The latest entry in the popular Guitar Hero video game series has now hit store shelves, but there has been some public discontent over the game’s playable avatar of late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. On September 11th, surviving Nirvana members Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl issued a joint statement expressing that they were “dismayed and very disappointed” that the Cobain avatar could be used to play any song in Guitar Hero 5, not just Nirvana tunes. Meanwhile, Cobain’s widow Courtney Love has been raging on Twitter over the guitarist being included in the game to begin with, claiming Cobain would have loathed the game and that she would sue video game maker Activision over his image use.
Okay, let’s put aside the fact that both Love and Grohl had to give permission for Activision to use Cobain’s image and Nirvana’s music in the first place (making Love’s assertion that she never approved the likeness very odd). More importantly, let’s also push aside the cultural and historical baggage. Yes, Nirvana was the most important rock band of the 1990s, largely due to how it was resolutely spat in the face of rock music convention. Nirvana was at the center of the alternative rock revolution, which by its nature denounced commercial opportunism and despised the corporate music industry machine. Despite his well-documented drug problems, Cobain’s 1994 suicide is often interpreted by rock scholars as the ultimate act of defiance in the face of unwanted stardom. Nirvana does hold a hallowed place in rock history, but the group shouldn’t be treated as a sacred cow, never meant to mingle with the sort of artists they mocked and despised in a blockbuster media product. As a huge Nirvana fan myself, I too am certain that Cobain would have intensely hated his image appearing in the game. Then again, Cobain hated a lot of things, chief among them cleaning his apartment. The inclusion of a playable Kurt Cobain avatar in Guitar Hero 5 is definitely ill-advised, but it’s not because it devalues everything Nirvana stood for, as Love in particular suggests. It’s ill-advised because it looks utterly stupid.