Kurt Cobain: the missing link between Kiss and Nirvana
Are the Grunge rock icons and the stack-heeled 'superheroes' opposites or kindred spirits?
AT FIRST glance, Nirvana and Kiss seem as different as rock bands can possibly be. The Seattle band is revered by fans and worshipped by critics. It was the flag bearer for grunge rock and its best-known song, Smells Like Teen Spirit, seemed to embody the cynicism of a generation of kids whose dressed-down aesthetic - flannel shirts and Converse sneakers - was a reaction to commercial music.
And then there's Kiss. Four men dressed like cartoon superheroes who pushed stadium rock to its stack-heeled, pyrotechnic-blasting limits. A band that was camper than Oscar Wilde and wrote a string of radio-friendly rock songs with corny titles like I Was Made for Lovin' You.
This week it was announced that Nirvana and Kiss are two of the bands that will be inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year. Reactions to the odd pairing ranged from surprise to horror. Describing Nirvana as a "shoo-in" and Kiss as a "long shot", the New York Times pointed out that Nirvana was accepted "in its first year of eligibility", whereas the stadium rockers have been regularly "snubbed" by the Hall of Fame. Although Kiss has been eligible for the honour for 15 years, they have been nominated previously just once.
But here's the thing. Nirvana and Kiss may seem to occupy different ends of the rock rainbow, but they're bonded tighter than you might think. The evidence of that bond is a rusting van that sold on eBay last year for $24,701.
At first glance, the decrepit 1972 Dodge van doesn't look to be worth $2,400, let alone $25,000. Its ancient tyres are flat and its horrible brown-and-white livery is covered in crude graffiti. But the van has a rock pedigree: it was once owned by the US "sludge rock" group The Melvins, whose roadie was a kid from Seattle called Kurt Cobain.
The Melvins liked punk and FM radio rock, combining both sounds in their music. Cobain clearly had similar passions. He took out a marker pen and decorated the side of the van with a picture of one of the bands he admired: Kiss. The rather well-executed drawing is clearly based on the cover of Kiss' 1974 debut album.
When he formed his own band in 1987, Cobain's love of '70s stadium acts like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Kiss was evident in the music. Nirvana even recorded a studio version of Kiss number Do You Love Me? The song, which contains lines such as "You like my seven-inch leather heels and goin' to all of the shows", seems to occupy a different universe to Nirvana's later, better-known work.
Oddly enough, Cobain's admiration for Kiss doesn't seem to be reciprocated. In an interview with a US radio station in October, Kiss frontman Gene Simmons played down the importance of Nirvana and disputed the idea that Cobain – who took his own life in 1994 – is a rock "icon". Today's music scene is devoid of superstars with the iconic status of acts such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and, erm, Kiss, he said.
What about Kurt Cobain and Nirvana? "No, that's one or two records, that's not enough," said Simmons. "Amy Winehouse – that's one or two records, that's not enough. What, just because you died that makes you an icon? No, no. There aren't any."
What Nirvana's surviving members – Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic – made of those comments is not known. But they'll be able to share their thoughts with Simmons when they meet him in New York on 10 April at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. ·