Here We Are Now / Entertain Us

And way out in Seattle
Young Kurt Cobain
Snuck out to the greenhouse
Put a bullet in his brain
Snakes in the grass beneath our feet
Rain in the clouds above
Some moments last forever
But some flare out with love, love, love
– The Mountain Goats, ‘Love Love Love’

April 5th, 2014 marked the twenty year anniversary of the suicide of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Anniversaries naturally invoke remembrance; for the (in)famous and the dead, this remembrance occurs on a global scale.

News.com.au marked the anniversary by “debunking the Nirvana myths,” while The Independent collated part of a photographic exhibition dedicated to the king of grunge. James Lachno’s piece in The Telegraph emphasised Nirvana’s role as “the ultimate soundtrack to teen rebellion,” and local media outlets around the world dedicated their remembrances to recounting the (often only) time Nirvana were in their individual geographical boundaries.

Music writers attempted more nuanced analyses of Cobain’s anniversary. Barnard Zuel in the Sydney Morning Herald asked whether Nirvana’s work truly stood the test of time (spoiler alert: yes, sort of), while Everett True used his column space in The Guardian blog to bemoan the mythologisation of Cobain since his death.

Australian music press websites also got in on the memorialisations. On Mess+Noise, Matt Shea detailed Nirvana’s only tour to Australia in 1992, interviewing individuals involved in the Australian Nirvana shows and writing, “It’s not often you get this close to pop-cultural history, and taken together these anecdotes make for a fascinating tale, littered with both funny and poignant moments.” Meanwhile, on sister site FasterLouder, Jaymz Clements examined the musical legacy of Nirvana, summarising, “So now Nirvana are a “classic” rock band who next week will be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, as Cobain and his generation-defining ethos dissolve into memory. But a memory as tactile as hearing ‘Aneurysm’ and losing your shit, or listening to Nevermind and still marvelling at those terrifyingly perfect riffs and hooks, or appreciating the intricacy of ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ and ‘All Apologies’? That’s a hell of a legacy.”

Alexis Petridis’ piece in The Guardian examined the dual anniversaries of Cobain’s death and the release of Blur’s seminal Britpop album Parklife. Discussing the dichotomy of grunge and Britpop, Petridis wrote, “It is an idea that is central to the posthumous myth of Kurt Cobain – that huge success and integrity are incompatible and that Cobain was an artist so principled he would rather kill himself than compromise his integrity. But Britpop and its practitioners suggested that precisely the opposite was true.”

In The Age, Simon Castles used the anniversary to examine the public perception of Cobain’s partner, fellow grunge rock icon Courtney Love. Castles noted, “In short, Love has been painted as part grunge Baby Jane, part Yoko Ono for Generation X, and part Lady Macbeth.”

Helen Razer’s analysis of the Kurt Cobain anniversary was characteristically more cynical then most. Writing for the Daily Review, Razer surmised, “When I was young, Kurt Cobain was a rebel angel banished to earth and loved by a fallen generation. When I was young, Kurt Cobain ate from the Tree of Knowledge and heaved up its toxic fruit in the troughs of popular culture. Now I am old, I have largely dropped such grandiose teen metaphor and find Kurt Cobain made music that became unbearable.”

At the time of Cobain’s death, Razer was working as a broadcaster on national alternative youth radio station Triple J. Below is Razer’s mid-1990s tribute to Cobain.

Speaking of Triple J, the radio collated archival audio pieces related to Cobain for the twentieth anniversary, paying tribute with, “This weekend marks 20 years since Cobain’s passing, but his legacy of relatable melancholia and emotive, distorted rock is still felt today. As the front man of Nirvana, he brought grunge to the masses and gave voice to an entire counterculture.”

Francis Leach, a Triple J broadcaster at the time of Cobain’s suicide,tweeted:

leach tweet nirvana

Rolling Stone paid tribute to Cobain with a series of memories and photos from bandmates, friends, family, and fans.

But perhaps the last word on Cobain should go to his former Nirvana bandmates, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic. In 1994, just months after Kurt’s death, Nirvana won the MTV award for Best Alternative Video (for ‘Heart Shaped Box’). Grohl’s acceptance speech, and Novoselic’s introduction to a Cobain tribute later in the awards broadcast, is below.

“It’d be silly to say that it doesn’t feel like something’s missing, and I think about Kurt every day, and I’d like to thank people for payin’ attention to our band.”

I Went To An Academically Selective High School, And All I Got Was This Apparent Exclusivity.

First, a disclaimer. From 2002 to 2007, I attended a co-educational, public, selective high school in NSW. I loved my high school, and thrived there – knowing, both as I did so and in retrospective musings, that I would have flailed (and, perhaps, failed) at a different type of high school.

So naturally, a piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald,Selective schools ‘the most socially exclusive’ in NSW,” caught my attention. Public selective schools, the article suggested, were more “socially exclusive” than even the most expensive private schools in Sydney. Really? And more importantly, what does “socially exclusive” mean?

Researcher Dr Campbell’s claim that selective schools are “the most socially exclusive schools of any in NSW” is, to my mind, bizarre. The problem with the quote (admittedly, a consciously sensationalist one designed to attract debate – congratulations, it worked) is that it conflates familial educational background with social exclusivity; indeed, a parent’s education is one of the only markers of this type of exclusiveness. In conjunction with the educational background of parents, Campbell notes the high rate of “professional middle class” occupations of selective school families, and uses the ICSEA (Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage) values from the My School website to provide evidence for his claims.

The sample size of selective schools profiled in the article is also worryingly small: of the seventeen fully-selective high schools currently operating in NSW, just six schools were profiled as to their ICSEA ranking. Of those six schools profiled, all are based in Sydney, and three are located in Sydney’s affluent North Shore / North Sydney region. Fully selective schools outside of the Sydney region and partially-selective schools were absent from the analysis.

Certainly, analysis of the ICSEA rankings on the My School website paints a picture of some class exclusivity. The Central Coast’s academically selective Gosford High School (full disclosure: my alma mater), for example, has an ICSEA value of 1155; less than a kilometre down the road, the non-selective Henry Kendall High School has an ICSEA ranking almost at the national average, at 1015. Up the road from Gosford and Henry Kendall, Narara Valley High School has a similar ICSEA value to their non-academically selective neighbour school, with 1007. Indeed, Gosford High ranks similarly to the neighbouring private grammar school (Central Coast Grammar: ICSEA of 1157), and significantly higher than private Christian schools (St Edward’s Christian Brother’s College: ICSEA of 1055; St Peter’s Catholic College: ICSEA of 1025). Increasing the opportunities for socio-economically disadvantaged students to attend academic schools is absolutely crucial, particularly for those selective schools within the public education system.

But as Alan Davies noted in Crikey, ICSEA itself is a problematic tool for measurement, as it examines the generalised socio-economic value of the school’s geographic area rather than the socio-economic status of individual students and families. Affluent areas, Davies argued, do not necessarily guarantee affluent student populations. ICSEA measures a geographical average rather than individual data, conflating the ranking of schools in socio-economically affluent areas regardless of the school’s specific economic profile. To again take the example of Gosford High School, the school’s ICSEA value was boosted by the unique commuting patterns of its students. Where local public schools derive the bulk of their student population from the immediate geographic area, Gosford High School students originate from the entire Central Coast region, including southern areas of Newcastle and some of the more northern suburbs of the Greater Sydney region. This is a trend seen across the state at selective schools, as indeed at other specialist public high schools and private schools. If such a school is located in an area defined as socio-economically disadvantaged, but has a commuting student population, the ICSEA ranking with inevitably be comparatively unreliable.

Social exclusivity, I would argue, cannot be delineated upon purely economic terms, particularly those that comprise of averages rather than specific profiling. One way that individual social background is measured is through English as Second Language (ESL) rankings, and here selective schools become statistically more interesting. Campbell admits that selective schools like James Ruse Agricultural High School are remarkably linguistically diverse, with 97% of students coming from an ESL background. To continue with the example of the NSW Central Coast school system, Henry Kendall High School and Narara Valley High School have ESL student populations of between 10% and 17%. In this regard, Central Coast private schools fare much worse: Central Coast Grammar’s ESL population is 4%, while St Edward’s ESL population bottoms out at just 1%.

Meanwhile, Gosford High School’s ESL students make up 29% of the student population – almost three times that of the neighbouring Narara Valley High School.

Selective schools are a crucial part of the public secondary education system. They cater for a particular type of student, just as performing arts high schools, sports high schools, and ESL high schools cater for specific student abilities and outcomes. But where specialist public high schools are exclusive in terms of educational or extra-curricular focus, private schools are exclusive in terms of social background; familial wealth and class rather than individual student capability, is often the barrier to receiving an education at these institutions. As the article itself concludes, ”A lot of the families who were sending their kids to selective schools tended to see some of the wealthier non-government schools as too rich, too privileged.”

Are selective schools exclusive? Yes, in some respects. The very nature of an entrance exam marks some exclusivity, and there is data to suggest that, in terms of socio-economic averages, some public selective schools would do well to consciously increase the number of disadvantaged students admitted to their school populations. But “the most socially exclusive schools of any in NSW”?

No. For that, you’d need to cough up the hefty fees of a private school education.