Archive for March, 2013

So…You waded through the umpteen tables and figures across the last three articles and the message came through loud and clear? Wow, I do hope so. This exercise represents several weeks of data work and trying to formulate the right words to express the quest. The question I was asking at the start was very simple “did Nirvana, when performing live, have a preference for Side A or Side B of their albums or was it fairly random?” The answer was pretty emphatic:

TOTALS_All Albums_Side A Side B

Oh, but hang on…There’s a kicker. Until Nirvana had recorded and worked out each album, there was no Side A or Side B — the orders didn’t exist yet. So, if we really want to see how powerfully Nirvana invested in the organisation of their albums, what we should be looking at is how dominant Side A was if we only consider shows that were on or after the dates their three studio albums came out. Those dates are June 15, 1989 for Bleach; Sept 24, 1991 for Nevermind; Sept 13, 1993 for In Utero respectively. We could push the date back slightly by trolling old magazine articles to find when the album song listings were revealed but we’d only be moving the date by a matter of weeks. Upon these dates the structure of Side A and Side B was publically and absolutely set in stone for each album — does that affect how dominant Side A or Side B of each album was?

The answer is yes, take a look:

TOTALS_Post Album Release

The answer is absolutely crystal-clear; Nirvana played more songs from Side A 93% of the time and more or equal an amazing 99% of the time; there are only six occasions ever, after the dates of each album release, where Nirvana favoured Side B, that’s despite the fact that Side B of Nevermind and Side B of In Utero were longer by one song each. The six shows are:

Nevermind — September 27, 1991; November 6, 1991; November 29, 1991; February 22, 1992; August 6, 1993
In Utero — February 14, 1994

This isn’t a commentary on the aesthetic preference of fans for one side or the other, it’s a demonstration that, of 417 potential opportunities, Nirvana deviated only six times — the band had committed to a certain list of songs to constitute Side A and Side B and as far as can be told that same decision that was made on vinyl was also made on stage too. This isn’t an attempt to declare that Side A was all genius (In Bloom versus Drain You) or on suitability of individual songs (why was Polly anymore appropriate or inappropriate than Something in the Way as a mid-set breather?) or that Side B was leftovers and filler. Nirvana committed to twelve songs per album (plus two bonus tracks) and all their albums are great…What we are saying here is that they put a lot more of the songs they played more often on Side A. It does raise the question whether it’s a case of decisions being made by individuals or the band en masse which might explain the absolutely rigid result here as the consequence of compromise — that’s interesting in and of itself but I can’t answer that.

So, we’ve established is that when playing live, Nirvana favoured their chosen Side A over their chosen Side B on Bleach, on Nevermind and on In Utero. In the case of Bleach this result could be wished away by saying Side A was longer by two songs plus it’s a fact that the band arranged the record with their favourites first. In the case of Nevermind and In Utero, Side B was longer to the tune of one bonus track in each case yet the band’s favouritism toward Side A persisted suggesting there was an underlying reason they did so. If we really want to emphasise the coherence of Side A, here’s the stats for how many times Nirvana played the WHOLE of Side A or Side B:

TOTALS_Playing Whole Side

Remember, again, at this point that this isn’t a case of declaring “better or worse”, it’s simply a demonstration of two things; firstly, the band’s own preference for what to play, and secondly, the tight link between the division of their albums (as primarily tape or vinyl entities) and their performances in concert. Nor am I saying that the band consciously sat down and said “OK, let’s play this much from this side of X album, this much from Y album…”

What I am saying is that the band consciously chose a certain bunch of songs to be Side A or Side B of an album. If we can agree on that point then there are two perspectives that follow from the facts above and the articles the last three days. Either, on the one hand, Nirvana front-loaded their albums with their most commercial songs, the songs that appealed most to their record labels and audiences then agreed (under some kind of pressure) to focus on those songs…OR, on the other hand, Nirvana front-loaded their albums with the majority of songs they knew to be their finest and their favourites and when heading out on stage played the songs they most wanted to play.

It’s your call. My personal opinion is that Nirvana were never forced to play anything. They simply put their ‘best foot first’ on both their albums and at their shows, the unconscious result being a constant, unrelenting and undeviating tendency to play Side A. As reinforcement for that view, look at the articles this past month trying to fill the gaps in the live set-lists; Nirvana were usually very rigid at the start of their shows — they knew how to open — then they would go astray, flex, vary and change toward the back halves of shows. It’s simply far easier to pick one’s top six than one’s top twelve, it’s easier to know where to start than where to finish.

Those who are aware of my minor league fixation on the Incesticide compilation and its subsidiary status as a component of the Nirvana catalogue may be surprised I haven’t exercised my Excel fixation in relation to that particular release and this particular exercise. The reason is fairly simple; a chronologically organised release with all but one of its 1989-1991 songs on Side A and all its 1988 tracks (plus one 1989 outtake) on Side B has been arranged with chronology taken into account so, reasonably enough, Side B wins four early shows; Side B wins the remaining 230 complete set-lists of Nirvana’s entire career from 1989 onward. No surprise so I won’t count it.

In Utero is far more crucial; the final piece. In the case of Bleach, we could waive the Side A preference claiming that there were more songs (true!), in the case of Nevermind we could claim commerciality (arguable!) but In Utero was the definitive break away from commercial impulses, the attempt to recapture the underground spirit. Was Side A as important and if so, what can we conclude? Well, In Utero first pops up at the incredible show Nirvana performed on November 25, 1990 with Dumb and Radio Friendly Unit Shifter both appearing; a draw. 1991?

Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 In Utero

In Utero songs were played on 31 complete set-lists in 1991; six wins for Side B and seven draws…But still, that means Side A was played more on 18 occasions (58%) and won/drew even on 25 (80%.) It’s a full year of tit-for-tat, one song or another song; I admit I find it interesting that Nirvana were so consistent in ‘rationing’ the number of new songs they would shove into a set-list, it makes me wonder if Pennyroyal Tea, Rape Me, All Apologies and Dumb were already associated in Kurt Cobain’s mind; certainly Rape Me had its parody of Smells Like Teen Spirit while Dumb was derived from Polly so there is a connection at least between those two tracks. 1992 continues the easing up:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1992 In Utero

Songs from In Utero were played eight times across 28 complete set-lists — in a reversal of fortune it’s the one year ever when Side B of one of Nirvana’s three studio albums was played more than Side A and quite defiantly so. It doesn’t last, however:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1993 In Utero

Side a_Side b Dominance 1994_In Utero

From the very start of 1993, Side A dominance reasserts itself absolutely; 37 set-lists, Side A wins in 32 of them and draws in 5, Side B doesn’t win even once. In one of the few surprises ever thrown up in the history of Nirvana’s 1994 tour, there’s at least one single win for Side B, plus three draws, leaving 14 wins to Side A. As percentages we’re looking at an 86% win rate in 1993 for Side A, or 100% if we wrap in the draws; 78% in 1994 or 94% including draws.

So, here are the totals for In Utero:

Side a_Side b_In Utero Overall

Again, even though the pattern is weaker, we’re still dealing with very solid Side A dominance; 65 of 95 shows were Side A dominant (68%), 14 were Side B dominant (15%.)

What does this amount to overall? Well, tallying up the results, across the songs from three studio albums, across seven years, 513 of 571 shows were Side A dominant (90%), 551 shows (97%) were a Side A win and/or draw. Is that a sufficiently hefty trend to suggest something may have been inherent in the way Nirvana structured albums? Let me reverse the stats for full clarity; only 20 shows (6 for Nevermind, 14 for In Utero) ever featured more songs from Side B, that’s a mere 3% in total. Including draws, Side B won or achieved parity 58 times (10%).

OK, so we’ve shown that Nirvana played more songs from Side A of Bleach on a consistent basis — so what? Well, let’s keep digging before pre-emptively drawing conclusions. I totally admit that I’ve always enjoyed Side A of Nevermind more than Side B, I’m very aware that’s a personal preference and I’m totally desirous that endless repetition may have drained a little life from the songs therein…But it made me wonder…

Even though it risked skewing the results I wanted to make this as full an exploration as possible so I commenced stat-gathering from the moment the first song to feature on Bleach, Nevermind or In Utero came into existence — I do feel what’s most pertinent is what the band played once the full album was built but…What the hey, 1989!

Side a_Side b Dominance 1989 Nevermind

OK, fine, the year is Side A orientated because that’s what’s in existence. And 1990?

Side a_Side b Dominance 1990 Nevermind

1990, again, is totally dominated by Side A — the main surprise is how little of Nevermind even appears at all; In Bloom and Stay Away appear in April/May surrounding the Smart Studios session, Lithium isn’t recorded as making an appearance until October, likewise Something in the Way in November — Lithium potentially makes its first showing on a date we don’t have a full set-list for, 1990 has a lot of holes. Surely 1991 offers more to this query?

Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 Nevermind P1

Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 Nevermind P2

It does…But once again Nirvana is decisively Side A focused. Of 69 full set-lists, Nirvana plays more songs from Side B on four occasions (Sept 20, Sept 27, Nov 6, Nov 29) and only achieves parity at further ten show; in other words, at 55 of 69 shows Nirvana played more Side A tracks — that’s 80% of the time. I counted Endless Nameless as part of Side A, reasonably enough, despite its bonus track status, but without its presence what we’d be seeing is a year in which, of 69 full set-lists, Nirvana played more songs from Side A on 62 occasions and only played more songs from Side B on a grand total of two dates — 90% domination.

Removing Endless Nameless from 1991

So, how did things change after the release of Nevermind? If anything it got worse, here’s 1992:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1992 Nevermind

There’s one occasion all year when Nirvana played more songs from Side B, seven draws — again, the removal of Endless Nameless from consideration would deduct significantly:

Removing Endless Nameless from 1992

What the hey; we’re looking at a year with 28 complete set-lists in which Nirvana preferred Side A of Nevermind on either 20 occasions or 23 occasions and Feb 22 is the only date Side B won. In 1992 it isn’t just that Nirvana preferred Side A, it’s that they’re regularly playing the whole of that side; they do so on twelve occasions and only once do they drop below five.

Side a_Side b Dominance 1993 Nevermind

Side a_Side b Dominance 1994 Nevermind

Above we’re looking at 1993 and 1994 respectively and the trend continues; 37 full set-lists in 1993, only one in which Side B features more (they play only one song from Nevermind on August 6) and only four draws — 32 wins for Side A or 86% of the time in other words — while in 1994 this alters to a complete 100% record in favour of Side A. On 39 occasions Nirvana played the whole of Side A, no wonder Kurt Cobain was bored of it, but still, that was the preference.

So, what to conclude? Well, start with the simple numbers:

Side a_Side b_Nevermind Overall

In the case of Bleach, OK, the Side A dominance could be explained away by the fact that there were more songs on Side A. But on Nevermind there are more songs on Side A yet more songs are played from Side A on 207 of 235 set-lists (88%)and more or even on 229 of 235 occasions (97%) on which Nevermind songs are played; that’s crushing dominance to Side A yet again.

In the case of Nevermind, one argument (derived from something someone stated on the LiveNirvana forum) could be that Side A was Nirvana’s more commercial material; that would imply Nirvana were either playing the crowd-pleasers or were being forced to do so; or, as I simply believe, I think Nirvana played the songs they knew were their best. You choose. And anyways, we still have In Utero to consider but so far Nirvana preferred Side A (adding together number of occasions on which Bleach tracks appeared plus number of occasions on which Nevermind tracks appeared) on 448 of 476 occasions. Side A was a win and/or a draw on 470 occasions (99%); there were only six occasions EVER where Nirvana favoured Side B of Nevermind. So…How about In Utero?

Often my excursions into the online Nirvana forums are motivated simply by an early inkling of something that might end up here on the blog — a testing of the waters. Similarly, a lot of material that I place here is the equivalent of letting you see my working out — I want to give you all the data so you can work it all out for yourselves and use it as you wish.

While examining the 1992 set-lists I diverted, on a sudden whim, into another area. What I’d noted was that despite the increasingly recurrent complaints about fame and Nevermind and the demanding nature of audiences, Nirvana were solidly wedded to that album throughout the year; there was only one occasion all year, January 24, when the band played less than eight songs from Nevermind and on 17 occasions played ten-eleven songs, virtually the full album! As usual it seems that complaining to the media wasn’t the same as taking any action. It was fun, to me, to see how totally dominant Nevermind was that year.

But there was a deeper oddity. I’ll leave it to one side for the moment and simply show the outcome of the data work I engaged in to explore the idea. I worked only with the fully complete set-lists in order to avoid skewing results via incomplete set information. This is the preference for Side A/Side B of Bleach across 1987-1988 (green equals Side A, red equals Side B):

Side a_Side b Dominance 1987-1988 Bleach

Total victory for Side A of Bleach. And 1989:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1989 Bleach

So, in 1989, the only occasion where Side B came close to parity with the prevalence of Side A is at the notorious show at the Piper Club where Kurt dumped his guitar and threatened suicide and one show where the band quit early. And on into 1990:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1990 Bleach


Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 Bleach P1

Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 Bleach P2


Side a_Side b Dominance 1992 Bleach

And, finally, 1993 and 1994:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1993 Bleach

Side a_Side b Dominance 1994 Bleach

What am I saying? I’m saying, that there is never, at any point in Nirvana’s entire career, in the full record of 241 live shows where Nirvana played more songs from Side B of Bleach, not one. It makes July 12, 1989 one of the most special Nirvana gigs, simply by virtue of the fact that they played more of Side B on the date, four songs, than on any other known occasion.

OK, I’m accepting of the fact that Side A had seven songs compared to Side B’s five but it’s still the level of dominance that is of interest to me; as early as December 21, 1988 Nirvana are playing five from Side A; in 1989 they play the whole of Side A at nine of 43 known shows and six of seven Side A songs at a further THIRTY shows; even as late as September 1992 they’re still kicking out five of seven. By contrast, the reappearance of Swap Meet and Scoff for seven dates in June-July 1992 was the first time since October 6, 1991 — 56 shows and eight months back — that Nirvana played anything at all from Side B of Bleach, with July 2, 1992 being the last time the band would ever play anything from that side of the album.

It lends weight to the story that Sub Pop insisted on Nirvana placing their songs on Bleach in order of preference; their favourites to the front. As a second thought; Side A was heavily loaded with the older Nirvana songs, ones that had benefitted from more time and energy. This can be seen in the way that Love Buzz and Floyd the Barber were already present in 1987, Paper Cuts was added by January 1988, Blew by March then School in October. Side B, by contrast, didn’t begin to build until the March 1988 appearance of Big Cheese with Mr. Moustache and Sifting arising for the summer single recording session then appearing in concert in October. Though each side needed more songs, it was Side A that had the most complete and honed material earliest suggesting that the rushed material was shoe-horned onto Side B to get the album up to twelve songs.

Side a_Side b_Bleach Overall

Remember, what we’re looking at here is not a question of aesthetic quality; it’s simply a very basic question of how many songs from Side A/Side B appeared — answer? Side A won 241 times across seven calendar years. But what of Nevermind and In Utero?

Sound City and Resurrection

Posted: March 26, 2013 in Nirvana News

Given the extensive discussion related to the Sound City story in numerous other locations, I’ll admit I haven’t really focused on it too much — I’d hate to be a repetitious presence even for just ten minutes of your day. But…Well, to clear it out of the way…

Even the Daily Telegraph, a respected British broadsheet newspaper of a mildly and moderately right-wing bent, is getting in on the ersatz-Cobain act suggesting Kim Gordon, Courtney Love, Neil Young, Daniel Johnston and Black Francis/Frank Black. Over on LiveNirvana discussion centred on the NME tabloid-styled reporting of PJ Harvey as the key candidate and I admit to accidentally touching sensitive nerves with a suggestion that they may as well tease fans and see what an Eddie Vedder or Axl Rose rendition sounded like — I admit it, that was baiting trouble.

Ultimately, however, I think the core issue is that whoever Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear chose to play with, there’d be challenges; the importance of that trio is centred around the death of a particular individual who has attained Godhead status making any cooperation between them both noteworthy and fraught — the only reason anyone is bothered is because it’s Nirvana and by extension, it’s Kurt Cobain, otherwise who would notice? Similarly, playing the songs, songs the individuals concerned acknowledge were primarily the product of their absent friend’s creativity, has a certain weight. It makes it too easy to provoke howls by employing an individual who somehow doesn’t possess the air of authenticity or achievement that is required when looking for a simulacrum to stand in place of the original.

On the other hand, simply looking for a karaoke performer, someone capable of a functional rendition; that would seem shameful, a reductionist approach not in keeping with the ‘spirit of Nirvana’. But does anyone genuinely want to hear something more than a repeat? Imagine a situation similar to the Peter Hook/Joy Division scenario where the band continually resurrect, revise and repeat the dead past with tweaks and new voices — it can end up unpalatable despite all the avid consideration of who might lend a voice to the project.

The back history slams right into the knowledge everyone has that three friends collaborating shouldn’t be much of a worry, there’s no reason for it to matter beyond the “aw, that’s nice” aspect of talented individuals getting together and playing music again. That uncomfortable collision — “it matters but it doesn’t matter” — is what makes it such a newsworthy subject. In my opinion it ends up tied to the Freud-originated concept of The Uncanny, ( The performance of Kurt Cobain’s music, by his original band draws attention to his absence meaning the live performance is simultaneously a reminder of death, of disappearance; the greater the similarity of the performer to the original, the more attention is focused on how it isn’t the same, how it might look and sound right but there’s a hole right through it that the human mind can’t avoid circling. Plucking the voice, the image, the words from their original context —irrevocably tied, in popular media imagery, to violent death, debilitating drug addiction and despair; a web firmly woven around Nirvana — can’t help but cause disquiet no matter how well selected the chosen individual who plays mouthpiece and mannequin for the renewed act.

This isn’t a criticism of anyone’s intentions, I feel it’s intrinsic to the topic. In my view, the three individuals at the core of things have been working extremely hard to navigate the waters without causing offence. What I’ve noted is that the band refuse to place the name Nirvana on top of anything they’ve done in relation to Sound City while looking at PJ Harvey as a replacement means they’ve considered people who would meet a range of criteria; Kurt Cobain’s potential approval, indie-stardom and achievement, and arguably taking things in a different enough direction that making a direct comparison is exceedingly difficult. The only issue is that handling the music of Nirvana with such caution and care reinforces the message that this is the equivalent of touching fragmentary remains of the true cross; relics requiring ritual, appropriate priestly interpreters, a coterie of worshippers circling the chosen altar. By being so decent about things it makes it even harder to simply play the songs.

Ultimately, for the next ten years, at least until the survivors of Nirvana are in their sixties and hopefully far too occupied to stage a return, these reunion tales will reoccur over and again. Get used to it; we’re going to be rereading and rehashing the same ol’ “who could take the place of Kurt Cobain” games a good few times to come. Save the articles somewhere and enjoy seeing how egregiously the newspapers rip off their own past coverage to quickly and effortlessly fill column inches. As for the Sound City tribute album…Whatever, it’s a tribute album melding a blur of old school hard rock musicians and modern mainstream rock musicians together; like all hard rock, it’s enjoyable but is it anything I’d want on the shelf? Not really.

And the core item, Grohl, Novoselic, Smear and McCartney’s recording Cut Me Some Slack? You’ll make up your own mind, I’ve no intention of my opinion taking any priority over yours — music is personal. In my opinion it’s echoes of U2’s Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me melded to The Beatles’ Helter Skelter — fine references in the hard rock canon but bugger all to do with Nirvana and the corpse of alternative rock. Maybe with critical distance we’ll look back and it’ll be further evidence of the aging of Dave Grohl from hardcore punk (Scream), to alternative rock (Nirvana), to FM-friendly rock (Foo Fighters) to, essentially, M.O.R. smooth sounds of the Seventies. Some heroes get old enough to fade away on a lulling wave of applause and friendly acclaim; the river reducing boulders to soft pebbles.

Having said that…It’s still kinda fun…

On a regular basis the lyrics and titles of Kurt Cobain’s songs often had only a loose connection – sometimes it was just a way of getting out phrases he liked at the time. Liked is perhaps an understatement; in the period from 1992 onwards he seemed to pay very specific attention to titles and to use them with weighty intent and as very direct commentaries on his circumstances and his particular grievances at the time.

The examples are well known; Nine Month Media Blackout references the birth of his child and the cutting off of contact with what he deemed to be intrusive press — Radio Friendly Unit Shifter referring to commercially appealing single material (used for a song that was anything but — the inoffensive Sappy, a title with a five year heritage, being stripped and having Verse Chorus Verse grafted onto it making a point about the supposedly repetitious and tedious cookie-cutter music format he was trapped within — the In Utero album itself going through a few switches whether he wanted to reference sarcastic inquiries as to his state of mind (I Hate Myself and I Want to Die) or to reiterate the love of a particular title and the boredom motif (Verse Chorus Verse again) before settling on In Utero; back to baby references. This focus on the ‘in-your-face’ significance of titles, that these would be the repeated memes appearing in reviews and magazine articles, that these would be the first things seen and commented on even prior to the music and lyrics, was extensive. I’d also argue it was significant; the titles on Bleach and Nevermind were not devoid of meaning or connection to their subjects but they were not the jagged blades being deployed and aimed at enemies and irritations on In Utero and its surrounding single/compilation releases.

That stand-out messaging within titles continued with a number of other titles being equally literal and direct; Frances Farmer will Have her Revenge on Seattle linking to the much abused fallen star placed in an asylum by her mother and the court system — Serve the Servants referencing the Cobain family’s running around and subservience to court systems and parentage — Pennyroyal Tea’s abortion motif… What is less considered is how early, during this spell of fraught discontent, that the naming focus commences. I argued the significance of Incesticide in the Dark Slivers book (Christmastime jibe at happy family propaganda; reference to the discarded and neglected songs; killing the practice of damaging families…) but, beyond this, and preceding the In Utero sessions spell, there was a further outpouring; the April 1992 recording sessions.

The Journals make very clear that the two titles chosen and plastered onto Nirvana’s first post-Nevermind original recordings were related to one another. On page 185 a page long rant references, sarcastically, how he, Kurt Cobain, had betrayed the punk aesthetic with “oh the success! The guilt!” being a key half-smiling wail while “oh the guilt the guilt” forms the title. The same rant uses the word Curmudgeon to refer to rock critics in another phrase that would clearly stick with him mashing together “the self-appointed rock judge curmudgeon.” It’s a curious piece in that it also shows Kurt using the “I hope I die before I turn into Pete Townsend” line that he’s recording saying after a rendition of Baba O’Riley in Rennes, France on December 7, 1991; his retention of information is incredible, or alternatively the piece in the Journals dates to the December-January spell in which he was catapulted to worldwide, and unexpected, renown — to imagine him reacting against the press so early seems unusual, however, but still, possible.

The Journals take us further; page 260 shows both phrases being popular mantras he was using at the time — yet another dual reference to “pissy little self appointed judge curmudgeon oh the guilt! The guilt! The fame, the lights, the flash, the glitter, the guilt.” Again, Kurt Cobain seems to either read back his own diaries and hook out favoured expressions, or holds onto certain formulations. The latter suggestion is present in Cobain’s argument that he used “I hate myself and I want to die” as his standard rote answer to any inquiries about how he felt in late 1992 but whether that extends to this very precise Oh the Guilt/Curmudgeon expression it’s unclear. What is clear is that both expressions were clung to and were elements he wanted to broadcast to the world, slipping them out in Autumn of 1992 (Lithium single) and early 1993 (joint single with The Jesus Lizard) grafted onto the first new originals from Nirvana. The songs have been seen, traditionally, as an opening salvo prior to In Utero’s bile; this is indeed an accurate assessment. What is less appreciated is that they were revealing of a fresh approach to naming songs in which targeting his own annoyances and branding his enemies as directly as possible would be a priority.

These two songs are also a fair reminder that the traditional game of relating songs’ titles to the meaning of the song on which they are pasted, doesn’t always apply when it comes to Nirvana. Especially on b-side material, and particularly in this late phase, the words used to brand his songs didn’t bare much relation to the lyrical content of the songs even if it’s hard to think of them separately once the merging has been made.

I think I’ve mentioned before that being a writer is not a career path I’d ever want to pursue as a solo activity, however, without the time to dedicate to writing during the day, doing it around a real job creates compromises, sacrifices, an inability to press and consider as deeply as one could. Gillian G. Gaar has published some of the finest literature on Nirvana (amid a sea of awful cash-ins; no names) and deserves support from fans therefore I thought I’d reiterate that it’s possible to support her and her work at present at a difficult time. The text below is a repeat of a previous post but it’s a Sunday and I don’t normally post on Sundays anyways…

A late night post, those of you following on Twitter and Facebook will have this link separately — a very worthy cause indeed. Gillian G. Gaar has been an immense source of inspiration to the Nirvana community overall and to myself personally. Having already written a crucial guide to the recording sessions of Nirvana in the late Nineties, she went on to write a number of the most significant and revealing texts related to the band specifically:

 In Utero by Gillian G. Gaar (2006)
 The Rough Guide to Nirvana (2009)
 The Treasures of Nirvana (2011)
 Entertain Us! The Rise of Nirvana (2012)

As a personal anecdote, when I first started this whole Incesticide business it was in response to a request for proposals from 33 1/3 and naturally the key text I owned and that acted as my first port of call when I wondered if I could do this was Gillian’s volume on In Utero.

Separate to this Gillian was involved in curating the With the Lights Out box-set that came out in 2004; has published a number of really wicked books related to women in music (among other topics) and its really visible the extent to which she interacts with and shares with the Nirvana fan community who, of course, are so reliant on the good will of people willing to add new knowledge, insight and information.
The text below is direct from the link above, I think it’s a worthy cause for an individual who has been of benefit to me and I hope that any Nirvana fan out there would want to support it.
Good night and best wishes.

“Hello; I am raising money for my eye surgery this May. I have a deterioration in my left eye the doctor plans to curtail through surgery. In addition to the costs of surgery, there’s a pre-surgery physical, at least three post-surgical appointments, and medicines to be paid for. Because it’s outpatient surgery, there are no hospital costs.

I’m self-employed and have no insurance. As you know, writing work has its ups and downs, and I’m currently having a hard time making ends meet even without this new expense. You can sometimes put off things (like getting new glasses) hoping your circumstances will change, but this is something that can’t be put off.

So I’m reaching out hoping to get some funding from friends. You probably know what kind of economic quandries writers these days are facing. Any support is gratefully appreciated!
Funds are collected through Paypal, but you don’t have to have a Paypal account to donate. Here is what it says in Youcaring’s FAQ: “After you click “Give” on the campaign, you’ll be taken to a PayPal screen. At the top, you’ll see “Choose a Way To Pay.” Click on “Pay with a credit or debit card.” Uncheck the box that says “Save this information with a PayPal account. It’s easy and free to sign up. Learn more about PayPal.” Then proceed to donate as a Guest.”

You’ll have to forgive me today, I’m on holiday but normal service will be resumed on Monday.

Tonight, myself and a friend are off to the Scottish Storytelling Centre ( to see the Annual Scottish Tall Tales Storytelling Competition which promises the “hilarious, mysterious or just plain ridiculous – ferocious fibs and fables performed live on stage by Scotland’s finest tellers, then you decide who wins the lucrative accolade of Oscar the Leprechaun!” I mean…Wha? It’s perfect, I love a good storyteller and every good story deserves a little exaggeration.

Now, very tangentially, reading through the lists of minor league bands and performances taking place in Edinburgh and Glasgow this evening, and noting the storytelling event made me recall reading the Nirvana Live Guide and loving all the random bands who filled Nirvana’s early days. Similarly, it made me wonder about the Brown Cow/Brown Towel performance – if you want to feel what that early show, the second time Kurt Cobain had apparently been on a venue stage, felt like, just look in your local paper, check the local listings. There’ll be a handful of hopefuls making a “joyous noise unto the lord” night after night with no precise clue what they’re doing, hyped up and nervous, just going for it without letting the fear of embarrassment hold them back.

The questions I have about the performance in question revolve around the words; Kurt Cobain recited poetry over background noise, I wonder how much of this ‘poetry’ was stripped from songs we already know of on the Fecal Matter demo? I wonder how much went onto reuse in the early Nirvana recordings where storytelling songs, songs with a longer coherent narrative thread (Polly, Floyd the Barber, Paper Cuts) were relatively plentiful? I also assume that his recitation was less a case of spoken word seriousness and instead revealed the attempts to speak in the tongues of others that had been revealed on Fecal Matter where he, for the last time, noteably spoke in a character’s voice, or the continued vocal experimentation that was still alive a year and a half later on the January 23, 1988 recordings.

Anyways, questions…Always more questions…No answers here but I thought I’d share what runs through my head and the kind of pondering that leads to some of the posts I end up whacking up here.

It’s time to relax, and you know what that means, a tall mocha frappuccino with peppermint syrup, no cream, skinny milk, an extra shot of moca and a domed lid (if you don’t mind, thank you) — a comfy office chair and, of course, a genius cover of a Pixies’ classic playing on your home stereo…

Actually…Given I’m on a train to Edinburgh making use of the fifteen minutes free Wi-Fi and moving darn fast on the ol’ typing front, I’m not sure ‘time to relax’ is a fair description of the morning. But I do hope these guys are going to lend a little chill-out to your day.

I’ve been listening to quite a lot of them recently, Trampled by Turtles, a gentleman called Erik got in touch and has been hugely encouraging regarding the book — gave me a fair insight into the work involved for him and the band when it comes to using the Internet to build connections; he’s right, ultimately getting out into the world, playing for, reading to, speaking with people will never be replaced by electronics and anonymous screens.

Erik initially shared a copy of the band covering Something in the Way; I was intrigued despite the fuzzy live smartphone sound — reminded me of some of the Nirvana recordings I was listening to way back when; I still adore Even in his Youth partly because the first time I heard it I could barely make it out on the multi-generation taping I was listening to, I had to invent words, there wasn’t much more I could hear other than drums and chunky soup-like main riffage. It was enough to make me want to hear more.

It’s sometimes enough of a comfort just to hear someone else has the same inclinations; Erik pointed out that he tended not to engage with blogs, with forums, with the whole “must be social” propaganda that the tech firms are using to make the world feel sub-normal if they’re not squeezing every thought into a multimedia, 140 character socially influential, well-connecting wave at strangers… Me neither. Somehow I still feel there’s a wall I can hide behind when I’m talking Nirvana — it’s an illusion but I can say almost anything, share almost anything here within ever feeling naked, exposed, personal. It made me feel good knowing that it ain’t just me.

Anyways! Now, peoples, a final thought; isn’t it great seeing how broad the musical world has become? Bands like Nirvana, the Pixies, they weren’t about inspiring just one kind of music, a rigidly defined identity; their legacy was creativity in the broadest sense — in the case of Trampled by Voices, a talented bunch of country-influenced, alt. rock influenced guys from Duluth. It’s nice to have a reason to look up and learn a little more of somewhere on a map because someone out in the world took the time to wave and make me want to know.

Anyways…Have a good Friday, hope the music is a warm and cozy accompaniment. And I’m So going to see these guys when they’re in the UK in June. Beers with fellow fans, musically talented ones at that? I’m there.

As a starting point for our work today, remember that in 1992 all but seven shows are completely known of the 25 that took place. There’s a clear break in the year also that is of note; in January-February the band played an average of 17 songs a night across the fourteen known set-lists (a maximum, hit on two occasions, of 19). In the 14 known set-lists (of 16 shows played) covering June-October, the average jumped to twenty with Reading in particular standing out with 26 songs performed. So, how many songs is it likely we are missing?

The five dates incomplete or missing in January-February benefit from the relative consistency of that period; the shortest show as 14 songs, the longest 19, the norm 16 — we’re therefore likely to be missing a range of between 70 and 95 songs with 23 already confirmed. We’re in a different situation with the two shows missing later in the year. No set-list from June onward featured less than 17 songs (and that only on one occasion); the norm was over 21. But both missing shows are benefit appearances; Nirvana had a habit of pulling something different for ‘special events’ and both of these qualify. Ordinarily I could forecast between 34 and 42 songs, not in these two cases even with 19 of the songs played already known.

What’s noticeable is the absence of the usual ‘couplets’; in other years the presence of one song seemed to invariably lead to the playing of another. It’s gratifying to see the Negative Creep/Blew pattern persisting but it’s an increasingly twisted threesome with Been a Son. Those three songs may only appear alongside each other only five times, but there are only six shows where all three don’t appear. Even more noticeably, on the 26 of 28 fully known set-lists on which those songs (whether two or three of them) appear, there’s never more than two songs separating them. That’s impressive consistency across a very fragmented year.

Whats Left_1992_NC-BaS-Blew

There are no more consistent units to which I can turn to predict order and position beyond the opening songs as described yesterday plus the NC/B a Son/Blew trilogy. But that doesn’t mean we are scuppered with a mere 20 songs added to the record. Instead, let’s look at how consistently songs were performed across that era, how much flexibility was there? The table below indicates how consistently certain songs were performed. Firstly, remember there are 14 wholly known set-lists:

Whats Left_1992_Flexibility

So, in total, there are nine songs that are played at every single known show plus Breed which is played in 13 known and one partial set-list. How does that map to the unknown set-lists?

Note that in the figure below, from Feb 9, the line up of songs is almost identical for a full 14/15 songs with the exceptions being simply the addition or subtraction of Something in the Way and, on one occasion, the flipping round of Territorial Pissings and Drain You; that makes it very easy to confirm the missing date on Feb 21.

Whats Left_1992_Ten Songs

This is where the ‘flips’ between set-lists in January and February begin to cause doubts for those few remaining songs. After Feb 9, the set-list becomes extremely structured so our only areas for doubt are whether to add Lounge Act AND Territorial, or just one or the other, and whether one more additional song was squeezed in possibly with an Endless Nameless finale. Prior to that date, a number of songs — Negative Creep, Been a Son, Blew, On A Plain — were more usually part of the second half of a show rather than part of the start. Yet those songs were not consistently present, the set flexed. Similarly, I’m sure we’re looking at a number of performances of Love Buzz and Territorial Pissings, but how many is a matter of doubt. Beyond that it’s hard to see; maybe Something in the Way, a chance of Stain — then into the realms of unpredictability, one or two rarities at most. In total, what we’re looking at, at most, is:

Whats Left_1992_Total

From those five dates, we knew 23 songs, were missing a further 47 to 72, and can work out a potential 66 of which 39 are certainties, the others are a curious bunch; either Jan 27 saw Nirvana switching over from Floyd the Barber to Sliver (I think this is likely) or Sliver will have to appear later in the set; Feb 23 will definitely feature Blew but it may also include Something in the Way. Next, all the early dates will feature some derivation of the Been a Son/Negative Creep/Blew/On a Plain mix, with the choice on a number of dates to include Love Buzz/Territorial Pissings and maybe even Endless Nameless at the end.

Whats Left_1992_The Doubts

Ending on a high…October 3 and 4 are the other missing dates in 1992; what the Hell to do with set-lists where the known songs blend in Mexican Seafood, Beeswax, D7, Talk to Me, Curmudgeon, plus early showings of Dumb and Pennyroyal Tea… Basically, I’m going to hope the rest of each show turns up because what I think we’re looking at are the two most desirable incomplete performances left in the Nirvana live record.