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Pained expression: metaphors of sickness and signs of ‘authenticity’ in Kurt Cobain's Journals

  • Jessica L. Wood (a1)

This article investigates the relationship between biography and authenticity within the aesthetics of grunge musician Kurt Cobain, using the 2002 Riverhead Press volume of his journals as a primary source. Focusing on Cobain's fascination with the human form and with bodily fluids, I argue that his idea of the ‘sick body’ functioned as a central metaphor that shaped his approach to various media (prose, lyrics, drawing and singing) such that there was a homology between these different forms. I draw on excerpts from the Journals to show the meanings that he associated with the ‘sick body’, including the ways in which it indexed his own biography of physical pain and social marginalisation. Using the Nirvana song ‘Hairspray Queen’ as a case study, I then show the interactions between musical and linguistic signs of the sick body and how these interactions reveal Cobain's ideas on music's meaning. Ultimately, I argue that in song lyrics and performance, Cobain prized scatological imagery, eviscerating vocals and unintelligible lyrics as a means to signal the ‘authenticity’ of his art.

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Popular Music
  • ISSN: 0261-1430
  • EISSN: 1474-0095
  • URL: /core/journals/popular-music
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