Ed note: for those of you who haven’t been following along, Exquisite Chord is our take on Exquisite Corpse. Thought up by Chris Klimek, we’re building a playlist of sorts, using each song suggested to inspire the next pick. Today, Matthew Yglesias moves the conversation along from Phoebe Connelly’s choice of Hole’s “Violet”.
Hole. What can you say about Hole? Time was I would have said I liked Hole. That I was a Hole fan. After all, I like nineties alt rock, female singers and counter-intuitive stances, so what’s not to like about saying you like Hole. Not long ago, however, I actually listened to Celebrity Skin and was hit by the realization that I didn’t even recognize many of the songs. I’d never owned a Hole album! I wasn’t a Hole fan at all. I was a Hole poseur. I knew their MTV hits, but none of the deeper cuts even off their hit albums. The whole thing was a fraud, an illusion. How did this happen?
The issue, fundamentally, is that mediocre though they may be, Hole is in many ways the rock band of their era, standing at the nexus of all musical trends.
Hole forces us, among other things, to face late-stage rock and roll’s problematic relationship with the concept of authenticity. Consider Wikipedia’s observation regarding their best album, Live Through This, namely that “there have been unsubstantiated rumors regarding Cobain’s involvement in this record, from alleged instrumental and songwriting contributions, to claims that he effectively wrote the entire album.” Similar whispers exist, of course, regarding Billy Corgan’s involvement with Skin. But why? Why whisper? How absurd.
In another genre this would be an unthinkable scenario. Can you imagine “unsubstantiated rumors” that, say, Jay-Z was involved in someone else’s record? Of course not! If he was involved, the relevant people would be shouting from the rooftop about it. What kind of a person would be ashamed to admit that his or her work was, in part, a collaboration with some of the leader artists of the day? A mid-nineties rock star, that’s who. When Biggie died, Diddy exploited the shit out of their relationship proudly draping B.I.G. vocal tracks all over No Way Out, while the late Cobain’s (alleged!) involvement in Live was covered out rather than touted. When Indian archeologists seek to understand the cultural shifts in the waning days of the American Empire, this contrast will be deemed key to understanding the demise of rock and roll as a vital medium and its supersession by hip-hop.
So we could ride off into the sunset on “Umbrella” or “Been Around The World” or some other shining exemplar of the collaborations that might have been.
But why not delve deeper into the mists of the Holedom and the power of free association? Billy Corgan has already been mentioned. I saw the Smashing Pumpkins play in 1997 in Prague. They came onstage, played a song, the crowd cheered. Corgan stepped forward. “Dobry den!” he proclaimed. The crowd went wild. “It’s so good to be here in Poland!” Silence. D’arcy approaches Corgan. Corgan looks down. Then up. “In Prague!” The world is, indeed, set to drain.
D’Arcy’s fate, however, was not Central European heroism but ignominy, as she was eventually dropped from the band’s roster in favor of Melissa Auf Der Mauer, formerly of Hole and now plugging away as a solo artist up in Canada.
Ultimately, though, to explore Hole through any lens other than the outsized personality of Love is futile. In this regard the most fascinating moments are the ones that remain somewhat cloaked in darkness, occurring at a time before the tabloids were interested. There is the matter, for example, of Hole’s apparent feud with Cobain’s ex-girlfriend, Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail. Vail was the one whose choice of deodorant ultimately spawned the poignant phrase ”Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Before Bikini Kill, Vail was in a band called The Go Team, which opens up the opportunity to twist this in the direction of the more contemporary band ”The Go! Team” and to link to Cobain’s most obscure recording, the guitar track (under the name Kurdt Kobain) on the exclamation-less The Go Team’s ”Bikini Twilight.” Or we can go via Vail to Rancid’s “Olympia, WA” which I used to love when I spent more time hanging out on 6th Street, but at the end of the day loses out to ”Drain You” in the “best song about being in love with Tobi Vail” sweepstakes.
The only real choice, since we began with Hole and the death of rock and roll, is to skip from Vail to Bikini Kill to Kathleen Hanna to her husband Adam Horovitz, aka Ad Rock, of the Beastie Boys, the group that taught white American to rap.