A classic example of counter-programming: My review of Eric Erlandson's Letters to Kurt is now live at the excellent Los Angeles Review of Books.
I include this anecdote not to parade my musical taste (or lack of it) before you, but to illustrate how possible it was, in that pre-Internet era, to willfully opt out of the zeitgeist. (It's still possible, but the shame is harder to escape, and generally requires secluded cabins in remote woods.) As grunge was roaring out of Seattle to hypnotize and unsettle a nation, my 30-year-old self was including Blue Swede on mixtapes. The only meaningful impact the movement had on my life was the sudden robust availability of high quality messenger bags. I missed all of it. Nirvana. Pearl Jam. Kurt and Courtney.
Of course, the era didn't pass me by entirely: the headlines were inescapable, especially Cobain's Hemingwayesque coda, and Love's ongoing, embarrassing theatrics. But I must admit that, prior to picking up Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson's Letters to Kurt, I had never listened to a Hole, or even a Nirvana, album all the way through. Yet I was intrigued by the book's format: a sincere preface followed by 52 almost impressionistic sketches that displayed, at first glance, a certain lightness of touch, a (perhaps unsurprising) musicality in the prose. Erlandson, present at the creation as Love's co-founder of Hole, seemed a promising guide to all I'd missed, even if he was guilty of occasionally overstating his place in the grand scheme. (He can sometimes read a bit like the actor in Shakespeare in Love who summarizes Romeo & Juliet as being "about a nurse.") Something about Erlandson's disarmingly earnest tone initially engaged me more than I expected: "All those fallen female archetypes. Little girls wearing mother's heels and apron." I began to consider the possibility that this book might have value as something other than a post-grunge artifact, yet another piece of the true cross for Cobain obsessives to fetishize. Perhaps, coming to the work unburdened by the albatross of Cobain's martyrdom, I was uniquely well placed to consider its purely literary value. A small reward for missing a cultural moment, it turns out, and harder to accomplish than I imagined.