Archive for August, 2013

When chatting on in the pub I used to present the following theory; every successful musician exists only to write that one tune everyone agrees is a classic and they should give up there because they will write another song that everyone loves – no matter how many other good songs you write, no matter how long your career, there’ll be the one song that breaks into the popular imagination and then the moment is gone. That’s it, no more. That doesn’t mean that there an individual can’t like or even prefer other songs by that artist, but there’ll always be that one song everyone agrees is special and can compromise on.

As examples; Guns n’ Roses? Sweet Child of Mine. Nirvana? Smells Like Teen Spirit. Madonna? Like a Virgin. Queen? Bohemian Rhapsody. Pulp? Common People. Rolling Stones? Satisfaction. Aqua? Barbie Girl. Tchaikovsky? That one with the cannons.

Now, the best thing about saying something like that in the pub is that its always easy to identify a band’s peak moment – what’s harder to notice is I’m stating a self-fulfilling prophecy because what we’re discussing is not the quality of the music, nor the best representation of an artist’s aesthetic, nor their most personal, or meaningful work. All I’m stating is “everyone has one song that gains the greatest publicity and you can tell it’s ‘the one’ because all people know it or know of it.” Circular argument but good fun – the only band I’ve given up on trying this for is The Beatles.

Now, shifting direction, this article in The Economist points out that a lot of the judgement made on music, defining whether people think it’s a classic performance or not, comes not from the sounds created, not from the music, but from what wraps around the sounds. The article focuses just on one element, the movements an artist makes. The critical quotation is “what they seemed to be picking up on were gestures that they thought conveyed passion.” Music cannot be reduced down to sound and the impact and impression it makes comes from the human connection. A true artist is someone who can, like an actor, perform something over and over again and mimic endless emotion so that those watching can feel and share in some kind of internal response.

A comparison would be that, despite the existence of those ‘universal classics’, when we think of a band or a musician, what we would often describe if trying to explain the artist to someone else would be the image of the band, not the sounds they make. As an example, in the case of Nirvana, it was the goofing for the camera, the more active elements of their live performance (equipment smashing, guitar played lying on back, etc.), the persona of being a fun band. In the case of other artists its moments like The Who windmill action on the guitar, Hendrix setting it on fire, Johnny Rotten’s mad stare, Tupac’s middle digit…


There is one site only of major interest to Nirvana fans visiting Tacoma: 5441 South M Street, otherwise known as the Community World Theater. Mike Ziegler, a major name among long-time Nirvana fans online, has the most detailed resource regarding CWT: including a picture of the short-lived site back in its heyday while there’s a first hand discussion at this blog (from which I took the photo above – credit where due!)

This is a picture taken from Flickr (credit to and photographed in May 2012 of the former building – funny thinking how many identities this place has had. Compare it to Mike’s photo at the head of this page.


Incredibly, the venue had only opened in February 1987 but its all-ages-policy and willingness to put punk on stage meant that in a brief eighteen months of existence the venue staged some 130 shows including a significant number of underground stars. If the venue hadn’t closed in June 1988 Nirvana were scheduled to perform there in July with The Fluid and Blood Circus — a show that instead became Nirvana’s inaugural Sub Pop Sunday show at The Vogue in Seattle.


href=””>State of Washington

To tour the key Nirvana and Kurt Cobain locations in the State of Washington doesn’t require a car, merely some patience. Contrary to popular belief the United States of America does indeed run fairly regular public transport services that will serve most of the desired locations. There are some outlying places that probably aren’t worth the effort depending on how completist you wish to be; you could go see 17 Nussbaum Road, Raymond to get a sense of how tiny and ordinary Nirvana’s origins in 1987 were – you could visit the house at 33401 NE 78th Street, Carnation but it’s hard to see it without invading and trespassing on the property which is probably best avoid, meanwhile looking at old concert venues in Bellingham, Auburn or Ellensburg seems uninteresting.

There is, however, a decent cluster of sites in the area around Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Montesano over on the Pacific Coast. The maps below indicate locations, primarily of homes from early in Kurt Cobain’s life:


The Aberdeen map shows a couple of his early rented places, the house he lived in from 1968 through 1976, plus the hospital he was born at and briefly slept in during one of his spells of homelessness in his late teens.

Moving ever so slightly along the coast takes you to the house in which a newly born Kurt Cobain lived out his first year:


And finally, heading down the highway to the East takes you to Montesano and to the home Kurt shared with his father for a number of relatively unhappy and troubled years.


Presently been reading The Atlas of the World’s Worst Natural Disasters which concludes with what you’d imagine is a very handy section. The section in question consists of a set of regional maps. On each map are plotted the crucial natural disasters known to have hit that particular region. By looking at the preponderance one can basically work out which areas have a propensity for a particular type of disaster to hit.

The devil is in the detail, however. As a comparison, a couple months back I mentioned a study linking incident of childhood traumas (as identified via a widely used and accepted psychological test) as a predictor of adult difficulties including drug or alcohol abuse, a conviction for a criminal act, depression or psychological difficulties. The stand-out statistic was one stating that, among the test group – music stars of the last fifty years – possessing four or more of the eight key childhood traumas meant an individual was 80% more likely to endure adult difficulties; a compelling sound-bite. The obvious lesson to take was that kids having to endure bad things made them more likely to turn out badly. Again, let’s hold on.

In the case of the maps of world natural disasters, the addition of further information and detail complicates the simplicity of the map. As an example, the thousands of volcanoes worldwide are not necessarily a threat; the majority are dormant – but that doesn’t mean ‘dead’, it means resting. Therefore a decision about location based on volcano location has to accept that during the course of one’s own lifetime the chances of the volcano exploding beneath you are limited. Similarly, locating away from a volcano doesn’t necessarily mean being immune to their effects; an 1815 eruption of volcano Tambora destroyed marine life killing 80,000 from famine hundreds of miles away – the damage is often something that extends further than the reach of the visible danger. Similarly, how does one locate to evade the massive potential danger posed by outbreaks of disease – 90% of the former population of America was killed by Old World germs after the ‘discovery’; cholera originating in India in 1817 killed millions across the next twenty years including 100,000 in Hungary, 10,000 each in Stockholm and Paris, the 7,000 in London; Spanish Flu managed 22 million worldwide in 1918-1919? Simultaneously what would one have to give up in order to establish safety? No, instead, on a day-to-day basis we prioritise small securities on an ad-hoc and often ludicrously non-evidential basis traded off against convenience, social pressure and a sense of fitting-in.

On that level we don’t consider the silliness of repeatedly encasing ourselves in metal and glass boxes then hurtling ourselves along restricted passages at speeds the human body will have difficulty surviving if anything goes wrong with our decisions or, more importantly, with the hundreds of other decision-making entities (i.e., other people) each of which impacts our existence. Instead, we value the benefits that experience brings and then pinpoint other particular bogie-men to over-emphasise and fear.

And is this in anyway relevant to discussion of Kurt Cobain? Well, I’d argue what’s shared is a desire to reduce the world down to simple messages. Cobain’s life is written as a morality tale in which everyone has their “ah HA!” moment pointing toward a fatalistic and inevitable ending. It’s a statement of belief in destiny essentially to claim that Cobain’s fate was set by anyone element or by decisions often long previous to his ending. The culprits, ad infinitum, are parental break-up, unsettled youth, genetic predisposition to depression, the money and the fame, the choice of wife, the pressure, the drugs.

There is truth and responsibility in many of these elements, no dispute, but not one of them is an inevitability. In the case of life on the side of a volcano, all the joys and sadnesses of life proceed for whatever period of time, numerous deaths and injuries take place in numbers that, the majority of the time, outweigh any foreseeable eruption. Therefore, while drawing lessons from Cobain’s life, there’s a tendency to overlook the more likely endings — death in a car accident, eventually death from a medical condition, years of coping with depression — that outweigh the oft-pointed culprits in his life and to focus too heavily on the eventual spectacular.

As a fair example, Cobain is long held up as an example of the dangers of drugs and he successfully killed heroin-chic stone-dead. It’s extremely fair to point out the risks with that particular drug and that there are very fair public-health reasons to maintain its illegality regardless of statistics about the damage wrought by cigarettes and alcohol — yes, many risks should be up to informed individuals to choose for themselves but that’s no reason for governments to devolve all responsibility for their people to the mantra of ‘choice’ which has become a great way of doing nothing. But what is overlooked is that Cobain did not die as an accidental drug overdose, nor is it provable that the impact of drugs on his mental state is primarily responsible for his decision to commit suicide.
There’s also no definitive statement showing how much of his decline as an active song-writer was due to drugs, how much was due to the breakdown of his relationship with his band mates, how much was because of the work required for parenthood and so forth. Suggesting that is was a factor is not the same as declaring it the volcano that eliminated Kurt Cobain and we should be more cautious of such absolutist answers.

The lines between past and future are rarely absolute. In the case of Dave Grohl, the clock hands moved incrementally, a few halting ticks at a time, between his decision to dispel the ghost of Nirvana by walking back into Robert Lang Studios in late November 1994 and hammering out an album, the unveiling of Foo Fighters to friends and family on February 19, 1995 on a houseboat and the more public performances that followed from March starting on the home turf of Portland and Seattle. On March 4, just over a year since Nirvana’s final performance, Krist Novoselic stood and watched as his friends and fellow survivors, Grohl and Pat Smear, stepped out with their new identity.

But that wasn’t the start…The fifteen songs recorded at the November session had been seeping out of Mr. Grohl throughout his time in Nirvana – only four of the songs recorded were post-Cobain works. The background to Nirvana was always this guy’s evolution and progress as a musician and song-writer in his own right. And it turns out someone has taken the time to catalogue, explain and tell the story of that long process and the journey to the present day.

I’ve always been stunned by the energy and effort Nirvana fans have committed to documenting the band; the work that has gone into the Nirvana Live Guide, LiveNirvana and the Internet Nirvana Fan Club is astounding. And in the case of Simon Kilmore he’s consistently been a worthy presence in that world… But it turns out much more besides.

Simon runs which is, I say this without any shade of doubt whatsoever, the most crucial online resource for anyone wanting to get the fullest view of Foo Fighters. As what will become a continuously evolving further resource, Simon has taken the time to interview people involved with the band, to document over fifty known sessions, to pull together information stretching back as far as 1984 into a 263 page ebook demonstrating the full story. There’s a free sample on the site at the top of this post and its available in multiple formats so wherever you are in the world you’ll be able to settle back and take a read.

As ever, my support for those who decide to commit the time and energies needed to do put something like this together is absolute. Get up, DIY, may the punk message never die.

An interesting interview with Courtney Love about her feelings toward Seattle, memories of past events, potential future intentions…Nothing to add to it really except its an indication of her way of living life to a background of noise and chaos – both an impressive thing and sometimes an oddity.

This piece meanwhile indicates the ying-yang side to her nature; OK, a few years ago an official Cobain biopic might have been a possibility, then it changed direction and reasonably enough Courtney’s real-life present day feelings were a factor.

The nicest thing about this In Utero release is that they’re doing a lovely job beating my expectations everytime new information emerges, it’s a lovely build-up to the actual release next month!

Rolling Stone have put up the full track-listing:

I’m looking back over the prediction from last week and gosh, it seems the version of Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle is the Laundry Room Studios version, lovely! Nice to see that.


The more exciting news for rare Nirvana song hounds, the latest information is that the ‘Forgotten Tune’ is an unreleased and genuinely unheard rehearsal session track from 1993. Now, OK, the fact it was never proceeded with, the fact they didn’t even remember it existed until recently doesn’t suggest You Know You’re Right or even Mrs Butterworth levels of genius…But to still be surprised twenty years after the fact? That’s a warm and fuzzy feeling for me. I’d still like to hear Lullaby someday, or settle the Song in D discussion, or hear the Sound City Sappy…But heck, something more from Nirvana’s late-era? I’ll take it! It’s doubly significant simply because so little is left dated after the early 1993 spell of creations.

The real boost is from the addition of the Live n’ Loud tracklisting for the DVD, the CD is purely the performance but the DVD has more than delivered on desires:


The Live n’ Loud rehearsals are a neat piece of unheard material, the Paris TV performance is a worthy addition and hopefully in better quality than I’ve been watching for years, one of the songs from Italian TV is a welcome presence (shame not to take the full performance but what the hell) and finally, the real surprise was the willingness to use the footage from the March 1, 1994 performance in Munich. Nice to see the rendition of My Best Friend’s Girl rather than just having the audio on bootleg.

So, that’s it – a final count up of 89 tracks when the 12 bonus DVD selections are included – of course the next hunt will be for Easter Eggs but we’ll get to that whenever information arises. Anyways, as ever, for the most up-to-date round-up join the Forum at LiveNirvana, virtually round-the-clock coverage and far more than one human being could ever do.

On that forgotten track issue, its bittersweet as with most moments of a long gone band, it’s lovely there are still surprises…But, the fact that its likely to be an instrumental of, at best, moderate sound quality is just the way the future is likely to be. That’s no reason to be saddened, no point being upset by reality – the cupboard is bare. And I’ll still be thrilled to hear whatever else is still to emerge from it. Years of bootleg listening and a taste for the noise scene has given me a high tolerance of static and hiss. More please! Bring on the Nirvana boombox boxset!