When I was in highschool, and right in the midst of discovering new music, I particularly gravitated towards Nirvana, as many teenagers did, fueled by angst – editorial note: angst from the perspective of that time in my life standard, I don’t want to be judgmental on my teenage version because that’d be like picking a fight with a blind kid- and the myth of Kurt Cobain.
“In Utero” was released in 1993. It would be their last studio record and contains one of my favorite Nirvana songs “Dumb” but, at that time in highschool and like most people probably did, I favored “Nevermind” and to a lesser degree “Unplugged” leaving both “Bleach” and “In Utero” with few replays.
Cut to a few years later, when I was in-between jobs in 2013 and pretty much crawling out of my skin with nothing to do. I went with my mother to a second-hand shop that has just opened and I saw a copy of “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” for the expensive price of 50 cents, with the cover of a beautiful young lady which I’d later find out is a detail of the painting “Nymphe et satyre” by Antoine Watteau.
After a long struggle debating if my personal economy could sustain the weight of such an expensive item I decided to go nuts and I bought it. I had a vague recollection of seeing parts of the 2006 film starring Ben Whishaw, but outside of a few separate scenes caught accidentally on TV, I avoided watching it having heard that the book itself is one of a kind item and not wanting the book spoiled. Editorial note: I’ve since watched the film, and taking into account the difficulty of adapting the source material I think it is a wonderful movie, although as with many cases I got more out of the book.
Perfume (going back to the book) feels like a unique novel to me. Focusing on the sense of smell is interesting in itself. Creating a character and a story around that is complicated. Doing all that whilst exploring themes of identity and isolation in a background setting in 18th century France is brilliance. The story has been described by my brother as a dark fairy tale and I would not disagree with that statement.
After reading the book and having absolutely loved everything about it, I began to find out more about it and, among many things, discovered that Kurt Cobain was really obsessed with it (see interview below):
I also discovered that Perfume: The Story of a Murdered is the source of inspiration for track two of the previously mentioned album “In Utero” called “Scentless Apprentice”
Lyrics “Scentless Apprentice”
Like most babies smell like butter
His smell smelled like no other
He was born scentless and senseless
He was born a scentless apprentice
Go away – get away, get a-way
Every wet nurse refused to feed him
Electrolytes smell like semen
I promise not to sell your perfumed secrets
There are countless formulas for pressing flowers
Go away – get away, get a-way
I lie in the soll and fertilize mushrooms
Leaking out gas fumes are made into perfume
You can’t fire me because I quit!
Throw me in the fire and I won’t throw a fit
Fun fact of the discovery process: In my obsession with the book (and Nirvana, and the song). I found myself encountering similitudes -which I’m 100% sure are coincidental, this is just my imagination at work- between Jean-Baptiste Grenouille’s retreat to a cave and Cobain’s retreat and isolation prior to his suicide as shown in Gus Van Sant’s film Last Days.
Before I read “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” I dismissed Kurt Cobain and Nirvana as a phase of my teenage years, and thanks to a unique book, not only did I rediscover a great band, I discovered an extremely deep and unique artist.
I think I know why I want to write this blog. I ‘ve thought about it for a while back and to explain the reason. I’d like to give a small preface with an example.
If I had to divide my life in areas of interest ages 10-30, it’d be:
Of course these time frames melt into one another, so there is no specific event at age 18 and 23 that determined that shift but I think it is a fairly accurate split. However I can confirm that it has been a fairly organic process that I’ve gone through in my discovery of “art” (I cringe a bit at this word but at the moment I’m writing this paragraph I can think of no better word, or at least not one that would not sound even more pedantic).I’d like to illustrate this example with one of the earliest examples of melting I can recall: Metallica’s One.
Released in 1989 “…And Justice for All” was Metallica’s follow-up studio album after the successful “Master of Puppets” with new bass player, Jason Newsted, in the fold due to a sad traffic accident that killed Cliff Burton. The epitome of Metallica at its most transgressive before reaching world fame with the Black Album, this album blew my teenage mind in a big way thanks primarily to the song One.
One is one (pun intended) of Metallica’s better known tracks and rightfully so: the guitar work is fantastic, the solo is iconic in heavy metal history, and the double bass drumming before that solo is the icing on the cake. James Hetfield’s voice is haunting and beautiful and thanks in no part to the lyrics of the song. Regardless, Metallica had previously released tracks with an equal degree of quality, so why One, what did this song had that others before didn’t. The answer is simple a video clip.
Scenes with the band in black and white intercut with clips from Dalton’s Trumbo Johnny Got His Gun to create a formidable and iconic video clip (yes I’m aware that I’m using this word for the second time, and I don’t want to abuse it, but the track is simply that good). At the time, my teenage self did not know about the movie, or the book. He was merely blown away and watching the clip over and over and over again (and over).
Cut to the college years. 3:00 a.m, at a friend’s house after a party, and still without my own car, the only solution for a bunch of us was to crash at his place (fun fact: I had diarrhea after discovering that pizza and chocolate do not mix well). Whilst trying to go to slip we were channel surfing and with my eyes nearly shut I hear:
“I am the boss, this is champagne, Merry Christmas”
This line was repeated a couple of times leaving me and my friends a bit puzzled since none of us recognized the film, still, on after a while the connection: “Holy shit this is that movie in that Metallica clip, leave it on dude this has gotta be cool”. We then proceeded to watch one of the most desperate antiwar cries ever put on film, a brutal side of war seldom forgot by films, not focusing on the hero but on the aftermath of the war. Johnny got his gun, is a powerful film, one that sticks with you.
Now I had the video, and I had the film. Would the book be as powerful? What kind of book
is it? Mind you this is a time when I was not a reader at all. So I downloaded the book and printed it (Old school! Don’t worry I’d end up buying it). The book is divided in two sections “The Dead” and “The Living” and narrated as a stream of consciousness. Both book and film were written (and for the film directed) by Dalton Trumbo -except the scenes by Jesus in the film which were written by Luis Buñuel- a blacklisted screenwriter during the 50’s Hollywood communist scare. His now most well-known for Roman Holiday, Spartacus, and the recent movie “Trumbo” dealing with his struggle under the blacklist scenario.
So this was the example and the preface, what is the damn exercise you ask yourself?
Connect the dots.
I want to reflect on how I went through the process of discovering things that I’m passionate about.