SWANS cover only

2017 was a full year here in Bristol. Around work and living, I conducted 140 interviews, with 125 individuals to create what I hope is a fitting testimony to one of the three bands I consider the ur-text and Holy Trinity at the root of my current tastes and musical interests: SWANS.

http://smarturl.it/swansbook

The book comes out on Jawbone Press on June 26 in U.S./U.K. (though, of course, can be ordered internationally from any decent bookseller.)

I think it often looks like an odd hobby to possess. One way to describe it is that I find it genuinely enthralling hearing other people’s stories and I enjoy conversation – so spending my nights/weekends listening…It’s fun! The challenge comes more from transcription: one hour interview equals two hours transcription, two hours interview equals four hours transcription – at one point Jarboe joined me on the phone for a gloriously enjoyable five hours, awesome (ordinarily I would rein things in at two hours out of simple courtesy: a desire not to treat people like fruit in a vice.) The usual desk-bound challenges arise: persistent back issues (six months of visiting an osteopath in amidst it all), repetitive strains in wrists and hands from typing, sore eyes from staring into laptops until well into the night, sore head and dietary over-consumption from simple tiredness…What makes up for it is the human communication of energy: there’s something transferred – excitement, enthusiasm, enlightenment – when an individual grants you an insight into their world and times. I would come off the phone line buzzed. I’m hoping that enthusiasm comes through in the final work and words.

 

 

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I have a friend who was born in Aberdeen – I’ve seen his birth certificate – and he is a mine of information on Nirvana, the north west music scene and on Seattle’s other musical godhead son Jimi Hendrix. Yet, recently, reading comments on one of his Facebook pages, I saw the most bizarre thing: people simply declaring, on no basis whatsoever that he was lying about his place of birth. A complete stranger could declare, on instinct and cobbled together (and irrelevant) data, that my friend hadn’t been born or lived in Aberdeen, Washington. It was a telling moment for me: the Internet era (essentially 1994-2018 and ongoing) has brought us to a place where it’s harder than at any point in history for an individual to ‘slip off the radar’…While simultaneously making it easier than ever for strangers to claim authority over one another’s reality.

While Hollywood projects the possibility of vast corporate or governmental entities able to forge near anything given current technology, the vast majority of this kind of anti-truth approach is far less sophisticated. Ever mislabeled a photo accidentally? Fine, it happens. Now it’s possible to mislabel a photo and for that mislabel to be projected across the entire world with one batch of people using it to reinforce their cause and another lot claiming it’s a conspiracy while the more boring voices point out “it’s a mislabel!” only to be shouted down, told they’re wrong, tagged as conspirators or simply not noticed. As an example, a while back a Facebook page posted a photo claiming to show Kurt Cobain stood next to “his killer”…When in fact it was a mislabeled photo from 1993 of Cobain stood with some random dude. Any correction will have only a limited impact because the photo (with caption) will now become part of the lexicon of mistakes repeated forever.

One positive is that, ultimately, the sudden importance of online fact-checking like this is an indication of how placid most people’s lives are. It used to be of no relevance, day to day, whether what someone said was the absolute truth or not – who cared? Life was too full of one’s day-to-day needs and the real threats to one’s existence (poor medical care, minimal dental care, no nutrition, limited hygiene, little money, etc., etc.) to spend time weaving stories online. It did mean, sure, that people were more subservient to authority in the sense that the flow of information was heavily governed and ran down restricted channels (local authority figures, a limited number of media sources, word of mouth) but on the other hand it was all less observed and fewer people could intervene in your day-to-day life.

Ultimately, now, we’re all exposed to a higher number of interactions with other people’s opinions than ever before. By the same virtue we’re exposed to an astronomically higher scale of negative and positive interactions – but the former play on the mind more because day-to-day life isn’t a sea of insults, verbal aggression, confrontation, argument, challenges to self…

Anyways, there we go. The further we get from a historical situation (i.e., Nirvana as a living, breathing band) the more one version of the truth is solidified and simplified, while the space opens up below for ever more wild thoughts to fly about with no authority recognised and the possibility to just say “nope! Don’t believe you,” when faced with open questions, unknowables and/or things people just want to refuse. The potential has always been there in humanity, now the infrastructure exists to allow it to happen.

Back in 2016 I posted a conversation with John Hurd, a member of the band Tic Dolly Row/The Magnet Men, who shared a stage with Nirvana (then going by the name Bliss) at the Community World Theater in September 1987.

https://nirvana-legacy.com/2016/10/14/the-magnet-men-chad-channing-nirvana-in-1987/

Mysteriously, a cassette of the band performing on KAOS Radio in 1987 has surfaced with Chad on drums, John Hurd on guitar, Ben Shepherd (future Soundgarden) on vocals and Chris Karr on bass. The session took place under the auspices of John Goodmanson who hosted Nirvana for their first radio session in May of the same year.

Way back in 2013 I was in the midst of this weird outpouring of Nirvana-related analysis here on the blog: spreadsheets, estimated set-lists, mapped tours, aggregated tables of information, which song did Nirvana play live the most/the least, which titles of apparently unreleased songs still exist…

As part of that, I took the data from the Nirvana Live Guide and looked at the bands known to have supported Nirvana over the years:

https://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/02/19/my-friends-nirvana-and-live-support-1987-1994-part-one/

https://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/02/20/my-friends-nirvana-and-live-support-1987-1994-part-two/

The crazy names, all the bands I’d never heard of, it fascinated me – so I ended up trying to track them down to interview them and the results turned into the I Found My Friends: The Oral History of Nirvana book (it’s $4 on Amazon.com at the moment – the publisher is clearing out their stock it seems.) Amidst it all, one of the people I was most privileged to meet was John Purkey and his friends Bob, Pat, Ryan, Sally, Mike (RIP) and Rochelle – my visit to Tacoma stays in my memory as one of the finest times of my past decade.

John was a friend of Kurt Cobain and he has recently commenced a YouTube series talking about his memories, playing the cassette tapes Cobain gave to him, generally describing a world n’ time some quarter of a century ago in a part of the world most of us know little of (though I recommend a visit).

I still treasure the memory of sitting in John’s front room and seeing how much it still affected him speaking of a lost friend – it was a privilege to be there.

If you’re interested, the videos are on YouTube under the channel ‘The Observer’ – all worth a watch.

 

Marco Porsia is currently in the midst of creating the film Where Does A Body End? regarding the truly awesome Swans. He’s put together this brief three minute film to commemorate the final show of this Swans line up which took place earlier this month in New York City.

I’d have to say, after so many years of watching (and loving) live music, Swans are the only band where I was ever struck by the desire – mid-show – to abandon everything and just go watch them night-after-night-after-night. They remain the standard against which I judge a live show: does the set flow? Is this a journey or just a grab-bag of songs? Was it possible to surprise me with the decisions made? Did I hear something new? Did I hear old things anew? Did I lose track of time and space and the presence of others? Did I reach a point of complete surrender to sound and spectacle? Swans.

Currently trying to read more fiction. Two authors in particular are heading up my “what’s awesome?” list. Firstly, Adam Nevill:

http://www.adamlgnevill.com/

He’s a British horror author I’ve followed a while now. His first book was very visibly someone learning as they went – a university/post-university effort but it’s been great to see that develop into such a diverse expertise in how to chill. I loved Last Days for its keen observance of cult structures and the building dread; The Ritual for the sense of being hunted in a believable space; then his most recent works have entered something new. No One Gets Out Alive is the tale of a down-on-her-luck zero-hours girl scratching together enough money to live and forced to take the worst accommodation with the grimmest bottom-feeders, the kind of guys who take advantage of the weak. It’s gift was in making something that is a part of day-to-day life feel more horrific than the imaginary or the supernatural: the way the two realms worked together created something with huge emotional power. Lost Girl was another step out of fantasy and into something closer to home: a world beset by the realities of climate change, in which predating on one’s fellow man is increasingly the norm, in which money provides insulation – again, the weaving of supernatural into a believable context was talented and intriguing.

On a lighter note, the other author I’ve got a lot of time for right now is Jonathan L. Howard:

http://www.jonathanlhoward.com/

I’ve got one more book to go in the Johannes Cabal series. The tale of an amoral anti-hero with a talent for unwitting humour and knowing sarcasm, again and again there’s a turn of phrase that I have to stop and re-read to appreciate how beautifully done or imaginatively written it is. Add on the humour, the depth, the diverse landscape in which everything takes place…I’ve become a big fan. I’m concluding The Brothers Cabal at the moment and enjoying the digressions and diversions (the scene where he lectures the creatures that live in the garden on who/what to eat and not to eat for example.)

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I should have mentioned this about a year ago but juggling job, writing, life…Time burns. It’s the one thing I miss about a daily commute: it was an excellent place to read – I carry a book whenever I leave the house even now. At home there are too many distractions – except when in the bathroom of course – but out and about it’s possible to read and just let the world go by.

So, basically, this is an intriguing one. The key to it is just to sink in and let the beauty of the language and the description just flow. The concept stands on the idea of a lonely teenage girl waking up in hospital to discover Kurt Cobain is there too with no memory of his former life and unrecognised by those around; they begin a relationship; they live the fan-dream life of starting a band with him and…And things go wrong. At first sight I could have just yawned and thought ‘fan fiction’ but it’s just too well-written. The book is wreathed in vivid detail that left it somewhere between an enthralling dream sequence and something painted so perfectly it seems tangibly real. Definitely not something I’d have expected to see in the realms of Nirvana/Cobain-related writing but one I’d recommend to anyone who just likes good fiction which I would define as an interesting premise taken on an unpredictable and surprising journey in words that enhance and inspire emotion throughout. It definitely hits that.

I’m often surprised there hasn’t been more literature drawing on the experience of musicians – Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box is the only one that immediately comes to mind – but I’m guessing it’s because few musicians who lived the life also have the talent for writing and, vice versa, few writers have the experience of being actively touring musicians…I reckon Crosbie does a good job of showing that passion, energy and a gift for words can bring something like this to a point where it feels real. Real talent.

https://thevinylfactory.com/features/best-john-carpenter-10-records/

I did this piece for The Vinyl Factory recently – a relatively easy one for me given my day-to-day listening habits have quite a lot of space for John Carpenter’s work at the moment. Assault On Precinct 13 and The Fog are my favourite soundtracks of his I admit.

In life, all the time, I’m struck that I think most things are good/bad simultaneously. It’s like candy: the initial sugar hit, the flavour, the indulgence – great! But the undercurrent is, sure, it’ll lead to tooth decay, obesity and so forth. It doesn’t mean one should avoid these things, it just means that there’s no avoiding consequences in life and that people’s tendency to divide into good/bad is just plain silly. Most things are both all the time.

A fair example is the work involved in creating things like one of these ‘Ten Of’ lists. Sure you say, it’s just listening to a bunch of music – it ain’t hard. True! And there’s a really deep pleasure involved in sinking so completely into someone’s work. I tend to find that listening to this much of one person’s music in a concerted way over a couple of weeks gives me an expanded awareness of the things they do that make the music theirs, what their techniques and approaches are, where they’re deviating, what makes this piece standout or that piece fit.

On the other hand, it’s not just listening. It’s hours of flicking back, re-listening, discarding notes and thoughts on one piece, thinking more about another. It emphasises that no one is so original that listening to their music so obsessively won’t kill the vibe or point out the bits where it’s a bit the same, or where they’re coasting. It means I can’t bring myself to listen to Carpenter’s latest just yet – I’ll need a break, time to cleanse the palette and digest.

It’s a constant sin of mine: I get into an artist, I hoover up music by them, then I need a pause before returning to them to really ‘get’ the individual joys of a particular record.