Archive for December, 2012

Over past weeks we’ve looked at Nirvana’s U.S. tours via maps, simply showing them criss-crossing the country, the standard patterns and behaviours.

Gigs Abroad 1988-1994

All I wanted to show here is how Nirvana go from being their Washington State beginnings to a fairly even split between U.S./Europe for in 1989 and 1991 to the hugely warped statistics for 1992 and 1994. The chart shows how focused Nirvana’s activity became; while in those earlier years they’re able to cope with playing close on 100 shows in a year and covering both the U.S. and Europe in a single year, post-fame its becomes a two year cycle to make it through those areas. There’s no balance.

I’m more accepting of a U.S.-centric Nirvana (1990, 1993) given they’re an American band, the product of a continent-sized country with the world’s then biggest music audience and touring network. I’m surprised how much of Nirvana’s time was spent abroad overall:

Gigs Abroad vs Gigs U.S.

Oh the seduction of pretty pictures. My eyes are lured toward the easy comparison of 1989 to 1991, of 1992 to 1994, of 1990 to 1993. I’m not sure there’s anything to be learnt in delving deeper into those patterns, they were not designed ratios, but they are pretty.

What the maps really brought home to me was Nirvana’s progress; their existence solely as a Washington State presence in 1987-1988, virtually a hobby band; the way that, from 1989 onward, whenever they retreat home after a tour their territory now covered Washington, Oregon and California and their quiet phases would still involve shows in all three states — they’d gone from being a Washington grunge band to being a West Coast alternative rock band. The regular patterns in the touring also; the tours round the East Coast tending to circle Illinois, Michigan, etc. before taking a dip across the border to Canada before criss-crossing the U.S. North-Eastern states. The pattern for concluding tours had a similar stability; a jagged dash in the direction of home usually swooping down the West Coast then haring across country back to refuge in Seattle. It was interesting as well seeing the scale of the In Utero tour; while earlier years had seen comparable (or even higher) numbers of shows, the 1993 U.S. tour seemed designed to take in as many tours as possible, it wasn’t as concentrated as in earlier years. Nirvana’s ubiquity as a popular act meant bringing them to new states made sense; they’d get a decent paying audience — not something that could have been guaranteed pre-1992.

Misheard Lyrics

Posted: December 16, 2012 in Nick's Philosophies on Nirvana

A neat piece from the New York Times, I enjoyed this very much…Right up to the conclusion. The author basically posits the usual either/or approach to a topic. This isn’t uncommon, there seems to be a discomfort with the idea that something can be more than one thing at once — people prefer a simplistic “it is THIS” answer, a single definition, one unified truth or experience. The conclusion seems to be that parsing and dissecting something ruins the fun of it, that it distances the listener from the music being discussed, that it destroys the mystery and removes the visceral pleasure of musical sensation.

My objection would be that the direction of music for a long time has been toward the purely physical, the voiding of active intelligence in favour of lizard-mind flashy sound. I see few supporters among mainstream musicians or mainstream music commentators who aren’t happy to treat all music as ‘dumb fun’ and leave it sitting there on the plate to be devoured like fast food, filling an immediate hole rather than any deeper nutrition.

…And that’s fine. But, as you might be able to tell from the nature of the content on this blog, I believe, as a life philosophy, that most things are more than one element all at once. Nirvana wrote bloody-knuckled, pummelling music that hits so good…They also wrote music that lends itself to deeper consideration and understanding. I enjoy it on both levels and rather than considering the application of intellect to a subject a way of annihilating its magic, it usually leads to silver linings I didn’t know existed.

Especially in a world where, to an ever greater degree, it seems we’re only meant to use our minds in service of our paid employment, I find it nice to use my mind for the purpose of pleasure, selfish enjoyment, whimsical diversion and journeys into the sounds I love. The mind and body are friends studying a picture from different perspectives, not strangers unable and unwilling to communicate. If I wanted to live the world, to engage with it, only on the physical level I’d be a dog not a man. It seems sad to be encouraged, to an ever greater degree, to refuse to engage our lives with the full power of our minds except if paid to do so.

Shifting focus though, the content of the article is great and highly applicable to Nirvana given the work thrown in to taking the lyrics apart across the years. In my case I’ll admit also to falling completely for the belief that the chorus of You Know You’re Right was “pain” rather than “hey.” Either way I like it; my original hearing seeming more revealing of what I expected of Kurt Cobain circa 1994, while the latter ties into the apparent boredom and self-parody present in so much of what he did with his final years — taking the stereotype of Nirvana to the nth degree.


Kurt Cobain was so interested in the Incesticide project that he personally created the art work for the front cover, selected the image for the back cover, wrote the liner notes and, as I argue in chapter four of Dark Slivers, gave detailed personal attention to the song selection and order. Each element of the record benefitted from his attention, he didn’t compromise on any aspect of the release and it remains as one of only four major releases to have his intense focus.

I argued the other week on this blog (Incesticide: Kurt Cobain Gives a Christmas Present & Celebrating Incesticide at 20 Years Distance) that the album represented Kurt kicking back against fame, against Nevermind – that it was this release NOT In Utero that formed the reaction to unwanted superstardom. I also explained that the release was a reaction against cosy family vibes and the demand that he release ‘Christmas product’. Faux-offensiveness is often cynically used to promote bands; Incesticide was the real deal on every level.

But it was also a release of sheer quality; there are no untidy, untrimmed demo versions of existing songs, no dulled live recordings, nothing that sounds obviously unfinished. This was the CD era, the band had enough material for a full 70 minute release cramming on anything and everything. Instead they stuck to their usual 40-45minutes of actual music, vinyl-length in other words.

(New Wave) Polly stands out – the only alternative version of an album song on the compilation. Why? Well, again I talk about this more in the book, but the release is riddled with games in terms of creating parallels. Incesticide was about reacting to Nevermind therefore what could be more appropriate by taking one of Nevermind’s softest tracks, finding a far more roughed up version of it, then placing that same song in the same position at end of Side A?

Without the clear, rigid deadline of Incesticide’s anniversary I’d never have got all this finished. Also, with the book finished (logistically speaking), finally I should be able to get back to building up more material for the blog. For the time being though, there are now 70 articles on here, around 50,000 words, to go on top of the 72,000 words in the book Dark Slivers. So! I hope you Nirvana fans are enjoying having a full book worth of content free – all yours! Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Incesticide!


To those of you to whom I owe a book – TODAY IS THE DAY! They arrived yesterday so right now, 14.28, they’re in the post to you!

With the ebook online, with the paperback first edition delivered into my hands, that’s round one of the Dark Slivers saga kinda concluded. How to describe what’s been involved… Well, to speak to publishers one needs an agent. To get an agent one has to send a proposal consisting of multiple pieces of requested information, formatted precisely as each individual agent wishes and, of course, no agent wants to be mass mailed so each proposal has completely different requirements intended to show that you’ve put in the elbow-work just for them. I considered it a good day’s work if I managed to finish three proposals (this was my weekends draining away in May-July). The agents will reject 90% of what’s before them. That’s before a publisher sees anything and rejects another 90%. I gathered a beautiful dozen or so rejections – too niche a topic, too much of a fan’s book, too many Nirvana books.

The reason to acquire a publisher? Because only a registered publisher can acquire ISBN numbers. My publisher did consider whether to help me register as an independent publisher then we decided it was too much faff and came to an arrangement on his royalty rate. The ISBNs are curious too; you can only buy them in batches of ten – at a cost of £125 in the U.K. Oh, and did you realise ebooks need a separate ISBN to a hardcopy book? No, neither did we. So that’s two ISBNs needed – which given the cost of printing in the first place is another expense on top. Not to mention, can you imagine how irritating it is to be all ready to go…Then to have to lose a day returning to one’s incredibly busy designer (West Coast America while I’m in U.K.) to ask if she can change the ISBN on the PDF before upload.

But what the hey. With an ISBN, the printer can now (for a price) print a barcode on the back of the book. Without a barcode you can’t sell a book in a shop. Fifty quid. Speaking of printers, well, understandably they have their needs; 3mm bleed, margin sizes, file type, text aligned this way and that – two files, cover separate to text. And yes, if you have more than a certain number of pages in full colour then the cost doubles (we’re talking several hundred pounds), likewise, if you print above A5 size then the cost, again, doubles so my original funky size wishes (I admit it! Gillian G. Gaar! I loved the size of Entertain Us so much I wanted it to be that size…) had to drop. Plus, Jesus…Hardback printing is crazy. Out of sheer vanity I fancied having a set of 25 hardback copies but the costs were astronomical…It’s important not to lose your mind when doing this yourself. Unless you’re a millionaire. Which I’m not. So I didn’t.

In the background I had to speak to an intellectual property lawyer to discuss the legality of quoting song lyrics – the answer being that if you’re writing a musical critique then quoting lyrics is essential and therefore totally legitimate. If, however, I was to take an entire verse, and place it at the start of a chapter, without it being integrated into the text or the discussion THEN I’d have to pay a charge to whoever owns the rights. Are you keeping up with this? This is what my life has been full of for months now, that’s alongside writing the book (72,000 words) and the blog (35,000 and counting…) He also pointed out the tax rules and regulations to me – which was good to know. Turns out I’m unlikely to make enough profit here to need to declare anything – yay not being a millionaire (again)!

Oh, epublishing…Leaving aside that bit where Amazon take 30% of the revenue (and where whatever I set the price at they add the tax onto the price so you, the consumer, pay the tax on the ebook and the book ends up weirdly priced), their system is quite slick. Compared that is to iTunes – I would need to be a U.S. tax payer to place a book on iTunes. But what the hey, it turns out part of the agreement with Amazon is that the ebook on their site must be at least 20% cheaper than the hardcopy or any other version available. Plus there’s that bit where they hang onto any money for two months earning themselves some lovely interest on each ebook sold before handing anything to the authors, yep, Amazon has epublished neatly sewn up. I’m still sure the wave of self-publishing hype articles this year were all thanks to Amazon (and others) tapping up their media friends to write nice things…

My designer has been a superstar, above and beyond in every way – it did make me chuckle when we discovered that the super-sophisticated design package we’d used to create the PDF for the publishers was TOO sophisticated for Amazon (credit to Amazon, their uploading and previewing portal is really slick, genuinely impressive.) We tried PDF, we tried ePub format…And came to the horrible realisation that we’d have to go back to the Word file…Which meant taking a full weekend to insert each correction we’d made to the PDF back into the Word file. Then check each graphic, check each chart, reformat, review, do it again…Two days gone.

 BUT. Rant over. Suddenly, Wednesday morning I log in and get to see my book up and running on the various Amazon sites and it feels wonderful. Thursday, sheer luck I’m in when the postman dials the flat and asks if I’d mind coming down and fetching the 40kg of books in two boxes because there’s no way his back will survive the journey up the stairs…And I run down barefoot and hump both up one after the other because I’m so thrilled to see them. And today, this lunchtime, when I hand over the postage money and, having signed, numbered and inscribed a message in each copy, I send out the first load of books to people have been good enough to support me…That felt good. And I truly hope they enjoy. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

McCartney/Nirvana Update

Posted: December 13, 2012 in Nirvana News

Plenty of footage on YouTube – corrections to previous ‘first take’, Pat Smear along too. They played a new song called ‘Cut Me Some Slack’ and seem to have left it at that. Phew!

Looks like an enjoyable enough evening – a poppy enough new song. I’ve always wondered what that move is called where guys on stage play ‘to each other’ (you’ll know it when you see it) and why its visually effective.

Courtney is restrained enough in her comments – nothing particular to worry about…The Lennon preference is a fair one if we’re talking reasonable comparisons to Kurt Cobain:

All Respect to McCartney…But.

Posted: December 13, 2012 in Nirvana News

Please imagine the first paragraph of this post as a morass of colourful swearing interrupted by attempts to draw breath and come up with something that beats the imagination of the previous elaborate expletive. It was looking ever more likely these past few years that the surviving members of Nirvana (version circa 1990-1993) were ever more likely to get together more formally. A charitable examination would compare it to the period of time it took Johnny Rotten to become comfortable playing Sex Pistols’ songs while on tour with Public Image Ltd, then the ongoing time before the surviving Sex Pistols were able to get back on stage together. Alternatively, perhaps the span of time prior to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant getting together for the No Quarter collaboration and then the, eventually, stage appearances of the remnants of Led Zeppelin. It takes a while before one’s own past feels like a costume one would wish to inhabit again.

On the other hand, a less charitable view would be that gazing into one’s past happens once one’s inspiration, one’s vision of the future, runs dry. Kurt Cobain is a fair example of that (in my view) given the covers he played, the originals he (apparently) was practising in his basement, the calls to family members not seen in a decade, addressing the suicide note to his childhood imaginary friend… Again, Johnny Rotten is a good example — by the time he began singing the odd Sex Pistols’ song he had shed the whole of the first (and best) edition of PiL and was about to start the long decline in PiL’s creative energies that led eventually to the Sex Pistols reprise. In the case of Foo Fighters…With all due respect to a really cool bloke, it’s a long time since Foo Fighters set the world alight musically and a while since they had a new musical idea. It’s understandable, to me, why Dave Grohl might be open to looking back to Nirvana. Krist has barely been involved in music in years yet has recently looked like a man more than happy to acknowledge his part in the most important rock band of the past few decades. Paul McCartney meanwhile is a very pleasant bloke, a surprisingly underrated musical and lyrical talent compared to his former Beatles’ comrade John Lennon, and a willing collaborator with anyone going. But. He’s also a guy with a voice now on its last legs if the Olympics 2012 performance is anything to go by and one who hasn’t had a genuinely fresh musical thought since before Nirvana even existed.

I have a feeling the story is being over-hyped; a one-off charity performance with celebrity friends (see the Living Like a Rock Star post from last week) likely consisting of a couple of the softer-edged Nirvana tracks, a smattering of Foo Fighters songs plus some Beatles classics is a perfectly worthy endeavour but, no, it isn’t a reformation. And in the end, it’s harmless. Given Kurt’s respect for The Beatles, having Paul McCartney sing is songs would probably tickle his ego no end. The fact that it turns Nirvana into a slightly fluffy cabaret act doesn’t bear thinking about…Just focus on the money for a good cause and pray no one gets it into their heads to call it Nirvana, or, worse, to persist with it beyond this one-off display.

I don’t want to lose whatever respect or credibility I’ve earned with you but I confess I’m listening to Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted for the first time ever today. Apologies for delay too, office systems down so all a bit chaotic.

Now…As promised, the conclusion of Nirvana U.S. touring in map form! Though not the Salem of witch trial legend, it still seems neatly coincidental that Nirvana’s most testing year would commence in a town of that name. While previous years have taken me two or three slides to capture, the whole of 1992 can be taken in one:


I even abandoned the naming convention I’d previously adopted given Salem is the only ordinary looking show on the map. Nirvana essentially abandoned America for the full year; two TV shows, two benefits, two secrets. If it wasn’t for the thirty days out in the Pacific (Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hawaii), and the smattering of European festival shows, it’d be entirely possible to declare the band missing, presumed dead. I’m being gentle including the TV shows.

It does explain some part of why, despite Nirvana being an American band, something like Reading 1992 should loom so large in the popular imagination; the entire peak of Nirvana’s fame, as far as live concerts went, was spent off abroad at these kinds of show. Reading would have been one of the view shows all year where a massive press contingent could be guaranteed. It’s precisely the reason Britain receives tonnes of U.S. news; there’s lots of footage and reportage, it’s therefore cheap to buy and as a result we all get to learn it.

1993 was basically more of the same; America’s finest nowhere to be seen — I’m being kind including Saturday Night Live just to expand the engagements:


That changes, however. The map becomes almost impossible to follow given how much the band crams into the final months of 1993. This is the most extensive touring Nirvana has done in the U.S. in their entire history. Looking back at past posts, at the maps for 1991, 1990, 1989, there had been big tours before but the scale and coverage achieved this time around was unprecedented. Of course, one thing to point out is that this kinda touring isn’t exactly uncommon for bands — this was the age of multi-year tours taking place, show after show… Nirvana staying out for the best part of three months was long by their standards. Having kicked off in Arizona (red line) the band took the obligatory pop over to Canada between Ohio and the start of the North-East U.S. visitation (blue line, November) and then the criss-crossing of central and western states in December:


1994 was the usual post-Christmas smattering of appearances. On this occasion, however, given the finality of ensuing events, it seems apt that Nirvana should retreat so far into their own past. The map needed to show the band’s U.S. presence in 1994 barely needs to show more than the map for 1987, or 1988—they hop across the borders of Washington State to two locations, they head home, then gone: