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.