The Title of Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide

A comrade, Mr. Darius Wojewodka, did me the honour of reviewing a chapter of Dark Slivers back in October as I prepared to get everything printed and ready to go. One of the comments he came back with I enjoyed very much, he mentioned the title of the book and mused:

“That’s how the chapter I read felt like, the fans had a beautiful glass object that has been smashed. They are now searching through the shards for the beauty again but are just getting bloodied hands. Bloodied hands not being most people’s definition of nirvana with a small ‘n’.”

It’s a delicious notion on multiple levels. Though increasingly a relic of the past, there’s something about the idea of an album; a complete statement, an artist’s chosen unity placed in the bands. Incesticide was Nirvana’s own self-reporting of their history and its remains; but since that time fans have seen how much was left-over, discarded or stayed unknown. The perfection was ruined. And, of course, Kurt Cobain was happily engaged in kicking the hell out of the pop-punk mainstream image of Nevermind; Incesticide was deliberate vandalism. Darius’ explanation had such beauty in itself; nirvana versus Nirvana, fans parsing the music, the story, the facts down so far they could only end up wounded — do we know too much these days? Plus, the purpose of the book was to pull apart, break, show the innards…It’s a shrewd thought.

The title, I’ll freely admit, is a bit of a mouthful. If I can explain why, well, in the early stages of writing I simply had a single document called Nirvana_Incesticide, plus two spreadsheets going; one called Nirvana_Live where I was compiling data and analysing it (I still use it), the other Nirvana_Lyrics (pretty self explanatory so no need for me to put anything in brackets.) This sufficed in the early months when I was still terrified my enthusiasm would die and I’d never finish. Why was that fear so strong? Simply because trying to cram writing in around a normal day job, eking out the hours each side of midnight, creeping forward by a few hundred words a night — I’ve been through this so many times before. Eventually it’s always ended the same way, I’ve ended up tangled up, fed up, out of images and ideas that fire my desire to finish. I didn’t know I was going to finish a book; I’m not a professional writer, I do it when I want to.

Instead, come summer, I knew I had most of a full book finished or at least plotted out to the point I could see what a conclusion would look like. I’d also seen that my thinking had stretched far beyond just a book about the Incesticide album — a desultory title that simply read like the album title was already boring to me and, now, inaccurate and misleading too. The difficulty was that the core of the book was still about the Incesticide album, even if the edges had spread out from that centre. It was only reasonable that the title remained focused on Incesticide. I wanted to find a title that reflected the fragmentary nature of Incesticide as a compilation, as well as the fragmentary nature of my work in which I wrote in single essays, or groups of essays.

Sat in a pub garden, my friend Emily Jones instigated a brainstorming session, a rip through words and verbs that maybe worked. She had a scrap of paper, back of a map, directions to the pub, words listed out, scribbled out whatever I refused and placed four fresh alternatives in place, words, just words. I was awkward, I refused many, there was never a perfection but there were options strained out from all this detritus — and this one stuck.

No deep reasons, I felt the ‘seeing’ image was right because I wanted Incesticide to act as a prism, a way of seeing wider points about the band and its works, that Incesticide wasn’t divorced from Nirvana’s other works, it was integral and, within it, other inherent truths were visible. And Dark Slivers? Over-elaborate perhaps but, by summer I could tell that quite few elements I was most enthused by within the work, were also those that cast the harshest light on Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. That isn’t a twisted ‘kill yr idols’ urge — they were simply the pieces I felt most keenly with whatever sorrow of realisation, joy of intellectual discovery that would arise thereof. The idea of a sliver, beyond the obvious nod to the Nirvana song title, touched on something being stuck inside, something sharp, painful, hard or even impossible to dig out from under the skin. It made sense for the psychological motivations I was seeing.


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