Archive for November, 2012

Memory fades.

I can no longer recall if this obituary came from Saturday April 9, 1994 while I was still in the U.S. on a family holiday, or whether it was the following week upon return to the U.K. My memory tries to tell me that my dad somehow got hold of his regular copy of the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph while in Florida and I artlessly preserved then tore out the Kurt Cobain in memoria.

Either way this scrap of paper had accompanied me ever since, sandwiched in a May 1994 edition of Metal Hammer magazine which lost its cover a long while back (good Sonic Youth interview with Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore while Kim Gordon was at home awaiting the birth of Coco Hayley Gordon Moore on July 1.) I should preserve it better, it’s yellowing, faded. But still. It remains one of the few objects I hold genuinely dear.

Obituary_April1994

This is the full text in case you’re interested:

Obituary_April1994_Full

 

This is merely an observation but one based on viewing somewhere around 500+ Facebook groups dedicated to Nirvana and/or Kurt Cobain. I’ll update this post if I recognise fresh characteristics or anything deviating from these points.

Firstly, South America owns Facebook! It’s incredible how many South American sites there are. At least fifty percent of the 500+ groups I’ve observed are from the region (I’ll accept they might also be from Spain or Portugal — my language skills are minimal.) My theories range from the speed of development of Internet connections meaning it was the age of Facebook before that region sought to express its Nirvana fandom; to a preference for social groupings as opposed to the very individualistic style of Europe and the U.S. More views are welcomed.

Britain and the U.S. oddly don’t seem to have too many Facebook groups dedicated to Nirvana. Then again, why would we? In the case of the English-speaking world, there have been effective channels for relaying Nirvana information and unifying fans for over a decade with LiveNirvana and the Internet Nirvana Fan Club leading the pack. British and U.S. users also seem mistrustful of unofficial efforts, instead congregating in the greatest numbers around the official/semi-official sites of individuals, bands or labels. Also, instead of actively engaging with groups it seem more the norm for people to present themselves as unique individuals (“I’m special! I’m me!” screamed the dust speck.)

The Italians have a beautiful habit of using lines from songs as the title of their Facebook groups; it was such a common characteristic I could usually tell at once if the group was for Italian Nirvana fans. The Polish similarly tend to incorporate their references to Kurt Cobain or Nirvana into longer sentences — group titles can be ten words. They also all seem to give personal email addresses at the top of their groups so that people can contact them individually. This is unusual, most sites are fairly anonymous revealing little of the individual who built them.

Not wishing to spread national stereotypes but I’ve yet to find a Nirvana Facebook group in Germany that permits strangers to participate or comment. They’re all closed. I’ve frankly found Eastern Europe and the Balkans more welcoming. I’ve seen a few from Asia-Pacific, nothing from the Middle East outside of Israel or Africa but I need to mine more deeply.

I’d like to state, for the record, that my favourite site names so far are definitely “Give Us Back Kurt Cobain and We’ll Give you Miley Cyrus” and “God, Give Us Kurt Cobain and We’ll Give you Justin Bieber.” Oh, and those named “Come to the Dark Side…We Have Cookies.” There’s also a guy on Twitter who makes me chuckle with his macabre Dead Kurt Cobain @gunreviews; “Kurt Cobain, dead but effectively brings you reviews of weapons and tactics from the great beyond. A total parody, unless you are intoxicated.” He’s a pretty good artist too.

I’m also stunned by how friendly and decent people are. The NirvanaItalia site happily added information about the book. LiveNirvana, Nirvana Live Guide and the Internet Nirvana Fan Club have all been a delight. On Facebook too, remarkable friendliness on all sides, a mass of people, sharing a love of a band, simply being polite and encouraging. It’s been a nice feeling; helps me keep going.

Mapping Part II

Posted: November 28, 2012 in Nirvana Maps and Locales

From January 1989 onward, Nirvana finally broke their boundaries and moved on:

January sees Nirvana’s circle widen to encompass Portland, February and they make it as far as San Francisco and San Jose. Though persisting in their retreats to the safety of home, the band are spreading down that Western seaboard. It’s like seeing a child growing in confidence; come June they return to Portland, return to Seattle, back out to San Francisco…And then, thanks to Sub Pop’s ambitious plans, the doors open:

It gets harder to follow the band in map form, but let’s try. It’s just a different way of looking at things; the storytelling mode has been well done:

Followed by a breather back in Seattle for a couple months before:

It took the band two years to even make it two states on, then suddenly, in the next six months the band play in eighteen states scattered across the entire United States and over thirty shows, more than in the whole of 1987-1988. That must have been quite an experience.

In yesterday’s posts I just rambled over the tables, today I’m doing the same via maps. I find it intriguing watching the band’s horizons widen and expand. In 1987 this was a band that barely made it more than a few hours from home, even a drive all the way from Tacoma to Raymond is barely 100 miles. Nirvana really was a band from the middle of nowhere; a lot of bands wouldn’t travel to Seattle because it was so far from the main strip of big audiences and gig locations yet this band wasn’t even a Seattle band at this point – here’s 1987:

The gathering momentum is visible, again, when 1988 is mapped:

There’s still a time lag, however, it isn’t like 1988 starts and the band have moved up a gear. Until that first April show in Seattle, over a year since their first gig, the band are still stuck trolling between Olympia and Tacoma.

It’s clear though that from April Seattle becomes the adopted live ‘home’ very swiftly. Between April 1988 and the end of the year those eleven Seattle shows immediately mean the band have played there more than anywhere else, Olympia may be important but it’s no longer where the future lies.

 

Mileage Part II

Posted: November 27, 2012 in Nirvana Maps and Locales

Just a brief evening component…

 

Again, looked at by country, I’m not sure we’re seeing any great surprises except how closely matched the U.K. is by Germany. In terms of their presence as a ‘live’, real-life experience rather than just a consumable video/audio product, the rest of Europe had as much claim to the band as we Brits did. The thorough criss-crossing of these countries is noticeable too, for example, this is Nirvana’s visits to Germany:

 

It’s a rash! They peppered the country with visits and took in most major cities at least once. The U.K. is even more thoroughly carpet bombed. Again, Canada stands out simply as an indicator of how centred Nirvana was in North America; quick jaunts across the border made sense over and over again hence Vancouver earning its six visits.

Mileage out of Nirvana

Posted: November 27, 2012 in Nirvana Maps and Locales

Firstly, a sincere thank you to Nirvana Live Guide, their guide to Nirvana shows sets an incredible bar and I haven’t seen anything of similar depth or knowledge for any other band. Amazing. I’m sure the next chart won’t show anything people aren’t already aware of — for me, cramming the data simply acted as a reemphasis of how true some statements are:

Yes, Nirvana truly are a Seattle band and yes, they really are a Pacific North-West band with an allegiance to Washington State. Just for emphasis…

I guess I simply hadn’t realised how dominant Washington State was in the history of Nirvana. The band visited Tacoma as much as New York. It also emphasises how U.S.-centric the band was; despite eight tours abroad (plus two one off foreign shows in 1992) only seven non-U.S. cities receive more than two visits, three of them still being in Canada or Mexico. It’s intriguing to me how much attention Reading 1991 or 1992 receive, or the Astoria Lamefest in 1989; what I think we’re seeing is how influential the U.K. based music press are in comparison to any other nation’s music media. Sub Pop were right in terms of their strategy; take the U.K. media and you won the world…So long as you toured like crazy in the U.S. to back it up. The story of Nirvana is dominated by foreign shows but I can’t tell at this range whether I’m seeing reality at the level of the fans, or whether I’ve adopted and assimilated a message written mostly by U.K. music journalists in which the U.K. shows look huge despite the low numbers. Seeing how much work Nirvana put in within U.S. borders I admit it makes me think that their fame was more down to that hard graft and less to self-regarding British journalists declaring XYZ U.K. based gig crucial…But as the majority of us never experienced the band live, as we only know them as an audio, video, photographic experience – does that then make the U.K. shows the winners?

This final graphic shows two elements; one, the fact that Nirvana were so heavily focused on Washington State and their West Coast U.S. neighbours that they performed over one hundred shows in just three states. To put that in context, Nirvana only played 121 shows abroad in their entire career — given how centred the U.S. entertainment business is in California, in some ways gaining a reputation in that region was as significant as all the work abroad.

This table also emphasises, to me, how much work Nirvana put in to their success; they visited 37 of 50 U.S. states — significant mileage into some backwood locations to spread the word. It makes Nirvana’s rise to fame less miraculous but far more impressive in many ways; the status they achieved was down to hard slog not just because moneyed powers plucked them from obscurity and set them atop the music industry.

We’ll play more with geography later today – its a neat diversion and I enjoyed crunching the information…

More stats and general musings on Nirvana to follow…But wow, things are getting busy. The book is due back from the printers this Friday – fingers crossed! In the meantime…This is an early summary of each chapter – just a set of snapshots rather than a full picture of what is covered in each one. Oh, and yes you’re right, each chapter is named after an album by a band Kurt expressed a liking of (The Minutemen, Scratch Acid, Big Black, etc.) the exception being Songs the Lord Taught Us, but it was too good a title to pass on:

Foreword

Months of total immersion in Nirvana has not always led me in healthy directions…You have been warned… J

1.0 The Greatest Gift

Incesticide sold more albums than any punk album in American history…Yet its qualities and pleasures have been roundly ignored. I set out the case for the album’s status in terms of the quality of what it contained, the care the band took over its creation, its artwork, its liner notes, its songs

2.0 (MIA) The Complete Anthology

Biographies of the band have stated that Nirvana’s first label Sub Pop teamed up with DGC to combine efforts and create Incesticide…They’re wrong

Fresh interviews with the key individuals at Sub Pop indicate that there never was a planned Sub Pop release. Incesticide was dreamt up and planned entirely at DGC and by Nirvana

3.0 Two Nuns and a Pack Mule

Even Incesticide’s back cover was a comedic image and with the selected cover songs, plus Sliver, on the album its always been the most fun of Nirvana’s albums

Yet Nirvana’s brand of humour was often caustic, aggressive and used as a form of attack — the band were at their funniest when taking sarcastic swipes at the scenes, bands and individuals they despised which can be seen in lyrics, in behaviour on stage and their approach to media and TV

4.0 The Rich Man’s Eight Track Tape

The chapter indicates the deep thought that Kurt Cobain put into structuring and sequencing the songs on the album — there’s a joke running through the entire album and likewise an attempt to mimic Nevermind, making this album its mirror

It’s now possible to see how many songs were refused for this album and to reconstruct the logical decisions that were being made in terms of what was included and why these fifteen songs were chosen

5.0 My War

Nirvana are portrayed as an apolitical band yet they were permanently committed to anti-sexism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia throughout their career which has been ignored because Nirvana’s approach was to have the conversation with their fans rather than to focus on ‘big banner’ causes aimed at attracting media comment

The liner notes within Incesticide are exceptional — a rock star deliberately driving away his audience by telling them to “leave us the fuck alone!” and doing so on the basis of their views on gender, sexuality and race

6.0 Double Nickels on the Dime

Nirvana were not an inevitability, despite the subsequent focus on jokes about ‘destiny’ and how they were going to be rock stars

Nirvana as a phenomenon occurred as a half dozen identifiable factors came together. Incesticide was part of the band’s attempt to resist and sabotage fame

7.0 Project Mersh

The literature simultaneously portraits Kurt Cobain as anti-commercial on a gut level and ruthlessly ambitious and commercial in his actions. I feel this schizophrenic portrayal arises from a misunderstanding of what music meant to him

In this chapter I focus on the desire for control and freedom as the driving motivations; whether an action was commercial/non-commercial simply wasn’t something that Kurt Cobain was primarily interested in hence the consequences of his actions could be either without it representing a ‘fracture’ within his personality

8.0 Post-Mersh

Incesticide showed Nirvana trying on different styles as they learned and evolved with a far more underground sound, with the sound of Kurt Cobain’s first recordings entirely abandoned then resurrected for Bleach

Alongside the album Kurt Cobain attempted numerous experiments with his vocals, with recording techniques and with guitar that ended as he headed mainstream

Incesticide represented the span of Nirvana’s experiments…But not necessarily of Kurt Cobain’s experimental urges

9.0 Hairway to Steven

Nirvana’s evolution can be followed by examining how they switched from covering metal songs to alternative rock tunes to more mainstream fare — Incesticide was their key statement not of the bands that did influence them but of those they wished to be seen to be influenced by, the album serving a ‘propaganda’ purpose that downgraded their rock roots in favour of emphasising their punk favourites

10.0 Big Black Songs About…

Like any writer Kurt Cobain had a personal style, one that evolved between the songs seen on Incesticide that originated in 1987 and those he became famous for. I suggest that he had three key song modes

Kurt Cobain wrote quite a number of ‘story’ songs between 1987-1990 then abandoned linear narrative altogether, similarly the character sketch was a regular trope of that period which he soon abandoned in favour of direct personal addresses announcing his mind-set and situation via song

11.0 Over the Edge

Having shown the forms in which Kurt Cobain created lyrics, we look here at exactly when his writing underwent changes and what may have events drove those changes

12.0 Family Man

As well as his writing style Kurt Cobain dwelt on specific themes and ideas that either evolved or remained constant all the way back to his first recordings in 1985 — the focus was regularly on issues arising from family, gender, sexuality

This chapter proposes a unifying concept that draws together material from as far back as 1985 and as late as 1993 — I posit that Kurt Cobain was the most psychologically motivated rock star the mainstream had ever seen

13.0 Songs the Lord Taught Us

A song by song dissection of the fifteen tracks on Incesticide seen in the light of the lyrical themes, musical patterns and Nirvana background described in this volume

The chapter synthesises the themes and ideas that have been expressed throughout this work and applies them to each of Incesticide’s tracks here ordered by the dates on which they were recorded/released keeping the songs in their chronological context and alongside their immediate ‘family’

14.0 Dry as a Bone

By 1992 Kurt Cobain was barely writing songs, yet there are still rumours of unreleased material. The paucity of truth in such rumours, the absence of truly impressive outtakes shows Incesticide was actually the cream of Nirvana’s leftovers

This entire work has been made possible by the depth of work done by bootleggers and unofficial releases over the past twenty years creating a situation in which the band and the record label have been supplanted in terms of knowledge

15.0 Coda

From 1992-1994, Nirvana barely existed as an actively creative unit. This chapter makes the case for seeing those years as the story of a band that was barely alive

Kurt Cobain’s suicide note was the third of just three written statements made to his public 1991-1994; the first was the Incesticide liner notes, the second his contribution to The Raincoats’ album release. What stands out is that the suicide note was a deliberate concealment, an attempt to avoid having to explain himself or his reasons

Reading Nirvana: A Bibliographical Note

In the case of Nirvana, fan-led initiatives online are actually the best source of raw data — whether on live shows, songs, sessions, past interviews and media reports — so this chapter begins with a brief tribute to LiveNirvana, the Nirvana Live Guide and the Internet Nirvana Fan Club

The chapter then summarises the various strands of the bibliography; biographies, cultural-historical studies of grunge as a phenomenon, song/album studies, then onward into photo books and other more unusual items covering English language publications on Nirvana through to October 2012