November 18, 1993

This happened 20 years ago today:

Now he’s bored and old

Kurt Cobain would be 45 today.

Rape

I have written in the past about the tremendous influence Nirvana has had on my life. From an early age, the music just struck me. But maybe even more striking was Kurt Cobain. The man had more than his fair share of problems, but it is undeniable how striking his mind was. As much as I ate up the band’s albums, I was eating up the thoughts and musings of the front man. From a quick rejection of macho attitudes to the embracing of equal rights for gays, he had a big impact on me.

But one of the biggest areas where he got me thinking was the act of rape. He wrote a number of songs on the subject, including Polly and Rape Me, and his detestation of the act manifested itself within me. Not that I needed a cultural icon to make me aware that rape was a terrible thing, but I grew up in a middle-class environment, fortunately free from sexual abuse. It was never anything more than an abstract concept to me; Cobain helped drive home just how disgusting it was.

One of the things, though, I think when I hear “rape” is a very specific act. I define it as forced penetration. This generally means the entering of a penis into an orifice, but it could be hands or any object. Whatever the specifics, if something is entering another person’s body against that person’s will – perhaps some semantic quibbles aside – it is rape.

What this means, though, is that there are some awful things I don’t define as rape. Fondling, exposure, unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature, they’re all awful, but they aren’t rape. Call them sexual molestation, sexual assault, or some other term, but I simply don’t define them as rape. Part is simply the connotations which come to mind for me, but most of this has to do with the fact that penetration is one of the biggest violations of a person I can imagine. It’s on a level all its own.

So that brings me to a recent CDC report. This is how news organizations are portraying it:

About 20% of women are raped at some point in their lifetime and in most cases the attacker is someone the woman knows, according to a new survey on sexual violence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That is accurate to how the report is written. Here is one excerpt:

Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration.

The issue here – and I don’t think I’m alone – is that included in these numbers is “attempted forced penetration” and “alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration”. The latter is something I would likely almost always define as rape, but the former is not. That doesn’t mean it isn’t awful, or that it doesn’t point to the exact same awful problem. It is and it does. But it isn’t rape. Calling it so is for the sake of bringing attention to the issue. Of course, that in and of itself is a good thing, but I fear it is not without consequences.

I know a lot of people reading this will be tempted to draw accusations of rape-apology and other untrue things, but I think my objection here is well-grounded: If we start using “rape” in a way which does not reflect what people think when they hear the term, we begin to undermine its impact. That seems like the worst thing in the world to me.

If we’re talking 15% or 10% or 5%, we still have some pretty terrible figures. And if we condense the numbers as the CDC as done, that’s fine. Let’s just be specific: “Nearly 20% of women have been raped or had rape attempted against them in their lives.” I think the figure is just as powerful, but also accurate. That’s important. I don’t want to give people any reason to question such a horrific experience on the grounds that the numbers have been misrepresented.

Semi-update: I have seen other figures which have included molestation and other forms of sexual abuse. I wanted to include those in this post, but they aren’t the easiest thing to find, especially when I don’t know the specific report in which they appeared.

Nevermind – 20 years later

As of today, Sept 24, it has been 20 years since Nirvana’s Nevermind was released. (I have this post set to be published at 3am EST – midnight in Seattle.) I was only 6 at the time the album came out, a month shy of 9 when Kurt Cobain killed himself (April ’94), so I missed out on the moment. Sort of. I may have been too young to realize the importance of the band, not to mention too young to yet have a distinct interest in music, but with all the interviews, writings, and, ultimately, songs, it would be impossible for anyone to not feel like they were right there when it was all happening.

My introduction to the band came via my brother. He was a fan from either just before Cobain’s death or just after. Either way, he would listen to his Nirvana albums constantly. I didn’t take to them right away, probably in part because of a traditional sibling rivalry (it must be bad if my brother likes it, right?), but then I saw a special on MTV. First they covered a little bit about the band, about Cobain, about his burn out. I was intrigued. Then they aired Nirvana: Unplugged in New York. I was absolutely blown away. I immediately “borrowed” my brother’s album of the show and listened to it again and again and again.

I didn’t know that a bunch of the songs were covers (like the one above by Meat Puppets), but that didn’t much matter. The performance is what counted to me. And it was an incredible one. From David Bowie covers to Lead Belly tunes to Nirvana originals, I couldn’t get enough. I searched listings and watched The Preview Channel constantly in hopes of seeing more Nirvana specials and repeats of performances. (This was before DVRs and, as far as my house went, Internet access.)

(If there is one video you watch from this post, make it the above. Pay close attention to the moment – and it is a moment – at 4:39.)

It wasn’t long before I started moving into the other Nirvana albums – especially Nevermind. Literally every song on that record is a gem – any one of those “Top 100” or whatheveyou lists of the best albums of the 90’s which does not place this at number 1 is invalid. Come As You Are, Lithium, Polly? The assemblage of songs Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl put together back in 1991 can’t be beat. Yeah, I love a lot of other albums – Revolver has one of the greatest string of three songs I’ve ever heard in Taxman, Eleanor Rigby, and I’m Only Sleeping (plus a lot of other great hits) – but the dozen songs on Nevermind will never be topped as far as I’m concerned. (I’ve never had the honor of hearing an original album featuring the hidden 13th song Endless Nameless.)

This was one of those life-changing bands. Cobain’s more liberal views, his detestation of macho bullshit, his love of art, it all influenced me. I grew a distinct feeling of empathy over the idea of rape, something from which I am otherwise relatively insulated. I came to realize there’s nothing wrong with being gay. I picked up the guitar when I entered high school. The course of my life has been shaped in large part by the fact that I started listening to Nirvana back in 1998. That satisfies me immensely.

Happy birthday, Kurt Cobain

I’ve been wanting an excuse to put some music up here lately. Kurt Cobain, were he not long dead, would be 44 today.

She no longer eyes him like a pisces when he is weak

Ten points if you can guess what the title to this post is referencing before reading on.

I’ve been seeing a disconcerting amount of astrology bullshit on my Facebook feed today. I guess some arbitrary assholes decided to arbitrarily change things up.

Astronomers have restored the original Babylonian zodiac by recalculating the dates that correspond with each sign to accommodate millennia of subtle shifts in the Earth’s axis. Prepare to have your minds blown, all you people with easily blowable minds.

Here is the zodiac as the ancient Babylonians intended it—with the dates corresponding to the times of the year that the sun is actually in each constellation’s “house”—according to the Minnesota Planetarium Society’s Parke Kunkle:

Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16.
Aquarius: Feb. 16-March 11.
Pisces: March 11-April 18.
Aries: April 18-May 13.
Taurus: May 13-June 21.
Gemini: June 21-July 20.
Cancer: July 20-Aug. 10.
Leo: Aug. 10-Sept. 16.
Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30.
Libra: Oct. 30-Nov. 23.
Scorpio: Nov. 23-29.
Ophiuchus:* Nov. 29-Dec. 17.
Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20.

* Discarded by the Babylonians because they wanted 12 signs per year.

This explains why my post of Bill Nye explaining the arbitrariness of astrology has been getting a few more hits than usual.

I find this all so depressing. No, not that my made-up, bullshit sign has changed (actually, it hasn’t). No, what I find depressing is that after all the efforts of Carl Sagan, we still hold a prominent place for astrology in our society. It undermines science. Knock it off.

Besides that, the changing of all this arbitrary bullshit really puts an asterisk on a pretty great song.


(Did you get the 10 points?)

Another two quick things

First, I was recently discussing with a friend Sean Penn’s movie “Milk”, an excellent film about civil rights activist Harvey Milk. One of the points Penn’s character made again and again was that in order to advance equality for gays was (and is) to get people to realize that they know and care for someone who is gay. Once people know that anti-gay stances actually hurt real human beings, they will be less likely to cause harm to others (such as through voting against civil rights measures for gays).

And it’s true.

Watch the movie. Like I say about “Brokeback Mountain”, even people who don’t like gays can appreciate this film for its qualities as a piece of art.

Second, I’m interested to give a listen to the new stuff Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic have in the works.

According to a report by Spin Magazine, the surviving members of Nirvana regrouped for the first time in more than a decade at a “secret” Foo Fighters show in Los Angeles on Tuesday night. Of course, being that Nirvana was officially just a trio, all that means is that Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl (pictured) was joined by original Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. However, the duo were also joined by Nirvana’s touring guitarist Pat Smear. Grohl, who sings and plays guitar for the Foos, played drums for Nirvana. The hugely influential group disbanded in 1994 following leader Kurt Cobain’s suicide.

To those paying close attention, Tuesday night’s reunion, while unexpected, should come as little surprise — it’s been widely reported that Grohl recently employed his old bassist’s services for a track which will appear on the new, forthcoming Foo Fighters album. That album, incidentally, is also being produced by Butch Vig, who masterminded Nirvana’s 1991 seminal breakthrough, ‘Nevermind.’

While the Foo Fighters used the intimate show to showcase some of their new material, the short Nirvana segment saw Novoselic and Smear join Grohl on stage to perform ‘Marigold’ — originally a b-side for the hit single ‘Heart Shaped Box,’ it’s the only original composition that Grohl contributed to Nirvana. While many celebrities were allegedly spotted in the audience, we’re guessing that Courtney Love was not one of them.

I am not, however, excited that Pat Smear is involved. He really hurt a lot of the vocals on many of Nirvana’s live songs.

Anyway. Here’s “Marigold”.