Sound City and Resurrection

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…


9 thoughts on “Sound City and Resurrection”

  1. I would actually have loved hearing PJ Harvey cover a Nirvana song.
    It would be different but PJ would have been ideal because of that. She has her own great voice.

    Plenty of people have covered Nirvana in some form – from Herbie Hancock to Lana Del Ray , from Flipper, Melvins to Take That , from Sinead O’Connor to Miley Cyrus…erm..with obviously some very mixed results !

    So i don’t see the harm be in Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic doing a cover live with someone as a good as PJ Harvey.

    It wouldn’t be a Nirvana reunion. It would have been a one-off live cover. There’s no way of a Nirvana reunion despite what silly paper articles might insinuate.

    However i’m not surprised and can understand why PJ Harvey turned the offer down. (If indeed it was ever directly made)

    Dave’s suggestion of ‘Milk It’ is kind of bit odd . Did he not consider singing “Look on the brightside suicide” might be a bit awkward on same stage as ex-Nirvana members ?

    It’s interesting if bit strange how over last 2 years Dave Grohl does actually seem to be really considering , almost itching to play one of Cobain’s songs at some point …as few years ago it would be a definate no no.
    Im sure that maybe just has lot to do with playing with Krist again?

  2. Ironically PJ Harvey turned down Nirvana’s invite to tour back in 1993. Think she toured with U2 instead which didn’t Nirvana turn down ?
    However Polly Jean did like Nirvana and they did meet a few times.
    Heres a bit from an interview by Barney Hoskyns, Rock’s Backpages, from 2004 with PJ and is very briefly asked about Nirvana and Cobain :-

    BH: Listening to Rid Of Me again, I was struck by the fact that it sounds quite like In Utero. What did you think of Kurt Cobain?

    PJH : I met him a few times. As a writer I had enormous respect for him. He was an incredible writer and an incredible singer. And when I met him I found him to be a very special person. He was one of those special people. There was a light inside him that you could see. He had a charisma that went beyond his physical presence.

    on completely unrelated note you may be amused by this:-

    1. Sheesh…Good question…

      Her album is the latest album (June ’92) on the Top 50 Albums list from Journals meaning its possible to date that listing to anytime after mid-1992…And that was her first really noteable release so you’re right it’s likely only around that time that Nirvana would meet her…

      And the Nirvana Live Guide doesn’t mention her anywhere else…

  3. PJ Harvey & Nirvana played on different days at Reading 92 so very much doubt. Nirvana were quickly in and out the last day.
    It mentions in everett true’s book them going to see PJ Harvey live a couple of times and meeting backstage when Kurt asked if wanted to tour so i guess would have been 93. also mentions how it really irritated Courtney how much Kurt liked PJ Harvey.

  4. ^I know this isn’t really the place for this sort of discussion..but what the hell! – there’s a MINOR possibility Kurt would still be here….. I am one of those “conspiratorial”, however I don’t believe Miss Love is entirely responsible. Have you ever read that interview with Greg Sage? He stated if Kurt were to leave the industry he’d be forgotten, if he were to die he’d be “immortalised”. Many people would have profited from his death aside from CL. I don’t want to go shoving my beliefs down anyone’s throat, but I really think the truth lies somewhere between the official verdict and the “conspiracy”.

    1. No reason at all you can’t comment! 🙂

      I wrote up my thoughts on it all back earlier this year – I think if you tap in conspiracy here it should pop up. I think I can still sum up my views as “if someone talks rubbish we tell them ‘that’s a lie’. But if they string together multiple bits of unverified, circumstantial and unlikely rubbish then we say ‘ooo, too many coincidences and no smoke without fire’…”

      You’re right though, there are always possibilities, always uncertainties…I just don’t see much that suggests the truth isn’t precisely what it has been stated to be for nearly twenty years and precisely as his former band mates all say it was.

      1. Hehehehehe… 🙂
        Yeah, the age of homicidal corporates is a way off yet – incidental or collateral damage, sure, concealment of nasty stuff, no problem, actual killing…Hmm.

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