Tommy Stinson, former bass player of the Replacements and also Axl Rose’s bass player-for-hire, once told reporters that Axl Rose is much easier to work with than Replacements’ lead singer Paul Westerberg, to which Westerberg’s responded, “Wouldn’t Van Gogh be more difficult than Norman Rockwell?”

I’m reminded of this dig whenever I see more evidence of what’s becoming a decade-long trend in rock lit to laud Axl Rose at the expense of Kurt Cobain.

Two of my favs, Steve Almond and Chuck Klosterman, are guilty of this charge.

In 2010’s Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, Steve Almond lists Nirvana as his fifth most overrated band and Kurt Cobain as rock’s seventh biggest asshole. Here’s his reasoning for the Cobain lashing: “Back in the early nineties Axl Rose twice asked Nirvana to open for Guns ‘n’ Roses. Kurt responded by telling reporters how pathetic and untalented GNR was. It’s hard to out-asshole Axl Rose, but you, dead sir, have done it.” In the same book, Almond claims, when refuting a friend’s assertion that Cobain is his generation’s John Lennon, “Cobain wrote in one genre, in two moods at most.”

These comments in RNRWSYL reminded me of a similar tone in Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City. Therein, Klosterman goes to great pains to brand Nirvana’s Nevermind as second fiddle to Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. He claims Appetite “always comes across as tour de force and a classic rock masterpiece, while Nevermind will forever be remembered as a vehicle for ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ and its subversive effect on mainstream culture. It’s periodically brilliant, but half of the material on Nevermind is filler.” I’ve always wondered which tracks on Nevermind Klosterman considers filler, as compared to the “tour de force” of Appetite, but I’ll get to that in Part II of this piece.

In his defense, Almond is quick to state that none of his lists should be taken too seriously. Klosterman, also seemingly afraid of heavy fire, is only willing to include the above “tour de force” quote as a footnote. Still, these chides combined suggest a general trend at the higher echelons of rock lit against Cobain and for Rose. How could these two heavyweights get it so wrong, even in good fun? It’s fine to laud Rowling, but at the expense of Rimbaud?

There may be some posturing going on. Arguing for Axl over Kurt cuts so against conventional thought that I suspect these two great rock bards wanted to test their mettle. It reminds me of a famous Cobain couplet, “What else can I say?/Everyone is gay.” Any writer can state the obvious, but who can take the greatest chance and make it true with nothing but the authority of his voice?

So, before we lose perspective, I’ll re-examine Nevermind and Appetite for Destruction, about 20 years after they first rocked our world, and give my assessments of each. But first, let’s examine the above quotes more closely.

Contradicting Almond’s assertions about relative asshole size, Axl was and is a bigger asshole than Cobain ever was. The reasons are obvious to anyone who’s followed these two artists since they debuted, but I’ll settle for this one: Rose’s notorious habit of making thousands of concert-goers wait for hours for him to show up or decide to go on. This was commonplace at GnR shows back in the 1990s, and apparently the practice continues with Axl’s 2010 tour in support of Chinese Democracy. To me, it’s the height of asshole-ness to keep tens of thousands of fans waiting hours for your appearance–not to mention a decade or two for your next studio record–but there is no cure for Axl. Is there an equivalent sin from Cobain I’m not aware of? I doubt it, but calling a spade a spade when it came to Rose is more merit than demerit. If I were Cobain and Axl had asked me to come along on his freak show, I’d skip the drama too.

And wasn’t it drop-dead obvious at the time that Axl, nervous of losing whatever edge he thought he still had, was trying to glom on to this newer, younger, hipper and frankly better heavy rock singer-songwriter? I felt sorry for the guy that something in his megalomaniacal brain made him have to ask. Only a fool would’ve accepted, which Cobain might have been in his way, but his abiding hatred for all 80s rock posturing kept him on the true and right path in this instance.

And now for Almond’s other assertion, that Cobain wrote in only one genre and in only two moods. (In all fairness, Almond makes this argument only to compare Cobain’s legacy to the massive achievements of John Lennon, so I’m taking it out of context when I refute it as though it were written in a vacuum. Still, I feel compelled to defend Cobain because the statement does have its kernel of truth, and because Michael Azerrad probably has better things to do.)

I hope it’s obvious that it’s no sin to write in only one genre. We don’t diss Townes Van Zandt, or the Ramones, or Public Enemy, for similar loyalties to style. But we do and probably should mark off points for not exploring as much as possible the emotional possibilities within a genre. Cobain, as a heavy rock songwriter, could have better utilized the already limited emotional terrain of his genre.

But we also give points for the ability to create something original within the scope a songwriter sets out for himself, thereby expanding the emotional range of the genre. In my opinion, Cobain’s ability to “make it new,” as Ezra Pound once declared, with his already sparse palette speaks enormously to his advantage. We don’t disparage Beckett for not being Shakespeare; we applaud him for accomplishing so much with so little, and for expanding the genre of theater. I’ll explore Cobain’s unique contribution to heavy rock in detail in Part III.

Now, Klosterman.

From the moment I read Fargo, way back when it came out in 2002, I was dumbfounded by the above “tour de force” quote, and it’s fermented in my brain ever since. In all fairness, in Fargo Klosterman is out to defend heavy metal music, particularly the much maligned glam metal of the 80s, which is a noble enough venture, so I wouldn’t expect him to fall all over himself praising grunge’s holy grail Nevermind, especially since it all but knocked Axl out of the public eye for a (blissful) decade or so. But what shocked me most about the quote is that its essence seemed an exact photo-negative of my own feelings about these two albums; I always had heard Appetite as three or four great rock songs with filler, and Nevermind as the masterpiece. How could Chuck and I be so diametrically opposite in taste and opinion? Like Klosterman, I’m from a rural hometown in the middle of the country, and I relate very much to his love of 80s glam metal and its potent message for adolescent hayseeds like us (namely, get the fuck out of your rural hometown).

I think our relative ages might be a clue here. Klosterman was born in 1972, which made him about 15 when Appetite hit the airwaves. No doubt the 15-year-old Chuck was defenseless against Slash’s celestial Les Paul licks and Axl’s raw shriek. At 15, I was similarly defenseless against Eddie Van Halen’s two-handed licks and David Lee Roth’s raw shriek. We were hormone-ravaged teenagers desperately looking for messages from the much cooler outside world. How could the best heavy rock bands of our days not touch us deeply?

Still, Chuck’s and my eras don’t quite coincide. I was born in 1969, and by the time Appetite invaded the airwaves of my hometown, I wasn’t in my hometown. I was 18, in my first semester of college two hours east, and doing everything I could to shed any remnant of my glam metal past. I’d moved on to a different echelon of rock listening by then: REM, The Replacements, Husker Du, Talking Heads. By my biological clock, Guns ‘n’ Roses was a little late to the party. As much as I liked their singles, they seemed not for me somehow. And championing Appetite on my dorm floor certainly wasn’t the surest path to getting laid.

(For the record, Steve Almond was born in 1966, making him 21 when Appetite reigned, and probably partaking in some club scene or other for the first time. Do you remember which bands were popular when you first started clubbing? I do. Jane’s Addiction, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and–wouldn’t you know it–Nirvana. All special bands to me. Almond was more like 24 when Nirvana hit, and probably well over it. When I was 24, the band of the moment was Green Day. Good band, but they barely registered on my radar. [And I realize I just gave some nascent rock lit writer three years younger than me a heart attack.])

So, I suspect there are probably a great many prejudices guiding all of the opinions above. Every time Klosterman hears Appetite, he’s 15 and thrilled that life has so much to offer beyond rural North Dakota. Every time Almond hears Appetite, he’s ogling some sophomore with a fake i.d. Every time I hear it, I’m wondering why no one is taking it off and putting on Pleased to Meet Me.

Still, we all grew up, and none of us is governed (entirely) by the fickle barometers of adolescence anymore. Last week, to make sure I hadn’t missed anything–and because I couldn’t write this piece without it–I did something I’d never done before. I bought a copy of Appetite for Destruction. After all, I’d begun re-listening to such glam metal luminaries as Van Halen, Judas Priest, even Ronnie James Dio, and with not a little pleasure. The record might have more to say to me now. Maybe it was actually good.

Find out what happened in Part II.

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ART EDWARDS's third novel, Badge (2014), was named a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association's Literary Contest for 2011. His second novel, Ghost Notes, released on his own imprint Defunct Press in 2008, won the 2009 PODBRAM Award for best work of contemporary fiction. His first novel, Stuck Outside of Phoenix, has been made into a feature film. His writing has or will appear in The Writer, Writers' Journal and Pear Noir!, and online at Salon, The Los Angeles Review, Word Riot, The Collagist, PANK, JMWW, Bartleby Snopes, The Rumpus and The Weeklings. In the 1990s he was co-founder, co-songwriter and bass player with the Refreshments.

66 responses to “Cobain is to Rose as Van Gogh is to Rockwell-Part I”

  1. Becky says:

    I’m sort of shocked at my inability to take a side on this nascent (and strange) comparison.

    I was a grunge kid, no question about it, but Nirvana was never at the top of my list. I had the requisite pictures of Cobain on my wall, but they were on the small wall, crowded next to the closet door; the large walls were devoted to Trent Reznor, Eddie Vedder, Perry Farrell, and Billy Corgan.

    I still have strong feelings of attachment/nostalgia when I listen to NIN, Pearl Jam, Jane’s, and SP, but I get very little of that with Nirvana.

    “Come As You Are” and “In Bloom” are the only songs on Nevermind that I can say I’m genuinely enthusiastic about.

    (Not counting “Teen Spirit,” since that goes without saying, as it is burned into my consciousness as the sound of the time, like air raid sirens in Blitzkreig-era London. Or so I’d imagine. A nostalgic reaction to Teen Spirit is for me, at this point, a reflex. A flinch).

    I was, at one time slightly before the Cobain pictures went up, a HUGE GNR fan. I loved Axl. I loved his red hair. I loved that he was sort of seedy and skinny and looked like trouble. I loved his horrific voice. I loved that my father hated him.

    I still love most of Appetite for Destruction.

    But when it comes right down to it, I can’t get worked up about defending the guy. He IS a dirtbag. I DO skip a lot of songs on that album.

    This Rose/Cobain situation is, for me, about the least controversial controversy ever. I don’t like either enough to defend and I don’t hate either enough to attack. It’s like watching an Eastern conference hockey game. Meaningless outcome, but it’s what’s on.

    • Art Edwards says:

      So true, Becky. In the grand scheme of things, Kurt v. Axl is an Interleague game between the Padres and Blue Jays.

      And so funny about the hierarchy of importance landing Cobain by your closet. Wow, that is low.

      If these heavyweight writers weren’t slanting the dialog so much in one silly direction, I’d recuse myself. Alas, the battle goes on.

      • Becky says:

        Reznor had his own wall. Not the largest wall, but it was the wall next to my bed.

        Mind you, this was heroin-era Reznor, none of this beefcake linebacker Reznor we know now.

        I think beefcake Reznor would probably end up by the closet.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          Sorry to butt in here … as well he should, Becky! Have you heard the rehashed crap he just released with his new wife as singer? And, okay. So I’m mostly jealous. Whatever.

        • Becky says:

          No way. Never admit jealousy when you have a legitimate Yoko accusation.

          I haven’t heard it; I didn’t know it existed. Now I don’t know whether I should cave to my curiosity or pay heed to my fear.

    • Gloria says:

      “I don’t like either enough to defend and I don’t hate either enough to attack.”

      I totally agree Becky. That’s exactly what I was going to say.

      Appetite did for me exactly what Art said it was supposed to do. I was 12 when Appetite hit and I was living in Artesia, New Mexico (population in July 2009: 11,338). I was about to move to Las Vegas to live with my dad. When I got to Vegas, I fell into the skate scene and fell in love with The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and The Butthole Surfers and The Dead Milkmen. But I still listened to Appetite that whole summer. I loved it. (I also still listened to Poison and Bon Jovi and Def Lepperd, so I wasn’t exactly sophisticated.)

      Nevermind happened late for me. Long after my lust for Pearl Jam and Mother Love Bone and Temple of the Dog and Alice in Chains was well-cemented. But it’s still an important album for me.

      I kind of feel like trying to decide which album is best is splitting hairs. Who was better? Van Gogh or Rockwell? Who fucking cares? They were both great at what they did and can out paint most of the people who have ever picked up a paintbrush!

      And, I would argue that Axl and Kurt are both assholes. Axl is an egomaniac and Kurt killed himself and left behind a wife and child. Neither will go in my book of “People I would like my sons to model themselves after.”

      • Art Edwards says:

        Totally agree, Gloria. They’re both great artists.

        Van Gogh and Rockwell definitely were out to achieve different things, which I hope to expound upon ad nauseum in Part II.

  2. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    I have to say, at the time, I was not on the Nirvana bandwagon at all. I was too busy obsessively listening to Alice in Chains. I’m a GnR purist, though. Meaning I think they *only* worked any magic on Appetite for Destruction and never, ever again. It always seemed to me that Rose’s motivations existed well outside of the music while Cobain’s existed deep within it. This makes me think far less of Rose than Cobain, for sure.

    • Art Edwards says:

      “It always seemed to me that Rose’s motivations existed well outside of the music while Cobain’s existed deep within it.”

      Cynthia, you should be writing this article.


    • Gloria says:

      Jar of Flies or Dirt, Cynthia? Which do you love more?

      (Jar of Flies is on my short list of albums I’d take to a desert island.)

  3. Appetite is a better rock album than Nevermind. I don’t particularly like Guns and Roses either. But like it or not almost every song on that album became a rock classic.

    Nevermind is a damn fine album, but it doesn’t have the strength of Appetite. To be fair to Cobain it was the record company who insisted on Smells Like Teen Spirit being on the album and being the lead single, but that doesn’t stop it sounding like a catchier version of Come As You Are.

    Cobain writes great catchy songs, but for me his best album is the 2002 anthology which cuts the filler tracks away.

    And Axl Rose might have been an asshole making fans wait, but he usually showed up. Nobody was really waiting for another Guns and Roses album in those fifteen years. No one was devastated— unlike the millions of fans who were when Cobain killed himself.

    And Nirvana weren’t even close to being the best grunge band. They only got big because Andrew Wood died, and they got famous off a song that Cobain openly admitted was a rip off of the Pixies and a song he didn’t want to release.

    I like Nirvana though. I own most of their albums, and Live at Reading is an incredible performance. But Nevermind is kind of dated, and kind of boring after a while. Slash is no Mozart sure, but those songs off Appetite still sound up. They’re still exciting. Smells Like Teen Spirit comes on the radio and I groan, Paradise City starts up and I get excited.

    And that’s what rock is meant to be: exciting. I’m sure Nevermind was exciting in ’91, but it isn’t any more.

    And I’m with Becky on the controversy. It seems kind of forced and a little bit lame. More like a petty squabble than a full blown feud.

    Looking forward to part two.

    I wouldn’t call Nirvana overrated though, for what it’s worth. GnR are probably more overrated— what Nirvana are is nauseatingly popular because the frontman killed himself. He died at the same stage as Jim Morrison: at the point of fading talent and borderline self-parody.

  4. angela says:

    great! now i have to read this. 😉

    real comment to come . . .

  5. angela says:

    i will not even attempt to add to the comparison of the two albums. but i will say that Axl Rose seems like a douche for making concert-goers wait so long, and for his recent Botoxed face and cornrowed hair (hiding baldness?). that dude is starting to look weird.

  6. dwoz says:

    I have very little to add, except perhaps that I had expected never to see Axl Rose again onstage. In fact, the only time I expected him to approach a microphone, it would be to say “Price check on aisle 14…price check, aisle 14, feminine hygiene products, price check…”

  7. Joe says:


    Nice article, even though we have quite different views on this. I was also born in 1969, so we’re the same age but had totally different experiences when Appetite came out. Perhaps because I’m in the midwest we were slower to change, or maybe I just didn’t want to change what I was listening to at the time, Appetite was huge. As was Dr. Feelgood by Motley Crue, and I’m sure a few other metal cd’s. I think it was just what you were doing in college, if there was a change or not. Maybe I was still going through my rebellion years, as I wasn’t really that wild in high school.

    Axl being a douche goes without saying. I was supposed to finally see them in KC the night after the St. Louis riots happened because he left the stage after 2 or 3 songs. So making fans wait for hours for a show? I’ve been waiting for about 20 years. And whatever this new group is that he has together doesn’t cut it at all, so they don’t count.

    I like some of what bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains did, but was never that into it. Was just to depressing for me. That’s oversimplifying it, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I never thought of Kurt as an asshole while he was alive. I would go as far as saying that cheating his fans out of any more music by taking his life could be viewed as a pretty big asshole move.

    Interesting article to read no matter what side of the fence you sit on, and I look forward to the next part!

    • Gloria says:

      And, more importantly, cheating his daughter out of a father. Not to belabor the point or anything…

    • Art Edwards says:

      Thanks, Joe.

      20 years! You, sir, have a legitimate beef.

      I don’t care for the arguments that Kurt’s suicide is an asshole move against his fans. I just think, at that point, there are bigger factors involved.

      But sad, no doubt, not to get to see him develop as an artist.

  8. Axl was/is a clown, and the entirety of GnR is clown music. Big, overblown, over-solo’d, over-screeched, over-whistled, cockrock theater. Which, in some quarters, is the equivalent of saying it’s great. Or at least awesome. I always get a laugh and a nostalgic shiver when Sweet Child O’ Mine comes on the radio. And I dig the sleazy riffs of Mr. Brownstone almost as much as its hilarious attempt to be that year’s veiled heroin opus. Guns and Roses are the Jager-shot of rock. You could sit there and whine about how cloying it tastes, or you can just knock it back and start to get wild. Either way, aesthetic comparisons seem like punching Jello.

    I rode out most of the Grunge wave thinking Nirvana were way too commercial, and being put off by the idolatry that surrounded them. Even so, they are a vastly more interesting band than GnR. In terms of lyrics, emotion, honesty, nuance, storytelling, melody, and arrangement, Nirvana have a legacy to be proud of. Guns and Roses turned it up to 11 and then threw buckets of cliche chum into the ocean of teen-boy erections. And made a lot of money. Hey, Zeppelin did the exact same thing. But I still enjoy listening to Zeppelin. Not so, Axl and the boys. Guns’ version of rock god-dom continues to strike me as decidedly witless.

    Both Almond and Klosterman stake out anti-hipster/intellectual musical turf and defend it with a mixture of self-deprecation and self-righteousness. And it’s usually pretty funny. Almost anything that pierces the veil of musical snobbery is a good thing, in my mind. But there’s a fatal flaw to continually arguing that Poison was a great band, or that Paradise Theater is the best album of the 80’s. It’s a brand of populist reductionism that skewers elitist critique, but also tars with a Skid Row brush every single thing you say about any other band ever again.

    • Art Edwards says:

      And shouldn’t it be tarred? As we get older, I find myself reassessing every single bit of music I ever loved, and finding that each band, or song, no matter how unattractive it might be to embrace now, is actually pretty special. Even Dio is special. Christ, if Holy Diver came out today, Dio would be the Hero of the Rock Music World. And he was an afterthought back then. He wasn’t even the bet lead singer *Black Sabbath* ever had, much less the world.

  9. zoe zolbrod says:

    I love how attuned you are to the way a few years more or less can affect a critic’s view, especially of music. So, of course, can cultural positioning. I was born in 1968, hayseed all the way, but inclined toward punk rock the minute I saw The Clash on Saturday Night Night Live. GNR didn’t give me anything to grab onto, identity-wise. Nirvana was the sound of the underground erupting, which was part of the import for those of us who felt like we knew them—or their forbears—when.

    • Art Edwards says:

      Zoe, I’ll see you on Thursday at Powell’s!

      The difference between 15 and 18 is huge when it comes to our later assessment of music. How can’t it?

      I remember seeing the B-52s on SNL when I was, like, eight. I was convinced they were making up “Rock Lobster” as they went along. It really did not appeal to my sensibilities.

      It was wonderful to see punk rock go big, and it was fated to die quickly. The Sex Pistols, as most of us know them, lasted about seven months.

  10. Joe Daly says:

    Interesting read. Being born in ’68, I had no problems embracing “Appetite,” which I still listen to on a regular basis. I also was a big fan of Nirvana, although the albatross of sensitivity and social responsibility became too heavy for the whole grunge scene for me and I moved towards music with more release and less frustration. Still, I love both bands and have no problem enjoying each for the emotion and creativity they bring.

    Recently finished reading Stephen Davis’ “The Saga of Guns N’ Roses,” which was a phenomenal read. Revealed the depths of Axl’s madness to horrifying extents. You’d have to be pretty freaking enthused about GNR to take the time to read a book about them, but for those who are, this is a very interesting read that I would highly recommend. *crickets chirping*

    • Art Edwards says:


      They’re both indeed great records, and artists.

      And I love a good rock lit recommendation. I don’t know how much more time Axl will get out of me, but you never know.


  11. Ben Loory says:

    both those guys were assholes, and i loved them both for it. nirvana changed my life forever, at least in terms of music, and to this day i still can’t listen to nevermind, it makes me too sad to think of him gone. but appetite for destruction is one of the best albums of all time. i mean beginning to end, as far as i’m concerned, it’s flawless. slash is such a beautiful guitar player; his melodic sense is uncanny. every riff and solo on that album is perfect; pure emotion, totally articulate. even on that giant double-turd use your illusion, which i haven’t listened to in fifteen years, there are lines of his that never leave my head. the high wailing part at the end of the otherwise-ridiculous november rain, for instance (starting at 7:25 in the video), is just amazing, it tears parts of me loose that kurt could never reach… at least, without blowing his head off.


    (i was 16 for appetite and 19 for nevermind… 21 for dookie; that was good, too… though really what i loved most was portishead… dummy; there was an album.)

    • dwoz says:

      Now, that’s the thing about being a musician (I call myself a musician for some reason).

      When I listen to Slash, I hear a ham-fisted deathgrip on the guitar neck, haphazard phrasing, tuning issues…enough to make even Jack White think that he can play better than that.

      …and trust me, I have no infatuation for sterile, high-technique guitar playing!

  12. Art Edwards says:


    I just finished “The TV” last night and loved it. Such control of the narrative and the spell you were casting. It reminded me of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which freaked me out more than Def Leppard at 15.

    But I, too, managed to find some flaws in Appetite. Check back for Part II.

  13. This spoke to me. And it said, “And It Was Good.”

    I like a big chunk of this so I won’t run down a list of sentences I like. I’ll say, however, you’re on to something with this: “So, I suspect there are probably a great many prejudices guiding all of the opinions above. Every time Klosterman hears Appetite, he’s 15 and thrilled that life has so much to offer beyond rural North Dakota. Every time Almond hears Appetite, he’s ogling some sophomore with a fake i.d. Every time I hear it, I’m wondering why no one is taking it off and putting on Pleased to Meet Me.”

    I think that’s it. The age. The testerone of youth and adolescence. My blood moves a lot slower now that I’ve gotten older but there is, and always will be, a special place in my heart for the bands that rocked my socks off when I was between the ages of 12-17. Kurt Cobain died when I was in 8th grade. I’d literally just listened to In Utero for the first time like three weeks before and thought it was like the greatest cassette in the history of cassettes.

    Then, there it is —

    Kurt Cobain.


    Age 27.

    Blew his head off.

    I believe it was Anderson Cooper that told me. Or Lisa Ling. Channel One. Anybody else remember Channel One?

    Most of my friends really got hooked on the Seattle scene around that time with Pearl Jam and all those guys. I sort of went in the opposite direction which doesn’t surprise me now that I think about it. My favorite Nirvana song was always Radio Friendly Unit Shifter. I got into punk. Big time. Rock band name drops: Through Nirvana, I discovered Sonic Youth. Through Sonic Youth, Richard Hell. Through Richard Hell, Iggy Pop, Bad Brains, Black Flag, The Clash, Dead Kennedys. This was during the short resurgence of punk with The Offspring and Rancid. I loved Rancid back in the day. Still do. …And Out Come the Wolves. Pure Gold to me. Pure frickin’ gold.

    Thank you Art. I’m going to pop in some Gorilla Biscuits or MC5 when I get off work for the ride home.

    • Art Edwards says:

      We like to think we’re being impartial, don’t we? Hand on chin, considering, before we say what we knew the first instant we heard the song, or sooner. I’ll battle this as much as I can in Part II.

      Very kind of you to take the time, Jeffrey.

  14. Greg Olear says:

    I was thinking the other day about either/or arguments in music…how those who prefer John Lennon to Paul McCartney can’t laud the former without pissing on the latter. And the truth is, they’re both great, albeit in different ways. We can have both of them!

    I’d never before considered the idea of comparing Cobain with Rose, as they seem, on first blush, quite different. But I guess you’re right — they are similar, on closer inspection. They lent gravitas and depth to acts — and, indeed, an entire subset of music — that generally lacked it. And “Sweet Child” and “Teen Spirit” are two of the most important, if not the greatest, rock songs of my formative years.

    In any event, I liked your post and look forward to Part Deux.

    • Art Edwards says:


      They did both lend gravitas and depth to their subsets of music, as you so eloquently put it. Yes, I’ll have both.

      But no truces before I fight the battle in Part II.

      • Greg Olear says:

        I think it’s Nevermind in a walk, but what do I know.

        Interestingly, I once recorded a medley — acoustic slowed-down version of “Sweet Child” segueing into “All Apologies.” Basically, “Apologies” replaced the “where do we go” section. It worked really well. I’m still mad that I lost that tape…

        Oh, oh oh sweet child o’ mine
        (All I want is all we are)

  15. Art Edwards says:

    Hey, maybe they’re the same guy! Kurt (Axl) faking his death a la Morrison.

  16. Reuben Helms says:

    I’m fairly late to the party with comments, but that was great!

    I was born in 1974, but was a little late in my musical coming of age. At 15, I do remember Appetite for Destruction though it wasn’t until I was 19 or so that I starting listening to Use Your Illusion (both albums), and Nevermind alot. The exact timelines are a little fuzzy, but all three albums received alot of play on my first portable CD player.

    To this date, I’ve never bothered to pick up Appetite for Destruction (or any other GnR albums, for that matter), although the GnR pinball game with Welcome to the Jungle as the backing song is one of my favourite arcade games for that very reason. I did, however, pick up Bleach later on, then buy the other Nirvana albums as they were released, up to Unplugged.

    Use Your Illusion (both albums) and Nevermind still feature on my iPod, though have been overtaken the likes of Tool and Nine Inch Nails.

  17. Reba Jay says:

    Nevermind wins for me. I was 13 when Appetite came out and loved it for its loudness and ability to instantly terrify my parents. I was 17 when Nevermind came out. And to go for the cliche, it changed my life. But I still love when I randomly hear Paradise City.

    Hate the argument that Cobain’s suicide was a dick move. It is called mental illness.

    I think Klosterman, and I am a big fan, loves being contrary. Not saying he doesn’t fully believe GnR is better, but he knew what he was doing when he wrote that. Part 2!!

    • Art Edwards says:

      Yes, contrary. Being contrary is fun in writing and argument, and Fargo is so important for what it attempts to argue, but in the end K may be chasing windmills.

      Cobain also had to deal with physical illness (stomach). And drug addiction.

  18. Simon Smithson says:

    For me, GnR was old news, and old school, and kinda past their prime when I was just starting to get into rock as a teenager.

    Now, Nirvana? Yeah. They were where it was at.

    Soundgarden was better, but Nirvana was more popular. Which for some reason made them not as good.

    But when it came to true talent?

    Well, look no further than the true kings of rock.



    I have so many words to have with my high-school self.

  19. […] (For those of you not up to speed, this post is Part II of a series debunking the current trend in rock lit to laud Axl Rose at the expense of Kurt Cobain, and reassessing Appetite for Destruction and Nevermind about 20 years after their debuts. If you want to start at the beginning, Part I, which deals directly with the criticisms of Steve Almond and Chuck Klosterman, is here.) […]

  20. […] rule I set out for myself on my quest to vindicate Cobain from the evil clutches of Klosterman: I will not use the “you had to be there” argument to justify any of my feelings for Nevermind. […]

  21. sheree says:

    First time I ever heard/saw GNR I remember thinking what the hell happened to the singer as a kid? Something fucked this kid up. He’s a train wreck waiting to go off the rails. First time I heard Nirvana I was consumed by Dave Grohls drumming and not much more, but then I saw their live unplugged show on mtv and heard their version of The Man Who Sold The World and paused to give them a second thought. I’m from the Jones Generation so both bands are/were more geared toward those younger than myself. Interesting post. Thanks for the read. Look forward to reading the rest when posted.

  22. […] music at all. He, too, contributes interesting and thoughtful original essays to TNB, many of which focus on (and reveal his love for) music, though others reveal his love for more pedestrian interests. In any case, until recently, Art was […]

  23. James Gould says:

    Look, everybody knows in their hearts Cobain was the best thing to happen to music ever, or since some or other person, yes, probably Lennon. Personality, like it or not, makes or breaks a musician, just as it does a person.
    I am close to being signed by Beggars Banquet, and I can tell you the material you write with capitalistic motivation will either become deeper or awful. G n Roses went downhill because Axl Rose wanted to be Shawn Michaels, not Mick Jagger (also a phony), and Slash wanted to be Chuck Berry probably. Maybe it’s because Axl is Scottish he is mentally handicapped to the point of nasal and banal self interest. No doubt though Cobain made himself as sensitive as a jellyfish with all the drugs, but the beauty of Kurt was he was loved for who he was, not who how he acted.

    I honestly find myself wanting to shoot people like Axl, because I don’t know what’s worse, talented phonies, or untalented ones (X factor).

    There are too many god forsaken phonys in the world and not enough Holden Caulfields, and Cobains.

    Ps Although I use the term phony far too much I am not in fact Holden Caulfield. LOl

    • Art Edwards says:

      I too find the balance tilted obviously in Kurt’s favor, which is why I was so shocked to see these great writers sticking up for Axl. Provocative, yes, but needing to be refuted, in my opinion.

      Rock on, James.

  24. hediye says:


    […]Art Edwards | Cobain is to Rose as Van Gogh is to Rockwell-Part I | The Nervous Breakdown[…]…

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