Archive for May, 2013

Sat listening to what will apparently be the last compilation of Jimi Hendrix studio outtakes; People, Hell and Angels. In terms of its coherence, it’s unity, it’s actually a fairly faultless posthumous compilation, the core of it is from recording sessions in March to December 1969 with two holdovers from March and June 1968 respectively. Of course, it’s immediately telling that there are twelve songs here drawn from eight studio sessions; Mar ’68, June ’68, Mar ’69, Apr ’69, May, June, a separate June session, Aug, December. It’s simply obvious that there’s no way the full resources remaining to the bearers of Nirvana’s archive could compete.

What a fresh Nirvana compilation could do best would be to simply give the fans what they’ve been wanting for a long time; essentially, not Nirvana, but Kurt Cobain. It’s unclear whether this presents issues around copyright or around who gets the cash — God knows what the legal front looks like — but it doesn’t feel insurmountable. So, what would it look like?

Disc one: Fecal Matter — what else? There’s a few versions of this material floating round online and the biggest surprise is always how decent the sound quality is. There’s no way, until an official source decides to kick this out, of knowing precisely how much material, how many alternative takes, how many versions of the track listing there were. A single compendium pulling it all together and closing the chapter on this one would be welcomed. Heck, while I’m in wish fulfilment mood, maybe there really is a copy of the 1982 Organised Confusion tape…

Disc two: Certain quantities of Kurt Cobain’s more experimental urges from the early years of Nirvana have long since made it out onto the bootleg market and trading circles. Again, an official survey of this neglected terrain would be welcomed. Cobain is essentially portrayed as a musician finding his way gropingly, over several years, toward pop-punk which utterly underrates the variety of his sonic experiments and less musically-inclined directions. The core of such a disc is well known; Montage of Heck, Escalator to Hell, perhaps whatever full source exists of The Landlord is a Piece of Shit from Hell. It’s hard to believe that the only addition to his avant-garde test runs was Beans or the minute or so acoustic Black and White Blues. If not then I’d be happy to take the full recording Cobain made to be edited down for the collaboration with William S. Burroughs — if the original still exists that is.

Disc three: What else could people possibly desire more than, firstly, the full Nirvana jams from January 1994, plus whatever practice take of You Know You’re Right exists, with the rumoured basement demos from March tacked on? The only way to make it better would be if there were further home demo efforts recorded post-In Utero. If not, well, Nirvana’s attempts from July 1993 at working up an acoustic set could yield interest. If Courtney Love was able to yield up the Nighty-Nite joke songs, perhaps a more developed version of Stinking of You, maybe a couple more duets, that’d feel complete.

After that, realistically, I’m not sure there’s a lot to say though the urge to hear everything continues to egg me on. Yes, the 1991 take of Sappy, the January 1991 studio session, and, if they don’t do it on the In Utero anniversary edition, that Lullaby shred from February 1993. The studio take of Seasons in the Sun from January 1993, would be nice to have also — maybe the alleged radio show duet with Calvin Johnson on D7. I’d love to hear more of the untidy rehearsal versions of tracks, the unhoned versions as they developed and of course the acoustic homework — but I can’t point to a specific track or era that would appeal most deeply.

The only issue I can see? If this lot got out I’m not sure anyone would believe there wasn’t something else hidden. Belief is a powerful thing.

Much gratitude to the individual who posted this video, two very listenable interviews with Dave Grohl in which he comments on having shared music with Kurt Cobain, then later mentions the state of estrangement within Nirvana. If you can tolerate the tedium.

Dealing with the latter first, he’s fairly plain-speaking about the division in the band; “I don’t do drugs…There was, like, the people who did the drugs, then the people who didn’t do the drugs. I didn’t do the drugs so I was just out of that world you know? And if you’re in it, you’re in it, if you’re not, you’re out.” He then moves onto say, in response to a direct question about whether the band was breaking up, “it was important that we take a break. I think everyone felt that way, it was time to take a break.”

Certainly no criticism of Dave Grohl, but I admit I see this last comment as rather a salve for the soul rather than a fair representation of the position of Nirvana in early 1994. Why so? Well, Nirvana had already staged their break — Nirvana played not a single show for five months of 1992, a total of sixteen shows June-October but most of that in the June-July spell in Europe. 1993 was even more barren; five shows in nine months, only three after the duo in Brazil in January. And it wasn’t like the band were studiously practising either, Kurt joined them for a maximum of 21 days in studio for the entire two and a half years after Nevermind — and remember, at best estimate, the band played for six days at most of the twelve days at Pachyderm. I’ve already commented numerous times on the trend in Kurt Cobain’s song-writing also, in each previous year of Nirvana’s existence he’d brought six-twelve songs forward to the band; in the final year…Well, you all know the answer there.

Given the broken state of the band long before April 1994, it’s hard to see how anything other than the total dissolution of Nirvana would have solved whatever issue Kurt Cobain had with being part of the band as a business entity, as a musical vehicle, let alone as a functioning community of creative companions. I’ll admit that Dave Grohl’s comments here do remind me to place more emphasis than I sometimes do on the influence of the drug factor as a divider between Kurt Cobain’s cocoon and his band mates. Note made.

With regard to the initial comments, Dave’s comments are very clear indeed; Kurt was aware of two songs — Alone+Easy Target and Exhausted. This conforms to the best sources (basically check LiveNirvana, it rocks) but what interests me is the nature of his reaction to the songs. He loves the music for Exhausted but wants to use the music while remaining in control of the lyrical aspect of Nirvana. While he’s the known voice of Nirvana, while he’s rightly recognised as the key creative force, it makes it clear how much the band was a vehicle for his self-expression and, within that, how much emphasis he placed upon the words. Even with his own writer’s block in latter years it seems that sharing writing duties simply wasn’t going to happen. As an aside, for Alone+Easy Target it seems he wanted to snatch the chorus though whether that refers to the chorus line or the backing riff it’s unclear.

Kurt Cobain’s literary nature is underrated. His lyrics were not ad-libbed live, he wasn’t an improviser. Dave Grohl explains “he’d stay up late at night, for hours, with a notebook just writing and writing and writing…He enjoyed writing a lot.” Cobain’s closest connection to the blues came from the way the guitar was a way of accompanying words, not a raison d’être all its own. Cobain was brutally critical of his own guitar-playing skills and he was increasingly disparaging of the limitations of the instrument and its clichéd nature by the early Nineties. On top of that, in all the years the band was in existence, all the time they shared with true innovators of the guitar, like Sonic Youth, there’s no indication he ever actively sought to expand or advance his guitar vocabulary or to learn more about his instrument. The guitar was a functional object serving the song form and, in turn, the words.

The switch in Kurt Cobain’s lyric-writing, from early story songs and character sketches, toward a more impressionistic grab-bag sourced from his Journals, can be seen as a reaction to the increasingly hectic schedule of Nirvana as the time to whittle away at a single piece of WRITING (not just a song, true writing) fell away. Its notable that his most extensive phase of writing — winter 1990 through spring 1991 — coincided with a long period of relative quiet for Nirvana.

Kurt Cobain’s songs did not become more autobiographical, they always were. What increased was how explicit they were about the subjects and objects of his writing. His particular writing style — in which the choruses rarely tied directly to the verses, in which one verse didn’t necessarily tie to the next, in which one lyrical couplet didn’t always ally to those either side of it — had increasingly been adopted in his later lyric writing and was almost completely dominant by 1990-1991. All of which makes Serve the Servants an unusual Cobain entry.

There’s no evidence of the song, instrumentally or otherwise, prior to the February 1993 Pachyderm Studio session, and for a variety of reasons it’s exceedingly hard to pin down. It’s the only song that featured on In Utero not to have been demoed already either in October 1992 at Word of Mouth Productions, or in January 1993 at BMG Ariola Ltda in Brazil. Given how thoroughly Nirvana prepared their other songs prior to the album session it does make it stand out as a very late Nirvana song. In fact, unless other evidence presents itself, it’s the third to last known Cobain original composition; after Serve the Servants the only other two songs are You Know You’re Right and Do Re Mi.

Lyrically, there’s clear evidence of its context and era. The focus within the first verse on images of witchcraft trials, of media pressure, of the pay-off from his life’s work align perfectly with very late 1992 when the worst attentions struck Cobain and his family. It was mid-to-late August 1992 that the “Rock Star’s Baby is Born a Junkie” article emerged, in those same weeks the local authorities took Frances Bean Cobain into custody two days after her birth, while the Vanity Fair article didn’t hit the stands until September. Verse two, meanwhile, focuses on Cobain’s father and ties to an incident that took place on September 11, 1992 when Cobain’s father turned up unannounced at the band’s benefit show in Seattle — the first time they’d spoken in around a decade. The chorus meanwhile, well, it’s a blunt statement of being fed up hearing, in media coverage, that his parents’ divorce messed him up. But everyone knows that simply because its stated so baldly, there’s no disguise, no intuition needed.

The lyrics, therefore, can’t have been commenced until the final two weeks of September, more likely on into October, November, December of 1992. The dates on the With the Lights Out box-set are, at times, a matter of debate — if the demo of Serve the Servants was indeed from 1993 as it suggests then it’d indicate Kurt Cobain wrote then completely rewrote the lyrics inside of the first eight weeks of the year. It’s possible, the live recordings from just prior to Bleach’s recording indicate some songs going through major revisions or being written from scratch in not much over a month.

The vitriol of the eventual finalised lyrics makes me suspect that the demo is from an earlier date, a first shot in 1992, with the lyrical revisions taking place somewhere between November 1992’s two shots at the Incesticide liner notes and February (Kurt was made to erase a personal rant against Lynn Hirschberg, author of the Vanity Fair article — who, for the record, doesn’t seem to have done much more than report honestly on what she was seeing as a 2011 Courtney Love quotation makes clear with provisos; “”yes, it’s true, I used heroin in the first three weeks of my pregnancy — but so f–king what!? I didn’t even know I was pregnant at the time! I also took a few puffs on a cigarette when my belly was out to here, but most of those nine months, I walked around with nicotine patches all over my body. When you have a baby inside you, you’re not going to do drugs or something stupid.”)

The song, therefore stands out for a range of reasons; the third-to-last complete Kurt Cobain composition, the last song readied for In Utero, the most focused and unified song lyrics he had ever created, and the most explicit reportage on his life experience he ever laid to tape; its virtually a State of the Union address covering the bad months concluding 1992.

As discussed back on Friday, Kurt Cobain, aged 11-17 was, while not a typical nor a normal boy, not much beyond the average. At that point, while having musical ambitions, he was not a rock star, he was barely a musician let alone a professional — his first live performance didn’t take place until December 1985 (just two months off being nineteen) and his first full band recording session is now thought to have happened at Easter 1986. In essence, he was indistinguishable from a million other teenagers who have embraced a love of music and adopted it as a fantasy of a future.

In Part One of this piece we dwelt on Kurt Cobain’s self-defined ‘road to Damascus’ moment when he discovered the punk rock of the early Eighties thanks to his friends in the Melvins; their practices, their tape compilations of the wider scene. While accepting that his tastes didn’t cut cleanly overnight from mainstream rock/pop to punk in one swift motion, the ability to define himself, to adopt this music as a component of his identity was a crucial act and deserves the weight he places upon it.

What has brought home to me how normal this moment is, however, has been the conversations with so many Nirvana fans over these past six months. The crucial thing the majority of people I’ve spoken to share with Kurt Cobain is an experience of that moment where a piece of music can retrospectively appear of such brutal significance that it hauls one into a fresh reality; one where another person’s music becomes a statement of one’s own life. Having anonymised these pieces I wanted to share the memories of other peoples’ conversions.

Remember these are people who bought the Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide book direct from me, from all over the world, who twenty years after Nirvana’s life, took the time to write to acquire something new on the band…There’s a weight and ongoing life that has sprung from whatever quiet moment of discovery took place back in the past:

I discovered Nirvana by chance in the spring of 1995. I was on a school trip in Wales and the Unplugged album was being played in the minibus. The song that caught my attention was Pennyroyal Tea- it literally changed everything for me, never had I been so moved and lost in a song. When I got home I pestered my Mum until she bought me In Utero and the rest is history!

I bought my first Nirvana album, Incesticide, when I was thirteen. When I heard there was a book dissecting the album song by song I was intrigued. When I heard rave reviews for the book, I got excited. My father had a cassette copy of the Unplugged performance and one day while driving he put on Lake of Fire. I was hooked from that moment. I did a little research on the band and found that Nevermind and In Utero were the mega hit albums. Bleach was the heavy debut. And Incesticide was kind of lost in the shuffle. Now, myself being 7 of 8 children, I kinda felt lost in the shuffle too, so I decided to go with Incesticide as my first pick in my Nirvana collection. And I’m happy to say, that was a great choice.

I grew up in a small town (700 inhabitants)…quite isolated and narrow minded community. When I was 13 years old, Nevermind got released. And thanks to the impact of that album being so huge, it even found its way to the gas station in my village. I bought in on cassette (!), That album changed my life.

I grew up smack dab as the Nirvana phenomenon plowed through life. I saw them live in 1993 in Davenport, Iowa- I was young but I remember it well, (the band went to taco bell on kimberly street after the show- I wish we had too). When I was a bit older I had opportunity to deliver a car to someone in the Northwest and I went to Seattle, Aberdeen, Hoquiam- all the sites. And I’ve written and received a letter from Leland Cobain, Kurt’s grandpa- apparently he enjoys writing letters to fans- you should write him. I’ve also met Krist twice- both times in Chicago where my brother and I saw Eyes Adrift…talked to him for a bit, got a hug, got a drumhead with all 3 band members sigs..Really great experiences- all of them. So when a “New Item” comes along I suppose it satisfies some sentimental need…

I began playing guitar when I was 10 years old(around 92 -93) and learned how to play Lithium. Since then I wanted to learn everything by them and eventually everything about them. I think a lot of people have a similar experience or at least with my friends.

I first heard SLTS on the school bus at around 10 years of age, and when I was 12 years old my mother graciously took me to my first ever concert: Nirvana with 1/2 japs and the breeders. Most people grow out of their childhood tastes but I haven’t really. Cobain has enormously influenced me in terms of my subsequent musical tastes.

First heard Sliver on the radio in Australia in early 1991 when I was 15 and was getting into punk and new wave, then got hugely into Nirvana later that year when Nevermind came out. Then I got into
Bleach after the fact.

I’m 32 and twenty years ago I was really young…When I was 11-12 I wasn’t interested in music. Even when I was 14, so I totally missed everything about Kurt’s death. I have more vivid memories about Ayrton Senna’s tragic death, to tell the truth. First time I’ve listened Teen Spirit, I thought it was a Metallica song!!! I’ve discovered Nirvana in late 1996, found some cassettes on my brother collection (he’s 5 years older than me) and reading about them on some magazines.

Well, I’ve been into Nirvana since my early teenage years. They were my first real musical fascination and the starting point from which I’d eventually discover other fantastic bands. I rarely listen to them nowadays (and when I do, it’s usually more or less obscure live recordings), but a keen interest in the band, its legacy, its individual members etc. endures.

My story… Well it’s pretty usual I guess. My first actual encounter with Nirvana was when in high school a mate of mine asked me to translate the lyrics to “Rape Me” for him. That must have been in late ’94 or ’95. A few months later, another mate of mine popped In Utero on his Hi-Fi and I can honestly say I wasn’t blown away. It’s only a few of months later that I actually took the dive and I’ve been hooked ever since. I have my little Holy Grails that I’ve been hunting down over the years but to no avail. It’s part of the fun I guess!

The only thing possibly fascinating about my connection to Nirvana is that I have a daughter who was born right around the time Francis Bean was born. They wound up going to the same elementary school, although Francis Bean was a grade ahead of my daughter. As a result, I would encounter Courtney Love from time to time and sometimes have little conversations with Francis Bean. I even played a game of handball with her.

For me, I’ve told the story in the final chapter of the book, but as a wider thought, music during teenhood was an identifiable way of distinguishing different groups at school — it was one of the labels kids used to create a shared identity or to break away from the group. Similarly it formed a method of exchange, something one could easily give to others to bind them to you, to create connection, or to indicate status by virtue of rarity, exclusivity or depth.

What I love about the tales is noting that actual contact or experience of Nirvana as a live phenomenon is the exception, not the rule. For most of my fellow obsessives, it seems that the intangibility is perhaps a factor in the depth of interest; life/death makes no difference almost when thinking of something one will never touch or see as a physical reality, it’s all still alive.

Kurt rested back in the teak wood porch chair and cracked a smile recalling the previous night’s shenanigans. Krist had been kicking the phone some four weeks to get him to go, he only really went to please him. The night had passed glad-handing balding ex-somethings and joking how that was the same thing they thought of him. He’d given the thank you speech hunched in behind the podium like it might hide him from view. He was sure the stage lights would pick out the wrinkles setting in and pre-empted with a joke about getting ready to play Iggy in a biopic someday. He wasn’t going to say he still couldn’t stomach much beyond macaroni cheese and strawberry milkshakes. Out front on leaving, a few cameras still hanging around sparkling, some wise-cracking fan had hollered “Kurt! Hey Kurt! What keeps you rocking out?” He was proud of rustling up the answer; “a healthy lifestyle,” before ducking his head under the lintel of the SUV and getting well gone of the whole scene.

His arm had pinpricks of heat like a kid was snatching the sun through a magnifying glass. He knew where each ray landed, he’d long since studied the precise dots of scarring. At least he’d stopped shooting before he hit his early thirties and grew those Keith Richard folds, he’d upset the Universal PR team with some line about “Keith’s been modelling his own Keith Richard’s Halloween masks for thirty years.” They’d already lost it seeing he’d hacked his hair short again — they’d been handing out glossies of the trademark shoulder-length blonde, the photographer had only been out a week back. They should have been grateful he hadn’t dyed it for spite.

They tolerated each other; Kurt and Universal. The rumours would circle the house every few years — that he had crated tapes mounted up in the bathroom, in the basement. The money still flowed, anniversary releases, a live disc or two, the greatest hits that was their way of telling him they didn’t see any difference between inactive and broken up — either way he was on their list of missing in action, presumed near dead. He was quietly proud that his artwork was selling steadily even as his other voices told him it was on name alone. He tended not to invite anyone to the openings if he knew they were the sort to gush at him how great it all was. The songs had more or less dried up but each year brought a little fresh material letting him replay expressions of the same old vocabulary and keep enough pieces out there people knew he existed.

He kept the guns around mostly from habit. The nearby range frightened him if only because it reminded him some of his neighbours were those back-to-nature-weekenders on break to cook barbecue food, pose rugged and blast off guns with ear protectors on before fleeing back to the city. Fright of his life two summers back; a meaty carcass he’d hauled up into the woods and strung from the branches, he’d been lining up a shot on it, had kept back-stepping until his confidence of a hit was stretched taunt, necessary to give some challenge. The gentle twirl and swing of the flesh — elbow against the ground, barrel balanced and breathing steadied — he was near mesmerised by the swaying pink lump. A split second more he would have fired. Instead some nervous fawn of a sixteen year old pushed out through shaking branches and gave the meat a tentative poke with the end of a thick hunk of wood, then a more determined thwack that set it jiggling on the rope. He’d shouted over and the kid took off, still every time he got back down to take the shot he couldn’t clear that image of another timid victim sitting hidden beyond the crosshairs. He gave up and stashed the gun back in its beige nylon bag, wedged it in the cubbyhole in the closet for another day that hadn’t yet come round to dawning.

The view from the porch went only so far, out into a riot of border vegetation marking the fence round the Carnation property. Frances might visit this weekend. Then again, she had a habit of not showing — he couldn’t resent the selfishness, it maybe was his own fault. He couldn’t see himself playing the disciplinarian, she was too used to playing her parents against one another and all he could do was tell her over and again he wished it all wasn’t so. The last time he’d tried refusing her she’d stuck the knife in by calling him Don all day. He screwed his eyes up at the sun and just wished she’d show up and play nice that weekend, stop playing with her make-up long enough to say a few words to him. It wasn’t her fault. She blamed both of them for taking her happy childhood — he assumed she wanted even or…He should get round to moving that dead tree, it’d been there as long as he had, blotting the view. He shielded his eyes and peered at it. Far too familiar a sight, such a bore.

The TV had replayed some backstage interview during the footage of the other night’s ceremony. Mic crackling with crowd noise and venue buzz of crew motion and post-gig adrenalin, he still winced at some of what he came out with. He told himself he hadn’t been that bad, it didn’t matter, but still that needling sense that he was letting himself off easy. The darkness was a memory of someone else. For the moment he rested his sun-closed eyes, set his bare feet up on the porch railing while remembering boys funning around igniting cigarettes between one another’s toes.

While genetics is, day-after-day, providing further evidence of how a child is far more than an empty vessel, there’s still no denying that the overlay of lived experience crucially shapes and moulds that raw material; that there are few guaranteed outcomes in human form.

According to latest assessments, a human ego (Freud’s “das Ich”, ego was a translator’s Latin phrasing) —crucial in allowing an individual to wholly distinguish external from internal realities, to develop fully abstracted thought, and to defend sense of self against stress and external threats — only fully develops from around age nine. Prior to that age its far harder to experience or witness an external event and not ingest it into one’s personality; witness Kurt Cobain’s reaction to parental break-up, for one example. This movement from merely experiencing the world, to defining one’s own reality and the part events play within one’s mind forms part of the reason why teenage years are so flooded with significance — what occurs and what one discovers is new not because one has not experienced related moments before but because one can bestow higher meanings upon them and can give them significance within the constructed framework. Having built a wall between self and other its finally possible to choose to make things part of who one is.

The result is a series of events that can take on the significance of origin myths. Partly it’s that things truly are new — “you’ll never forget your first kiss.” To some extent it’s that a not necessarily new experience, becomes renewed as meaning is actively poured into it. In the case of Kurt Cobain, he’s very overt about what these crucial events were. In Michael Azerrad’s Come as You Are, the subjugated misery of the parental breakup gives way to a far more active embrace of experiences such as teen rebel status, first experiences with girls (which seem to embed certain feelings of inadequacy and misfortune), and, most significantly in Kurt Cobain’s own eyes, the discovery of meaningful music in the form of punk.

Authors and commentators have pointed out that Kurt Cobain didn’t stop listening to more mainstream and metal fare; they imply also that Cobain is overemphasising his punk roots as a reaction against his discomfort at mainstream status in late 1992; they suggest there’s a touch of posing and self-mythology in the kid who had been singing along to The Beatles since he was a child suddenly claiming a punk revolution. They miss the point.

They’re seeking some moment of ideological purity, a cut-n-dried real world moment in which Cobain immediately hurled his previous record collection into a ditch and torched it. What occurred was an internal experience, a less tangible psychological experience in which punk music coincided with the teenage desire to grab hold of things that one could call one’s own and that could be used to define oneself. Kurt Cobain defined himself as a punk, the presence of other music within his taste palate doesn’t annul the depth of the discovery.

Cobain describes the discovery of punk as a near religious conversion, a veritable “seeing the light” moment for a boy still in his early-to-mid-teens. There’s no reason to doubt that it was a foundational moment for him; his life through until his death was spent absorbing and owning different currents from within the alternative/punk scene ranging from Melvins’ slow grind, through new wave vibes, Greg Sage guitar tone, David Yow/Buzz Osbourne vocals, grunge, power-pop/K Records/Vaselines’ vibes, Pixies dynamics… There’s no doubting also that this was a man who identified sufficiently with punk as an ethos that he felt genuinely conflicted about the consequences of the major label move and subsequent success. When he points to the discovery of those first tapes exposing him to the post-1980 U.S. take on punk as truly significant; believe it. His musical life would always have a string tying him back to that moment when he decided punk was the ingredient he was looking for in his quest to be someone.

What happens to us as children stays with us throughout our lives; what happens to us as teenagers, we sift for what will be WHO we are in the life to follow.

Let’s get the easy bit out of the way straight-up; I’m not speaking about comparing the ethics of either band, I’m not running back over the points of comparison between Axl Rose and Kurt Cobain as products of the white rock-loving underclass nor as enemies of industry business-as-usual. I feel there are interesting ways to look at the two bands as rock industry phenomena.

Guns n’ Roses back catalogue has been kept trimmed to the bone; outside of the core four albums there’s the lean eight track stop-gap Lies from 1989, there’s 1993’s The Spaghetti Incident? covers compilation, after that we’re onto the record label desperately trying to claw money out of the band via the Live Era ’87-’93 release and the inevitable Greatest Hits. Digging around on the official single releases yields a cover of Whole Lotta Rosie, a live cover of Knocking on Heaven’s Door, a demo of Don’t Cry, Shadow of your Love and some live tracks. Similarly, on bootlegs, on YouTube, there’s barely a shred left of the original band; a lot of live covers, some appalling recordings like That’s Something, Crash Diet, Cornshucker, Just Another Sunday…A few more pieces from the last decade and a half edition…Then some early demos that all sound like they were recording from beneath a duvet.

That’s not necessarily a criticism. If audio fidelity and quality are the issues that the Nirvana camp circa-1995 to 2013 have specified then they must envy the sheer force of will Axl Rose exercises in his unwillingness for anything that isn’t polished within an inch of its life to be seen. The Guns n’ Roses back catalogue has been sternly curated with no clutter of anniversary editions, bonus live discs, demo discs, single-gathering compilations or outtake sets. The point, however, is that the reality seems to be that there simply isn’t anything left to find from the 1985-1995 edition of Guns n’ Roses bar the most minor of scraps — they make Nirvana look profligate in terms of the amount of material that never made it onto a core release.

The second crucial point is that the relatively pristine nature of their back-catalogue, unlike that of The Stooges which we looked at yesterday, has mattered not a jot to the critical reputation of the band. It’s extremely hard, post-Nirvana, to find any great appreciation for the work of Guns n’ Roses. There’s plenty of kudos, particularly in hard rock magazines for Appetite for Destruction, but this never translates from a liking for the album into a liking for the band. There’s virtually no one willing to stand-up for the world-bestriding colossi status of Use Your Illusion I and II with their packed-to-the-gills approach — the most that gets said is a whiny regret that Guns n’ Roses didn’t release Appetite for Destruction Part Two. What matters is that by the time the latter two albums made it out in 1991, Guns n’ Roses had muddied their reputation, had been absent long years, had lost the pop market by showing themselves to be anything but. The nail in the coffin was then Nirvana declaring a band barely half a decade older to already be the sound of the reactionary past.

In terms of live activity, the table below shows the live statistics for Guns n’ Roses 1985-1994 iteration versus the path forged by Nirvana:


I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s a similar collapse in performances the year after success had been achieved. It does put Nirvana’s fall into perspective — regardless of reasons, maybe it isn’t that unusual for a band to reach a peak of intensity and then retreat. Of course, if record labels were calling the shots then that’s precisely the point at which they would likely be trying to get bands out on the road for promotional reasons — these two bands did the opposite.

A further point of comparison is that there’s a similar pattern of releases which suggests a specific strategy at DGC when it came to wayward stars. In each case, the runaway success first major label album — Appetite for Destruction, Nevermind — was followed by the gap-filling b-side and extras compilation — Lies, Incesticide. It’s notable also that both those stop-gap releases specifically took aim at media interventions and criticisms of the bands and band members — at the very least it could be said that both bands hated scrutiny, however warranted or unwarranted. The overall approach though suggests a shrewd desire to buy time and/or take advantage of maximum point of success in the case of each act; perhaps DGC saw two bands who they weren’t entirely sure were going to survive long enough for a follow-up album?