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“So Yeah, I’m Guessing That Courtney Love Just Mandated That Kurt Cobain Hate Ugly Kid Joe, and That’s What Happened”

Certain components of this situation strike me as noteworthy; others, not so much. Take the hate, for instance: nah, he’ll get over that. They’ll all get over that. Plus, it’s tongue-in-cheek… makes for good copy. At least in the ’90s it did… it was actually radical then.

But what cannot be overlooked is that Ugly Kid Joe’s album came out in late ’92, at which point the songwriter would have had time to fully imbibe Nevermind, let it stamp itself upon his psyche’s muse and use it to produce some similar material with a same kind of vibe, same kind of attitude, immediacy and flair.

There’s such a thing as copying and there’s such a thing as influence. There’s also such a thing as heroin addiction and a bit** wife. Kurt Cobain had all of those things.

But I’m trying to resist using pragmatic terms here. Like was Kurt Cobain SANE? Was Kurt Cobain a PSYCHO? It doesn’t matter. It’s hypocritical, like handing someone salt for a steak when there are metal springs inside the steak. Plus, the real psychos are those millions of people who bought Nevermind on CD.

“Everything about You,” anyway, exists firmly upon that dangerous axis that is just ROCK AND ROLL — you’re not the same after you hear it. It changes you in some way and it’s not exactly SAFE although it will make you reconnect with things in your past and might just stop you from driving a hatchet through someone’s head. Stranger things have happened.

I was nine when “Everything about You” came out, had an older sister three years my senior who was pretty into grunge and a Neil Young obsessive dad who also kept his finger on the pulse of popular music, partly I think as a hobby and partly as something actually edifying for him. Somehow the genius of this Ugly Kid Joe work, even though it was a mega-hit and landed itself on the Wayne’s World soundtrack (in which it’s likewise used brilliantly), seemed to get overlooked a tad. And not to say that the Courtney Love bit**-stamp-of-disapproval had THAT much weight to it… it really didn’t… I mean Pearl Jam was really popular still despite the couple’s attempted lambasting of them and Love could never derail Jeff Ament as a person or musician, no matter how senselessly cunty she was to him. Soundgarden still huge despite Kurtney rancor, check (although Superunknown might have been what killed Kurt Cobain… or it was the ugly kid… on the beach… with the middle finger) [1].

But then what of this aesthetically unsavory chap Joe? You just never HEARD about him, although maybe that’s for the best… maybe that’s what the Isla Vista, Calif. lads wanted anyway (I can hardly see these guys jamming on a lap steel guitar with Neil Young at Madison Square Garden, that is). They didn’t catapult into the front of CRITICAL culture the way they perhaps could have, given a Cobain endorsement. This is a shame because if you’re examining things in those Michael Stipe terms, of nabbing lightning in a bottle and “capturing the zeitgeist,” as he so aptly noted Nirvana as having done, “Everything about You” is Nevermind on meth — senselessly blissed out, delightedly gnawing at the world with an invincible middle finger and rock-and-roll sneer. Plus, maybe, just maybe, down at the bottom of this three and a half minute song that Ugly Kid Joe (a band in which Whitfield Crane is the lead singer, for the record) spends exclaiming about how bad someone disgusts him… maybe down there might be SOME modicum of actual, bona fide hatred, which isn’t theatrical but rather an oozing, bubbling fire trickling uncontrollably out of his gut and into the microphone. Either way, it’s the transformation that matters, I’d say.

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Addenda: “Cats in the Cradle”

I was fully prepared to treat the situation as if it just didn’t matter whether the Ugly Kid Joe album was good or not, because I knew that if it were it would catch on like some douche bag trend and then every yuppie out there would have to get it on earth-toned vinyl, and we’d have to reshoot Wayne’s World and have them sitting around sipping kombucha with “Bohemian Rhapsody” playing in the background, and then I noticed that it’s Ugly Kid Joe that does this Cat Stevens cover, which I specifically remember owning on cassette single sometime around ’93 and literally, I kid you not, listening to like 10 times straight, to where my mom must have really thought I was going bonkers. This “Cats in the Cradle” cover existed as musical perfection for me, better than “Hey Jude,” better than “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues,” better than anything until around when I heard maybe “Hand in My Pocket” by Alanis or “Let Her Cry” by Hootie, but wasn’t it a hoot? Beats being Nicole Brown Simpson.

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[1] Poignantly I can just see Cobain sitting around on like April 4, 1994, finally realizing the simple, Apollonian greatness of “Everything about You” and just internalizing that it’s indeed about that bit** wife he’s stuck with, right down to her terrible, Mudhoney-imitating band.

 

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