The Enemy Within
by Kerry Joyce
illustration by Kevin Banks
April is the foolest month. Dying were two of popular culture’s most self destructive demi-gods, Kurt Cobain and Richard Nixon.
With the exception of the many baby boomers who toil in the vineyards of the youth culture industry, Kurt Cobain was an unknown to nearly everyone over thirty. He was even more remote to those of Nixon’s generation, who nonetheless wasted no time in condemning Nirvana’s late great lead singer. Human imperfection being what it is, like Nixon himself, his fellow Americans prefer to talk about the performer rather than the performance. Until, of course, it is they or theirs, who are held up in scrutiny.
In the good old days, pop stars were so much more wholesome. Sure. That’s why two, TWO! of Bing Crosby’s children committed suicide. And while Crosby was home beating the living shit out of his family, ole’ blue eyes, Frank Sinatra was busy dining with the type who commit premeditated murder under the euphemistic term “business.”
In the sixties, with its skimpy AM dial, the heroes and villains of both generations were inescapable. “Fun for the whole family” was one of advertising’s most cherished lies. Now the generation gap is a given. With 54 TV channels, there is nothing for everyone. Each subgroup can now live in its own narrow-casted bubble. As a result the cross generational squabbles have become less heated. Don’t like my drift? Channel surf.
Nixon, the president, is similarly an unknown to those of Kurt Cobain’s generation, although some were acquainted with the articulate grandfatherly guy who would appear on Larry King promoting one of his books: “Seize the Moment by Richard Nixon is at bookstores everywhere.” Larry concluded adding, “Oh, one more question, Mr. Nixon, we only have about a minute left. I know you’re a big sports fan. Do you think Pete Rose should be allowed into the Hall of Fame?” Yes, the former president thought that Pete Rose should be in the Hall.
The Richard Nixon of twenty years ago had less compassion for human frailty. He was a big law and order man. Seize the Moment – And Wring It’s Neck was the unforgiving operating principal when Nixon ruled with an iron fist and several not so very well concealed listening devices.
In those days, Nixon was a man with two faces and both of them sucked. There was the smug morally superior common man Nixon, ever ready to go for the personal attack. It helped avoid having to profess his own personal beliefs. Personal beliefs were a toughy for Nixon. The only thing he really believed was that he should be President.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, there was the stealthy paranoid Nixon. The one who used the I.R.S. to harass his political rivals. The man whose obsession for surveillance led him to bug his own office.
He who lived by the bug died by the bug.
After months of squirming, Nixon at last handed over tapes he made of himself obstructing justice. He tried to save the skins of several aides who tried to bug (there’s that word again) the Democratic National Committee. For good measure, the administration also bugged the office of a Pentagon official, Daniel Ellsberg, who had leaked information about America’s bizarre prosecution of the Vietnam war to the New York Times. Turns out Ellsberg was mad at his mother.
In the context of what had gone on before, Nixon’s parting words as president about not hating your enemies, and that “resigning the presidency goes against every instinct in my body” (Who knew Nixon had bodily instincts?) seemed laughable. Ah, but as always there was a method to Nixon’s madness. He was writing off the present and taking his case to posterity.
When he died twenty years later, it was film clips of the publicly benevolent “Final Days” Nixon, which were broadcast on news programs.
Meanwhile, the other clips, those of Nixon saying things like: “If they want to grow their hair long, that’s fine. But when they start throwing bombs…” are still relegated to some obscure archive.
Rock ‘n’ Roll never forgets. But rock ‘n’ rollers sometimes do. Once again, the Nixonian mass media, with all the scientific logic of a gypsy fortune teller, are pretending to extract some larger meaning, and context out of Kurt Cobain’s death.
Being an artist, like being a prostitute, requires an intimate relationship with perfect strangers. For a rock star, make that millions of perfect strangers. So one tormented, talented, and sensitive soul blows out his surreal life with a gun and that somehow justifies indicting an entire generation that happened to have a relationship with Cobain through his music.
Kurt Cobain’s death is a personal tragedy. His suicide is grieved, not celebrated by those who loved and admired him. Nixon’s life was a national tragedy, a preventable crisis that paralyzed the country at a most critical period. Something those who condemned Cobain and fawned over Nixon this April should keep in mind.