters (mp3)

I’m about to commit the kind of music blogger error deserving of musical seppuku.

Foo Fighters is, pound for pound, a better band than Nirvana.

They’re musically, instrumentally better. Grohl has a stronger sense of hook. His bite and jab are slightly less impressive than Mr. Cobain’s, and at his best Cobain was a better songwriter. The problem was, Kurt wasn’t at his best very often. Or for very long.

When people dare to make the idiotic statement that Cobain is some modern incarnation of John Lennon, they make an absolutely and unabashedly ludicrous claim. Lennon wrote more amazing songs in two years than Cobain wrote songs period. Good bad or ugly. It’s like equalling Harper Lee with Shakespeare or Arrested Development with M.A.S.H.

Foo have doubled up Nirvana’s curriculum vitae and are still going fairly strong. And yes, longevity and productivity have to be factored into comparisons between bands at this level. They are important, and Nirvana has neither.

Bleach really isn’t very palatable. Their final two are masterpieces or damn close.

Foo Fighters have at least three albums that, while not masterpieces, are superb albums. (For those who insist on specificity, it’s The Colour & the Shape, There is Nothing Left to Lose, and In Your Honor. Their first album is mighty fine as well, but just a smidge below these three.) Their weakest album, One by One, is vastly more accessible and more listenable than Bleach.

Some say Foo is a very gifted two-trick pony. Perhaps. Frankly, I don't enjoy when Foo Fighters slow down into ballad/quiet mode that much, so I'm only fanatic about one of their two specialties, yet I still categorize them as some of the best rockers of the last 15 years. Their two-album near-masterpiece In Your Honor very intentionally splits their personality in two, and I've bathed in the sonic assault of their first disc a dozen times for every one time I enjoy their quieter Disc Two. Which is still plenty incredible.

Unfortunately and admittedly, my opinion of Nirvana is clouded by a very unusual glitch in my musical matrix. In almost all cases I can manage to separate my opinion of an artist from his or her art. Exactly what it is about Kurt Cobain that makes me seethe, that makes me detest him unreasonably, is a little uncertain. But let’s give it a shot.

Ever seen Trainspotting? Remember that scene where the couple are so nonstop strung out on heroin that their baby starves to death in its crib? Fair or not, that couple seems inspired by Courtney and Kurt. Heroin is not, as best I can tell, remotely like alcohol. I don’t know many people fighting the variety of mental issues Kurt apparently had who can casually limit their heroin use to "only after the children have been tucked in for the night." Kurt’s cocktail of issues couldn’t have made him a very good father.

Bob Dylan wasn’t a good father, but I don’t seem to seethe with him. A bajillion musicians have or had intense drug addictions and mental issues either before or because of their habits, and I seem to give most of them a pass. But the combination of the two, and the degree to which Cobain is worshipped as if he were Jesu Christo Part Deux, are all just too much for me. (OK fine, Courtney Love makes a spot-on modern version of Mary Magdalene, but we ain’t living in “The DaVinci Code.)

The mythology of a strung-out loser who had some legitimate musical flair and potential has so far outpaced the level of adulation he deserves that I stubbornly, perhaps unfairly, hold a grudge against his band. Meanwhile, Foo Fighters just have fun. Even when they’re pissed off and bitter and miserable in their music -- and dammit, they're exceptionally gifted at being pissed off and bitter -- they manage to carry themselves like they know they’re living a pretty awesome life doing something they are fortunate in doing.

One band is angry about life; the other was angry because life wasn't much worth getting through.

The first one is the better band.


Bob said...

Did Nirvana splinter into the Foo Fighters and the Goo Goo Dolls? If so, chalk me up for Team Goo Goo.

Billy said...

There is no tie between Foo Foo and Goo Goo.

The Goo is from Buffalo, and the Foo hails from Seattle. The Goo leans a little more strongly "adult alternative" than the Foo. And while they have moments of Rocking, I don't much think the Goo would qualify for discussion in the second half of Roctober if you insist that we focus on Bands That Rock Out.

Bob said...

But if we did "Guilty Pleasures," then the Goo Goo's would be near the top of my list.

Bob said...

Billy, here it is:

Kurt Cobain,
The Pain,
In his Brain,
When in the rain,
He shot his brains out with a gun,

Ow, that must have hurt,
Kurt Cobain,
Who felt OUR pain,
In the rain.

Oh, sing his songs with a sore throat,
Oh,play the air guitar with polluted air,
And sit on the stage and mope.

And now the pitcher hurls the ball,
and now the air is still,
But there is no joy in Rockville,
because Kurt Cobain is dead.

BeckEye said...

I'm not a huge fan of Foo Fighters, but this post made me all tingly in my lady parts. And this: "The mythology of a strung-out loser who had some legitimate musical flair and potential has so far outpaced the level of adulation he deserves that I stubbornly, perhaps unfairly, hold a grudge against his band." Wow, you took the words right out of my mouth. Of course, my grudge also has a lot to do with the way that Pearl Jam has always been negatively compared to Nirvana, ESPECIALLY after Cobain's death, when Pearl Jam has always been the better band.