Dave Foster: The Enigma…February-May 1988

Human interaction is a wonderful thing, it leads to mind-changing revelation, to more subtle refinement of ideas, or to the strengthening of existing thoughts by virtue of defending them. This past week certainly brought me to a few new musings and, credit where its due, the gentleman responsible is Dave Foster, formerly of Nirvana, presently of Mico de Noche. Let’s choose a soundtrack here then pause a moment, it’s been a heavy week with the Boston Marathon stuff then Waco, Texas blowing sky high for the second time in twenty years. Stop. Breathe. Then let’s get back to the good side of life:

Rereading Azerrad’s book, the way in which Dave Foster is portrayed immediately felt doubtful; frankly only one perspective is permitted — Kurt Cobain’s — with no real examination of why Dave even joined the band in the first place, why he persisted with the long journeys needed to make it happen, let alone stuck with what was, at the time, a band that barely made it out of house party territory (they played four house parties of the eight shows played in the period he was with the band), that had only played seven gigs (and one radio show) in the year since their inception. The one-sided nature of the coverage makes me suspicion of its honesty on this point — it’s easier to rely on the Cobain perspective of ‘cultural difference’ and unreliability, something reinforced by the sacking letter included in Kurt Cobain’s Journals, to explain this four month stint in the band. But, intriguingly, it’s one of the few critical letters in those Journals where Kurt acknowledges that the person he’s talking to has a positive; he explains how good a drummer he thinks Dave is — that’s rare.

What reinforces my uncertainty about the existing tale of Dave Foster is that, for all the talk of his unreliability, this is a man who is so dedicated to music that he’s been a regular presence in underground bands ever since; Helltrout being the most notable outlet with others following right up to the present day. The dedication to personal privacy, the desire to remain underground and not to let something he does because he wants to, not because he must, turn into something dictated by others or by the need for cash…I find that admirable. After all, I’m writing this daily blog, for no profit, with no affiliation or pressure from any source, simply because I love the topic and want to pour it out — why wouldn’t I be impressed by someone who so fervently has remained DIY? There also doesn’t seem to have been any discomfort or ongoing issue between Dave and Nirvana given Helltrout shared stages with Nirvana at gigs as soon as February 1989 and again in 1990.

But there’s more. The reason I’m fascinated by these short months in Nirvana’s existence is that they’re the real start of the band’s rise to any kind of significance. Dave Foster’s second show was the first time Nirvana had played under that name, until then they barely stuck with a name for more than a show or two; Foster’s spell on drums saw them cement their identity. Meanwhile, though it was the recording from January 23, 1988 that sparked Sub Pop’s interest in the band, it was the band with Dave Foster on the drum stool that was the version seen by Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt and therefore the version that hooked the band a first deal for a musical release on a label. On top of that, April saw Nirvana’s first show in Seattle following March’s final appearance at the Community World Theater in Tacoma that had been, more or less, Nirvana’s live home in 1987-early 1988; a real ‘changing of the guard’.

Musically too, there was change afoot during these months. Both Blew and Big Cheese first evolved sometime between January and the March 19, 1988 show — there’s little knowledge at present of how those songs came about. There’s also a degree of uncertainty regarding when, and how, Blandest, Mr Moustache and Sifting came about; their studio appearances in June are the first sighting but it’s unclear if these were last minute write-ups in the short weeks before recording or already worked up demos. Similarly, Annorexorcist died at this point in time; the last known appearance is in January but there’s such a black hole during these months that it’s unclear if that was the last time the band considered that song worth playing — who knows?

Well, to be fair, there are two people in the world today who perhaps, if memory hasn’t faded completely, if events twenty-five years back aren’t completely obscured by time, would know.
Anyways, that’s what I’m curious about at the moment. I love the black holes of history. As a final teaser to Nirvana’s ‘lost’ drummer…Tap 3/19/1988 Tacoma Nirvana into YouTube and go listen to the drumming on the available audio of that performance; quality. Start with Bad Moon Rising, it rocks!


2 thoughts on “Dave Foster: The Enigma…February-May 1988”

  1. Knowing Dave Foster personally , I can say he is one Hell of a GREAT Drummer ! & Helltrout not only opened for NIRVANA at the No More Wars Show in Olympia, Dave Foster Let Dave Grohl use his kit for NIRVANA’S set, Dave Foster came into Nirvana at the urging of Dale Crover (In my mind the Best Drummer Nirvana ever had No offence to any of the others) a man who would certainly know a Great Drummer if he saw one !

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