I Buried Kurt

How the Web is changing what it means to be a music fan

Written April 27, 1996
Published by Websight Magazine in August, 1996

Kurt Cobain has been dead for two long years now, but the struggle to make sense of his death continues unabated in cyberspace. I'm sure by now, you've heard of the Kurt Cobain Murder Investigation page, where Tom Grant, the private investigator who Courtney Love hired to find her husband just days before he blew his damn brains out, has set forth his theories that, Kurt may have been, er, um, offed by Courtney for her own nefarious purposes.

Forget for a second my own belief that this site is the epitome of all of the Courtney-bashing that's been going on since Kurt killed himself, look at it from another angle: the 1990's equivalent of Paul is dead. Nowadays, that's one of the greatest running jokes/conspiracies in the history of rock and roll - that Paul McCartney had somehow died and had been replaced by a lookalike - presumably with enough songwriting prowess to write things like "Hey Jude" or "Golden Slumbers." And its entirely possible that, in a much shorter period of time, Mr. Grant's "Kurt was Murdered" theory could join it. Without conclusive, irrevocable proof, Grant will be dismissed as a crank, and his theories will be regarded in the future the same way "Paul is Dead" is now - as harmless fun.

Still, there is one big difference between the dissemination (as opposed to the substance) of the theories of the Cobain Murder Investigation and the theories surrounding Paul's death -- The Web, and how it's changing the very nature of what it means to be a fan of rock and roll. And I'm not talking about interactivity - at least how it's commonly understood - here, either. I'm talking about how the Web is used to bring fans together with each other, not with artists. I'm talking about the homespun, obsessive beauty of unofficial pages - of which the Kurt Cobain Murder Investigation page is a more extreme example.

Here's why: 25 years ago - maybe somebody told you about Paul's death, or maybe you came across a magazine article listing the reasons (the bare feet on the cover of Abbey Road, John singing "I buried Paul", etc). Most people had a nice chuckle, and moved on to other things. Some might have clipped it out and saved it. And of course, more than a few played their records backwards, and some even the sleeves. But there was no easily accessible central clearinghouse for this information. It was there and then gone.

Now, its different. Now, if you're interested at all in Tom Grant's theories, you're gonna fire Netscape up, and check it his page for yourself. Hell, you might even be doing it right now. Even better, you might even send the guy e-mail. If it really fascinates you, you'll bookmark it, and come back later for updates. This, of course, is basic web stuff, but up until a very short time ago, it wasn't basic rock fandom stuff. But it will be. My life as a rock fan has been totally and irrevocably changed since I got online.

This, by the way, is unlike the way MTV changed things for rock fans 15 years ago. They were all white light and white heat. You remember: "Hello! We're MTV, and we're here to fuck up your world forever! You will love us. You will need us. You will want us." This is much more of a gradual process, the type you don't even realize is happening until you regularly go online to check Bob Dylan set lists as his Never Ending Tour heads back your way. (bob.nbr.no) No, this change is like the difference between the times I can see the SF Giants on TV.

When I was a kid, the only time I could watch the Giants on TV was the rare occasions they were on NBC's "Game of the Week" or the even rarer occasions they won the NL West. But now, between local coverage and cable, I can check out the majority of their schedule if I so choose. This happened slowly, so slowly, in fact, I didn't even realize it was happening. Same thing online with rock and roll. Slowly, it has become my best source of information about the music I love, just because I so easily find others who love the same music.

The thing is, the Web now lets people take their private obessions into the public. Before, you might have read about - or known - somebody who made their living space a shrine to this or that rocker. If you shared an interest, perhaps you corresponded, maybe you even swapped stuff. Well, now, rather than keeping it to the people they know physically, the people who've acculmulated various booty can share it with the rest of the world. So the guy with the cool Replacements demos and outtakes puts them on his page.

Or how about this: back in 1983, at the height of my little tribe's obession with REM, we actually conviened a party to decipher the lyrics of their first couple of records. It was a smashing failure -- our equivalent to whacked-out hippies playing the sleeve of SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND for "clues,"-- and we had to content ourselves with tidbits like "Song Hits" magazine printing the lyrics to "South Central Rain" a couple of years later.

Fast forward to just a couple of months ago, when the latest album by Guided by Voices, a cult band now in the same way R.E.M. was back in the day, is released without a lyric sheet. But now we have The Guided by Voices Web Site where GbV fans can discover that the lyrics have already been posted. And, of course, our lyric-deciphering party must seem tres weird to today's neophyte R.E.M. fan, who can call up entire archives of interpeted Michael Stipe at will.

Still, probably the most important purpose of these pages to let people publicly share their heretofore private obsessions. For better or worse, the feedback that Tom Grant has received about his assertions has to have made him feel different about the case. (I asked him, but he didn't reply before my deadline.) Why is this different? From reading his site, right or wrong, Grant seems to be pretty rational, but what about the stalker-types who obsess on a fan or an artist? Is being able to act out by creating a web page detailing their fantasies diffuse them? If Mark David Chapman had been able to create a page expounding his theories about John Lennon and "Catcher in the Rye," would he still have been compelled to fly out to New York and kill him??

God. That's one of those silly, unanswerable questions, isn't it? (Though I bet it looked great as a pull quote.) One thing is for certain, he wouldn't have been laboring in obscurity. He would have gotten e-mail from over the world, been written up here and in Suck and a zillion other places.

That might have been enough. Who knows? But it would have been great for other Beatles conspiracy fanatics, just as Tom Grant's page is for Courtney bashers, and the Guided by Voices site is for their fans. And so it goes, part of a whole new way of dealing with the people who make the music we love.

This is one of my favorite pieces for Websight, because it captured what I thought was a fundamental truth.

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This page HTMLized on 6 October 1997
I was listening to Bob Dylan and the Hawks -- The Genuine Basement Tapes Vol 1