Reading the comments below any piece on Kurt Cobain or Nirvana it’s stunning how rapidly someone pops up and blurts “Kurt was murdered.” No matter what the topic, what aspect of the band or the individual is under discussion, someone’ll slap the statement down making clear they see nothing as important to the band’s story as the lead singer’s exit. The reduction to a singularity is understandable; musical tales that transcend and become part of wider cultural conversation stop being about music and become part of wider threads speaking to ambition, comedy, tragedy, sex, death – often all at once. Thus John Lennon is reduced to ‘Imagine’ or to quotes about being ‘Bigger than Jesus;’ Elvis becomes Vegas judo moves and bathroom death; Sid Vicious is a safety pin and a swastika; Michael Jackson becomes white skin and odd squeals. I saw a beautiful Kim Gordon quotation the other day stating that pop culture is all about how “people pay money to see others believe in themselves.” Musicians don’t need to overtly stand for a cause, or a declared meaning, to be bound into the desires, wants, needs, fears and wishes people project onto them. What intrigues me in the case of Cobain is how impossible it’s become to speak of him, without speaking of the conspiracy theories surrounding his death.

This isn’t about my views on the theories themselves, it’s about the conversion of a perspective harboured by a small minority of individuals in early 1994, becoming a far more widely held belief among audiences who don’t necessarily have a dedicated adoration for Kurt Cobain’s music. It’s a wider cultural theme in line with popular threads of commentary and discussion rather than a topic rooted in music or Nirvana’s actual existence as a band. Why should a topic so unrelated to Nirvana’s life become so unavoidable after the lead singer’s death?

Firstly, stand-out events in the popular imagination are never the ordinary, the everyday, the common experience. Quite regularly recently people have mentioned to me how worried they are by events like the murder of several dozen tourists on the beaches of Tunisia, that they believe ISIS will undoubtedly attack in the west soon, that terrorism is a major fear for them. I’ve grown an unhelpful tendency to respond with the latest death statistics to explain why I’m totally unconcerned; in the U.K. in 2013 there were 17.8 deaths per 1,000 people – a grand total of 506,790 dead in a single year with barely a tremor of disruption to reality. Death is everywhere – we lose Britain’s fifth largest city every single year with barely a murmur. The U.S. lost 2,600,000 in 2013 – that’s Chicago or Houston wiped out annually. I’ll next point out to them that the U.K. murder rate dropped to 526 in 2014 (–2013-14/rpt-chapter-2.html) which, given a population of 64,800,000 means a miniscule chance. Now compare that to the presence of violent death on your TV, newspaper, comic book, latest record… There’s a massive disproportion between the amount of time people spend thinking about or learning of violent death versus its actual presence. Near all of us are going to die of petty injuries or disease peoples.

(Here’s a beautiful visualisation of the 2009 death totals – – showing the death rate hovering merrily around the half a million a year mark. For the U.S., here’s a quality historical review of death from 1935-to-2010 from the Centers for Disease Control;;2010</a>).

The commonplace nature of death is what elevates certain deaths to a higher level; society needs ‘spectaculars.’ The deaths that become part of wider discussion and popular memory need to happen to someone of ‘significance’ on the public stage; need to be outside the everyday experience; need to come wrapped in a wider story worth retelling. Other aspects might put some deaths ahead of others in the popular imagination, as an example, Dr. Harold Shipman committed a series of quite boringly ordinary murders – injection of drugs, people slipped away. The deaths on their own were so ordinary they were barely worth of note and beyond friends and family the names go unrecalled – the elevating factor is that Shipman is likely to have committed 250 such murders making him one of the world’s biggest serial killers. The scale of the exercise makes Shipman the significant figure while the deaths become anonymous. Think of a stamp collection; one Canadian stamp might be more or less interesting – but a complete collection of every Canadian stamp ever issued, now that’s significant. Size, timing, method of exit – they all make a difference to what’s recalled and repeated across the media and among circles of people. As another example; Eazy E, rap impresario, major figure in the formulation of gangsta rap, multi-platinum selling artist…His death is barely mentioned because dying of AIDS in a hospital bed was neither photogenic nor even particularly exceptional. Tupac Shakur, multi-platinum artist, one of the most diverse rappers ever, dies at peak of career in a gloriously dramatic manner – tie the Notorious B.I.G.’s death just before releasing an album called ‘Life After Death’ and with the East/West media thread, gang connections, the fall of Death Row Records – it’s Hollywood baby!

Cobain easily passes the test for a spectacular; dies young, dies close to peak of fame, plenty of controversy keeping him in the papers 1992-1994 and reaching a peak after the Rome incident so lots of eyes already waiting to see what would come… But why should the conspiracy theories have become so loud? Well, it’s about cultural production. A concluded story can only be re-told so many times, that’s why articles on Nirvana constantly need to have a new angle, new pitch, new info – some claim to being NEW. That’s simple logic; why buy precisely the same information one already possesses? The human desire for culture is for novelty. Retelling requires there to be a gap between known and new in order to create tension – so, Dave Grohl has been asked about Nirvana several thousand times over twenty years, he’s told and retold every tale – but he might emphasise different details, will usually use different words, tell it a different way – this grants a degree of longevity to known material as it’s new to those who haven’t heard it and there’s a nugget of freshness for those who do. The same impulse is at play in the collection of bootleg renditions of Nirvana material; will the quality of what’s found live up to the power of what’s on the official records? Rarely, but it might. Will something truly new occur? Rarely, but it might. That potential, that deviation from the known, that slight tweak is vital to keeping a cultural object – whether a memory, a song, a story – alive.

This is the terrain where the conspiracy theories work perfectly. They overwrite the closed and complete story with one where there’s still an open potential and where the tension that makes it interesting exists in the gap between the known (i.e., listening to Smells Like Teen Spirit for the thousandth time doesn’t create the same kick as first hearings) and the unknown (i.e., a ragged bootleg rendition providing the unexpected and the potential to give something new.) It’s why there’s a far greater market for Nazi memorabilia than other World War Two ephemera, why playing the Nazis in a computer game for the umpteenth time, or films about Nazis on the moon, documentaries about secret weapons and research all get a listen because the tale of what might have but didn’t is an open space into which imagination can be poured and excitement found when re-reading what actually did happen and what the victors actually did do is already closed down and clear. You don’t see books around proposing counterfactual tales of what if the Allies had won the war a different way – there are quite a few re-fighting the battle from the German side. Secret histories turn dead stories into repeatable, re-playable experiences that the present-day consumer can explore.

Similarly, the interest in what didn’t happen is a reaction against the everyday quality of what did; again, it’s about the spectacular versus the lived experience of the average person. Malcolm X became the poster boy of the hip hop generation despite having contributed little beyond thought to the civil rights struggle because he was a figure who was unsullied by reality. Martin Luther King Jr. personally engaged with the Presidents of the era, staged the greatest march in the nation’s history to that point, was present at numerous flashpoints of the struggle while acting as talisman, figurehead and voice of what was occurring. He’s become an accepted ‘hero’ figure of the establishment however, identified with the reality of what did and did not happen for the racially oppressed in the U.S., his views are deemed to have been played out and the results seen which makes him a harder figure to rally excitement around. Malcolm X, by contrast, died at the start of a new journey into greater engagement with the wider civil rights cause, a different vision and set of beliefs – an untapped future potential. His views – simplistically reduced to an openness to self-defence and the application of revolutionary violence – never had the chance to play out across society, they remain an unrealised potential possessing the excitement of the unknown. On top of that he retains the allure of the rebel, he hasn’t become part of the dominant culture so there’s space for the marginalised, those believing in themselves as outsiders, to tag onto him. The fact his views can never be truly tested, his methods and ideas never fully explored or known makes him invulnerable to the boredom inherent to society’s winners.

To move to a symbol, why does the confederate flag persist? It’s the symbol of traitors to the current United States of America, of a group of people who chose to stand for racist exploitation of slave labour against what we would consider modern quality – so why fly their flag? The reason is that it stands for an independent identity against a central, dominant identity – the United States of America, the Union, Washington, is the being against which the flag declares independence, resistance, rebel status. Those who fly it once upon a time were holding on to a vision of society that they felt would be better than what came to exist – the disappointment of the everyday had set in, they had an untested alternative they could hark to. There are few now who wave the confederate flag in support of the 1860s vision of what the south was or could be. It’s become a wider rejection of the everyday standing in for whatever the individual wishes it to – a blend of those who are and are not deliberately raising one part or another of its actual historical meaning. The same process has happened to Cobain – as it does most historical figures – he’s now a symbol of ‘live fast, die young,’ of the outsider, of the person wanting to claim readymade rebel status with a t-shirt or a bedroom poster.

In the case of Cobain, he never had the chance to reach the disappointment that every musical figure eventually creates when they get old and no longer align to the latest thrill of the new zeitgeist. While every other musical figure of note – from Dylan to McCartney to Bowie to Pop to Rotten – has had to endure a period of dismissal before being admitted to the lexicon of ‘all time greats’, Cobain was never dismissed, hadn’t done enough to disappointment critical opinion as yet. That opens up a huge space for imagination, to ponder the hints of what might have come next, to tease out what avenues weren’t pursued – to draw one’s own designs (however logical or well-reasoned) on blank white space. Living musicians of that era – Eddie Vedder, Courtney Love, Thurston Moore, Dave Grohl – are a closed space, there are few surprises left after a further twenty years in which to perform them. Cobain is still open because the question can never be closed; what would he have done next?

Suggesting Cobain’s murder opens that space up even further, adds a fresh ‘what if’ to a known tale. There isn’t much interest in asking ‘what if Nirvana recorded Nevermind for Sub Pop not Geffen?’ because that’s a point about music – Cobain’s murder or otherwise resonates with the wider cultural interest in violent death, in themes of justice, redemption, tragedy…It’s Hollywood. It also permits individuals to retell a closed incident in as many ways as they wish – it creates ‘new’ where it didn’t previously exist. Into a space with “Cobain commits suicide,” one can write ‘accidental overdose and cover-up by multiple suspects,’ ‘deliberate assassination by one or more of a variety of suspects,’ ‘earlier discovery by a variety of individuals subsequently covered up,’ ‘death at location other than where he was found,’ ‘CIA MK-ULTRA campaign against seditious cultural figures,’ ‘improper investigation by incompetent or complicit officials,’ it’s a universe of new stories opened up for consideration. This allows the tale to be remoulded across time and space, to be fitted to individual views and experiences, in a way that an official, established and documented story cannot.

It also comes stamped with the spirit of the rebel, the idea that this is a counter-view to that of an amorphous ‘powers that be’. Cobain’s rebel status – the Nineties repetition of the archetype – is reinforced by pledging allegiance to the idea that even his death wasn’t what the squares in the media, government, police say it is. That call may only get stronger among newer Nirvana fans given the reality of Nirvana’s career has long since faded into imagination which makes written versions of the tale all seem equally valid but increasingly it’ll be a way to resist the view of elders and parents; a neat generational gap. The individual can own their own vision of what happened to Cobain and no one can take that away from them. The paucity of evidence is indeed a large part of the appeal of the conspiracy theories, the sense that there’s the potential for something new to occur or appear, that the story isn’t closed and might be radically revised, that there’s the possibility of discovery rather than just a dead certainty. The sense of being part of a community resisting a central view or vision, a lone warrior, seeker after truth, open-minded, is a neatly self-justifying addition to an individual’s identity and view of themselves.

Cobain’s death is therefore, understandably, a perfect candidate for posthumous revisionism. It had the ‘spectacular’ nature that propelled Cobain from being solely a piece of music history, to being a wider cultural cypher and figure. That moved him from conversations about music into conversations about larger societal themes – drugs, love, suicide, divorce, sickness, capitalism, conformity, submission, hypocrisy. There’s the reality that Cobain’s full potential can never be answered so he possesses a permanent appeal that the majority of artists can’t match. The need for novelty and newness made counterfactuals, alternative histories, more appealing. The existing ‘what if’ of Cobain’s tale laid open imaginative space into which people could project their own theories and imaginings – claims of murder push that even wider. The rebel status accruing to Cobain and adopted by those adopting him as an idol is reinforced and made more current, individual and personal by claiming his death as a resistance to the official history.

Ah, the fun, the entertainment…

So, one of the many arguments I’ve heard shared over the years is the one stating “if the conspiracy theorists aren’t on to something…Why doesn’t Courtney take legal action against them? She must be scared of opening up a can of worms.” Well, here we go then. Ultimately I can understand why such an attempt has never been made; the only official releases have been the half-hearted pulled-punch ‘Kurt and Courtney’, the first book by Halperin and Wallace (then the reprise, rewrite in 2004), plus Tom Grant’s self-published efforts. There’ve been no big targets to take aim at until now. “Soaked in Bleach” is a worthy target and it’s in some ways a mark of respect, an indication of the scale of the effort, that it’s worth responding to.

Here’s the redacted letter from Courtney’s lawyers:

The letter very usefully references the link to the outcome of the recent Seattle police investigation:


The film makers have responded by claiming they’re being threatened and that their right to free speech is being infringed if Courtney takes a civil action against them. Actually, my understanding of freedom of speech means they have a point. The First Amendment protects the individual from an attempt by the government to prevent them giving an opinion – it has since been taken as the basis for wider protections for the individual against entities other than the government.

On the other hand, Courtney is perfectly entitled to take action against the film makers for libel and/or slander. It’s complicated, however. While the Supreme Court states that labeling something as ‘opinion’ doesn’t give any first amendment protection against being judged to be libel/slander, some states do have laws that protect opinion to a greater degree. In cases between private individuals (which is what a case between Courtney and the film makers would be) the first amendment doesn’t infringe on common law definitions of libel/slander. The burden would be on Courtney’s lawyers to indicate that the film makers had malicious intent toward her and/or intended to cause her emotional distress and that according to existing verifiable evidence they’d made false statements in the film. She’s certainly correct in viewing a film that accuses her of murder as  being potentially guilty of libel/slander and she’d have a fair chance of winning.

So, far as I can see, it’s entirely reasonable of Courtney to take action against a film that calls her a murderer. If someone called me a murderer I’d do the same thing. It’s reasonable of the film makers to defend themselves. What would happen in an actual court case? Feel free to discuss among yourselves… ;-)

Wanted to share the link to the film site and trailer, likewise, worth keeping an eye on Facebook to see what’s on:

Genuinely sad to hear people have been taking potshots at the film’s rating on IMDB before it’s even out — seems illegitimate to judge someone’s work, not on the quality of execution, not on it’s merits as a cinematic experience, but on pre-established like/dislike of the film’s chosen perspective. I mean, sure, if the film comes out and it’s poorly executed then have at it! If it’s treatment of facts is selective and/or manipulative, then it deserves calling out…But be nice for the film to be out in the world before assessment is made of it. As someone said to me, “if you can’t take people raising criticism and issues of your work then just don’t put it out into the world,” it’s unreasonable to expect people to say nothing, stay quiet, not do their jobs as critics, not exercise their right to an opinion if one chooses to put out a commercial product exchanging your energy and effort for their money, time and energy…But that’s not the same as running a concerted campaign to hammer a cultural product sight-unseen. Criticism is legit but the film might just as well be seen as giving opponents of the murder theory another chance to point out that Tom Grant has refused to release all his evidence, has made no attempt in 21 years to find a judicial/law enforcement authority to review his evidence and was the man who failed to search the Cobain residence properly thus failing to secure his place in history as the guy who found Cobain.

That’s the reason I’m a supporter of this film’s emergence, it represents people pouring energy into something they believe in; it’s a catalyst for conversation; it’s a chance to see where the believers’ case stands in 2015; it’s a neat distraction and entertainment for a couple of hours  — respect due!

There’s a tendency for the media to prefer conflict to discussion; the former is us vs. them only one can prevail territory, the latter is “we differ but let’s see if we can feed into one another’s thoughts, views and perspectives.” The latter is boring of course and heck, I love a good argument as much as anyone. In the case of this film, however, OK, I hope they’ve made a good job of it. I’m no more bothered by the content than I am by “the Americans capturing an Enigma machine on a U-Boat in the mid-Atlantic and thus saving the planet from Fascism in World War Two!” I’m pretty sure people are smart enough to enjoy it as a film, for some people to want to examine things more deeply, and for everyone to come to their own conclusions none of which make a scrap of difference to the world bar providing good fodder for conversations at the pub.

Ultimately, it’s only entertainment – if it was a film denigrating the case for climate change then I’d argue against it, if it was a pro-fascist film I’d oppose it, but this is just one man and one tale. What the hey. I do wish more supporters of ‘Justice for Cobain’ were members of Amnesty so they could work on miscarriages of justice in the here-and-now but…

What’s the film about? Well, thank you IMDB:

“SOAKED IN BLEACH reveals the events behind Kurt Cobain’s death as seen through the eyes of Tom Grant, the private investigator that was hired by Courtney Love in 1994 to track down her missing husband (Kurt Cobain) only days before his deceased body was found at their Seattle home. Cobain’s death was ruled a suicide by the police (a reported self-inflicted gunshot wound), but doubts have circulated for twenty years as to the legitimacy of this ruling, especially due to the work of Mr. Grant, a former L.A. County Sheriff’s detective, who did his own investigation and determined there was significant empirical and circumstantial evidence to conclude that foul play could very well have occurred. The film develops as a narrative mystery with cinematic re-creations, interviews with key experts and witnesses and the examination of official artifacts from the 1994 case.”

As a side-bar, with absolute credit to P Leroy from whom I’ve cribbed merrily, just wanted to tackle the “Cobain couldn’t have taken so much heroin and still fired the gun” point…Here’s the 12 page 2006 study; “Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics of High Doses of Pharmaceutically Prepared Heroin, by Intravenous or by Inhalation Route in Opioid-Dependent Patients”:

Conspiracy theorists quote Cobain’s levels as “1.52 mg/L” and that such an amount would require an injection of 225mg which they state is “X times THE lethal dose.” Yet, this study makes clear that the maximum dose recorded by the addicts who took part in the study was “450 mg” while the median was “287.7 mg” and that “no serious adverse events occurred during the study.”

This report – “Morphine Disposition in Opiate-Intoxicated Patients” – discusses patients brought to hospital; “five of these patients were IV heroin overdose (OD) cases, four were dealers who had swallowed packets of heroin at the time of arrest, two were bodypackers in the course of spontaneously eliminating balls of heroin, and two had ingested Paregoric elixir.” The individuals possessed heroin levels ranging from “144 ng/ml” (roughly the same as Cobain’s) up to “891 ng/mL” (six times more than Cobain’s.)

Why were they able to exceed ‘the lethal dose’? Because there’s no simple exact figure for a ‘lethal dose’ – there’s ultimately no such thing, there are many different lethal doses depending on the individual situation. Ultimately there’s not even a way to tell what a ‘lethal dose’ for Cobain would have been because he died of a gunshot wound not of a heroin overdose. The variability of ‘the lethal dose’ in cases of heroin overdoses is caused by the combination of an individual’s physical constitution and condition (weight, height, body composition, muscle mass, how recently they ate, hydration level, status of addiction, etc.) and the physical constitution of what was injected (size of dose, composition of chemicals cut into the dose, presence/absence of moisture, etc.)

Next, the figure for Cobain – 225mg – was created by assuming that 75-80mg of heroin provided a blood level of 0.5mg/L. It doesn’t. The level of heroin in the blood varies over time and is almost undetectable after 30 minutes. In the first study an injection of 70mg created a blood level of 1.52mg/L after five minutes, twenty minutes later that level was 10 times lower – that’s how rapidly it fades. So, in the test case, it took five minutes for an addict to reach the famed “1.52mg/L.” The total doesn’t take time into account – it’s a measurement of Cobain’s perfectly tolerable blood level at some point between the injection and 5-10-15 minutes afterwards. Plenty of time for a shotgun.

Tolerance is always raised but to define it more clearly; an addict needs to inject larger amounts to create the same physiological response in the body – this includes the responses that lead to death from heroin overdose which are respiratory distress, arrhythmia and acute endocarditis (issues with the heart or with breathing.) None of those responses are instantaneous and their onset depends on the addict – I would need a far smaller dose to kill me than Cobain would require to kill himself. There’s nothing about the figure for Cobain’s blood level that means death is the conclusion.

The media landscape is all about opinions – people giving their views. The debates over what they say hinge, firstly, on the basic test of ‘provable lie/fact’ then, if that can’t be answered either way, secondly, on a questioning of legitimacy. In the case of Buzz Osborne speaking about the accuracy and/or merits of “Montage of Heck”, Osborne kicks off that game by stating the case for his authority at the start (in summary; I was big buds with Cobain and the Nirvana boys and played shows with them from start-to-finish.)

There’s definitely no disputing his centrality to the Nirvana story (re: and his presence as a witness – Tad may have played far more shows with Nirvana (enter “My Friends” into the search bar on here to check the stats) but Melvins played with Nirvana across more years – five of seven years of the band’s existence – than any other and that’s ignoring Cobain’s pre-Nirvana outings with either Dale Crover or Buzz Osborne. The issue, however, is that his legitimacy as a witness doesn’t have much bearing on whether his views on “Montage of Heck” are worth much.

Osborne states three elements are untrue; Cobain’s self-told tale of his failed attempt to lose his virginity and to take his own life; Cobain’s claim to having had stomach issues that predated, were an excuse for and independent of his drug addiction (again, legitimacy; Osborne is a former heroin user so could be deemed to know that of which he speaks); then Courtney Love’s tale that the Rome suicide attempt was provoked by non-consummated cheating.

In the first case, Cobain’s claim that everyone in school knew about it does seem overblown – but ultimately all the story illustrates is that, if it was a fiction, then Cobain had one sick and slightly morbid imagination for grim detail, and if it was true then he was a pretty morbid fellow who perceived people were talking about and criticizing him. It doesn’t undermine the overall picture or necessarily say charming things about him. On the second question, again, I admit I feel there’s substantial room for doubt regarding the nature of Cobain’s stomach issues – given the evidence that he was using drugs of one sort or another throughout the Nirvana years, given the disorganized dining arrangements resulting from poverty plus touring, given his apparently fussy eating habits, disentangling drug challenges from medical challenges seems tricky. Again, Cobain seems to have believed in his stomach issues, but there’s room for doubt over their origins. On the final point, about what provokes the Rome suicide attempt – well, I’m guessing we’ll never know for sure. Certainly Courtney Love’s relationship with gospel truth has been an unstable one and I’m far from granted Cobain psychic powers either.

Thing is…Osborne’s point doesn’t seem to be to argue for some more positive vision than what the film suggests; he sums up the entire second half of the film as “malodorous, doped-up rock & roll miscreants deeply fouling an unsuspecting apartment.” His point regarding Cobain’s stomach issues is that Cobain was a lying junkie. His point on Courtney Love seems to be that she was a lying CHEATING junkie. His point about the ‘retard’ tale seems to be that Cobain was a liar. Osborne has been on record before basically in a self-righteous growl about how fed up he is of talking about Cobain, how Cobain was a “fucking loser,” and how much he despises Courtney Love – this doesn’t seem dramatically different. His issue seems to be with the narrative of the damaged teenager growing up into a damaged adult who ends up in a damaged relationship…Except he’s in total agreement with the last two bits of that.

A separate point was made at the Seattle Q&A for Montage of Heck by Alice Wheeler:

Wheeler’s point is that the Cobain she knew was a pleasure to be around, a nice guy – the “Courtney’s view” she objects to is that air of morbidity that clings to Cobain and that the film certainly doesn’t dispel. I heard a similar perspective from a friend who knew him during the Tacoma/Olympia days who, again, thought the film chopped out those years of Cobain altogether. They have a point – that Cobain wasn’t always gloomy, or sad, or unfunny, or gross…But the film’s focus was on two things; his childhood upbringing and his own marriage and child. The Nirvana story has been fairly well-covered and the film deliberately reduces the band story down to shreds of imagery rather than retelling a story that’s been told over and over again. Criticizing the film for not being a different film – a band documentary – would seem harsh. I can understand though that losing those crucial four years where Cobain seems to have been a popular presence in town, someone who wasn’t outgoing but was warm and friendly and enjoyed his band…It’s sad that little window wasn’t opened. But then again, if that wasn’t part of the footage and material that exists in the Cobain vault, if no one was able to capture it, then it’s hard to make a film of it.

Morgen’s film is set up as a mirror – Cobain’s parents’ marriage and his upbringing versus Frances’ upbringing and her parents’ marriage. That’s where the film’s focus is and it does that successfully using the materials available. Morgen does show Cobain had a multifaceted character, that he was humorous, that he did take pleasure in his success, that he could parody himself…The film can’t ignore the rather grim tale of Cobain’s artistic creations, self-image and self-reporting even though it does mitigate those elements. Intriguingly it seems Osborne would like to see the tale blackened further to show a lot more of the squalor of the final years. Krist Novoselic and Cobain’s parents and sister all tell their parts and the audience is given credit for intelligence and is allowed to pick the bones out of their stories – I think that’s respectable and brave, to allow audiences to make their own minds up. I thought that Cobain’s mother was still spouting bile at her husband several decades after the end of the marriage which gave a telling indication of how poisonous the atmosphere must have become and why Cobain’s own view of his father might have been damaged further if that’s what he was around; I thought her tale about “buckle up,” sounded like nonsense but at least showed Cobain being proud of his success; I thought she looked scarily like Courtney Love does too. All those points don’t invalidate the film – they make it interesting.

It seems Osborne would like a film that shows Cobain as the dupe, rather than the partner and co-conspirator, of a ‘devil woman.’ His claim that “90% of Montage of Heck is bullshit” seems to be a case of Osborne letting his dislike for Courtney Love and his renunciation of his own druggy past overwhelm critical distance or assessment of the film. I certainly don’t hold that Osborne’s legitimacy as a commentator makes him the arbiter of truth or fact in the story of Kurt Cobain. Osborne is just one more truth added to the pile.

Back Page of NY Times

October 30, 2012 – 946 days ago, I started tapping away on the blog. Today…OK, having deleted 30+ posts over the past few years, it’s the 400th piece to go up. One every 2.3 days but certainly aware it’s been a slow year on the blog front. Regardless, cause for celebration. I celebrated by rejigging the ‘categories’ in the left hand search bar to make it slightly easier to find material and otherwise, onward! To the future!

What’s been on these past weeks while I’ve been very quiet on the Nirvana front?

Well…Mainly just making efforts to keep the “I Found My Friends” book out there. Entertaining stuff for me – hope some nuggets for fans too:

KFLY Radio interview with Carl Sundberg:

The North Coast Voice:

Charger Bulletin:

Pop Matters:

What next? Well, my strongest desire is to use the leftover notes and to put up brief pieces regarding each of the bands who played alongside Nirvana over the years, so there’s always a record of them if people ever wonder ‘who…?’ Next March sees the release of “Cobain on Cobain”, part of Chicago Review Press’ ‘Musicians in Their Own Words’ series which I was invited to act as editor for, meanwhile kickstarting a non-Nirvana work…On it rolls. Never did get round to doing the ‘Nirvana: North West Tour Guide’ as a freebie for here. Ah time…

Just thank you for following some of my ramblings this far. Appreciated. Always. And the comments that come in make a world of difference in terms of educating me further and spreading the knowledge on something I think we all appreciate.


Shows Shared with Nirvana:

  • April 18, 1987 — Community World Theater, Tacoma, WA
  • June 27, 1987 — Community World Theater, Tacoma, WA

I’ve been rather blessed these past couple years by the Purkey brothers, both Bruce and John were a huge support during the work on “I Found My Friends.” Today I’d like to focus on Bruce’s band Soylent Green who played alongside Skid Row (A.K.A. Nirvana’s incarnation for much of 1987.)

Bruce Purkey — The band I was in previous to Soylent Green, The Grind, featured Kurt Flansburg on lead vocals. (he was later in Dangermouse.) At the time he was in our band, he was dating Tracy Marander, so I got to know her pretty well. I am sure you know that name…

My brother and I grew up in a pretty boring house-hold musically. My parents listened to the worst of 70’s AM music. They didn’t really restrict us from music, but they also didn’t really encourage or help our musical tastes grow. By the time I reached Jr. High, in the late ‘70’s, I was mowing lawns and doing chores, earning money to buy my own albums. I started with KISS and Judas Priest, Scorpions, AC/DC, catching up on all the rock that had passed us by. Before long, my two friends and I were ahead of the curve, leaping head-long into NWOBHM with bands like Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Tygers of Pan Tang. We were deep into heavy music at that point.

In high school, I and my friends George and Bill, would take art classes pretty much just to make our own Motorhead and Saxon t shirts. It was in this class that we met a kid who was into punk. He made us a mixtape of Killing Joke, Sex Pistols, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys. We were hooked. It had the aggressive edge of metal, but was actually about something. It seemed more primal and really tapped into all of the feelings we had as teenagers. In addition, it seemed accessible. We were never going to take the time to reach the technical prowess of our favourite metal gods, but even we might be able to start a punk band. So, there it started, we were going to buy any punk we could find and try to start our own band.

I bought a cheap guitar and a shitty amp. My little brother John, only 12 or 13 then, had a couple of drums, my friend George got a bass and amp, and my friend Bill would sing/scream. We came up with a band name, ATG (Against the Grain). It seemed suitably anti-establishment. Little did we know, we were literally one of the first and only punk bands from Tacoma. We played a couple of house parties, my brother John’s Junior High School, then John met some other punks from across town  — real punks with a real punk rock house. John Grant, one of the guys from the 56th Street house, AKA the Hell House, enlisted John into his own band, Noxious Fumes. John played with us too, for just a bit longer. Next Bill got his girlfriend pregnant and left the band so we got John’s friend, David, to sing and changed our name to Vampire Circus. That band only played a couple shows — most notably a show at The Tropicana in Olympia, where I got to play through Buzz’ (Melvins) amp — before my brother left the band for good. Without him we had to start again. The band reformed with Shawn (later guitarist for Subvert) and Kurt (later singer for Dangermouse), plus a second guitarist whose name I can’t recall. George was really into skating by this time so we ended up renaming ourselves The Grind, partly to describe the music, partly as a skating reference.

So, it’s ’83-’84 by now, we start playing a few shows in Seattle, mostly at a place called the Gorilla Gardens. It was an abandoned movie theater split into one side which would usually have metal acts while the other side had punk acts. Again, times changed, our second guitarist moved to California, Kurt moved on, so we turned into a four-piece with myself on guitar, George (the other founding member) on bass, Matt on vocals and Fred on drums and now became Soylent Green. As you can tell, I’m an avid movie fan hence why I always pushed for horror/sci-fi movies as band names hence Vampire Circus (Hammer Films) and Soylent Green. Fred’s father owned a meat packing plant, Crown Meats, so we made that our practice space. At first, we tried practicing out in a storage shed, but it had metal walls and was very noisy. For a short while, we actually practiced in the meat locker, surrounded by sides of frozen beef (think Rocky). Once again, it was very cold and the concrete echoed. Eventually, we moved our practices to the sales office. It was warm, well-lighted, carpeted. We dreamed of recording a single or album, but sadly never did. Finally, we decided to just record our own tapes and sell them at shows. We rented a multi-track PA mixer from a local music shop and recorded our music live straight onto cassette. It was very rudimentary, running, essentially four mics to a stereo mix, then flipping the tracks to even it out and dub copies. We made two demo tapes over the next year or so, even selling a few copies. We had a few fans, but mostly just played for fun and an excuse to go to lots of shows and hang out with people. After the summer of ’87, I went to college in Bellingham and the band broke up for good.

Before and after The Community World Theater, there were not a lot of band-friendly venues. Most of the venues were pretty quick to close down, or just bars, rarely good to bands, pretty much paying them little to nothing, run by people who didn’t really love the music scene. The Community World Theater was a rare thing. Run by Jim May, one of us. He didn’t make anything on the venture, I’m sure. It was probably a huge headache and I would guess it lost him money, but for a brief moment, the kids had their own place to play. Sure, it was a former porn theatre with no heat and a shitty PA, but it was ours. It is no accident that The Community World Theater is remember fondly by most everyone who ever played there, or saw a show there. It was as if for a moment, the punks actually ran things.

You’ll notice the “no dancing” sign isn’t always present. If I remember correctly, that was behind the movie screen. What Jim May used to do was set up the headlining band’s equipment behind the screen, then, when the earlier bands were done they would just take their equipment off-stage, raise the screen, and the final band was ready to rock. I think this night was one of the few times we headlined. Frankly, we weren’t near as good as Skid Row, but at that point, we were more of a known quantity.

And I drew the flyer for the Nisqually, Skid Row, Soylent show.

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I was reading an early interview with Nirvana a couple months back and at one point they’re asked about their history with drummers. This is during Chad Channing’s time on the stool and Cobain replies “Is Bob in…Should we count Bob?” Novoselic and Cobain eventually decide not to count Bob McFadden. On that occasion, however, the band are being so strict with their timeline that they also state that Nirvana didn’t form in Aberdeen, “…as Nirvana we formed in Olympia and Tacoma…” Which is technically accurate but overlooks the tentative period from mid-1986 through early 1987 when ‘something’, a no-name-band at the time, was starting up. It made me curious to learn more about Mr. McFadden — what role had he played in the first foray of the Cobain/Novoselic five-year-plan?

I browsed the books — there’s barely a mention. A few comments online and that’s it. So, here I have to make an immediate thank you to a friend who was willing to pass on a note for me. Within just a few hours I’d received a very polite message back and was able to explain that my sole desire was to hear a little more about the time Mr. McFadden spent with the future stars. Hope it’s of interest — from my side it was a pleasure, a really enjoyable conversation with a really pleasant fellow. In summary, in August-September 1986, for a period of up to four-five weeks, Mr. McFadden was invited to be part of a new band just getting together…

Bob McFadden, first man on the Spinal Tap roster of ‘Nirvana’ in its early years, thank you.

Bob: Years ago I had a chance to do a couple of interviews but I was in a place in my life where I was a little selfish and I declined. Nice to have it come back around. I don’t know how much I have to share but if you’re interested and your heart’s in the right place then I’m happy to share a little of my history and feel pretty good about it.

Nick: Your name’s come up again and again with regard to the Nirvana story and yet, looking through all the books, you’re kinda not there. But I was reading an interview the other day, a very early interview, where the interviewer asks Kurt and Krist how many drummers the band has had and the first thing Kurt asks Krist is whether they still start with Bob or not… I just wanted to flesh out what that time was — my first question was what was your story? There was quite a small crew into the punk scene in that area, how did you come to be part of the crew?

Bob: I grew up in Aberdeen, that’s where I went to elementary school and high school. This was pre-grunge movement and though there were a few punk rockers around Aberdeen most of us were just in cover bands and doing covers of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, some of the old rock n’ roll. That’s what we were getting together and rehearsing then we’d go out and play the parties. I never envisaged myself as a musician then seventh grade jazz band I was asked to play the drums — never studied it but I was asked so I got up there and kept the beat. Guess I got bitten by the bug — it intrigued me — and I ended up getting a kit then hanging out with a bunch of people, the Dale Crovers, the Aaron Burckhards. There was just a little clique of us who hung around and jammed a lot…

Chris Novoselic’s brother — Robert — me and him started a thing with Evan Archie and ended up doing a lot of parties. So I was always going over to Chris and Robert’s house to do some rehearsing — which is how I met Chris, it was actually through his brother Robert. There weren’t many venues up there — we were really young, still in high school, not really thinking about that as a career. Fast forward a little bit, I’m still hanging out with Robert while Chris was actually playing guitar for us in that little cover group. I got approached by Chris late in my senior year, maybe right after, and that’s when he asked me to come hang out with him at Maria’s Hair Salon and sit in with him and Kurt.

I didn’t actually know Mr. Cobain very well. I’d seen him around some of the parties and some of that scene, but he was a pretty quiet, reserved guy. So, I was asked by Chris to come and sit in so I met them over at Maria’s Hair Salon — I was only there for a few short weeks and that’s why you won’t see my in a lot of the publications because I was only involved pre-Nirvana, in the really early stuff. It was brief, just a few weeks of me going over and we’d rehearse two-three times a week. I have to be honest I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get what they were trying to do. Unfortunately! Because a couple of years later they’re properly produced and they’re ‘NIRVANA’ of course! I didn’t get it, I didn’t understand the movement that was taking place. It is what it is. Back then it wasn’t all put together nice and neat in the studio, it was pretty raw, I didn’t get what they were doing — I was used to doing cover tunes and this was all brand new to me.

Then I had to make a decision. I was talking to my girlfriend, who became my wife — Mrs. Tina McFadden — she was asking me what my plans were; “are you going to work and have a family or are you going to go out on the road?” And at that point I had to make that decision; did I want to go do this music thing, or was I going to raise a family and join the working class? I’m really glad I chose the path I did because I have two beautiful daughters — Kayla and Kenzie — a good career and I still know some people in the industry so — bonus. Had I chosen that rock n’ roll path I may not be here today talking to you. If you go into it thinking of it as a job, in an industry, I think you’re a little better off but some of us get a glorified vision of what it’s about. Today that’s how I think of it — people getting together and making this product and then putting it out into the market then you go out and play to show it off — but back then that’s not how I felt and that wasn’t my vision of what rock n’ roll was all about. But yeah, at that point all of us had a vision that this could go somewhere — we all wanted to go do that until I had that discussion with my girlfriend and got some perspective on it. Everybody we were hanging around with was trying to break out.

Nick: So, it was known locally you were a drummer and Chris approached you around the time you finished high school?

Bob: Yeah I was still playing with Evan Archie — he was now the guitar player in the band — and Robert Novoselic, Chris’ little brother. We were doing some things, starting to play small clubs, couple of wedding receptions, that type of thing. Very semi-professional stuff. And Chris just came up to me one day, “hey, I’ve got this guy, you want to get together?” And I was just “sure, I’m up for anything.” So that was it, we got it together. Like I said, it was just for a brief three—four week deal and I bowed out gracefully and off they went. It was ’86 but it’s a long time ago so it’s after graduation in June but I’m guessing we definitely started off around summertime — sometime around August.

Chris and Kurt had some material written but they needed someone to help out on the drum track portion of it. So they definitely wanted some input — like I said, I don’t recall all of it, but they had songs and I just didn’t understand what they were trying to do. Kurt seemed in charge of what was happening — Chris would always give his input even when we were doing cover songs before this. Chris had great vision, I was always able to envisage him producing things because he had a lot of good insight. But mostly Cobain was the driving force. I’d call it a democratic process, just with a leader — we all got our say. I’ve listened to a lot of Nirvana but I don’t recall anything that I’d played on at that time, nothing I remember.

Nick: And Maria’s Hair Design was the only place you practised or were there other places?

Bob: For this particular thing it was Maria’s — before that Chris was part of what we were doing at his house. I remember Kurt showing up a few times there, playing some covers. But this period at Maria’s was geared toward a particular thing which was putting together what their vision was. I think they were trying to put this thing together and to go do what they did — but unfortunately I couldn’t see that. Kurt and Chris played together comfortably — I’d say they were very comfortable with each other. I remember they had a Tascam four track recorder hung up with one microphone in the center of the room so they could do some playbacks. They seemed serious about what they were doing.

Nick: Do you remember a day where it felt ‘right’ where it felt like “yes, we could do this!”?

Bob: I don’t recall. Typically people only remember the worst but I’m sure there were points where we gelled as musicians and it felt right, felt good. I don’t remember contributing anything specific — I’m the kind of guy who would have said something if I’d had something to add, but it’s a long time ago and I don’t remember. Worth asking, you might jog a memory or two! It was quite a serious time commitment at the time — pretty organized. They knew where they wanted it to go and it was pretty well-structured. So they’d put some thought in before they contacted me and made sure they had their material together. I’d taken a little time off music in order to finish and graduate high school so in that time I think they were getting together and pre-rehearsing it because that was what Chris said when he first spoke to me about it, that they had stuff ready and they wanted to see if they could get it worked up. I think they wanted to find a drummer so they could go to a studio, record a demo, then go do the clubs. It definitely seemed they had a vision. I didn’t practice outside of playing with them because my drum kit stayed there at Maria’s so it was just about showing up and playing when we got together. I just remember they were working well together and I think they had that vision…

Nick: Do you remember the kinds of covers you were playing together at the time while you were at Maria’s?

Bob: Just the classic rock n’ roll — Black Sabbath…We played Cream, Sunshine of Your Love was on our list for sure. Mustang Sally — that was one of Chris Novoselic’s favorites but that’s because he was playing a Fender Mustang around that time which is why he liked it so much. Chris was always kind of reserved — you’d never think it when you see him stepping out with the bass in his hands, or now when he’s doing the political stuff. You’d never know he could be a quiet guy — I don’t think he ever wanted to be a front man.

Nick: How did things end?

Bob: I recall having that conversation with them. We rehearsed and I cut that off a little early and said “hey, I need to talk to you guys — I’ve made a decision…” and then I broke the news to them, packed my kit up and headed home. I didn’t just leave them hanging in the wind. I wish I had the recordings just for memorabilia sakes, I know a gentleman who does — I don’t know if it was my recordings at Maria’s but he just sold them back to the Cobain estate. I don’t personally have anything from that time frame.

Nick: Did you learn back then that Aaron took over from you sometime after, around November or December?

Bob: I actually didn’t know about Aaron until just recently — literally a couple years ago — I didn’t discover that Aaron had been a big part of that until some of the stuff with him on it got released. I see he’s back in the scene, he’s playing with some fellas and doing that, good for him. I’m glad to see him back out!

I know that at one point I harboured a few feelings just out of jealousy — just because I’d not become part of what happened to them. But I worked through all of that really well. But I know some people in the area, people in the scene, who went through a lot of dark stuff because of what happened to Nirvana and had a degree of envy because they weren’t a part of that. It’s weird when you’re friends with somebody and suddenly they’re famous and you’re not. It’s human but most of us move on and I definitely have. I didn’t stay in touch with Chris or Kurt once things started happening to them. I’m still in touch with Robert, Chris’ brother. I’d love to have a cup of coffee with Chris, see where he’s at in life, but I don’t want to feel like I’m intruding given how much he must get contacted by people.