The Motor Sports International Garage show in full, Saturday September 22 1990 and the only show with Dan Peters (of Mudhoney fame) on drums. Kudos to the uploaders and all credit where due. 2 1/2 weeks later Dave Grohl would be Nirvana’s drummer and he was in the audience for this show. The turnaround was even faster than that: despite having told Peters he was a full member of Nirvana,  the chance at Grohl was too good to miss and Cobain was on KAOS Radio on Tuesday September 25 announcing Grohl was Nirvana’s new drummer.

It also ended a spell in which Nirvana had been relatively static. They’d auditioned around a dozen individuals for drums; they hadn’t yet concluded a major label deal; their output on vinyl/cassette was still strictly limited – Big Cheese/Love Buzz, Spank Thru, Bleach, the Blew EP, ‘Mexican Seafood’ on Teriyaki Asthma, ‘Do You Love Me?’ on a Kiss covers compilation, Sliver/Dive only just out that month. They’d been quiet on the live front too: since the end of the tour in May, they’d only played eight shows – Dale Crover on drums for a run with Sonic Youth and STP, an all-girl punk band from New York.

The show itself was a winner. Here’s a chunk from ‘I Found My Friends’ for fun:

Dan Peters’ anointing took place at a now-legendary September show at the Motor Sports International Garage in gloriously irreverent company guaranteed to ratchet up the excitement.

BLAG DAHLIA, THE DWARVES: We didn’t give a fuck about the Pixies or the Vaselines or David Bowie. What kind of dipshits would like that?! The Stooges, GG Allin, and Paula Abdul were our grunge-era heroes . . . Nirvana were big fans of the Dwarves’ bass player, Saltpeter; they knew he could really play. They never expressed any support for the rest of us that I am aware of, but Kurt never wore women’s clothes onstage or jumped into a drum kit until we had done both things numerous times in Seattle and nationwide.

DUANE LANCE BODENHEIMER, DERELICTS: The Dwarves, they borrowed our drum kit the first time they came up—destroyed it, and we got into a huge fight then made up the next day and became best friends. I think that was a Halloween show. I was dressed up as a girl and when the Dwarves were playing I lobbed a bottle at Blag and hit him right in the forehead. He chased me around . . . A lot of people didn’t like us just because we were dicks, not intentionally so but . . . when you’re drinking and stuff . . . We weren’t violent—it was mostly internal violence, we would fight with one another a lot. Me and Neil [Rogers] would get into it onstage—don’t know what caused that, love the guy to death, best friends, always were.

Certainly Nirvana playing in dresses wasn’t an uncommon move. Many minds thought alike.

DANA HATCH, CHEATER SLICKS: There used to be a big pile of trash in the back of that club and I’d look for some kind of prop to use onstage. That night I found this old Big Ethelt–ype dress and put that on. Merle [Allin, bassist at the time] gave me a wig he had and his girlfriend made up my face so I played in drag. When Kurt wore a dress on SNL a few years later I liked to say he got it from me, but it was hardly an original idea when I did it.

The show kicked in with the Derelicts.

DUANE LANCE BODENHEIMER: I’ve no idea how we ended up on the bill with them—we just said, “Yeah, OK, wow . . . we’re playing . . .” I had no idea how many people were going to be there—to us it was like a fucking arena . . . I remember walking out and seeing all those people, I got serious stage fright—it was awesome . . . When I came out there were a lot of rocker-type people there. I think I said some stuff like, “All right then, you long-haired hippies . . .” just talking some shit, stage banter, trying to be charming. A good show, a lot of our friends upfront yelling at us, calling us rock stars. There must have been over a thousand—to us that was . . . wow. To bands used to playing on average a hundred or less, that was scary.

Then the Dwarves kicked off.

BLAG DAHLIA: There was a charged atmosphere that night, that’s for sure. We were more concerned with getting enough gas money to get home, though. We drove up from San Francisco at Sub Pop’s suggestion for what turned out to be $100. None of the supposedly cool indie bands on the bill or allegedly cool Seattle promoters offered us anything else. But hey, they were the “nice” guys and we were a bunch of real “assholes” from California . . . I know that there was general fear of us because of the bloodshed at our shows, and a general fear of our onstage nudity and the female nudity on our record covers. Seattle was, and is, a very asexual place. Although, I always managed to get my dick sucked there!

DUANE LANCE BODENHEIMER: Somebody threw a whiskey bottle and hit the Dwarves’ bass player in the face—he started bleeding. They had that whole violent aura about them—very confrontational.

BLAG DAHLIA: I would have loved to have seen Nirvana that night. I had enjoyed their sets several other times all over the country. Unfortunately, our bassist was struck with a bottle thrown from the audience during our set and I spent the rest of the show at the emergency room with him. Concerned promoters, our label, and fellow bands on the bill all pitched in to help though, it was really beautiful . . . Psych! No one from Seattle helped out or gave a shit . . . The vibe around the band that night at Motor Sports was more like dumb-ass drunk ex-jocks from Aberdeen in Kmart flannel shirts. And because it was the Northwest, fat chicks.

The Melvins tore it up and finally Nirvana burned it down.

DUANE LANCE BODENHEIMER: Kurt was really passionate . . . lot of punks didn’t like them, hated that “grunge” word too—I can’t stand that word. But Kurt was a purist, he loved punk rock; what they did was honest rock ’n’ roll. He loved all types of music—loud, dirty, real, honest lyrically. The really hardcore punk rockers weren’t big fans. It was simple, raw rock ’n’ roll. Krist came up to me after the show and was like, “That was a great set!” He was really nice. There’s a story before that when he and I were at a show, Poison Idea was playing, a fight broke out—Krist got in a fight, I tried to step in and help and he told me, “Fuck you! Mind your own business!” so he got his ass kicked, he was hurt, and I walked up to him, “Yup . . . should have let me help ya.”

It was only here, in Autumn 1990, that Nirvana finally overtook their former mentors by ceasing to compete on someone else’s turf.

BEAU FREDERICKS, SAUCER: For me, Nirvana was a good live band then, but they could not match up to the Melvins as a heavy intense rock trio. The Melvins were consistently crushing it live, as I am sure Nirvana would agree. Nirvana came into their own when they tapped into their melodic gifts.

I can only apologise for having a hard time getting a proper photo of this one – my monthly copy of The Wire arrived in the post this AM and I was pretty chuffed to see the review of We Sing A New Language in the book section – nice.

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Nirvana, the day after their first day in studio, recording their first band video material at the local RadioShack in Aberdeen, WA. The lip-syncing and over-acting is hilariously good fun. Best wishes to the discoverers of this material – gosh, 29 years old now…?

Think of it: when this was recorded Jimi Hendrix was less than 18 years dead; Sid Vicious was only 11 years gone; Ian Curtis only 8 years. The kind of generational gap between the current era and Cobain is a fair distance past any of that.

The amount of attention devoted in the video to ‘If You Must’ – a song Cobain disowned in his Journals, that existed in time for Nirvana’s first house party in ’87 but seems to have been an inconsistent presence in set-lists before a couple of run-throughs in early ’88 – should be seen in the context that its hardly the most serious effort.

The work on ‘Paper Cuts’ follows with the band, mostly, at least pretending to be performing. Dale Crover is having to actually play along with the tape as best he can. The tape will, presumably, have been a rough cassette mix passed to the band the previous day by Jack Endino.

 

When faced with the consequences of his success, Kurt Cobain retreated from the public eye; retreated from music; and spent his time devoted to building some kind of family – and making art. It made sense: the thing he had been in control of, in a life with precious little else for many years, had suddenly become an obligation, a business, something fans and an industry felt they had a right to. His art, however, remained private.

It makes absolute sense, this far after his death, to bring this aspect of his life and works to wider attention. The essence of Cobain wasn’t music – that’s what brought him fame and took up a significant percentage of his time – but the music was just one expression of what he really wanted to do which was simply to create and express. He was, in essence, someone who wanted to be an artist in all areas of life.

Of course, for some, any posthumous sharing is already too much: if Cobain didn’t in his lifetime then they feel it equates to “Cobain wouldn’t,” and therefore that any posthumous decision is illegitimate. I disagree. The second article above, related to the work of Jeff Jampol, is intrinsically connected to the greater visibility of Cobain’s artwork and to the wider question of what one does to create a legacy.

Burying every leftover, refusing all exposure and release, burning whatever remains unseen so it remains ever thus IS an option. But relying on long ago glory to keep something alive is doomed to failure: who remembers who was no.1 in 1952? Who recalls the world’s top-selling albums prior to the arrival of The Beatles and other album artists? To stay alive, an artist must be spoken of and continually brought into the present.

In the case of a deceased artist, that means making fair and reasonable use of what remains to stoke renewed enthusiasm among fans; to create coverage and comment bringing fresh eyes to the individual; to make an artist who – in life would have promoted themselves – feature before the eyes and ears of young blood. By doing so, new relevance is fashioned: their position can’t remain the same as it was way back when and nor should it – the ‘tragically doomed’ Cobain figure of the mid-to-late Nineties imagining wasn’t the underground legend almost no one knew of prior to September 1991, nor was he the celebrated but troubled presence of 1992-1994.

My hope, naturally, is for the ongoing unveiling of lesser understood and lesser seen aspects of Cobain to counteract the tendency to dip him in amber, demand that he be only one thing at all times, to reduce the privileging of one aspect or another of his work and world.

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There’s a basic truth to any music, writing, art, thinking: don’t put anything into the public domain unless you’re ready to relinquish control over it – once it’s out there it’s open to anyone to react to, build on, ignore, comment on…That’s the quid pro quo – an audience isn’t some passive thing that merely receives one’s product/meaning, it’s an interactive process feeding back, changing and altering whatever one contributes to it. It’s also a darn privilege to have anyone consider one’s work. Frankly, I’m increasingly realising that being commented on – regardless of the nature of the comment – is something to be grateful for.

So, above, in order: ‘We Sing A New Language’ was one of the two books reviewed by Uncut the other month; Record Collector magazine reviewed it in March/April; Louder Than War then reviewed it in May – Nice.

Soundblab were the earliest review I saw out there: https://soundblab.com/reviews/books/17495-thurston-moore-we-sing-a-new-language-by-nick-soulsby

And I’ve seen a blog review too: http://blog.concertkatie.com/2017/06/book-review-thurston-moore-we-sing-a-new-language.html

Any feeling from my side on the reviews? I’ve been very pleased with all of them – and the questions they raise, likewise, are understandable.

At root, what did I want to show with the book? The astonishing, unique – and underrated – breadth and depth of Thurston Moore’s works; the way in which Moore’s approach has been a serious factor in the creation, encouragement and survival of an ecosystem of artists and labels; the moments at which Moore has done something unusual by placing himself back in the position of a novice in order to pay his dues and open the door to other genres and explorations. That desire to appraise, appreciate and respect Moore’s work seems to have communicated.

I’m very glad I didn’t include brief statements regarding the nature of each of the recordings: bleugh, can you imagine reading 200+ two sentence attempts to describe what the music sounds like? It’s the ol’ ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture’ point. I think I would have distracted from the core imagining of musical creation as a social and communal process.

I was definitely much moved by the experiences of the other musicians and label owners involved in getting the music out into the world: as I said earlier, with any public work, there’s a symbiosis between creator and recipient (in any capacity.) Imagine a rock thrown into a lake – the ripples, the plunge, the disturbances are all fundamental to the moment. Moore’s music, as experienced by the listener, is as much a consequence of that context, of rebounding effects, of the mediums and channels created by others – as it is just about his mind and instrument. That’s no lessening of his significance – look at the waves this fella has created! The book is full of them.

I confess I like Uncut’s statement on how I didn’t pay much mind to Bowie’s presence or to the Backbeat soundtrack and so forth – it’s just me, the celebrity aspect didn’t mean much to me compared to the existence of a good story that fitted an overall trend at a specific point in time within Moore’s work. Very fair of them to be tantalised by that and not so much by a cover record of a hardcore punk band. I agree even more with Record Collector magazine’s statement on how unnecessary the inclusion of the @ piece was: I’d had it in there from quite early on and just accepted its presence – I could/should have cut there.

Soundblab raised a real point regarding this book in the context of Kim Gordon’s volume the other year (full disclosure: truth is I was sorely disappointed by that book and what it did in terms of it’s portrayal of Gordon and her artistic and creative vitality: http://www.wordsandguitars.co.uk/2015/08/kim-gordon-girl-in-a-band/). The only issue I had during the Thurston book was needing to tone down and eliminate some of the praise being heaped on him by his collaborators, not to do him down, but because fulsome praise can read very blankly on the page. The simple truth is that I encountered not one person during my research who hadn’t found Moore an excellent collaborator in whatever context they worked with him – it was lovely in a way to experience such an honest and unrestrained outpouring of respect for a man and his work. As the book was about his discography, not a biography, there was no need for me to tackle the breakdown of his marriage – it didn’t matter to the music in the slightest. As for timing, I only started really writing in 2012: it’s taken me this time to get round to another of the artists I admire most – nothing more nor less overt than that.

So, overall, I’ve been delighted at the feedback; the apposite comments; the alternative perspectives and viewpoints; that each of the people above took time with this labyrinthine work – it’s been a trip!

http://clashmusic.com/features/feeling-love-in-a-melting-world-jessica-moss-interviewed

Thursday a week ago Dead Neanderthals (awesome Dutch outfit), Jessica Moss and Zu (Italian rock awesomeness) came to town and played a mere 4 minutes from my front door. I was particularly delighted to meet Jessica and Massimo (from Zu) given I’d interviewed both of them previously and it’s always good to put a face to a voice on the phone.

In the mid-to-late nineties, in the aftermath of alternative rock, it final felt there were expansive, politically and socially aware, alternatives to mainstream rock values cropping up: that alternative rock didn’t die, it just moved back into the underground and sparked a dozen intriguing wells of inspiration. This led me to embrace post-rock, which led me to encounter Constellation and their welter of absorbing acts: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mt Zion, Do Make Say Think…

The label is still thriving in 2017 and I think that’s down to the very clear vision and identity, the obvious care and precision taken with each release (the label foreshadowed the enhanced packaging and artwork values adopted by outfits like Joyful Noise), the supportiveness and connection between the various artists on the label and the ability to simultaneously have a recognisable ethos emerging in a wide-range of sounds and styles.

Jessica’s first full solo album certainly caught my ear and I made sure to have cash to hand to grab a copy on vinyl (and Zu’s Jhator too! http://www.wordsandguitars.co.uk/2017/03/zu-jhator/). I’m not usually a format junkie but I do appreciate my money going direct to musicians and into the hands of those who create elements that enhance life.

 

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A small piece from the Smithsonian Folkways rather impressive volume on Lead Belly. So, in case you were wondering, in 1994 the guitar Cobain stated he was considering buying was donated as an exhibit to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame And Museum.

So…Chris Cornell. I’ve been asked a few times in the four weeks since May 18 why I hadn’t put up a post or whether I’d be game to do a brief article for this place or that…And I shrugged and said no thanks. It’s not because I was dismissing the sadness of Cornell’s death, or his meaning to his fans, or the reasonableness of the request.

Death is simultaneously universal and solitary. We will all undergo the transformation and when we do – no matter how many people are around us – we will communicate nothing of it to those around us, even the most basic confirmation “I am dead,” will be beyond us. That moment in time will belong to you, or I, alone, forever. Similarly, the observation of that moment will tell a spectator little beyond it’s basic unpleasantness; the arrival of ‘absence’ within a body; the mutual private sadness of those still living who stand or sit watching us watch. We can watch and confirm what happened but not feel its significance to each of us.

In its aftermath, those left will be able to recount their grief and touch us with its tangible impact…But we take only so much of their pain inside us – it is their private interior feeling and is ultimately incommunicable to us. The weight that comes with someone’s passing, cannot be handed onto anyone else’s shoulders; nor can we measure our weight against theirs – we each bear it alone, in our own way, work through it alone.

In some ways I find that a comforting thought: that in an over-observed, over-communicated, hyper-mediated world there is something of such ultimate and inescapable significance that it remains inarticulate to all who feel it. That’s why I had no great desire to comment at the time: the point of death is there is nothing to say.

So, sure, I don’t disrespect the flood of obituaries; video clips; tributes; top tens; photo selections; encounters; in memoria op-eds that emerge in the aftermath of any musician’s death. It’s the business of music journalism to report the events of music: it’s an impersonal machine with no moral right or wrong. I didn’t find the repetitive quick summaries of his career enlightening; I didn’t flinch much at the over-egging of Soundgarden’s influence (as opposed to relative popularity); I already have all the albums and enjoy them sporadically as the mood takes me. It was simply another conversion of emotion into product – there’s no harm in that but it is a conversation of the living withh the living, it has nothing to do with the deceased.

The only pieces that resonated with me were one making an initial inroad into reckoning with a historical musical movement that has, ultimately, seen the untimely deaths of a remarkable core of its premier exponents – the ‘death rock’ image of whatever was ‘grunge’ gains yet more reasonable support. The other was a piece reiterating the point about depression and its effect on an individual’s perception of what is normal or rational or sensible. Again, however, in both cases, it meant Cornell became an example for some other narrative or story someone wished to tell: conversion into an intellectual element, again, is a way around the incalculable hole left by a death.

A friend of mine, currently, has endured a tragic loss. I have no words I can give to him that cover the occurrence or provide comfort. Presence, when wished for, is all anyone can give in the end. I believe strongly that death takes something from those left behind. Once age has weakened us sufficiently, seeing/hearing that our friends and loved ones are gone, wrenches the body and mind until eventually we know we’re just waiting for our own without anything left to fight it. Seeing the death of our loved ones and the pain of others when we’re young, again, reminds us that there is no discussion to be had and that the clock is ticking.

But I believe our loved ones, if their deaths are worth anything to us, are worth the giving of a little bit of our own peace of mind; our own comfort; our own spirit. They’re worth a private pain that never gets better though it fades and the memory of it grows dimmer – at which point we feel dissatisfied with ourselves for how frail is human retention of a feeling and a moment.

So I’ve got nothing to say about the death of Chris Cornell. His experience of it was his alone; the feelings of his friends and family remain inside them; your feelings as a fan or casual observer are yours and I have no knowing of them. Death is that one moment that belongs to no one else. I would feel disrespectful in trying to pierce something so ultimately private with any words at all.