I am totally thrilled that the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association is hosting its convention right here in San Diego! On Thursday, I will present my current work on Kurt Cobain, which is rooted in previous research conducted in my M.A. thesis, and encompasses new examinations of masculinity and queered performance as expressions of radical feminism.
Title: Kurt Cobain: Inverting American Masculinity in Grunge
Kurt Cobain is notably grunge’s most famous figurehead to both rock fans and consumers of mainstream media outlets. His name alone invokes a tempest of tragic memories, iconic performances, as well as visceral criticism and conspiracy associated with Courtney Love. Twenty-five years after Nirvana released their now multi-platinum album Nevermind, Cobain still graces covers of magazines, is heard on the airwaves, and remains the subject of popular inquiry. Unfortunately, the continued quest to sustain the masculine ephemerality of the rock icon by commercial conglomerates imprisons Cobain’s true identity as a radical feminist. Scholarship and rock journalism have done little to change the established masculinist narrative of Cobain and grunge which further entombs his feminist legacy. This multi-modal presentation strives to exhume Cobain’s identity as a radical feminist who performed powerful critiques of late 20th-century masculinity structures in the United States through grunge. Cobain’s creative use of circus culture, Camp, and gender subversion were violent and poignant expressions of radical feminism intended to devalue American masculinity. This project cross-examines the commercial masculinist memory associated with Cobain and grunge by analyzing primary source interviews of those closest to Cobain and critiquing mediated and live performances. Through the deployment of Speech-Act Theory, Feminist Musicology, and Queer Theory this project highlights the successful inversion tactics of Kurt Cobain to distort constructions of American masculinity and heterosexuality.