Back in 1991 hard rock was dominated by a bunch of testosterone-charged meatheads. While appropriating the queer sensibility of 70s glam (crotch-grabbing leather, shiny studs, make-up, poodle haircuts), bands like Guns N’ Roses were being lauded by the music press as the saviours of rock, while singing such delightful lyrics as immigrants and faggots -¦ they come to our country and think they’ll do as they please, like start some mini Iran, or spread some fucking disease.
What a breath of fresh air it was in 1991 when Kurt Cobain burst onto our screens for the first time. Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit was a clarion call that rang through a jaded, tired rock scene. It couldn’t be further removed from Guns N’ Roses’ paradise city where the grass is green and the girls are pretty. Here was an anthem for disaffected youth; a loser who felt stupid and contagious; who rather than bragging about his virility described his libido as a mosquito. At last Generation X had a champion, a voice that expressed its cynicism and dissatisfaction. For a little while the alternative became the mainstream, and pompous, sexist rockers were on the back foot, while the new sound -” grunge as it was labelled -” dominated the media.
Grunge continued the punk ethos, where outsiders were welcomed and being gay or lesbian was not an issue. Sexism, racism and homophobia were anathema to Gen X culture. Many of the major bands had openly gay or lesbian members: Hole, The Breeders and Faith No More among others.
Kurt himself had experienced homophobia growing up in small-town Washington State where he was beaten up on the presumption that he was gay. He was even arrested once for spray-painting God Is Gay on the side of a bank. So it didn’t faze him to be pictured on the cover of The Face in a dress, or to give one of the most revealing interviews of his career to gay and lesbian magazine The Advocate. In his journals he describes that interview as one of his highlights of 1993. Of all the gut spilling I’ve done, I’ve never felt so relaxed -¦ Stay gay all the way and wipe your ass with USA Today.
Kurt’s openness paved the way for big name alternative stars to come out, such as R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, Bob Mould of H?r Du and Fred Schneider of The B52’s.
In the end, being held up as the voice of a generation got to Kurt. He expressed this in All Apologies from Nirvana’s last album: What else should I say? -˜Everyone is gay’? What else should I write? I don’t have the right.
Is it any coincidence that the explosion of grunge coincided with the explosion of the Pride movement in the early 90s? For many Gen X queers they went hand in hand. And I know I’m not the only gay man to have been touched by the troubled soul who ended his life 10 years ago on 5 April, after making such an impact on popular culture.
Peter Dragicevich is the general manager of Sydney Gay & Lesbian Community Publishing Ltd .