I watch this and wonder if I’d be able to detect which song was being played purely from the drums without any further reference…Then I look at some of the isolated drum tracks present on YouTube and confess I often can’t see the overall track at all.

 

Caught this recently, the track ‘Salvation’ from Solar Twin’s new album Pink Noise. Lyrically there’s a lot going on, a musing on current state of music and world that’s worth following throughout. What hooked me the most, however, was the alliance of modern day pop music to the footage of Cobain in a heyday that passed some 29-to-23 years ago: genuinely an entire life time of separation. I couldn’t help but watch it and think when was the last time I saw a mainstream star genuinely acting out emotionally on stage to this extent? Sure, Cobain was aware of stage craft as anyone: seeing the impact smashing a guitar made in front of an audience in 1988 sparked a light bulb and so the reheated Who/Hendrix motif made it’s way through years of Nirvana’s live performances – but there was honesty shot through it at all times. Nirvana didn’t wreck their gear every night: it was a final ecstatic moment when happy or it was an expression of a pissed-off and rotten show – it could be both, it could be either, it was the emotion behind it that mattered. Something has definitely changed though because something so un-contrived, and that looks so right as oft-shaky handheld video footage, is rare at a time when every moment is made to be screened one way or another.

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My best recent purchase was from Little Cracked Rabbit:

http://www.littlecrackdrabbit.co.uk/box-set-subscription.html

Around 2007 to 2009, I was becoming jaded when it came to music. The internet era had it’s positives but, ultimately, being able to saturate myself in any genre, label, artist, movement at a moment’s notice wasn’t glorious, it was exhausting. DC Hardcore? Sure, here’s the ten key albums digested inside just a few weeks. The Definitive Jux label? No problem, the label’s hot streak done and dusted in little more than a month. The reduction of music to a series of clickable files robbed any sense of value for me: I could acquire it at a click, hear it at another, bin it moments later or lose it on a practically limitless hard drive the next.

The restoration of my pleasure in music took several forms. Initially it was about regaining limitations: to this day I take CDs and vinyl to the Record & Video Exchange store to trade. They have an amazing selection but it brings my budget down to where I have to commit and decide “this is what I want.” It also reopened the door to treasure hunting: a record I’d wanted to hear forever appears suddenly, being surprised to spot a band I’d never had a chance to look at. The manageability of the experience helped: instead of hundreds of hours of music I’d never get the chance to look at let alone feel something for, I’d get an amount manageable across a month.

I started to realise too that my choices mattered in an age where the bare truth is that outside of a pitiful handful of mainstream artists, the majority of indie musicians barely break-even on touring that lures only a dozen people out of their homes; on the pennies that come in through streaming and downloading. The expansion of the audience to a worldwide level hasn’t led to a commensurate increase in the money they live on day-by-day. The charts of the most widely listened to music show, to an ever-increasing degree, that though people like to say the internet exposes them to stuff they’d never hear, the truth is most people are listening to and buying the same major label (or secretly major label subsidiary) product. It’s getting harder to be heard because there’s so much musical clutter out there. The big bucks, to a greater degree than ever, can dominate what people hear about, find on playlists, and therefore listen to.

The positive of the Internet, however, was that I could ensure that my money actually went to an artist not to a corporate. The reason I buy the physical releases is because the artist gets a greater overall sum. And I buy them in two ways: direct from particular labels that I want to support; direct from the individual artist so they get everything minus their own production costs. I think it’s genuinely important that my money sustains the work and well-being of the people whose work I appreciate and there’s near no excuse not to seek them out and do it except in the rarest of circumstances i.e., a record is out of print so I can only find it on eBay or Discogs; a record is exclusively sold through a particular outlet.

Labels themselves have reacted to the modern realities of the industry by focusing not on runaway, unexpected success, but on manufacturing limited editions that they know will sell out and thus fund further activity; creating subscription series that ensure lesser known artists have a fair hearing; art editions that will appeal to those who enjoy music as a tactile experience not just a sonic one; on the human touches that enhance the connection to artist and to the music.

 

So! The Little Cracked Rabbit box set arrived in the post the other day: glorious! It’s not just about packaging, it’s about looking at something that has been composed with such care, where every aspect of it is genuinely beautiful. It’s been created as an item of artistic merit. My interest initially came about because I’ve been collecting the solo works of Norman Westberg (most famously guitarist with Swans and an ambient guitar legend in his own right) but I’ve had a glimpse now of the other three artists — Mia Zabelka, BLK w/BEAR and P.J. Philipson — and I’m finding a lot to enjoy.

The bonding of music and art at Little Cracked Rabbit made a lot of sense when I spoke to one of the gentlemen running the label. David Armes explained the label as a labour of love run with his friend and collaborator Kevin Craig. The two of them are visual artists who played music together in Last Harbour and currently in A.R.C. Soundtracks. Kevin’s work focuses on experimental film predominantly so he handles the digital side of LCR: videos, collage images for covers, flyers and so forth. David, meanwhile, is a letterpress artist so he handles the physical sleeve print and preparation.

The overall look and feel of the releases is co-designed. They’ve gone with the (wise) approach taken by labels like Young God Records and other classic music labels where there’s a shared aesthetic across the releases, a visual identity connecting each record to LCR. The simplicity, combined with the genuinely sharp design (the lettering, the stark black/white/silver, the hole in the front cover of the card CD case inside the box is all exquisite) gives it all a real electricity and impact. Take a look at the label’s catalogue and I think you get the sense of it:

http://www.littlecrackdrabbit.co.uk/releases.html

In terms of the label approach, David made a neat point about “wanting to do something low-key in expectation but high in quality; releasing whatever we like (at this point our tastes crossover) without worrying about sales, press, distribution…There’s nothing wrong with all that but we were just bored of taking it into account. We’ll never earn any money from releasing editions of 150 CDs so we need to enjoy it and do it precisely as we want.” Amen to that! People often think the joy of music, books, art is in the completion and conclusion when the pleasure has to be taken in the process because it’s that day-to-day over weeks, months, years which is the core reality and enduring experience of making anything of this nature.

Further examples of Kevin’s work are at:

http://cargocollective.com/kcraig

While David’s work is visible at:

http://www.redplatepress.com

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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.

Wire Review_1

Wire Review_2

Wire Review_3

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!