I’ve been digesting the death of Chris Cornell for several days, and reflecting on the previous deaths of Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain, Layne Stayley, Scott Weiland, etc.
Ryu Spaeth at The New Republic gave me the tidbit that I needed to finally clarify my thoughts. He describes grunge as being colored by a “ferocious masculinity” that was also somehow feminized in its lyrics, politics, etc.
That’s really the crux of it, but Ryu doesn’t quite understand, doesn’t quite go far enough.
Grunge was indeed mens’ music, and it was indeed masculine. This is not an accidental fact, however; grunge was the piercing lament, the death cry of masculinity. It was western masculinity finally giving in, committing seppuku, an honor killing of its very self in the face of evidence of its unimportance, unwantedness, and rejection by society.
It was the moment at which masculinity as a force in society “stopped believing in itself” (to use Camille Paglia’s words) and accepted the judgments of feminism and capitalism together, judgments that had been brewing for half a century, since the end of the second World War. It was a continuation of the metanarrative of Vietnam—this was made explicit by Alice in Chains, the band in which Layne Stayley made his mark.
With grunge, masculinity surrendered its heroism, stopped trying, and accepted the assertion that it was obsolete and ignoble. It then, by embracing the politics that made this assertion, destroyed itself in a final heroric act of regret and generosity.
It is both fitting and natural that each of the major figures of the movement then killed himself as well; this had to happen. Once they had conceded, they were men outside of time, as all men in this culture are. Ferocious masculinity has no place here; heroic masculinity has no place here; simple masculinity has no place here. There was nothing left for them to be after this act of heroism; their early deaths were set in motion with the founding of grunge; the trajectory cannot be altered.
Those who applaud the death of masculinity must be warned, however: men are still being born, and testosterone is going nowhere. The fact that men have collectively committed suicide on the social scale is evidence of masculinity’s ultimately unaltered nobility, not evidence of its disappearance at the individual biological level.
All that testosterone has to go somewhere when not channeled into wild, courageous heroism. Where it goes is into mass shootings, terrorism, and other similar social problems.
And (again, Paglia) the barbarians—who for their part do not and did not commit ritual suicide, and are very masculine indeed—are now at the gates.
In another time and place, we could have used swashbucklers and seen-it-all hard-men to command squads and units, make the hard decisions involved in the maintenance of the gestalt social order, etc.
Now there is no one to do this but the left protestors. And they continue to demonstrate that they are not entirely up to the task.
They’d better learn quickly.