…And I think you should too.

No, really. I can say, hand on heart, Montage of Heck is the best film about Kurt Cobain and the Nirvana phenomenon ever released. I did a quick sketch a month back summarizing other films on the topic and it’s safe to say there’s nothing like this out there (http://nirvana-legacy.com/2015/02/18/nirvana-and-kurt-cobain-on-film/). There’s a strong echo of Live! Tonight! Sold Out! in the editing style that doesn’t seem accidental and I hope that sounds like a fair compliment; it looks like a video work Cobain himself helped put together. Gosh.

At the ICA in London the viewing was shown ‘at the director’s desired volume’ which made a real difference – I don’t think I’ve ever heard Nirvana material sound so good. The sheer intensity of the sound, often tipping right over into a whine of white noise, made the live footage feel as close as I can imagine is possible to being there. There’s a relentlessness about the sonic layer of the film, long sections clamp down on your hearing and won’t let go, whole spittle-flecked mad dog raging going on – then suddenly a sharp cut, or a switch to a single voice, numerous moments where the near silence becomes equally hard-edged and intriguing. Again, that surge and mute approach seems very ‘Nirvana’ – a fair indication of the deep attentiveness paid to all aspects of this film.

The talking heads aspect of the film is actually kept exceedingly brief – the conversations with Don Cobain, Kim Cobain, Wendy O’Connor, Krist Novoselic, Tracy Marander, Courtney Love are a way to add emphasis to key points, to flesh out various topics. I enjoyed listening to Jenny Cobain – she was a down-to-earth lady and I felt nothing but sympathy for the description she gave of this increasingly unruly (and even cruel) teenager. Don Cobain came across as a quiet man, at one point he seems to have tears in his eyes, but he can’t get words out – again, I can understand why he might be a difficult person to maintain a bond with. I was slightly creeped out noticing how similar Cobain’s mother and ex-wife look these days. Comments about the absence of Dave Grohl and so forth don’t really get the point – this isn’t an interview centred film. Most people are stripped down to a bare few sentences, each well-chosen. It means the words do stick in the mind. Wendy describing watching her son come home looking ever more destroyed by heroin was desperately sad. Novoselic’s emphasis and re-emphasis of how much Cobain hated being humiliated is a very powerfully made point.

There’s tight interweaving of key themes. Novoselic’s point about humiliation is then returned to in Love’s description of Cobain’s reaction to her ‘thinking about’ cheating on him, which in turn harks back to Cobain’s audio tape recounting an early sexual humiliation, which links to the present issues around masculinity and physicality that run through the tale. The family ‘issue’ is obviously core – it’s funny seeing the early footage of a Cobain family Christmas circa 1970 echoed in the Cobain family Christmas circa 1993. Each one positioned just before a collapse, a disaster. There’s a lot of skill involved in having a film appear to barrel along at this seemingly unhinged velocity while discreetly creating these connections.

It’s great how much of the ‘Nirvana story’ is let pass by-the-by. The big milestones are logged via imagery rather than dwelt on with wordy exposition – the film allows existing biographies (and the endless churn of articles year-after-year) fill that role while it focuses on showing Cobain himself changing and reacting. I’ve seen comments stating that x or y isn’t mentioned and should be – I didn’t notice. Tobi Vail maybe is the biggest absence but there’s so much of more interest going on that losing an on-off girlfriend from the mix didn’t strike me as a crucial or noteworthy flaw. Of far more interest was the film’s see-saw with Cobain’s family life and upbringing at one end of the movie – and Cobain’s family life and bringing up of his daughter at the other. While the stuff about Cobain’s childhood doesn’t add anything fresh to what is already known, the material focused on Frances Bean Cobain, Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain as a family unit is genuinely interesting because it’s perhaps the most detailed portrayal of that aspect of Cobain’s life ever seen. I’m not gooey about love and kids and so forth but there is something very sweet watching this young couple playing with one another, then watching them with their daughter too. I found it heart-warming and rather than feeling voyeuristic it stirred empathy and affection. Kudos! Like it! Watching Kurt, in bizarre drag, mimicking a letter Courtney reads out is both bizarre and funny – it’s also an indication of how connected the two seem to be, Cobain’s miming seems perfectly timed, Courtney’s words, his mouth. There are also plenty of moments where the physical similarity between the two is obvious, they’re very much alike.

The film certainly packs a punch the way watching any destructive path can be expected to. I did watch intently for the entire duration. The whirl of live footage, home movies, animations, cartoons, press interviews, studio footage, words on screen kept the accelerator pressed firmly to the floor. Notes of disquiet the film raised for me were that it quietly makes a very strong case for Cobain as poster-boy for mental health issues – the imagery taken from his artworks is almost entirely unpleasant, bloody, gynecological. Sure, most teens have a dark phase as they begin to expand their worldview and incorporate not just the fairy tales of youth but also the harsher sides of reality, but Cobain’s seems to extend throughout his rather short life. The well-known tale of his failure to sleep with a girl is disturbing not for the intertwining of suicide plans and sex, nor for the squeamish details of the girl’s unpleasant scent, but for the very fact that he took the time to perform the tale to tape – what for? Why? This endless self-documentation feels uncomfortable in itself. The early discussion of childhood hyperactivity and medication puts this theme front and centre, as does discussion of stomach issues and let alone the new theory raised about the reasons for Cobain’s suicide which – if true – does make him look manic. A few weeks ago I watched “Night Will Fall”, documentary film footage of the concentration camps (well worth a watch incidentally) and was shocked by the conjunction of images of skin-bone bodies being poured into pits then suddenly people walking or being held up, somehow still alive despite the seeming absence of any content to their emaciated bodies. There’s something brutal about the human body and in this film Cobain spends a lot of time half-naked and just looks so tiny. Beyond all the discussion – the statement from his diary claiming that he’d tried heroin ten times between 1987 and 1990 was a big addition to understanding of his use of chemicals (it looks unlikely that there’s a year from age 15 onward where he’s not on something frankly) – I felt the sight of his body made a silent case for there being something very wrong.

Wendy O’Connor’s sniping at Don Cobain – a man she hasn’t been married to in over three decades – did a neat job of undermining the ‘loving mum’ image, it’s probably the moment in which the problems in Cobain’s childhood stand out moststarkly; if this is the kind of spite and bile this lady can summon at this far remove, decades after the end of their marriage, it suggests the atmosphere in the house at the time must have been toxic. It made me feel infinite sympathy for Don Cobain who has received such harsh reviews from his son and others yet comes across more as chronically ill-equipped to deal with emotion rather than harsh or unpleasant. Already seen in the trailer, Wendy tells a tale of Cobain visiting in the autumn of 1991 and playing her a pre-release tape of “Nevermind” to which Wendy responds by warning Cobain that it’s going to make him a star (“better buckle up kid because you are not ready for this.”) I admit it still just didn’t ring true for me – one listen to “Nevermind” and his mum had the foresight to see he was about to become a runaway success…? I mean, fine, but Cobain himself still looked surprised and disarmed for the next few months after this supposed warning, it’s never mentioned by him in any interview, lots of people hearing that pre-release tape thought it was going to do well but I can’t recall anyone listening to it and thinking this was the next global smash in the making. It was clearly too good a story not to include but it’s one of the few moments where my immediate reaction inside the auditorium was to feel doubt about the honesty of what I was hearing.

I don’t have any time whatsoever for the murder theories that have circulated around Cobain/Love and seeing the couple together in this welter of home footage simply emphasised the unlikeliness of anything of that nature – yet, I’m not convinced of the new “Kurt felt I’d betrayed him just by thinking of cheating on him” tale. I mean, another one? Another tale…? I think I’m a bit jaded and fed up of fresh explanations. On the one hand, Love comes across as an intense being and it’s an intense topic she’s discussing so I can understand the bundle of hand activity she goes through when discussing it (cigarettes, water bottles, waves, etc.), on the other, not a clue what to make the tale. As a similar aside, Morgen has reiterated again and again that Love had no say in what went in the film – I certainly believe this is all his work but I have trouble believing any director would put this much footage of Courtney Love’s breasts on screen without any permission or sign-off of any sort. Frankly I can’t believe he’d leave himself that open to a lawsuit by not having worked out a very solid contract backing up what he could/couldn’t do with all this material prior to commencing the film. I really did get tired of seeing Courtney’s breasts by the way. This is not a sexy film though Cobain’s still photos of Courtney naked surrounded by flowers were remarkably beautiful.

Now…Do I have any criticisms? Well, yeah, I do. I’ll reemphasise that it is the finest film about Kurt Cobain and Nirvana ever made – it’s probably the only film I’d say is essential to the canon. Having said that, however, it isn’t “Senna.” The latter movie did an awesome job of bringing one closer to a genuinely likable individual, teased out the various threads of his being and life, had real zip to it, speed, momentum, fast motion. So a first difficulty here is that watching Cobain doesn’t make one ‘like’ Cobain particularly – he doesn’t come across as a particularly sympathetic character. In many ways its fascinating watching this much intimate and personal material yet feeling he’s still a closed book – the similarity between him and his father in this regard stood out for me. I think it’s a consequence of seeing someone who can talk about actions (“I planned to kill myself…I invited myself over to her house…I was grossed out so I left…”) but quite clearly has so much difficulty openly stating his feelings. There’s an intriguing match in the way that Jenny Cobain seems to do the talking for Don – then later there’s the sequence I mentioned where Courtney Love speaks for Kurt Cobain (which in itself points toward the way Courtney Love often spoke for Cobain in interviews and so forth.)

There are funny moments in the film, good lines, plus he’s a natural at playing with his baby – but, again, those moments where he comes across as amusing and quick-witted and self-depreciating are outweighed by the gory cartoons, the vicious one-liners, the harsh writing. The footage from MTV Unplugged toward the end is enjoyable and brings something new to this mix because he seems at ease and the wise-cracks are actually funny. This film doesn’t make the case for Cobain as a fun person to be around, it doesn’t focus much on him as someone concerned about supporting a wider musical community or particular social or political causes, it doesn’t show him as a friendly person…It’s not easy to warm to someone who is both distant and seemingly so self-centred.

“Senna” was also – by contrast – cut to the bone, whippet-fit. Morgen’s fandom is clear in that it seems he’s had great difficulty cutting things out. The film is overlong and it is over full – I’m a Nirvana fanatic and I still felt restless at points. The technique was usually to spend time advancing the plot, then suddenly there’d be a five-to-ten minute ‘drum solo’ in which imagery and sound was slung at the audience. It really was like watching a band suddenly derail a song with elongated solos. Once, maybe, a few times over the full span of the film, cool…But this was constant and began to feel more like a way to cram more clips in rather than a way to illustrate or expand on a theme or key point. If the film wanted to be less plot-orientated and more impressionistic then cool, that’s fine, but it’d still need to be a chunk shorter in that case. On that same point, just removing the over-familiar live footage, the pieces cribbed from Live! Tonight! Sold Out!, the well-known interview footage would have left a far more fighting-fit result. If the film is aimed at Nirvana novices then I’d understand the overload of totally non-exclusive material but not the way it assumes so much pre-knowledge on the part of the viewer. If the film is aimed at Nirvana fanatics then I’d understand the assumption of pre-knowledge but not the overload of well-known material. This isn’t a ‘huge’ criticism by the way, I just think it’d be a more effective film if it was shorter and if it was clearer in its intent; rare material junkies or novices?

Another point would be that I’m not sure I learnt anything particularly new. That’s fair enough really; the tale is well-known, well documented. Barring that realisation that I’d never seen such a good case made for Cobain as loving family man and talented child amuser – there’s nothing else that didn’t stick close to “Come as You Are”/”Heavier Than Heaven”. There was no revelation. Did I feel ‘closer to the real person’? Yep, in the sense that I thought “wow, so young…Wow, so thin…Wow, so fucked up…” at several points. Ultimately I think it’s a true and honest portrayal of the real person; sometimes funny, sometimes loving, sometimes intensely focused, sometimes vicious, sometimes defensive. Cool, all good. Again, this is a very minor criticism. I did like the way comment was made on the Vanity Fair piece and on the derailment of that Nirvana book in 1992 in a way that didn’t get stuck into who was right or wrong in each case. Not shying away from the worst sides of Cobain was an honest move. Watching the home movie footage in “Montage of Heck” ultimately made me think that I’m not surprised people told Lynn Hirschberg that there was something really grim about the way the Cobain couple were living – and it’s long since been shown that most of what she stated in the article was basically true with slight tweaks needed to dates and times. Fans have long debated the extent and depth of Cobain’s heroin addiction and I think “Montage of Heck” does leave little room for doubt that while Cobain’s addiction flexed and varied it was a pretty solid presence – almost everything in this film post-1991 looks a touch sordid even before Cobain seems to nod out during his child’s first haircut.

I’d been trying to consider what the film might look like to a non-Nirvana fan – could it be watched just casually? Could it be watched and enjoyed by a fan of documentaries in general rather than of this topic in particular? The answer is yes, it’s a good primer on the subject of Kurt Cobain and it’s worth a look…But I can’t imagine it being held up as a masterclass of documentary film making simply because of that excessive length, the flabbiness, the overuse of what are innovative techniques once, twice, even three times but not as often as here. There’s too much about it that wouldn’t be of interest if one wasn’t a fan – but it should deservedly receive a wide-viewing on its TV debut next month. It’ll reignite both the “Kurt was so beautiful”  and the “I don’t wanna support a junkie scumbag” viewpoints – both have ample support herein. I can’t imagine there’ll be many converts outside of the next generation of teenage angst-ers looking for an idol who looks and sounds like an angry seventeen year old throughout the entire film. I’m also delighted that the film didn’t go down the posthumous deification angle; that Tupac: Resurrection film was gross in how one-sided and ‘touched up’ its portrayal of the subject was. “Montage of Heck” most definitely does not make Cobain look glamorous, charming or delightful. It does make him look very damaged.

So there we have it. A solid piece of work, some beautifully imaginative directorial touches, a few shards of new Cobain music, a great insight into the life and times of the last rock icon, a more human portrayal than has yet been managed. On the other hand, I can see what the Guardian meant now when its critic Peter Bradshaw said he wanted to learn more about the music. I was hoping to see more about Kurt Cobain as artist and creative but instead – beyond emphasising that he worked hard and did an awful lot of drawing, writing and playing music – that whole area felt like a sidebar to its core concern which was to show Kurt Cobain reacting to family pre-Nirvana and to family-post-fame. Fine! It’s a good piece of work. Kudos Mr Morgen.

Just a couple of cheerful bits to share on a Friday. Firstly, was chuffed to receive some really great questions from Melissa in Austin who runs the ‘something witty’ blog – very clear she’d thought a lot about what might be more interesting than the average! They were fun to tackle too.

http://something-witty.com/2015/04/08/exclusive-author-interview-i-found-my-friends-the-oral-history-of-nirvana/

Next, a very pleasant conversation on KFLY Radio in Oregon with Carl Sundberg. Nice chatting to someone who was there back in the day, who knows some of the bands in the “I Found My Friends” book, who seems to be enjoying reliving old memories. Apologies I’m a bit muffled – even in the modern age conversations linked from Spain to the far U.S. west coast aren’t necessarily perfection.

https://youtu.be/pRpIXUWGk1c

Carl shared with me a comment he wrote about his feelings on Kurt Cobain and Nirvana – hope its OK to share with you:

“It wasn’t about how many scales he could play. All the fools who worked that angle never understood the real reason Nirvana spoke to a generation. Nirvana was the sound of the little punk that kept getting picked on finally standing up and swinging at the bully. And it was the sound of the KO…knocking that bastard out clean. It was the scream of the underdog. It was the beacon for the lost. The barbaric yawp heard across every rooftop. It was angry, cathartic and real. But it felt good. It felt righteous. It felt, necessary. It was the sound of winning. All of the nerds, the wimps, the losers and the weak, the sad and defeated, we could do this too. We could rise from our social trappings. We could make something from nothing. We didn’t need big hair and all the licks, the leather pants or the pyro. We just needed a few chords, some riffs and the Truth. We could scream our frustrations at the world, we could fight the Goliath…We Could Let Them Have It. But then, all of sudden, just like that, the Goliath rose again. And David fell by his own hand…and we all stood there, in disbelief, the shockwaves pulsing through the nation…Now, decades later, we have only some brief moments frozen in time.And most of us, we moved on, to middle and old age, with our boredoms and charades, our mortgages and credit cards, our thinning hairlines and expanding waist lines…we are different now, all of us. But will never forget the era when the Bullies were losing. If only for a little while.”

The book also featured in the Tacoma Weekly this week:

http://www.tacomaweekly.com/citylife/view/nirvana-book-film-include-tacoma-ties/

Plenty going on it seems…Nice…

http://entertainment.inquirer.net/147508/courtney-hopes-to-start-kurt-biopic-next-year-writing-her-own-book

Anyone remember this? It’s an interview in July 2014 with Courtney Love in which she discusses a planned biopic, a musical, her own book…And the rumoured Brett Morgen documentary on Cobain. Its a blitz of potential projects. It’s just a re-confirmation of statements Morgen made in January of 2013 – that ‘something’ was coming:

http://www.nme.com/news/kurt-cobain/68002

Come late November of 2014, the formal announcements begin:

http://consequenceofsound.net/2014/11/a-fully-authorized-kurt-cobain-documentary-coming-to-hbo-in-2015/

Intriguing, however, the ‘Montage of Heck’ sound collage Cobain recorded back in the Eighties had become an Internet meme right at the start of the month (http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2014/nov/04/kurt-cobains-montage-of-heck-tape-his-ex-girlfriend-sets-record-straight). This article attempted to dissect how/why a well-known and long-shared bootleg recording would suddenly spread like wildfire, crediting it to one site after another ‘accidentally’ stumbling upon the extant articles at LiveNirvana. To be honest, it doesn’t seem accidental. My suggestion would be either a newshound looking for news on ‘Montage of Heck’ (the documentary) stumbled upon ‘Montage of Heck’ the sound collage and decided to put it up – or, alternatively, that Brett Morgen and his team are very smart and seeded the music file to start circulating the news of the documentary, to start getting the name on radars, to kickoff the ensuing campaign.

And what a smart campaign its been too – genuine kudos. Modern news-cycles rely on regularly refreshed content – nothing stays on a front page for long. Morgen has managed to keep the documentary permanently on the front pages of music and non-music sites (as well as print media) for several months. The way its been achieved has been to maintain a regular drip-feed of event and/or fresh information – a gradual process of releasing a little more, a little more, a little more month-by-month without ever releasing everything in one vast lump.

So, there was a pre-premier interview round. Then the reviews of the Sundance premier. Next the post-Sundance follow-up interviews. Next came the announcement of the accompanying book. Then commentary on the involvement or otherwise of Dave Grohl. Next the announcement of the DVD and worldwide theatre showings. A plan to release ‘Montage of Heck’ (the collage) on Record Store Day came to nothing but would have been both attention-grabbing and lucrative given the sell-out performance of past Nirvana RSD releases (having stood in the queue for the Pennyroyal Tea single I can attest to that popularity.) Very late in the day came the announcement of a planned soundtrack with almost no associated details. A series of teasers have kept that release high on the rumour-mill – there’s still no information about what it includes bar murmurings about a ’12 minute Cobain track’, the fans have proven more than able to keep that wheel turning themselves. The release of the trailer then re-ignited the Internet and the film still isn’t on general release yet.

Apparently the soundtrack is imminent but even the release of the date is being withheld in order to make its announcement a ‘news event’ that’ll gobble up column inches. My personal belief is that the soundtrack is already complete and Morgen is simply keeping back the information for an appropriate time in order to keep the PR going. Superb work. There was a teaser a month or so ago on Twitter – photos from Morgen of untitled Cobain compositions on a screen and a comment about “working on a soundtrack”. That’s it so far.

Why all the secrecy and careful release of information? Well, let’s look at the potential audience. At the core are the fanatical Nirvana fans – they were always a given, always guaranteed to attend…But are as susceptible as any other crowd to getting excited, to the thrill of anticipation and delayed gratification. The slow burn has kept speculation high, as ensured word and rumour has spread among Nirvana fans. Less fanatical Nirvana fans can’t fail to be aware by now that this film is coming out – if even my classical music loving friend Dan is aware then everyone must know. Staying in the limelight long enough to expand the web of media contacts, to get top billing on every major music site has allowed Morgen to get interviewed by a substantial number of major publications spreading word among music fans in general. That’s the intriguing bit, how far beyond the fanatical core can interest be spread? It’s unclear. Pitches to film/documentary lovers that this is worthwhile viewing for people who aren’t Nirvana-savvy were part of the campaign as well as the ‘intimate access’ perspective aimed at the fan community.

The commercial structure of the campaign makes a lot of sense too. It isn’t cynical to say that Montage of Heck is aimed at the current dollar worth of the average Nirvana fan. Twenty years ago those fans were late teens/early twenties (with leeway on either side). Now, those same fans are in their thirties or breaching the forty mark, they have regular careers and income. Thus Montage of Heck isn’t just a documentary. It’s a TV showing (doubtlessly with substantial cash revenue courtesy of HBO) – it’s a worldwide theatre release (ticket revenue in multiple countries for limited dates) – it’s a DVD release – it’s an accompanying book – it’s a soundtrack. I have my tickets booked for Sunday, I nearly booked additional tickets for the Friday or Saturday – that’s already £24 for two tickets.

Next I’ll buy the DVD – £13 – plus the book – £20. So we’re up to £57 pounds now. Add on the soundtrack when it emerges – are we talking £10 or £15? Let’s split the difference – total expenditure; £69.50. That’s a lot of cash generated from a single buyer. The small core will ‘eat it up’ in pretty much this manner – do the math, multiply. That’s substantial revenue. Add on the more selective audiences who might wait for the DVD, or might browse the book. Add on those who go see it with friends or who can be persuaded by the fanatics. Saving the soundtrack for last makes absolute sense – each previous element across the next month acts as publicity and promotion for the music release and legitimises what might otherwise have been a difficult sell to the mainstream.

The ubiquity of coverage of Montage of Heck is a masterclass in layering up activity, news, actual material…Superb work. A credit to the team involved. I’ll certainly admit I’m hugely looking forward to it all. All of it. Morgen states he’s been working on the film for eight years – it shows in the detailed publicity campaign over a full six months (a rarity in the music release/music documentary world), it shows in the interlinked commercial releases targeting a relatively wealthy audience of music fans/buyers, it shows in Morgen’s caginess (the word used by a journalist who contacted me to describe his interview with Morgen) because Morgen knows giving away too much all at once will create gaps, space, absence in what has been a very consistent run in the news.

http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/725-the-latest-nirvana-oral-history-is-more-mythmaking/

Rather chuffed to get a mention in Pitchfork – and the critic clearly can’t stand me! Heh! Made me chuckle. He’s got it right though, the reason I wrote the book was to put other people’s voices first rather than my own so wanting more of them and less of me seems pretty reasonable. I’d have to say my desire was to get away from the same ol’ superstar voices ad infinitum, ultimately if one wants to know Krist Novoselic’s view on Cobain and Nirvana then there are several hundred interviews over the past twenty years providing that…

It does put me in mind of the difficulty of wearing several hats. Am I a writer preparing a book on Nirvana? Am I a fan and hobbyist doing something because it amuses me? If the former, then the obsessiveness and the personal journey kinda stuff is irrelevant and distracting. If the latter, then why should a critic take it anymore seriously than any other garage project…? Being fair, to professional journalists and writers trying to make a living in an ever more difficult space, squeezed by the ever declining quantity of space provided to ‘culture’ in the mainstream media, working long years learning the theory and practice of their trade, it must be fairly galling having some amateur pop up and take a shot. I can imagine if I was busy pursuing my professional skills I’d look askance at someone popping up and trying to do it as a part-time activity…

Criticism isn’t a bad thing – ultimately its fairly un-actionable, that’s the intriguing part. I’ll not be going back and re-writing the book to fit a critic’s views. All one can do is see if there’s a lesson or two, some ongoing reading or research to be done. But, like most things, one must close a lot of it off – both praise and criticism – and just do whatcha gon’ do. I saw someone the other week state “I wouldn’t be surprised if Courtney paid him to write this – same old myths about how Kurt was at the end,” while in the Pitchfork review the guy claims the book heaps abuse on her. Sheesh, I thought I’d minimised her presence because I was bored of her being such a strong part of Nirvana’s story…And I thought I’d decided not to use a lot of the unpleasant stories people told of her for that same reason.

People are uncomfortable not just with multiple hats but with multiplied responses also. On the one hand, I think there’s something to be taken from the criticism, things I didn’t do, things I could do, things I’ll maybe use on the blog at some point. On the other hand, sure, there are aspects and elements I discount and believe are wrong and disbelieve. That’s life; you can’t be everyone’s friend all the time and you can’t be so open to their thoughts and feelings that one forgets ones own.

So! Pitchfork did me a true honour by commenting on the book on their site – I mean, wow, I read Pitchfork every morning, it’s part of my daily routine. So to be mentioned there, for me, is a real pleasure. And the positives were nice to read also – the things that I wanted to do and that he says I did (even if he doesn’t like them!) :-)

The crucial thing, for me, the reason I think it’s sound criticism, is that he commences with the key question; is a new book on Nirvana important? Does it add anything different thus validating the effort and energy? In this case, though he acknowledges what I did was a valid idea, he doesn’t like the execution and result – that’s an entirely reasonable position to take and I certainly would feel a heel chuntering about that.

In an interview for European broadcaster VPRO in late November 1991, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic explained:

Chris Novoselic (Krist): Yeah, I haven’t really come to grips with it yet. We’ve been in Europe ever since everything’s happened.

Dave Grohl: We haven’t been back to America since this whole thing’s blown up, so we really don’t know how insane it is over there yet.

In some ways these are odd statements. Nirvana returned to the U.S. in early September, were touring from the middle of that month right the way through to their homecoming show at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle on Thursday, October 31. The interview on Monday, November 25 in Amsterdam took place just over three weeks later. Had so much changed in just three weeks…?

The indications are that they did. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” had been on the radio since August 27 – the band acknowledged it was getting a good reaction, that it was popular, that it was doing well. That wasn’t the same, however, as ubiquitous domination of the airwaves. The release of “Nevermind” followed early in the brief September tour but, again, it was doing better than expectation but it wasn’t – yet – crushing all before it. ‘Lift off’ was finally achieved with the video premier on September 29 on MTV’s 120 Minutes and its move to the Buzz Bin on MTV in the first week of October. That left barely three weeks for Grohl, Novoselic and Cobain to detect what was occurring before they departed the country once more.

What they could see happening was limited. The shows were all booked in larger club venues but still just clubs – all sell-outs, all crazy, but not packed stadium level attendances. From the stage there’d be no way of seeing that the band’s power had shifted in between the shows playing support to Dinosaur Jr back in June, through the larger European shows with Sonic Youth in August, now their own headlining shows in October.

In terms of press attention, likewise, there was certainly more of it – September/October was the heaviest attention Nirvana had ever seen with some 25 interviews (judged by the LiveNirvana Interview Archive) across those two months in the U.S. They were, of course, being invited on TV consistently for the first time (though these were not their first interview with a TV camera present) so the nature of the attention had also changed but while ratcheting up, it wasn’t yet madness. Europe, by contrast, sees 39 interviews in a little over a single four week period in November – sometimes 4-5 interviews in a single day.

Translating that increased attention into sales and star-level popularity…That’s another step altogether. The record label shipped a quantity of albums to retailers – they didn’t know what had happened until sales figures were returned to them so September sales wouldn’t be accurately reflected until well into October (at least.) This wasn’t an instantaneous process – information took time to flow in and to be recorded officially. So, increased attention and sell-out shows demonstrated to the band that they were doing well – but didn’t give them the total vision of what was happening. The media engagements were a means to an end – a necessary evil which Nirvana would increasingly lament from the end of the year onward, Cobain was already starting to turn down interviews by the time they left Europe. The interviews of September/October were mainly only visible as magazine covers and TV broadcasts in November – there was a delay in the band’s actions becoming omnipresent imagery.

“Nevermind” was certified Gold and Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America on Nov 27. The expectation that the album might achieved 200,000 in sales had been vastly exceeded in just ten weeks from Sept 23. The band’s awareness of this velocity consisted of their management telling them backstage before or after shows what new milestone had been reached. What does one say except “hey, cool…”? Nirvana, however, still needed to pay back their $287,000 advance to the record company before they would see royalties from those sales (See ‘Ownership of Nirvana’ post from 2013: http://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/01/11/ownership-of-nirvana-part-one/). That meant they were seeing performance revenue but it would be quite some time after before they saw royalties for record sales. The shows, at that point in time, were not increasing in size compared to months earlier – the spaces might be full but that didn’t mean vast new wealth reflecting their status, all it meant was more people failing to get in – it would be the Asia/Pacific tour of 1992 before venues were consistently scaled up to accommodate numbers in the many thousands.

The final issue is ‘momentum’. Hearing the album was meeting expectations in early October, hearing it was exceeding expectations by mid-October, hearing it was five times what the label and management had expected by late October…Nirvana’s limited visibility of the velocity of what was happening went hand-in-hand with being unable to see when it might subside. What distinguished “Nevermind” was that it continued to sell right the way through the next two years – 3 x multiplatinum by February 1992, 4 x multiplatinum by June 1992, 5 x multiplatinum by November 1993. That’s the difference between a satisfying, but temporary success versus an enduring triumph. Each week, throughout October and November, everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop and it never did.

Thus, I hope it’s clear why shell-shocked members of Nirvana might sit in an interview in late November with no idea what awaited them in the U.S. or what had truly occurred in their absence. They had been on the road and hadn’t seen the racks of magazine covers, hadn’t heard or seen the permanent rotation on U.S. radio or MTV, they had only a limited awareness of crowds wanting Nirvana tickets and unable to get them, and they certainly weren’t rich men just yet.

Why am I thinking of that this week? Well, people – very reasonably – ask me how “I Found My Friends” is going…Answer? I’ve no idea. Via Amazon I can access the Nielsen ratings which currently state ‘zero copies’ under the SOLD category. Meanwhile Amazon’s sales ranking shows this table:

Picture3

Which is actually just a record of a book compared to other books – the book might only sell 20 copies a day but would move up the rankings if other books suddenly sold fewer than 20 or down the rankings if other books sold more than 20. Since March 24 it’s been ranked 20,000 – 60,000 – 5,000 – 15,000 and everywhere in-between. There’s no actual knowledge to be drawn from it.

Similarly, so far, media attention has – to a large extent – been non-spontaneous. That’s starting to change; 4-5 organisations have been in touch of their own accord, without prompting from me or the publisher, asking for review copies or interviews. That’s nice to see. Likewise, it’s tricky comparing activity to what might then occur; I’ve been on a couple of U.S. student radio stations, plus written two pieces for U.S. newspapers, seen the press release go up in a number of places…All of which is bloody good fun actually! But I’ve no idea whether it means the book is doing well or not. Likewise, books and music releases mainly do well in the moment – the massive triumphs have that momentum we spoke of earlier. I’ve no idea what momentum the book might have.

The main thing, ultimately, is I’m waiting to see what reviews say. I’m intrigued – I’m a grown man (nearly!) and can cope with measured criticism, all good. So far, it’s all been pretty positive, which is pleasing and I’m delighted that – so far – people who took part in the book are pleased with it…But I want to know more; are they happy? Are Nirvana fans like the crew at LiveNirvana chuffed with it? What do random Amazon users say? Will the magazine/newspaper reviews continue to be friendly…? I’m curious…How could I not be intrigued…? It’s a fun journey and its only week one. ;-)

Kurt sleeping at WNYU 1989 300 dpi

Thanks for the photograph to Hugh Foley – and like the individual pictured, my day started with a lie-in. Well…I mean…It started with the dog getting me up for an 8am walk, THEN with a lie-in. The rest of the day? Well, I checked the paintwork on the two tables I stripped, sanded and varnished yesterday – then I hung some family pictures for my mum. Another dog walk, a little book work, a pleasant lunch, arrival of my little sister…A pleasant day in Spain.

And that’s the truth really, a ‘book launch day’ is just like any other day – were you expecting more? Books are all about the early days – think about it, does any site/paper/station review an old book? For the last few months I’ve been putting in a little blood, sweat, tears and toil to get it out there, do what I can to support, make sure I feel I’ve done enough and that I feel nothing but happiness and pride over here.

So, here I sit waiting to see if “I Found My Friends: the Oral History of Nirvana” meets the approval of fans, of critics…We’ll see shall we? Naturally I hope it lives up to billing, that it makes the people involved proud, that it shows proper respect all round.

So, all I can do today perhaps is make the many thank yous due…Apologies for the lonnnnng list but as I’ve said all along, 210 individuals, 170 of the bands who played with Nirvana 1987-1994, two-thirds of Nirvana’s shows…That’s a lot of people due a thank you! Hope it gives you a sense too of who was a part of this and who you’ll hear from:

24-7 Spyz (Forrest), 3 Merry Widows (Charles Shipman, Alice Spencer, Sean Garcia, Marc Enger)

Aaron Burckhard (Nirvana/Under Sin), Adam Kasper, Alex Kostelnik, Amorphous Head (Joe Goldring), Andre Stella, Jux County (Andrew Monley), Anxiety Prophets (Josh Kriz), Arm (Danielle Mommertz, Stephan Mahler, Marcus Grapmayer)

Bad Mutha Goose (Tim Kerr), Barb Schillinger, Bayou Pigs (David Yammer), Becca Jones-Starr, Bhang Revival (Lori Joseph), Bible Stud (Glen Logan), Biquini Cavadão (Bruno Castro Gouveia), Björn Again (Rod Stephen), Black Ice (Duke Harner, Tony Poukkula), Blank Frank and the Tattooed Gods (Bill Walker), Blood Circus (Geoff Robinson), Bruce Pavitt, Butthole Surfers (Paul Leary)

Calamity Jane (Lisa Koenig), Calamity Jane/Sister Skelter (Gilly-Ann Hanner), Captain America (Andy Bollen, Gordon Keen), Carl Chalker (the Twist), Cat Butt (James Burdyshaw), Caustic Soda (Rénee Denenfeld), Chad Channing (Nirvana), Charmin’ Children (JB Meijers), Cheater Slicks (Dana Hatch), Chemical People (Dave Naz), Chemistry Set (Scott Vanderpool), Chokebore (Troy von Balthazar), Claw Hammer (Jon Wahl), Cliffs of Doneen (Lex Lianos and Flynn), Coffin Break (Peter Litwin), Come (Chris Brokaw), Come (Thalia Zedek), Conrad Uno, Cordelia’s Dad (Peter Irvine, Tim Eriksen), Cows (Kevin Rutmanis), Crash Worship, Crow (Peter Fenton), Crunchbird (Jaime Robert Johnson), Cynthia Bergen, Cypress Hill (B-Real)

D.O.A. (Joe Keithley), Dangermouse (George Smith), Dave Foster (Nirvana/Helltrout/Mico de Noche), David Von Ohlerking, Death of Samantha (Doug Gillard), Defalla (Castor Daudt, Edu K), Dickless (Lisa Smith), Distorted Pony (Ted Carroll), Dominic Davi, Dr Sin (Ivan Busic)

Eleventh Dream Day (Janet Beveridge Bean & Rick Rizzo), Enas Barkho

Fitz of Depression (Ryan von Bargen), Flor de Mal (Marcello Cunsolo)

Gillian G. Gaar, Girl Trouble (Bon von Wheelie), Gobblehoof (Tim Aaron), God Bullies (Mike Hard), Grinch (Billy Alletzhauser), Grind (Ben Munat, David Triebwasser, Pete Krebs), Gumball (Don Fleming)

Half Japanese (Jad Fair), Haywire (Vadim Rubin), Heavy into Jeff (Robin Peringer), Hell’s Kitchen (David Chavez), Helltrout (Jason Morales), Herd of Turtles (Shawn Lawlor), Hitting Birth (Daniel Riddle), Hole (Eric Erlandson, Jill Emery), Holy Rollers (Joseph Aronstamn)

I Own the Sky (Joseph Hayden), Industrial Pirata (Elias Ziede), Inspector Luv and the Ride Me Babies (Ty Willman)

Skin Yard (Jack Endino), Jacob’s Mouse (Hugo Boothby, Jebb Boothby, Sam Marsh), Jardal Sebba, Jello Biafra, Jesse Harrison, Jim Merlis, JJ Gonson, Jonathan Burnside, Jose Soria (Happy Dogs)

Kai Kln (Neil Franklin, Scott Anderson), Kaptain ‘Scott Gear’ Skillit Weasel, Kevin Kerslake, Kill Sybil (Larry Schemel), King Krab (Nathan Hill), Knife Dance (Tom Dark)

Leaving Trains (Falling James), Lisa Sullivan, Lonely Moans (J.M. Dobie), Lonely Moans (Shambie Singer), Loop (Robert Hampson), Los Brujos (Gabriel Guerrisi), Love Battery (Kevin Whitworth)

Machine (John Purkey, Ryan Loiselle), Yellow Snow (Brian Naubert and Pat Watson), Bobby Delcour (Sleeper Cell), Maria Mabra (Hell Smells), Meat Puppets (Cris Kirkwood), Medelicious (Henry Szankiewicz), Melissa Auf der Maur (Hole), Mexican Pets (Patrick Clafferty), Midway Still (Paul Thomson), Monkeyshines (Tom Trusnovic), Mousetrap (Craig Crawford), Mudhoney (Steve Turner), My Name (Abe Brennan)

Napalm Sunday (Ed Farnsworth), Nardwuar, New Radiant Storm King (Peyton Pinkerton, Matt Hunter), Nubbin (Timo Ellis), Nunbait (Shaun Butcher)

Oily Bloodmen (Seth Perry)

Pansy Division (Jon Ginoli), Paradogs (Eric Jeevers), Paul Harries, Paul Kimball (Helltrout/Landsat Blister), Pele (Ian Prowse), Pirata Industrial (Elias Ziede), Portia Sabin (Kill Rock Stars), Power of Dreams (Keith Walker), Psychlodds (Ryan Aigner)

Rat at Rat R (John Myers, Victor Poison-Tete), Rawhead Rex (Eric Moore), Rhino Humpers (Brian Coloff), Roger Nusic

S.G.M. (Cole Peterson and Rich Credo), Saucer (Beau Fredericks, Fred Stuben, Scott Harbine (Saucer), Screaming Trees (Mark Pickerel), Second Child (Damien Binder), Seven Year Bitch (Valerie Agnew), Shawna at Cosmic Primitive, Shonen Knife (Naoko Yamano), Sister Double Happiness (Gary Floyd, Lynn Truell), Sister Skelter (Chris Quinn), Slaughter Shack (Colin Burns, Dana Ong), Slim Moon (Nisqually Delta Podunk Nightmare, Lush, Witchypoo, Kill Rock Stars), Sons of Ishmael (Tim Freeborn, Mike Canzi, Paul Morris, Glenn Poirier, Chris Black), Soylent Green (Bruce Purkey), Sprinkler (Steve Birch), Steel Pole Bath Tub (Mike Morasky), Stone by Stone (Chris Desjardins), Strange Places (Xavier Ramirez), Sun City Girls (Alan Bishop), Surgery (John Leamy), Swallow (Chris Pugh and Rod Moody), Swaziland White Band (Lloyd Walsh, John Farrell, Dennis Fallon), Sweet Lickin’ Honey Babes (Jim Roy)

Tad (Tad, Josh Sinder and Kurt Danielson), Teenage Fanclub (Gerard Love), Television Personalities (Dan Treacy), Terry Lee Hale, The Bags (Crispin Wood), The Bombshells (Siobhan Duvall), The Boredoms (Yamantaka Eye), The Buzzcocks (Steve Diggle), The Cateran (Cam Fraser and Murdo MacLeod), The Derelicts (Duane Lance Bodenheimer), The Didjits (Rick Sims), The Doughboys (John Kastner), The Dwarves (Blag Dahlia), The Fluid (Matt Bischoff), The Gits (Steve Moriarty), The Guttersnipes (Andrew Rice, Mark Hurst, Michael McManus, Paul Brockhoff), The Jesus Lizard (David Yow), The Thrown Ups (Leighton Beezer), The Wongs (Kevin Rose), Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 (Anne Eickelberg and Mark Davies), Thornucopia (Jed Brewer), Tracy Marander, Treacherous Jaywalkers (Josh Haden), Treehouse (Ronna Myles-Era and Damon Romero), Tumbleweed (Richard Lewis)

Unrest (Mark Robinson), Unwound (Justin Trosper)

Vampire Lezbos (David Whiting), Vegas Voodoo (Kevin Franke and Marc Barmotholomew), Victim’s Family (Tim Soylan), Volcano Suns (Peter Prescott), Vomit Launch (Lindsey Thrasher)

Wool (Al Bloch, Franz Stahl)

Youri Lenquette

http://www.creativeauthors.co.uk/on-writing-and-nirvana/

I was invited by Isabel Atherton, my dear agent and all-round quality soul, to contribute a blog post to her site…I had an inkling very swiftly of what I wanted to say…Then late night, in amid preparing something else, I kept scribbling away and the result was what I hope is an overdue thank you to the bands and individuals who took part in the book…