“Wanting to be somebody else is wasting the person you are.” — Kurt Cobain

August 16, 2009

KURT COBAIN

KURT COBAIN

I suppose Kurt Cobain had it both ways — he was who he wanted to be, and he wasted the person he was, if such things can be measured by longevity alone. But it’s a little late to moralize about how his life was spent. Without intending it, although he might have enjoyed it, Cobain is at the center of a tempest in Aberdeen, Wash., his hometown. More specifically, a monument to the musician placed in a public park, and even more specifically, a word on that monument, has the pond stirred up.

The monument in question bears a picture of Cobain and seven quotes from him. “The duty of youth is to challenge corruption,” for instance. One of the quotes begins with the words “Drugs are bad for you ….” — a sentiment that should play well in Aberdeen, if you’ll pardon the stereotype. But the rest of that quote includes a word that shocks the sensibilities of some Aberdeenians, a word one seldom sees engraved on public monuments, the word, if you get my drift.

ROBERT DE NIRO

ROBERT DE NIRO

“I don’t like that word,” said one member of the Aberdeen governing body. “The city pays thousands of dollars a year just to remove it from our parks — painting and sandblasting.”

“The majority of the people who are going to make their way down there, it’s not like that’s the first time they’re ever going to see that word,” said another councilman, who was a founder of the official Kurt Cobain Memorial Committee in a city that appreciates Cobain’s talent and his contributions to music.

Language is so interesting. One word is widely regarded as offensive and another word that means precisely the same thing is fit to be pronounced in a middle-school sex-education class. It’s all in the connotation, isn’t it?

One night about 20 years ago a couple came to spend the evening with us and, on the way, they picked up a video — “Midnight Run.” While we watched, our female guest blushed and apologized profusely for bringing that movie, because she hadn’t expected Robert De Niro’s language which was laced with a word fit for — well, for a Kurt Cobain monument. Meanwhile, we all roared at that movie, which, thanks to De Niro and Charles Grodin, is one of the funniest of its kind ever made.

KURT COBAIN

KURT COBAIN

Years later, I watched that movie on television, and it wasn’t nearly as funny. That was partly because I had already seen it, but it was also partly because De Niro’s language had been dubbed out with language that sounded ridiculous coming from the mouth of such a character. It’s hard to know what to make of that. It’s only a word, after all, and people like De Niro’s character use it so habitually that they aren’t even aware of it. And yet, many of us, like the Aberdeen councilman, don’t like it and don’t want to hear it or see it cut into granite in a public park.

It’s one of those things that makes us human beings so fascinating.

The Los Angeles Times reported on the Aberdeen dispute and how it was resolved. The story is at this link:

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-hometown-aberdeen16-2009aug16,0,19620.story

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