Archive for November, 2013

Nirvana Film in the Works…

Posted: November 28, 2013 in Nirvana News

http://www.rocknycliveandrecorded.com/2013/11/soaked-in-bleach-a-new-movie-about-kurt-cobains-death.html

While I was up in Aberdeen I first heard of ‘Soaked in Bleach’ coming into being. As far as I’m aware it’s an extension/recapitulation of the theories around Kurt Cobain’s death with Tom Grant involved. I’ve no greater thoughts on it at this point, the intention was to spray the film’s title onto the bridge in Aberdeen under which Cobain used to hang out. We’ll see what emerges here!

Oh, a friend of mine gave me this one “for a quiet news day”. It’s an indication of what the civilising effect of familiarity, of age, does to a sense of rebellion or wildness – we all get civilised and someday we wear our former symbols on an office casual day. Heh!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thearchers/posts/Wear-Your-Old-Band-T-Shirt-To-Work-Day-with-BBC-6-Music

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Courtesy of my friend and comrade Mitch, this photo is of a couple copy of Dark Slivers on sale in the Aberdeen Museum of History. I posted a couple copies across, gratis, just told them to consider it a small donation to the museum and to do as they wished with them. From my side, frankly, it felt good the idea of a copy of my work being there in Kurt Cobain’s town – I enjoy these symbolisms and connections.

As a personal philosophy, I believe that there is no all-encompassing or innate meaning in the world; meaning is something reflected on and verified. Looking after one’s children can be a meaning, but it isn’t inherent, it’s a choice made by the parent to elevate that potential action to a higher level. Similarly, most human activity isn’t a meaning in and of itself, it merely serves one whether that’s aggrandisement, the alleviation of boredom, the quelling of those voices in the head that everyone has, the desire to do good by others. I consider that a mark of freedom, that meaning is not imposed, that it is chosen by each individual whether that means they embrace or rebel against those inherited from their social ties and wider community. Few of our actions day to day will ever be acknowledged let alone approved of by others – that’s why it’s on each individual to choose to perform the actions they feel have meaning, for their own reasons, for their own satisfaction. To permit oneself to be a conduit for a meaning that one doesn’t believe in, unless that choice serves a higher meaning that one does believe in (i.e., safety, security, winning of a favour, support of another person or persons), is the ultimate weakness. Thus, does the presence of my book in Aberdeen, WA mean anything at all…? Nope! But it feels significant to me, to have a copy of a work that took me 20-30 hours a week for around 40 weeks, on top of all the background learning over the two decades that came before, resting in the place where the individual at the centre of it all emerged. It feels nicely complete.

http://www.livenirvana.com/official/darksliversbook.html

This was the other nice moment of what was quite a busy week (if I’m lucky I may have another piece of news to relay later sometime) – the LiveNirvana site published their review of the Dark Slivers book courtesy of Adam Andrews, the owner of LiveNirvana. A definite and public thank you to the gentleman at this point for taking the time to take a look – appreciated. Rasmus Holmen did one over at the Internet Nirvana Fan Club back in February 2013 and, again, on a personal level, seeing it up there feels pretty good.

http://kbkw.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=6234

Another element added to the mix in Aberdeen. Nothing more added on this front yet, I’ll be curious to see what this is. Nice to see a guy who valued himself as more than just a musician, as a true artist, being appreciated by such a span of local artists.

Might have said this the other day, I remember a copy of MAD Magazine back in 1994 saying “teach more singers to mumble like Kurt Cobain so there’ll be less incomprehensible lyrics to memorize.” It’s a neat quip – still makes me smile…And of course there’s far more to say.

The stereotype of the guy who mumbles then screams underestimates the amount of work Cobain put into exercising his vocal abilities – all the unusual touches. The early period prior to fame in particular is loaded with different voicings and attempts to take his vocals to unusual places. Side B of Incesticide was already a showcase for a range of approaches, something like Blandest is an interesting experiment, Fecal Matter goes gruffly punk but still sees him speaking in other voices and tones, the acoustic tracks like Clean Up Before She Comes/Don’t Want it All are another angle, the way few songs even go a whole verse without a shift in pitch or peak…It’s a beautiful thing that he pulled off Do Re Mi right at the end when I’ll admit to feeling the startling vocal changes had gradually fallen for quite some time. In a way what makes Do Re Mi a definitive Cobain performance is that he does something that people perhaps wouldn’t expect him to do when really, if they were reacting to his songs rather than the perception of his songs, the unexpected vocal tweak or twist is precisely what was most crucial and most representative of him as a voice.

Friday addition: a little more on the artist’s intentions for the mural plus kinda fun reading local news for the Aberdeen/Hoquiam/Gray’s Harbor area:
http://kxro.wordpress.com/2013/11/

To be very fair, this is far more listenable than one would expect – instrumentally the change in tone is pretty intriguing, the bridge into the chorus benefits from the clock-like approach of the multiple ukuleles and the harmonised vocals….Anyways, thought it’d lend something different to your day. Enjoy.

In other thoughts of the day, I find the process of creation intriguing. Inspiration isn’t ‘magic’, it isn’t necessarily so beyond exploration or regular human experience that threads of thinking can’t be identified. In the case of Mr. Cobain, there’s been a debate over on LiveNirvana the past couple days about a YouTube clip called ‘Excuse’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q45a0m0MZ_U), go read the thread, it’s entertaining and I don’t wish to repeat it.

What it’s reminded me of though is the level of ambition Cobain exhibited with regard to his vocal performances. Focusing purely on his acoustic efforts, there’s significant variety in the performances ranging from the wonderful double-tracking effect on Clean Up Before She Comes, to the gothic vocalising on Don’t Want it All, the narcotised story-telling/scene description on Polly accompanying the background effects and thudding ‘suitcase’ drums, the way each line peaks on Opinion prior to the humming chorus lines, the solemnity giving way to the beautiful chorus of Something in the Way…His willingness to test his own voice, to rarely settle for monotony across an entire song.

It isn’t a huge revelation but one element I’ve been musing on recently is the visible connections between songs performed at certain times of his career. Essentially if an idea or approach was on his mind there tended to be more than one song in a certain mode or utilising a certain style or technique. At its most direct there’s Cobain’s admission that Dumb was written as an extrapolation from Polly, the punchy pop of Been a Son and Stain – or the lyrical unities between certain songs like Been a Son, Stain and Even in his Youth all of which arose around the same era.

Which brings me to the slimmest glimmer of a connection. I simply wondered whether I should think of the humming in Opinion and Something in the Way, two songs that arose in the same spell of song-writing in summer-autumn 1990, as two examples of a single brief vocal experiment. All i’d be suggesting is that these two songs happened to fit a particular mode he worked with briefly in which ending the chorus line, the song’s title line, by humming was something he was toying with. It also impresses me that he would put so much into such a tiny element of a song – the low/high humming on Opinion or the double-tracked harmonies that conclude Something in the Way…Cobain may unfortunately have come to bear the mantle of the ‘slacker’ generation but there was nothing slack at all about how much work he clearly put into testing and experimenting with even the smallest things he could do with his voice.

Wondered how everyone was feeling about their Nirvana In Utero deluxe and super-deluxe editions now there’s been time for it to soak in?

In the run-up I was pretty contented – some material I’d never heard, a potentially intriguing remix job, the Litt/Albini originals of a few pieces, the one surprise instrumental from a rehearsal, the bonus footage pieces. I’m very much on the glass half-full side of things, especially given I know it was feeding a hole that can never be filled meaning that anything that emerges was, and is, welcomed and appreciated.

At this point…Well, I’d still rate myself satisfied – the remastering was perfectly decent and I see no great reasons for anyone to complain about the slight ‘pumping up’ of the original album, the remix had a few points of intrigue, the bonuses made sense and Live and Loud is still a quality performance – love the long outro…More of this kinda chaos please!

But. On the other hand, I admit the randomness of including certain instrumentals and not others, of including certain early takes and not others…That definitely grates on me. When all the additional material is filler for fanatics hearing that someone somewhere has decided that certain material is ‘even more filler than other filler’ and that I’d definitely not want to hear it…It’s just irksome. I’m trying my best to think of it as the equivalent of the hierarchy of eBay, then second hand and charity shops, then finally bric-a-brac stores and carboot sales – that there are differing levels among pieces someone gets rid of but still…Unless an outtake is unavailable or genuinely wrecked I’ve no idea why one outtake should be deemed of any greater value than another.

Also, the 2013 remix did disappoint – I was hoping to hear far more wrenching changes to a greater number of songs. Instead, a few peaks do stand out but too few to fundamentally alter my listening experience or to distinguish the remix greatly from the original album. I’ve tried it with headphones, I’ve tried it with the original album playing alongside…Ultimately I think one problem may be that an exercise like this being in the hands of music producers/engineers fails to recognise the difference between the aural depth heard by those experts versus what might be distinguishable to an untrained individual who can’t isolate the audio tracks and doesn’t have such sensitive hearing. I was hoping for more. I’d have been more than happy, as an experiment, to hear them drop out backing, chop vocals, restructure songs…Isn’t it funny? I’m happy to consider sacrilege so long as it made for something fresh!

Ultimately there’s a touch of realisation to the whole experience, for me. The reason that there are not many deep cuts or intriguing diversions on the release is simply because that absence is a realistic portrait of what was going on in terms of Nirvana in the 1992-1993 period. Nirvana entered the studio in October 1992 and did barely one day’s work, they managed at most two days playing together as a band in January 1993, then in February they hammered out the album and all additional takes and so forth in, at most, a single week. This wasn’t a band taking time to evolve, develop or experiment with their songs – they were walking in, hammering out takes, then heading home where Cobain might work on something to order the band to do next time they got together. The compilers of the In Utero twentieth anniversary releases had the unenviable task of fleshing out a mildly depressing period of time for Nirvana and I feel they did so subtly (for example, the pieces in the Super-Deluxe book that emphasise the business and product aspects of an album) and accurately (in terms of the overall paucity of revelations or substantially different material.)

It does make me wonder though, whether Courtney Love has plans for the remaining tapes of Cobain demos given there have now been several occasions between 2009 and 2013 for further use to be made of whatever remains in that archive. On the one hand it makes me think that the rift opened way back in the early 2000s has never even reached the point at which she’s involved in any of the anniversary releases. On the other, it still lends me hope that there’s more to be made of material from her side of things – material that isn’t sitting with the label, or with Krist and Dave, or in the bands of Nirvana’s various producers.

That’s what I feel fans really have to look forward to; more Cobain material, a lot less Nirvana releases of real note.

I’ve said it before, I’m not a big fan of genuflecting over endless photos of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana.
It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the work that goes into surfacing shots of rare shows and moments in the life of this band. The kinds of photos I’m referring to are the close ups and front-on shots of Cobain’s face – they leave me cold because they serve a fundamental lie.

The purpose of a photo is to bring an onlooker closer to a moment that has past, whether a piece of their own history or someone else’s. The belief, with photos of Kurt Cobain, seems to be that this is about communion with the soul of the man himself – a way of growing closer to an understanding of him and a sympathy with his experience of the world. I would argue most of it is, instead, about projection by the onlooker and/or photographer and nothing at all to do with Cobain.

The Mona Lisa is a prime example – what was the woman thinking? The answer is that, actually, the image captures nothing. It’s impossible to verify if the famous smile was actually present (think about it, over the period of time the artist took to capture the image did the model truly maintain a single uniform facial expression for ten minutes, thirty minutes, hours on end?) or whether it was simply what the artist wished to portray or represent to us – his invention entirely and one that should make us ask not, “what was the woman thinking?” but “what was the artist thinking?” Likewise, even if we assumed that it was a true representation of the physical expression of the model it brings us no closer to verifying her actual emotional state; most people have a ‘photo face’ that they put on when a camera is pointed at them – what we may be seeing is the model’s false face adopted because of the present of an artist’s brush. And, again, even if we accepted that this face was indeed a direct translation of what she was feeling at that moment in time its a tragic voiding of the complexity of a human being to reduce them down to a single face at a single moment – when that model left the room we don’t know if she looked relieved, if she laughed to see herself in paint, or if she cried over a distraction we can’t see because all we have to go on is what the artist commissioned, paid for and chose to represent. We’re not seeing truth, we’re seeing a selected and mediated (un)reality.

The same goes for photos of Kurt Cobain. I read one photographer stating that one of his famous shots of Cobain staring wide-eyed into the camera, in his opinion, captured a moment of nakedness, vulnerability and honesty…Crap. Studying the sea of Cobain photos what is clearest to me is that this was a man extremely uncomfortable to be brought to a location specifically for people to commit an act upon that had no purpose other than to let people gaze at his face. His facial expression isn’t unhappy, it isn’t sad or soulful – it’s a deliberately blank canvas, it’s a tease even, a case of him saying “look into my eyes, believe what you like, I’m telling you nothing.”

This matches with his distrust of the press and, indeed, most of the trappings of his superstar status – he didn’t enjoy people prying into his life so I believe it’s equally unbelievable to think that a man who famously lied to and/or concealed things from interviewers would simultaneously reveal himself utterly to a cameraman. It leads me to recall the moments on stage when he pursued the TV cameras and forced them to cut out because he waved his penis at them, or the moments when he spat on the lens, or the decision in the Come as You Are video to conceal faces.

Look again at the weight of Cobain images out there and note how often it’s obvious that he’s faking or forcing a smile – the most likely explanation for those moments is that he’s been asked to smile by the cameraman, same as one would be asked at a wedding or other occasion. I’m definitely personally projecting here – I’m constantly told “smile” in photos and I simply can’t react because it’s a demand for a false and fake reaction. What I say is always the same, “talk to me or say something funny – I’ll smile immediately”, the real human contact is needed in order to capture a natural photo, I can’t pretend. In the case of Cobain, there’s the photo of him holding up a can of spam to the camera – caught acting, his smile is natural because he’s not trying to smile, his own focus and desire is to show the can. Similarly, the photo of him sat on the floor exhausted with a hand to his head and apparently crying seems real but was something he got over swiftly. All the most popular Cobain pictures (https://nirvana-legacy.com/2012/11/11/the-most-popular-kurt-cobain-photos/), the iconic Rolling Stone shots (including the one that graces With the Lights Out), show nothing, say nothing, give no insight other than a refusal to engage with the camera. It’s a dead face and what he’s sharing with ‘us’, the viewers, is no emotion at all thus voiding the supposed purpose of all these pictures floating around the world and gracing magazines, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Tumblr, whatever.

The threefold purpose of photos, in my opinion, is to verify an occurence, to be appreciated as art in its own right and/or share an experience. The former case is served by photos such as those of Cobain’s trip to hospital in Rome in March 1994, confirming something occured and illustrating its telling and retelling – the picture is nothing on its own without the story. The artistry of the photographer’s art, to me, is served by shots like the frenetic photos from the International Motor Sports Garage that capture the blurred reality of bodies in motion – the Bleach cover likewise is a wonderful combination of anonymity and recognisability – it’s a great identity shot and Sub Pop aligned brand image. The final point is served by the concert shots of Nirvana on stage and, of course, is most meaningful for those who were at a particular occasion – a personal memory. For those who weren’t ever physically present it hints and tantalises at the visual component of the live experience; video may more accurately capture a dynamic occasion but it erases a lot of the imaginative potential of listening to a recording and studying photos then filling the gap with what the mind conjures. People underestimate how much the photographic image is a physical spur to fantasy – frankly I don’t think we like to admit how much of day to day life is about reacting to imagined and potential realities and futures.

It’s why I find ‘selfies’ so tedious. They’re the equivalent of the grating barking of a dog, an endless declaration of “I’m here!” “I’m here!” “I am here!” Humans with so little to do they’re reduced to endless repetition of content-less presence; mannequins. Fake people.

new bv flier poster 2011 small size

A few months ago I made a passing comment on the racial divide around the alternative rock scene and one respondent, quite reasonably, took issue with the idea that Nirvana were in anyway racist. Less reasonably, that wasn’t what I was commenting on; the undeniable reality was that there was a significant colour bar, an unintentional one, that meant the world of alternative rock in the Eighties and Nineties was an almost entirely uniform race phenomenon. Decades of ‘white flight’ leading up to and into the Eighties built upon the segregation arising from class (which substantially mirrors the racial lines in society) to create large numbers of almost all white suburbs and smaller settlements. Music doesn’t float free of society and increasingly came to be a de-facto reflection of what was occuring. This doesn’t mean that audiences were in anyway racist or that musicians were either – they simply played what they wished with the friends around them. What it meant was a minimal representation from the non-white community in punk/alternative rock.

http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/150886/a-horror-story-set-in-crown-heights

http://blkvampire.homestead.com/Book-Release.html

Substantial coverage is always given to the Bad Brains (Fishbone and Living Color have been pointed out to me also) not just because they were superb (they were) but also because they were an exception within the scene. Reasonably enough they emerged from the more mixed environment of New York City. That simply couldn’t be reproduced in State of Washington which, even in 2010, was 77.3% ethnically white, 7.2% Asian, 5.1% ‘other’, 4.7% mixed race, 3.6% African American, 1.5% native American and 0.6% Pacific islander. The result in the Seattle scene is pretty visible – Soundgarden possessed Kim Thayil (Indian extraction) also Hiro Yamamoto (Asian) and…Oh. That’s pretty well it.

The music of the alternative revolution fairly closely reflected the boundaries established with the kind of fusion artists like Jimi Hendrix had attempted more or less erased, Led Zeppelin’s genre experiments forgotten in favour of their pure rock muscle and the more funk-orientated artists of the late Eighties and early Nineties more likely to emerge from LA (Red Hot Chilli Peppers being the prime example) than from the regional punk scenes – the Minutemen’s Mike Watt, a further exception.

rhcp

This is in no way a criticism of any of the music of the era – there’s no judgment involved. It is, however, a background to Nirvana and their emergence and observing the bands with whom they played minority-representation is little and far between even while the female presence is higher than the mainstream rock star norm. The band’s music reflected a music culture that also reflected population demographics.

While a common cliche is the adoption of African American music styles by racially white artists all the way back to Elvis (and perhaps tragically best represented today by Miley Cyrus – *shudder*) there are far fewer cases of enthusiasm and respect running in the opposite direction. One exception was a band that crossed paths with Nirvana on two occasions in 1989 and 1990 – 24/7 Spyz. Recently I made contact with Mr. Forrest Thinner of the band who recalls what is an under-discussed aspect of the ‘alternative rock revolution’ and who clearly lived and breathed for that scene and the love of playing – still does. The photo above shows 24/7 Spyz goofing about with RHCP and in the meantime I’ll let Forrest speak about the scene he was a witness to and a part of…

“Alternative rock really came from the college circuit…and yes the scene was super white; Bad Brains/Fishbone & Living Colour stuck out like a light bulb – the white teenage males had a lot to get off there chest socially they needed answers and it seemed the music was a way to be heard! For 24-7 Spyz to exist in those times were an anomly we were ‘Bad Brains’ from da HOOD to see us in those times was like seeing Eminem now like how Em is respected by the black rap community well we were respected by the Skinheads/MetalHeads/SkaKids/Punks/Hip Hop/StreetThugs/etc…Bad Brains is the inventors of Hardcore music period but not PUNK! Brains are not like the Sex Pistols/the Ramones or the Exploited they invented a musical style called ‘HardCore’ also they mixed it with Reggae Music which we all know that you can smoke weed and get high at the same time while playing music like some LSD hippie days shit so H.R. became like Jim Morrison (:-)) Giving the Brains big ups is Tokenism with a sense of honor and respect for being the FIRST of their kind.”

His new band furthers the agenda to the extent of ‘white-ing up’ with the corpse paints more prevalent in Death Metal circuits or Marilyn Manson’s ilk. Again, there’s no novelty intent, it’s a genuine love of the musical form and style plus a musical openness and omnivorousness:

“My first decision to dive into music was when The Jackson 5 came out, Micheal was only two years older than me and i still remember trying to sing all the words to ‘I want you back’…that’s when i became hooked into music. Metal & Hardcore came when i went into the Army and my platoon mates started introducing me to Van Halen/Molly Hachett/38 Special/Iron Maiden etc….I really got into all of it Queen/Led Zepplin everything and everybody. I was already hip to PFUNK and James Brown plus ALL of the 70’s funk bands i played Alto Sax then Guitar then Bass and i write my songs on Bass till this very day….24-7 Spyz wasn’t my first musical endeavor as a teen i was in a couple of local bands (Supreme Funk/Knights and then i started 24-7 Spyz)…We were also friends with Fishbone so Murphy’s Law took us under their wing and brought us to the world of HardCore where we got expose to Bad Brains/Agnostic Front/Raw Deal/Cro-Mags/Dead Kennedy’s/Sick Of It All etc…And when the Hardcore world got a hold of us it was DONE sooo fast.”

This is a truly original path forged through the underground, a brave one given the punk rock circuits were running through states lacking the liberal mindset of the North-West. This went hand-in-hand with a respect and love for the music around them. Speaking about playing with Nirvana back in the day Forrest’s exuberant comment was “I never heard of them before that night so i didn’t know they songs or set list but some of the kids did i just remember the rawness and power of them and they were loud as hell. I was very surprised to see them on ‘David Letterman’ i thought to myself DAMN Alternative Music has got a face now…Thank God!” which has an embracement of what occured that is very foreign to the reaction of a lot of musicians in the scene who were more concerned with hiding the scene as if it was a private secret.

I think anyone who has read the ‘New Music, New Discoveries’ category of this blog might have noticed I get a bit awed by people just willing to do what they feel, create something, think of something expressively or spiritually and just make it happen in spite of profit or obstacles. Do for self. In the case of Forrest he’s moved on, moved up and in the form of BlkVampires is expanding into multiple spheres as a true artist not just a musician willing to kick genre boundaries in the same way Meat Puppets, Minutemen, Big Black, Butthole Surfers and (yes) Bad Brains did in the early-to-mid Eighties.

“What I’m doing now in 2014 is a triple threat (Music/Book/Film) with my band ‘blkVampires’ we are a New York City based band that plays ‘Hard Alternative Gothic Soul’ music kinda like Pantera meets Al Green w/a little bit of the Exorcist inside…A soulful version of Marilyn Manson. We’ve been around for 4 years building a following & buzz. I just finished my first supernatural horror fiction novel ‘the HarlequinX’ and there’s a music documentary film coming out called ‘Riot On The Dance Floor’ in 2014 that has 15 of the TOP Hard Alternative Punk Artist EVER!! and i have the honor to BE in this film! If i was to recommend a song that personified us i would ask you to listen to “Blkenstein” from the Devil’s Music EP and there are too many highlights for me to pick just one because we’re ALWAYS asked to do something good but i would say that we are the ONLY all black band that has ever been featured in Fangoria Magazine and they been around since the mid 70’s and in April 2014 our 3rd EP Tutankhanum X will be out along with our Film & Book.”

That’s a lot of action. Forrest and the BlkVampires, I salute you and thank you for allowing me to point to you and your past endeavours as an exceptional journey through the rising alternative rock scene of the Eighties and Nineties and on into the present.

http://www.blkvampires.net

blkVampires Poster