In which Kurt Cobain enables me to appreciate James Taylor, somewhat (and Lukas Graham is also mentioned)

James Taylor was trending on Yahoo, and I clicked because I thought he’d died. Not that I want him to die, but famous musicians are dying fast this year (Prince, Glenn Frey, David Bowie) and I couldn’t think of another reason why James Taylor would be trending. Never did find out why he was trending — I got distracted by a link. I clicked the link, came back to Yahoo, and James Taylor wasn’t trending anymore. Below is the link that distracted me. Don’t feel like you need to click it right now. Do whatever it is you were doing, and just give it a good watch at some point. Here it is:

What struck me was not the song — which has caused me to grit my teeth or change the channel or fill my ears with sand for several decades now (because I can’t stand James Taylor). What struck me was the hair, the facial scruff, the sweater, and to a certain degree the collar. It all reminded me of someone else who’s music strikes me in the right place, who I almost never change the channel on. Someone I’ve written about before, here. This guy:  

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana during the taping of MTV Unplugged at Sony Studios in New York City, 11/18/93. Photo by Frank Micelotta. *** Special Rates Apply *** Call for Rates ***

Cobain would have been just a little older in that picture from the early 1990s than James Taylor was in that video from 1970, when Taylor was 22. That’s what I found remarkable. The similarity of their appearance in youth, though separated in their youth by 20+ years. When you get to the Cobain video below, and you watch it (which I know you will do, because I know you so well), take a look at his eyes at around the 5:07 mark. Then go back to the James Taylor clip above and look at J-Tay’s eyes at around the 2:53 mark. Go ahead, do that now. I’ll wait.

*sips coffee, waits*

What do you make of that? Isn’t it fascinating?

I can’t imagine today’s 22-year-old writing or singing a song like the one James Taylor did. You might ague that the 22-year-old James Taylor was pretentious and didn’t really have it in him to write the song he wrote to begin with. You could argue that, but you’d be wrong, because he did. Today’s 22-year-old isn’t doing much of that kind of writing, pretentious or otherwise. The closest thing today’s 22-year-old’s have might be Lukas Graham, who’s 27, and who I don’t think comes very close, but you can decide for yourself right here:

Lukas Graham is a little older than Cobain was in the above, and Cobain was a little older than James Taylor was in the above-the-above. Plus, Lukas Graham is from Denmark, which makes him way older than today’s 22-year-old American, which is the 22-year-old I’m talking about, being an American myself.

The vibe of the songs is also worth a speak or two. The James Taylor vibe is a sort of laid-back but sad peace. The Cobain vibe is one of angst and tension, and kind of explodes into a raging pain at the end. Which is funny (not literally funny, but strange funny) because the James Taylor song makes me depressed, whereas the Cobain song liberates me, fills me with a sense of companionship, like someone gets me, like my feelings are felt by an ‘another’ who can bottle them, shake them, let them explode and be free and done. I’ve always related to Cobain. But I’ve always been put off by James Taylor. I find him depressing, and I don’t find Cobain depressing. I have no real opinion on Lukas Graham, I think I’m too old to care. That might make no sense, but it’s true for me. Others may find it crazy. Or me crazy. Maybe I am crazy. But for a moment tonight, while clicking on these silly links that distract us from real life, from love, from problems, and from having real thoughts, for a moment I was struck by James Taylor, and I almost came around.

Almost.

But isn’t it fascinating, the differences? And the not-so-differences?

Homework:

Check out the Cobain video below. Compare and contrast it with the James Taylor video above. What are the similarities? The differences? Is Taylor self-absorbed? Is Cobain pretentious and depressing? What is wrong with the world we live in, with the youth of today, if anything? What about the youth of yesterday? Is Lukas Graham older, wiser than Cobain? Than Taylor? Are today’s kids too young or too old? Feeling stupid, contagious? Have they seen fire, rain? Explain in the comments below.

Recommended reading:  acousticguitar.com — what would kurt cobain be today

45 thoughts on “In which Kurt Cobain enables me to appreciate James Taylor, somewhat (and Lukas Graham is also mentioned)

  1. I hardly think it’s fair to use a young prodigy like James Taylor to compare with today’s youth. I don’t believe most 22 year olds in 1970 were like him either.
    Take another example, the young Bob Dylan, who was already capable of wisdom beyond his years when his first album came out at the age of just 21 in 1962. Dylan was also far more knowing that most kids his age then, which was of course a more innocent time.
    These are just exceptional human beings.
    There is a modern equivalent in the British singer George Ezra who sounds like he’s 60 even though he’s still only 23. His first album is amazing, check out the hit record ‘Budapest’ for example.
    You know you’re getting old when you start griping about “the youth of today”…

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  2. Ha! Spooky similarities indeed. The jawline…the eyes!
    I’d never really listened to James Taylor before this, admittedly. I dunno. I didn’t mind it, to be honest. I don’t really listen to Nirvana these days, but was a HUGE fan as an angst ridden teen. Cobain seemed like an intelligent and sensitive soul. But of a hottie, as well.
    As for youth, i suspect there are- and were- always an equal amount of immature and shallow ones, no matter what the era. Mefinx it’s more a personality thing than an age thing. I mean, yes, you grow and evolve as a human as the years go by, but i’ve met my fair share of vacuous, insular older people, just as i’ve encountered a surprising number of Deep Thinkers in the 18- 25 age bracket. The problem is, it’s always the irritating, stupid, superficial ones who are the loudest, so they’re the ones we notice more.

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  3. I think Taylor was trending because there was a rumor he died, but it turned out to be false.

    Enjoyed your comparisons, Walt, and in fact totally agree on the uncanny similarities. I guess you can’t go wrong with the beach bum look. It’s kinda classic musician/hippy grunge. …You and Cobain! Hah. Reminds me of all those kids I knew who worshiped him. I had a friend that wallpapered his dorm with posters of him. And I kinda agree on the 22-year-olds of today. But like all music lovers, you’re drawn to comparisons when they each have their own merits, borrowing from one another and adapting to different styles. If I were to crown the most prolific youthful prodigy it would have to be Bob Dylan though.

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    • I wallpapered my bedroom as a kid with pictures of heavy metal rockers torn out of Circus or Hit Parader magazine. Motley Crue, Ratt, Krokus, Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, Quiet Riot, et al. I am neither proud nor ashamed, for it seemed the right thing to do at the time and I stand firmly by my decisions. By the time Nirvana came around, I’d moved on from the scrapbook-wall-art lifestyle and just really enjoyed the music. Dylan definitely made his mark and was an old soul. I wonder if Dylan is still that Dylan that he was, or if he’s comfortably numb with his earthly riches by now. Not trying to sound snarky, just truly curious. Is he still burning with that same fire or does he sleep on a bed of gold and drink wine from diamond-encrusted chalices? Like, what book or magazine is he reading right now? Or is he watching Game of Thrones?

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  4. That’s a nice comparison between JT and Cobain. Really unusual. I like most your description of how hearing JT makes you want to fill your ears with sand, though. It has its own very distinct vibe, it puts you in. My daughter Charlotte fell for that song when she was very young, one of the first songs where the words made it through to her. And she’d ask me to play it, which I wanted to, to encourage her to like music, but man it was hard to hear that more than once. For me, it’s the lyrics obviously, the story, that really gets to me. And Cobain wrote about pain too, but differently. I had a very early JT album with Paul McCartney doing back-up vocals, can you believe that? You should, because I said so. Comment boxes don’t lie, ever. Bill

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    • I would like to think I’m the first to compare JTay to Cobain, that I’m breaking new ground, that would be something. I don’t think there’s anyone who McCartney hasn’t collaborated with at some point. If someone came up to me and said, hey, I just found out Paul McCartney never contributed anything at all to a Skynyrd album, I’d be all, like, no way!! But then again I believe everything I read on the internet. Kind of like David St. Hubbins, who believes everything he’s ever read, period, which he thinks makes him even more selective.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m a year or two older than Cobain would be. I didn’t like Nirvana when they were current, but I didn’t hate them either. Being born in 1970, I know only a few James Taylor songs, the ones everybody knows. I mostly like them, and I don’t want a reason to hate J.T., (and I don’t have my earbuds with me at this library), so I can’t and won’t listen to Sand in Your Ears.

    I will say this however, I think personality is (at least) a bit genetic. So if Cobain was a bit of a doppelganger for J.T….I’m not surprised.

    I don’t get Dylan, and I don’t think I ever will. When he releases an album, Rolling Stone always give it 5 stars.

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    • I too was born in 1970. It was a very good year. Except that, growing up, you had to listen to a lot of James Taylor. I’ve come around on a lot of 70s music. Elton John, The Bee Gees, Thin Lizzy. I’ve even liked a lot of 70s music since the 70s: “Afternoon Delight,” “Love Will Keep Us Together,” anything by Judas Priest from that era. But not James Taylor. Most days I would rather bang my head against a wall than be hit with the depressing wet noodle that is James Taylor.

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  6. I’d never have made the comparison on my own, but it is pretty apt. It’s like Cobain is the bizarro JT. I used to like JT because he seemed to be a conduit to certain girls, and I was willing to go that route.

    That still pic of Cobain startled me, since he’s left-handed (I’m left-handed too) but the pic shows him playing right-handed. It’s been flipped!

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    • I can totally see how JT would have been a girl-conduit back in the day. Today, though, he’d have to be shirtless, tattooed, and have a thumb stuck in his cotton briefs, photographed in black-and-white, and be looking at the camera like he was pissed off about something, don’t you think? Maybe with the other hand behind his head? I think that’s how they do it today, I think. The bizarro connection, you’re right about that.

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      • And yes, the pic must have been flipped. Didn’t even notice until you did. I was looking for one that matched in the sweater and collar department. That was the best I found. Didn’t catch the flip.

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  7. I respect James Taylor for his longevity but every song sounds exactly the same to me. It’s just the same song over and over in different iterations. You can say that about the Rolling Stones, too, but at least that one song they’ve reworked for centuries is a pretty good one.

    On finding Taylor vs. Cobain depressing, it’s all in the delivery vehicle. Taylor’s voice is…well…depressing. It matters not a whit what he’s singing about. Cobain’s voice is raw energy. Nothing depressing about that.

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    • I agree completely about James Taylor’s longevity, that must be respected. Also about how all his songs sound the same. As for your comment about the Stones, I’ve had the same thought about other bands, if not necessarily the Stones. Echo & The Bunnymen, for example, put out a sort of ‘comeback’ album in the late nineties. I loved it, and I described it as one of those albums where all the songs sound the same, but the song they sound like is a really good one.

      Agreed on the voices of Taylor and Cobain, too. In fact, I agree with pretty much everything in this comment. 99.9% pure, this one. Thank you! 🙂

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  8. The key element missing in younger generations in the ability to fail. They are coddled. Imagine what Cobain would sound like if he was of the Faceflop generation. I’d of never found his music enticing/healing/freeing. I’m not big AT ALL on James Taylor, but I don’t think his music would transcend anyone if he were song writing at 21 in 2016.
    The up and coming generations expect a silver spoon and coddling, labels for everything…rather than to feel life, to fail and learn. It’s not good. It leaves a hole in the world that today’s ‘live by WI-FI’ generation hasn’t yet come to recognize.
    On another note-you should really put a warning label for James Taylor. That song is stuck in my head…awesome.😖

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    • I guess they are a bit coddled, maybe feeling a little entitled too? Like they shouldn’t have to work too hard for stuff? That’s what I’ve read, anyway. And I do sense a little bit of that in the workplace.

      The weird thing about that Taylor song is that not only did it stick in my head, but a bunch of others of his have been stuck in my head ever since. “You just call / out my name / and you know wherever I am / I’ll come running / to see you again.” Can’t get that one out of my head either, even though I haven’t heard it in forever.

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      • We have a 21 year old that just graduated from college. She’s amazing. Smart, beautiful and motivated…to a point.
        We paid for her health insurance, car insurance, phone, internet, tires, and everything for her first apartment and other needs. All because she was in school. She graduated and that ended…we have seven kids…it can’t go on forever. She was well aware that it would end and we tried to help her get her budget in order before she graduated.
        At a month out from graduating she doesn’t understand why no one will GIVE her a job. And because we won’t pay her bills she’s not talking to us.
        I got nothin’ for your song problem though, but now that I’ve read the lyrics you have provided I might need a lobotomy.
        Kick rocks you 🙂

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  9. I actually found this post on an idle search to see if anyone else had ever noticed the similarities between (young) Taylor and Cobain. So, thanks for the validation.

    Not a huge JT fan, but I want to point out that at 22 he’d already been in a few psychiatric hospitals and rehab for mental issues and addiction. So it probably makes sense that he was writing more mature-sounding songs. And that he had that shaggy tortured look down.

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    • Hi, Tria. You’re right, it does make sense, and also explains something I didn’t point out in the above. There is a moment at around the 50 second mark where Taylor looks completely strung out. It’s in the eyes. His playing is clean and crisp, and his voice is on throughout, but his eyes go kind of addict at that moment. Glad to validate for you. And thanks for stopping by to read.

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