Archive for January, 2013

On Friday (tomorrow) I’ll be instructing the printing firm to commence the second print run of Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide. The first edition, being a first edition, naturally contains a proofing errors and typos that I’m pleased to have the chance to fix. You may ask why weren’t they all cleaned up prior to the first printing – simply because there was a tight deadline (and a long printing leadtime) that meant it had to go to the printers at a specific point in time. The ebook for Kindle received a range of corrections but will also be updated in the next fortnight.

There aren’t many new footnotes or pieces of information being added (three in total)but I would, of course, like to make sure everyone has the information that is entering the book:

“I’ve recently been informed that intriguingly the musician Foetus (JG Thirwell) had a song on a 1992 compilation, Mesomorph Enduros, also entitled Incesticide making it possible that the title of the compilation was borrowed late in 1992. Thank you to Brett Robinson for this. I’ve emailed JG Thirwell and hope he will be able to give some insight into the origins of that song title and the timing of that compilation release.”

Then the two points on Black & White Blues/All Apologies and on Kurdt/Kurt added thanks to the kind support of Jack Endino who took the opportunity to hit me up with some fresh thoughts – I’ve included his original emailed comments here including some I’m not using in the book but think are of definite interest:

“The acoustic instro demo you refer to as Black And White Blues, if it’s the one I am thinking of, I have reason to believe it’s a Krist song, because finger-style is how he plays guitar! It might be Krist on guitar or Krist and Kurt together. But I haven’t asked him. We almost never discuss Nirvana. However if you listen to the January 1, 1991 demo of All Apologies, I can confirm that Krist and Kurt are both playing guitar and there is no bass. If you want to hear Krist on guitar more recently, I recorded this for him a couple years ago (the voice is a naturalist friend of his):

“… explanation of ‘Kurdt’… Kurt used ‘Kurdt’ a few times as a subtle tip of the hat to the only other famous musician to ever emerge from Aberdeen WA prior to Nirvana: local legend, guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof, cofounder of the Northwest-based band Metal Church (with several major label records in the 80s), who was also known earlier by the alias “Blobbo” in the legendary punk band The Lewd! Everyone who writes about Nirvana misses this because 80s metal bands are not on their radar. But Metal Church was huge here, and if not for Nirvana, Vanderhoof would probably still be the ONLY successful musician to have ever emerged from Aberdeen. You can bet every kid who grew up in tiny Aberdeen in the 80s knew who he was.”

“Another thing… when we were recording Bleach they gave me the title ‘Swap Meat’ for the song that later appeared on the record as ‘Swap Meet.’ I was actually disappointed cuz I thought it was funnier the original way, but knowing Kurt he probably had second thoughts (I never asked him) and concluded the humor was a bit too crass!”

“Just between you and me… when I first heard Been A Son, what I thought of was the song ‘Chambermaid’ from Pink Fairies’ 1973 Kings Of Oblivion album which i bought in 1977:

But I’m about 99.9% certain that Kurt never heard the Pink Fairies. I appear to be the only Nirvana fan in the US who has. They were wildly obscure here.”

“Jam/Jam After Dinner… there is indeed a rather excrutiating ‘Jam After Dinner’ from the 1994 Lang Studio session. But one of the menus from the box set DVD has a section (looped) from a jam I recorded in late 1992 at Word Of Mouth. When I popped in the DVD, that was the first thing I heard… I’ve never actually watched it or went further but Gillian tells me the 1994 Jam After Dinner is used somewhere on that DVD too. I am hoping they use my 1992 jam in full, as a bonus track on the In Utero deluxe reissue, but… we’ll see.”

Twenty five years ago today, Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dale Crover entered the studio with Jack Endino and recorded five of the songs that would end up on Incesticide.

Back last year I asked Jack Endino if, when listening to the songs he worked on that made it onto Incesticide, whether there were any moments that gave him a particular pride and he replied: “No. None of them were recorded or mixed with any time spent (due to budget), plus I had only been working as a recording engineer for three years at that point. The songs with Dale drumming were all mixed in a total of two hours… ten songs on the original 1/23/88 demo, do the math. It would have been nice to remix them with some care taken.” It’s interesting to me that I’ve listened to these songs for some eighteen years now and never had any complaint regarding the sound quality or its features, yet, to the ear of a trained recording engineer, it felt less satisfactory – maybe sometimes less sonic knowledge is aural bliss.

The stories regarding this first studio session are well known; Nirvana recorded at speed, just six hours or so of work, instrumental versions done first, then Kurt’s vocals, mixing done within two hours, out the door. The session was paid for from Kurt’s wages as a janitor hence the fade-ending to the song Pen Cap Chew because “the multitrack master tape ran out just at the start of the second chorus, and the band didn’t want to buy another reel, so more correctly the song is “permanently incomplete”, not “unfinished”. You can’t finish it when a third of the song is missing. I did the fade ending for the hell of it, just so they could listen to what was there less jarringly.” That same night the band played all the songs from the studio session in the precise same order with two more songs tacked on the end.

This is what intrigues me, the guesses that can be made based on the band’s behaviour. LiveNirvana contains a ‘set-list’ for one practice session prior to the January 23, 1988 studio visit and suggests there were two more preparatory sessions. The band knew before they arrived in studio that they needed to move quick; the banged through the instrumentals then Kurt did his vocals one after the other in just one take; that evening, having driven umpteen miles to a performance, they then ran through all the songs in precisely the same order. It suggests to me that between the January 3 practice and the January 23 session, the band actually planned out a clear order of what they were going to play and practiced it ensuring they could act smoothly in studio and explaining why they duplicated the studio running order that evening. The extrapolation that can be made from this is that one of the preceding practice sessions, if a recording ever turns up, should have the same (or a close) order. As a touch of support to this, in March when Dave Foster joins the band, the set list has curious similarities:

Set Lists Jan-Mar 1988

The top line is the January 23, 1988 performance – the bottom line and a bit is March 19, 1988. Note immediately that despite a change of drummer and a gap of three months the only changes to the opening five songs are Love Buzz has supplanted If You Must as the opener and Papercuts and Spank Thru swap fourth and fifth place. The next disconnect is interesting too; the next song in March was Hairspray Queen. On January 23, though the next full song played was Aero Zeppelin, in fact Nirvana attempted Hairspray Queen and stopped due to a broken string – if not for that accident of fate, the same song would have been in sixth place both nights. The next point of comparison is to look at Beeswax, Mexican Seafood, Aero Zeppelin and Pen Cap Chew as a unit – in January the broken string meant the band shunted that unit up by one song, in March they play those same four songs together, with Hairspray Queen back in place, with If You Must dropped in beforehand having been shoved out of its starting position. The only other change is that Beeswax and Aero Zeppelin have swapped positions. Now the band bring in the new songs; Big Cheese replaces Annorexorcist, Blew is squeezed into the longer set…But the ending is still pre-determined; Erectum is the big set closer with whatever jams and covers the band feel like shoved on the end (the band play Bad Moon Rising at the end in March.)

From the coincidences surrounding January 23, 1988 it’s therefore possible to extrapolate the decisions taken by the band before that date; to suggest a likely set-list for at least one practice prior to the session; to suggest that Kurt and Krist taught Dave Foster this specific set-list in practice after that date; and to suggest a likely set-list for the only other show the band played between January 23 and March 19.

As my tribute to Nirvana’s first studio session I thought I’d simply show how an event taking place so long ago could still inspire thought and consideration today. Happy twenty-fifth!

I perhaps over-thought each element of this book…But at least I was thinking and I love the result too! I mentioned the front cover previously? It’s an echo of the incident in 1992 when Kurt Cobain returned from tour to discover all the stuff he was storing in his bathtub, including journals full of song ideas, had been destroyed by a sewage leak. This simple accident means we’ll never know if he had enough stored up in there for a few more quality songs, a few more lyrics that would have compared to his best, music turned to lost dreams. In a world full of generic Kurt Cobain/Nirvana covers I wanted to put a bit more work in and do something a little different to the (tedious) norm; that desire drove me throughout the writing too.

Now, the chapters…Again, taking a Nirvana song title as a chapter heading, it had been done. Sometime early in the process I had an album title stuck in my head, no clue why. A little later, as I was frantically scribbling notes as fast as they poured out my mind I kept using album titles to help me break them up — one of the first, and most obvious, was using The Hammer Party to head up a note suggesting comparing Nirvana’s drummers (eventually used in a post on this site rather than in the book: I eventually realised that, given Incesticide was essentially a record of Eighties’ underground derived sounds and styles, using albums from that scene made absolute sense. Also, it felt good, to me, to be able to pay some small tribute (a tip of the hat) to a series of albums that I adore also and that Nirvana had led me to.

So, why each title? What do they mean…? Well, I’ve left Foreword, Acknowledgements and Reading Nirvana: A Bibliographical Note to one side…







When Public Enemy were nominated last year for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum they explained that the band had “brought a new level of conceptual sophistication to the hip-hop album, and a new level of intensity and power to live hip-hop, inspiring fans from Jay-Z to Rage Against the Machine to Kurt Cobain.”

Beyond the desire to name-drop a still iconic superstar, the reference does display the one real indication that Kurt Cobain acknowledged the world outside guitar-based music. Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back featured on the list of Top 50 albums in his Journals as a sole representative from hip hop. It’s an easy album for non-hip-hop punk rock-orientated music lovers to like given the extreme sonics, the densely layered sound and the talented polemical vocals on display; it even earned Chuck D a Sonic Youth cameo. Cobain went so far as to state that “rap music is the only vital form of music introduced since punk rock,” which acknowledged its impact accurately, yet there was no cross-pollination — Nirvana’s music existed in a solidly guitar-based milieu with nothing bar that nod of respect.

On the other hand, however, acknowledgement of Kurt Cobain has become a relative commonplace within hip hop. Previous articles and online discussions have documented his presence within lyrics, in the past twelve months I’ve noted “you a broke N****, kill yo’self Kurt Cobain” from Waka Flocka Flame on Gucci Mane’s Trap God mixtape; Kayne West opting for “rocking flannels all summer like Kurt Cobain,” on the song White Dress (from The Man With the Iron Fists soundtrack); while The Game opted for “so strange had to blow they mind, Cobain” on the title track of Jesus Piece; the up-to-the-minute burst of “Kurt Cobain even died because you scrutinise” from A$AP Rocky song Phoenix released earlier this year. What’s immediately obvious is that these aren’t precisely highly inspiring lines. Hip hop’s level of engagement with Kurt Cobain hasn’t moved on at all since Eminem rapped “my favourite colour is red, like the blood shed from Kurt Cobain’s head” a full decade ago (Cum on Everybody.)

The references are far wider than the lyrics too; Tyler the Creator, almost tragically, displayed the deepest Cobain knowledge on display for referencing Kurt Cobain’s baiting of Rolling Stone. Tinie Tempah shows he’s taken his view of the world from PR-puff-piece reporting with the following January 2013 facile comments:

While Jaz-Z barely rose above that level in November 2012 with this snippet:

The other week, in a comment on someone asked about the impact death has on the ‘love’ for a person; the presence of Kurt Cobain as a meme with hip hop is one of the consequences. No other figure from the world of rock music has even a fraction of this pull. His death, a cultural news event that was inescapable anywhere in the United States, was large enough to cross the musical boundary in a way that the mere success of a band like Guns n’ Roses, or the outrageousness of their frontman Axl Rose, was unable to. Timing is also crucial; John Lennon was the previous music world event of this weight but it took place before most of the hip hop stars of the past ten years were even born; this leaves Cobain as the reference.

Yet, despite having been allowed to penetrate the world of quips and quick studies that constitutes modern hip hop lyricism, it’s very clear that there’s no point taking seriously the depth of consideration given within any of the songs discussed here. There’s no piece of art here that has spent more than blinking time on their Cobain reference. What we’re witnessing is a consequence of the commercial nature of present hip hop which values the ability to pump out product at high-speed and therefore favours those able to slap together endless rhyming couplets over song-long (or frankly even verse-long) meditations on a topic. It’s not worth wasting emotion being worried about the depth of these song references when none of them constitute more than single bar of punch-line thought on any theme.

What we’re witnessing though does have interest. Firstly, we’re witnessing the impact of death on an individual. What occurs, and this is not a characteristic specific only to hip hop, is that they’re reduced to snapshots in a process of reduction and simplification. A non-musical example would be the way that Winston Churchill (at least in Britain) is barely more than a gruff-voiced metaphor for stubbornness and patriotism. An individual becomes a short-hand reference, a meme that everyone knows even if they know nothing else about the person being referenced. In the case of Kurt Cobain, the lyrics quoted summarise him as, primarily, suicide via a gunshot wound to the head. There are some that dredge up drug references, not even, necessarily, heroin. Kurt has simply become another all-purpose image, likely to die out inside of a decade as a generation for whom Kurt Cobain is distant past take the pop mantle, but serving, for the time, being as an easy rhyme and a quick way of saying blood and mess.

Slightly more disturbing is the way in which PR stories substitute for any contact with reality at all. Kayne West’s grunge-wear reference (*shudder*) doesn’t make it any deeper than a scan of glossy women’s magazines circa-1992-1993. The connection between Kurt Cobain and flannel is…A load of old flannel. What Kayne has absorbed is the sillier manifestations of the grunge explosion with Cobain having to wear all its results given he was held to be its figurehead. Similarly, Tinie Tempah’s, quite charming, desire for an individual to ignite and unite the world of music has absolutely no basis in reality. Cobain never ‘spoke for a generation’, he was never the voice of an identifiable and unified group, let alone for the full diversity of youth c1991-94. Again, the desire at the time to explain Nirvana’s rise by a reference to some brand-new social grouping, was an oversimplification used by the media and that has now been repeated so often that a man who was a mere nine years old at the time of Cobain’s death has totally absorbed it.

Jaz-Z’s curtailed history of hip hop’s rise in the early nineties has, initially, an appeal. Yet it too, ultimately, has no substance. He’s unable to equate a broad culture with anything other than chart success and PR-presence in the pop world. He can’t see that hip hop didn’t ‘pause’ in the slightest just because a few rock bands took a large share of a declining rock audience. A$AP Rocky, unusually given he’s the youngest of all the individuals mentioned, is at least closer to the truth with his one-liner implying that the loss of privacy was a factor in Kurt’s death.

I’d love to point to Kurt Cobain’s ‘realness’ — his absence of career-motivated fakery, his unwillingness to bow to the demands of PR — and make a link to hip hop’s fetishisation of that concept as a reason why he should be so acceptable to hip hop’s stars such as Lil Wayne. And certainly the musically omnivorous nature of hip hop means it’s no surprise a few of its denizens appreciate the music of Nirvana. But there’s not much depth to the connection, no more than there was when pop music went through its brief spell of ‘rock star’ catchphrase worship a few years back. It’s good Kurt Cobain meant something to them, but in terms of it translating into a genuinely imbuing of his anti-commercial spirit into the modern pop world…No. Hip hop, in its mainstream manifestations, increasingly speaks for a triumphant few who wish to parade their wealth; misogyny; aggressive self-centredness. While enjoying some of the music I often feel I’m the equivalent of people buying books by the CEOs who have just put them out of work just to learn the awe-inspiring truth that those bosses see themselves as unique individual successes based wholly on their own genius. Kurt Cobain never led the indulgent lifestyle of conspicuous consumption; never willingly exposed his whole life for PR benefit; ensured his political values (anti-sexism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia) were declared loud n’ proud on multiple levels and never wrapped his arms around business.



Battersea, London this AM. We’re looking north toward the river which is just behind the church, the long brown brick building (yes, with the spire) obscured by the tree. We’re about…300 metres from the River Thames. That church meanwhile, that’s where the slavery abolitionist movement in Britain started in the late 1700s-early 1800s eventually leading to first the banning of the slave trade in 1807 then the abolition of slavery across the British Empire in 1833. The artist and visionary William Blake used to sit at the church windows drawing pictures of Chelsea across the water. The area of Chelsea directly opposite is still known as The World’s End (there’s a housing estate and pub of the same name) as, until well into the 1800s, it did mark the edge of the city and the start of the countryside.

Just round that white building is the old village square, the oldest building there dates from the 1600s and has a tunnel in the cellars leading out to the Thames. Another building on the square housed a gentleman called Edward Adrian Wilson, a doctor at that time, who was to join Robert Falcon Scott on his attempt to reach the South Pole in Antarctica in 1912. He was one of the two men still left with Scott when they died thanks to a blizzard preventing them reaching the supply dump that could have saved them. It was the habit at the time to send young doctors to the slum areas to gain experience, so Edward Wilson came here.

Just thought I’d mention it. There’s a lot going on in this world.

In Dark Slivers I wrote a whole chapter, Post-Mersh, entirely about the golden age of Kurt Cobain’s musical experimentation basically centred between 1987-1989. I feel I overlooked a similar flourish in 1993, one I hadn’t even considered before.

While the earlier period saw Kurt Cobain probing and testing what could be done with sound while on a budget of bare pennies, 1993 afforded him, and Nirvana, the chance to buy in new sounds. Kurt’s increasing distain for continuing with what he was doing, the way he was doing it, had one positive consequence which is that it led to more space for the band to try new things.

A first new direction came via the addition of Dave Grohl as an active contributor of musical ideas. This began with Dave playing Kurt a demo of Alone + Easy Target recorded in 1991. Kurt responded enthusiastically reportedly saying “oh, finally, now I don’t have to be the only songwriter in the band!” The first tangible collaboration was the arrival of Dave’s ideas that became Scentless Apprentice at rehearsals in late 1992. This was a genuinely new development; Chad Channing has stated that he felt openly discouraged from having pretensions toward creative participation in Nirvana’s music. Now, in 1992-1993, Kurt even said in interview how pleased he was that some of the burden would be off his shoulders.

Of course this new potential didn’t last long. Rio de Janeiro in January 1993 saw Kurt allegedly supplying some backing vocals to the demo’ed cover of song Onward into Countless Battles, so some forward motion was being maintained. Then Dave’s song Marigold was used on the Heart Shaped Box single. The only problem there, however, was that when Dave recorded the song at the Pachyderm Studios sessions in February 1993, Kurt didn’t perform on the song at all. Rather than a fresh collaborative approach it’s more like using his band members for convenient filler at a time when he had far less to offer.

After that it’s hard to disentangle the general spiral of Kurt Cobain’s life from the specific issue of band collaboration. It’s certainly true that after the PR-friendly statements about this fresh creative input to Nirvana’s music, there was barely any studio play or rehearsals whatsoever. It’s possible the public statements were a reflection of Kurt’s famed inability to openly confront many things he was unhappy with. That would make the long absence of collaboration with his comrades in Nirvana a way of giving a hint at how welcome he found their desire to participate as equals rather than as faithful supporters of his vision. Or maybe it was simply a relief to opt-out of the music and focus on making collages and art works at home with which to decorate the music that was emerging.

A common pattern with many bands, once they’re in possession of the money and fame to get away with it, is that they seek out a wider array of musical options to toss at their recordings. As examples, think of Guns n’ Roses with the grand pianos and string quartets, or Radiohead with the wholesale move into beats and keyboards. Nirvana never went that far; it was a vestigial opening in their sound that notably shied away from electronics or from a zeitgeist-hunting dive into the latest sounds.

Instead Nirvana reprised ideas they had briefly nodded to in the past — it’s a curiously circular path, part of a wider span of evidence that I’ve pointed to in the sample chapter I placed on here in the November 18, 2012 post. The addition of a second guitar seemed a genuinely desired option with Nirvana trying Big John Duncan (formerly and most famously of punk band The Exploited) before settling on Pat Smear (formerly and most famously of punk band The Germs.) It’s intriguing that just a year after Incesticide had tied Nirvana to various strains of the underground (to be followed by the link up with The Jesus Lizard), Nirvana attempted to add such solid punk era credentials to their line-up.

Pat Smear genuinely did seem to add creative options for Kurt Cobain as well as relieving live burdens. The final known recording work by Kurt Cobain involved Pat, similarly Pat has spoken about abortive requests from Kurt to work together in hotel rooms on tour. Again, though it didn’t add to a broadening of the instrumental palette, a second guitar could potentially have added something new to Nirvana’s sound.

The Pachyderm sessions apparently saw a brief jam attempted, now known as Lullaby, utilising an organ located at the site. The three instruments listed in Gillian G. Gaar’s description of the piece are “organ, bass and drums” suggesting that, once again, Kurt Cobain had discarded his guitar and had ended up on another instrument, an increasingly common feature. The dual role of vocalist and lead guitarist always automatically made Kurt Cobain the front man and figurehead. Having a second guitarist, or these periodic switches to drums (Sao Paolo concert in January, one song in the Rio sessions, here at Pachyderm, the 1994 home demos) appear to be a way to step back into the shadows to some extent, to abdicate the central role.

Lori Goldston’s addition on cello was another repeated preference. Originally band friend Kirk Canning had added the instrument to Something in the Way back in 1991; Kera Schaley then took over and applied touches to Dumb and All Apologies in 1993. To then add Lori Goldston as a full addition to the touring ensemble was a fresh step but not an unprecedented addition to Nirvana’s music. It’s interesting that, while a perfect fit for the MTV Unplugged in New York format, Lori’s inclusion had already been decided on and had taken place earlier — happy coincidence. It was at that show also that the final new instrument, Krist Novoselic’s accordion detour on Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam took place.

The acoustic direction has been suggested as one direction for Kurt Cobain; a few months back I suggested that the trend in his music seemed more toward the noisy with acoustic guitars remaining a feature for home practice only…Now there’s a new option, perhaps there could have been a fleshed out and fuller Nirvana, a more cluttered, yet also more orchestrated and mature sound. It’s a possibility.

…But I admit it. I’ve been trying to be positive yet the evidence amounts to scraps. The addition of such punk-originated second guitar options perhaps supports the idea that 1992-1994’s turn toward noisier songs would continue. Or the permanent concert residency for the cello may mean that the mooted acoustic direction could have also ushered in a wider arsenal of ‘organic’ instrumentation. Or in a continued Nirvana either Dave or Pat might have been the source of a dilution of the Cobain-centric band creating new directions for the music. 1993 deserves to be seen as a new age of experimentation for Nirvana, but one that simultaneously shows evidence of disinterest and/or a sense of confusion about what the future should be, or whether there was a future at all.

Snow in London_Chelsea Dogs

Take a look at photo 2 – for the Brits among you, can you see any subtle hints that I was in Chelsea? For the non-Brits, I’m sure every city has a bit like this, where the rich n’ mad come out to play… Photo 1 meanwhile, well, London has all of a centimetre of snow so naturally it’ll grind to a halt.

Anyways I added the Nirvana Related New Music category to the blog sorting options today. There are three people who inspired me to do this. The first, whom we’ll discuss today, is Brett R. of band Egg Eggs; the second is Adam Casto of Nerd Table; the third is Adam H. over in LA who has shared some music with me that I’m itching to drop on here and that I WILL be buying soon as he lets me (genuinely, I promise you this guy is worth waiting for – there’s a real treat coming.)

I’m still working slowly on a post on the topic of Nirvana’s Legacy but it seems redundant as I’ve come to realise so many of the fans who have bought the book from me are active musicians in their own right; that’s the legacy right there, individuals with the guts n’ bravery to stand up, create something, express something. If there’s a legacy then looking at the grunge-dyed lame hard rock acts of the late nineties isn’t the place to go – it’s the people ploughing their own roads regardless of commerciality. I always come back to the fact that Kurt Cobain’s most unique act was to stand on top of the music industry, look at all it was offering him if he would just compromise, sell, give them friendly product…And he refused.

So! Brett…Brett kindly took the time to place his review of Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide on this week – was delighted to see it, thought it was balanced, articulate and fair, kind even. Meanwhile, we’re here to celebrate his birthday for which Feeding Tube Records (who have done the world a considerable service issuing lost live recordings of no wave band MARS) have honoured the man with the Moose/Big People Band/Diagram A & Belltone Suicide split LP entitled ‘Fuck Brett’. Its so touching it brings tears to the eyes doesn’t it…?

Here’s a sample, the album will be out imminently:

The liner notes are extensive and tell the tale of the full birthday party (June 23, 2012), this is just another snippet of a far longer and more articulate tale with extensive photography also:


Anyways, happy birthday Brett, thanks for the Nirvana wisdom that you’ve brought to my efforts to tweak the next print run of the book and congratulations on the release.