Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Artistic Statement of the Year

The artist of the year made only one significant statement in 1994: he killed himself. Life sucks, he howled, and we all got depressed and made sad little noises with our tongues, as good living beings must. Since I remain a devout optimist of the will who loves his family and enjoys his dinner, I'm not going to turn around and tell you he was right. But as Candlebox goes double platinum and your worst nightmare of a high school history teacher inscribes his vision upon the land, it's hard to deny the poetry of Kurt Cobain's defeatism.

His suicide isn't the music's death knell--rock and roll is as here to stay as it ever was. Hole, led by his wife, and Soundgarden, which was supposed to take Seattle national as long ago as 1989, both made the best albums of their lives while he still walked the earth; Pearl Jam, which took Seattle national at a scale Nirvana never approached, did the same under the pall of his departure. But Cobain's death forces us to reexamine the small body of work he had already achieved, to relisten obsessively to his MTV Unplugged one-off and God knows what forthcoming detritus, and to conclude that he had more to tell us than any but the rarest rock and rollers. The joy of his music was its triumph over his own pain. The message of his death is that music isn't triumph enough on a mortal coil that's been getting harder ever since Kurt Cobain was born.

City Pages, 1994