Archive for January, 2014

My hangovers have become two day extravaganzas. One day of physical pain then a second day of general emotional vibes and not quite being with it, motivation down, self-criticism up. Apparently this is quite common. Partly it’s age, partly it’s because I don’t drink as often as I used to so my body just isn’t used to it – plus not drinking often means it’s possible to see the depressive effect of alcohol for what it is. Alcohol in itself is a pure substance, but we consume it usually in adulterated forms and imprecisely varied amounts so the body is facing an array of chemical onslaughts. Couple that with the impact of body temperature, pre-existing mood and psychological status, physical health, body mass, efficiency of internal organs, whether one is drinking stood up or sat down, sleep patterns, quantity and/or type of food consumed with it, whether one drinks water…The impact of alcohol in a laboratory can be tested to derive a scientific rule or equation but loose in society it becomes a conundrum of infinite complexity. Most of us have experienced it; the morning after a booze-soaked outing but somehow we’ve survived, or the couple of pints on the way home that somehow leaves the head buzzing the whole of the next day – or the friend who downs beer with abandon but needs carrying home as soon as they touch shots.

I’m always struck that people often have difficulty dealing with ambiguity; in the case of Cobain I’m always struck by people studying photos, looking at video footage, reading observations from others and claiming that the reality of his addiction wasn’t all it was made out to be because he was fine on this occasion or that. As I’m sure most people actually do realise on some level, the fact the impact upon him varied shouldn’t come as a surprise. The fact that in July 1993 he overdosed sometime in the period immediately before going on and was still able to play indicates that he was remarkably functional drug addict able to sing and play guitar despite being undoubtedly under the influence and probably not in anything close to a decent state. On the other hand, The Jesus Lizard have said before that it wasn’t exactly a virtuoso performance – he phoned it in. Not such a disaster that people talk about it in the way they do the January 16th show in Sao Paolo but still a zombified human being. It was both things at once – amazing stamina and well-practised capability, drug-induced sluggishness and lack of energy.

Examining a video and catching behavioural changes resulting from drug use might be valid, but the only thing that could be told from a photo would be skin damage and/or weight gain/loss. Similarly, the indication of off-kilter movement or speech on a video says that at that point in time someone might be having trouble…But it doesn’t extend to suggesting that three days later that was still their ongoing condition – it captures a moment not a trend or a pattern. The video and camera doesn’t lie, people are just asking far too much of it if they expect it to tell all about an individual. The functioning of his internal organs, the chemical impact on his brain, on fluid levels, on lung capacity, on heart rate or vision – none of this can be told without a close up examination.

To make a wider statement about his holistic condition across a period of time means combining evidence and here the evidence is very clear; witness reported overdoses, statements regarding drug use or purchase, photos indicating skin damage (take a look at the shots from Paris in 1994 where makeup was required to cover what had happened to his face), video clips indicating impacted motion and performance, hospitalisation, self-reported usage, the independent decision to seek treatments, reported physical pains and issues that may or may not have been linked to drug use. There’s no debate, given the span of time over which these sources are available, that there was a committed ongoing drug habit of varying intensity with spells of relatively controlled or intermittent usage and periods of heavy debilitating and incapacitating usage. There’s an expectation – born of a focus on worst case scenarios and imagery that sticks in the mind – that he should look like a Nancy Reagan approved dessicated skeleton, preferably with damaged teeth and eyes rolled back. He never did. In some images it’s clear that at age 26 Cobain had grown into his looks, in others he’s looking pretty rough – no one image can tell the tale and there’s no single pattern or path that could be observed in something as blunt as an image.

As human beings in a rapidly moving world, we make mental snapshots that allow us to evaluate and respond at pace; we rarely assess our fellows wholly or completely. Common statements that always make me twitch are “he didn’t look/act like a (insert choice here – pedophile, mass murderer, terrorist, spree killer, serial cheat, fraudster)” as if anything other than a tiny minority of individuals fall into the required image. It’s particularly lunatic because all those items are legally created and contextual descriptions – in a society with no legal age limit for sexual activity there’s no such thing as illegal and therefore immoral activity with a child, in a society that accepts killing in certain situations even mass murder doesn’t mean one wouldn’t invite them for dinner, meanwhile the ability of respectable individuals in smart clothing to egregiously enrich themselves seems to be a boom industry because people judge the clothing, personal grooming, accent and presentation rather than any awareness of internal intent or objective.

The result is statements like “I don’t understand why they’re unhappy – I mean, they’re rich/beautiful/successful/powerful/loved…Ad infinitum.” Again, easy external markers are used as a substitute for any knowledge of the internal emotional and/or psychological condition of an individual. It’s like saying of someone who dies of cancer – “but they looked so healthy,” – our position as external observers of one another gives us no ability to glance inside to that individual’s personal measures of success, personal frustrations or desires. In order to be able to function as a social order, in other words to understand and judge or react to status, position and our potential relationship to an individual, we substitute the things that we can measure at a glance; style, demeanour, brands, employment status and so forth. None of these things show us what the person might be like one minute to a next but they’re the nearest we can get in the quick-study contact most of us experience with one another day-by-day.

In the case of Cobain, he didn’t need to look like a drug addict to be one. And being chemically or psychologically dependent on pharmaceuticals didn’t make him a less moral or less decent person – nor a less functional one. Just as one’s morality exists independent of what one eats for dinner, so did Cobain’s. Anyways, sorry! Afternoon rant over!

For the record, the only thing I’ve ever found truly effective against a hangover is how much water I consume WHILE drinking – I used to drink water afterwards when I made it home but too much at that point disrupted sleep and so forth. Avoid mixing – for it is the devil’s work!!

I recall one reason I really hated the Sandford biography of Kurt Cobain was that it situated a Nirvana show at Brixton Academy in 1992 for some reason – that was one of the more minor factual errors in a book riddled with them. Actually, while I’m on the topic, I’d have to say that’s the only book I ever was so bothered by I took the time to write a review on calling it out on disgraceful use of sources, endless factual errors, a visible absence of proof reading meaning the writer would say the precise opposite of a previous statement just a few chapters after an initial opinion…It’s a disgrace that book…I mean, one chapter begins with a scene in which, in amidst the fall of the Berlin Wall, Cobain is spotted on a rooftop being done anally by another man – I mean, how was he spotted, identified, why would he be on a roof, where’s the evidence, what the hell?! He also accuses Cobain of beating a man into a coma in the mid-Eighties – again, no sign of this elsewhere. it’s one of the most amazing hatchet jobs I’ve ever seen, a true disgrace. The author basically has a belief that Cobain’s deification was leading teens to believe suicide was cool and that, therefore, denigrating Cobain, destroying his image, would lead people to reject him. Stunning – can’t believe it ended up in print.

Anyways, I digress. A neat little finale for a Friday, an excerpt from a new book describing the reaction at Brixton Academy to the death of Cobain. I actually like its honesty – when faced with hundreds of thousands in claims for refunds is there any individual who wouldn’t be kinda focused on the personal impact rather than the distant tragedy? The author’s honesty appeals and seems a realistic vision of the business impact of Cobain’s death – individuals round the world suddenly pitched into the logistical, financial and organisational demands created when a major component of a system disappears unexpectedly. Intriguing to think this same process was occuring in numerous venues across Europe with whatever local variations were required.

Apparently a new source has surfaced featuring a chunk of the misbegotten performance Nirvana turned in on January 16, 1993 in Brazil…Anyways, it reminded me that I’d been thinking about the Argentina concert and why it was such a mess.

Obviously Nirvana made a deliberate choice and were very overt about saying so around that time – audience sexism toward Calamity Jane being the suggestion. One thing that struck me though, in my ever over-thinking way, is that if the set-list played that night wasn’t an on-the-spot and deliberate act of aggression toward the audience, then it was still a poorly chosen cluster of songs that were almost bound to create an underwhelmed reaction.

Why do I say so? Well, Nirvana seem to have gone to Argentina with little idea about how limited the penetration of underground and indie music into that continent had been. They had complained in 1989-1990 that barely anyone in U.S. could find their Sub Pop releases – well imagine how much worse that situation was in South America; MTV had only just started broadcasting locally, the only songs the audience knew were those from Nevermind because there was no local Sub Pop distribution.

Much comment has always been made of Nirvana’s improvised opening song – a real declaration of intent toward the audience that night. Problem is, only nine other songs were drawn from Nevermind – the rest of the set was utterly unknown to the crowd. Imagine that experience, going to a show at which almost everything played is a mystery so no one can tell the difference between errors on stage, deliberate laxity (i.e., his mumblings of Beeswax) or the way songs were meant to be. The other ten songs played that night consisted of four songs from Bleach (it’s unclear if even the Geffen reissue in April 1992 had made much inroad in this market by October), four songs that would only see wide release on Incesticide which wasn’t out yet, Spank Thru from the Sub Pop 200 compilation and a later single neither of which would have been seen, plus All Apologies, which obviously wouldn’t emerge on record until In Utero a year later. While to a U.S. audience this would have been a perfectly fine line up, it was an odd choice for their first South American gig because for over half the night the audience wouldn’t have known what they were hearing. I don’t know about you, I like hearing something new, something off-the-cuff, something unreleased…But most of a night being dedicated to it?

Everyone says they love a maverick, an exception – most people shrug and simultaneously say they aren’t but think they are. As Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes put it “I’m significant!!! …Screamed the dust speck.” To be fair, the tragedy of failed imagination displayed when people strive to be precisely the same as everyone else is grim to behold so in some ways I’d rather at least attempt to live life as a howling dust speck than give up and ‘be realistic’.

I think what happens is people define someone as an exception in the full totality of their being when in actual reality people are only exceptional in discreet components of who they are and what they do; we all make our compromise with the norm even if it just means we can exchange verbiage. Which brings me to Terry Lee Hale who precisely defines it with a smile and a shrug; “conformity is a funny thing…Even if one rejects the more acceptable ‘normal’ lifestyle choices there is still a kind of conformity in alternate choices right?”

I’ve known Mr Hale’s name a good many years as the true exception on the Sub Pop 200 statement of intent – a singer songwriter playing acoustic amid the wall-to-wall guitar image Sub Pop were determined to pump out at the time. In a way it keeps Cobain and co.’s then presence in perspective for me; no criticism of them implied. Their rebel yell consisted of conforming to a particular underground milieu that was rising in Seattle and being deliberately dredged up by Sub Pop. Sometimes it’s just the case that one’s voice is attuned to those around, at other times one walks one’s own path – in Mr Hale’s case, ending up as a lone singer-songwriter on the Sub Pop 200 release and a real harbinger of the direction in which Sub Pop would proceed from around the time of Mark Lanegan’s The Winding Sheet onwards. Ever heard Dead is Dead? It’s a charmer – naturally i’ll encourage you to download it legally so the artist actually receives a touch of commission; contrary to popular opinion most musicians are not rich millionaires who can afford all and sundry valuing their hard work at zero.

A further point of intrigue in his story is how the choice that united Hendrix, Sub Pop and others down the years remained true in the 1990s; it was often easier to be a viable musician and to be valued as such by jumping across the waters; Terry Lee Hale made the trip over to Europe in the mid-Nineties and has made his base here.

The song at the top of the page is from his latest album, song and album both entitled The Long Draw – guitar reminds me of those brilliant recordings Michael Gira, of Swans notoriety, would make playing solo but cleaner and far more expert though.

Just a little distraction for a Friday afternoon…Enjoy. Incidentally, I made an error the other day, mistook a January 2013 article for a January 2014 article. Doh! Dumb. Sorry…

Anyways, in other old business…WordPress kicked me a report explaining the blog in 2013 – if you can believe it, 75,000 views over the twelve months? That’s about 205 views if split over 365 days – nice.



I’ve cut the graphics from the report just for interest. Top posts? Strangely, still the one I did in 2012 showing Kurt Cobain’s girlfriends/wife in graphics and stats – sheesh…I suspect spam activity! The next was most views was the photos of Cobain’s house on Pear Street in Olympia – over 6,000!

In total I submitted 237 posts – hope it gives an impression of working hard to make sure there’s something interesting going up…

Room 226

Courtesy of Mr Mitch Holmquist, a series of interior shots of Room 226 of the Marco Polo Motel as it stands today. Thanks Mitch! The guy is a mine of Nirvana-related/State of Washington-related knowledge.

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I strolled past way back in September when visiting the North West but never popped inside. It’s known among Nirvana circles simply because it’s one of the final places Kurt Cobain was seen alive. Naturally it’s changed over the years but gives a fair sense of the room – its a motel room, I doubt it was any more thrilling twenty years ago. That’s the most jarring thing perhaps – multi-millionaire rock star at peak of his fame, mansion by the waters just a 45 minute drive away, instead he’s sitting round in a blank little box of a room, maybe gazing out on the parking lot view, otherwise looking at nothing.

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And actually, to be fair, it looks pretty nice! Given the cost of a hotel in Central Seattle, staying here, on one of the main bus routes back into the centre (the bus ride out took me 15 minutes or so back in September – service seemed really regular and reliable), within walkable distance of centre (the walk toom me maybe an hour to head back as far as the Paramount), with decent facilities and a clean room…Nice! Frankly, beyond the historical (and slightly ghoulish) Cobain connection I reckon the Marco Polo Motel looks extremely pleasant.

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It’s also what I like about U.S. history compared to European history. The fact we built stone castles and cathedrals over our sites of interest sometimes makes European history seem less day-to-day or real – it’s all too excessive in a way, the life of normal people wiped away and replaced by the actions and relics of those with the power and wealth to create enduring temples.

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In the U.S., so many more of the historical sites are surprisingly ordinary and examining something at this close range – the life of an individual who’ll still have a place in legend in fifty years time or more – it’s still possible to see how simple and everyday it all was.

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Kurt Cobain reminds me that beyond the excess portrayed upon TV and film screens and via celebrity-obsessed rags, the rich and super-rich ultimately live nothing more than a more polished and sunnier version of reality. Their hotel rooms might be a bit nicer – but how much ‘nicer’ can something truly be? I stayed in a seven star hotel once – it was just a hotel in the end, anonymous living.

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Just a gentle little news round-up today. Firstly, it seems work is finally proceeding on the proposed Cobain film with the cooperation of Courtney Love. My personal view is that this is a real opportunity given the ability to access his artworks in all medias and therefore to create a portrait of the young man as an artist rather than just as a media star and musician. The director is a reputable figure with experience both of serious documentary work and music-focused documentary work – a real positive given so many Nirvana related documentaries have been well-meaning but not necessarily high-powered or governed by a genuine expert in the field. And the cooperation of Courtney Love does encourage me – I think that the Cobain related events (Heavier Than Heaven, Greatest Hits, With the Lights Out, Journals) that she’s decided to approve have been well-executed and, at the least provide the broadest and deepest pool of original material to base work on. Hiring in an expert is a good move. I recall this film being discussed a full year ago at least so it’s great to hear it finally coming closer to active production. That’s two films to look forward to in the next two years.

In other news, where are you on April 10th?

Hoquiam has a perfectly fair claim to be a significant Cobain location – the area blurs into Aberdeen and Cobain did live there. Plus, heck, frankly it’s great to see a celebration of Cobain done in a small local community rather than some corporate corralled love-in infesting a city somewhere with Police barriers and careful control.

Anything else today? Well, there’s a curious Jonathan Poneman interview here:

A series of brief clips and so forth – very cool. It’s nice to get a little more sense of him as a person given he doesn’t spend much time in front of a camera and trying to detect him from a page lacks something on the humanity front.


Not my favourite graphic by a long-shot but I couldn’t think of how else to present this lil’ braindump…Basically I’m always curious about overall trends, ways of showing rather than telling the development of a phenomenon. In the case of Nirvana, one way to judge this is via the archive of tickets and gig posters at (always my number one source of stats – honestly, what would I be doing with my time without those guys? I might have a life!)

In order to gain a picture of the growth in Nirvana’s status I wanted to compare their position in the running orders for shows. Firstly, I decided the most accurate pattern could be found by looking solely at shows in State of Washington/State of Oregon, how did Nirvana’s status develop in their home region? Secondly, I had to choose what to prioritise, for example, I decided that magazine/newspaper listings took priority over gig posters because the posters would be a less official source, similarly ticket stubs seemed the ultimate arbiter of status so I made them number one – naturally this is an arguable approach but at least clear, explicit and easy to examine.

I commenced the study only from the show when Nirvana finally settled on that band name – and to my surprise there were two shows as early as 1988 where Nirvana received top billing…But then I realised, both shows were out in smaller towns – Ellensburg and Hoquiam – with comrades such as the newly formed Attica, Slim Moon’s Lush, and truly obscure outfits such as Psychlodds, Millions of Dead Leninz and King Krab. Nirvana were bottom of the bill at every Seattle show that year, even the 2 of 3 ranking for October 28 is me being generous given Blood Circus were clearly the bigger name backing the Butthole Surfers, the poster just happens to show Nirvana/Blood Circus on the same line in the same size font so I thought I’d go easy on Nirvana. Nirvana, in 1988, were a nothing in Seattle and placed bottom of the bill beneath numerous hard to recall bands.

Progress can be seen in 1989. Nirvana’s first top billings in Olympia and Seattle come within a week of one another in April. Placed alongside younger bands – S.G.M., Treehouse, Helltrout, Love Battery – Nirvana had seniority. More significantly, though still taking place at a gig out in Auburn rather than in the big music hubs, in May Nirvana receive top billing over grunge forefathers Skin Yard. Had a sea-change taken place? Not quite yet, the band’s three other top billings, all in late 1989, are against less venerated competition – Dickless, out-of-towners Knife Dance, relative unknowns Gasoline and Mad Hatter. The only oddity is the listing for August 26 which consists of the unsafe source of the back of a t-shirt with Nirvana ranking ahead of Mudhoney – an unlikely scenario especially given that on June 9 Nirvana had been a solid third behind both Mudhoney AND Tad on the official bill.

As an aside, examining the material from the U.K. and Europe tour of 1989 emphasises that last point; Nirvana only occasionally ranked alongside or above Tad and ranked decisively below Mudhoney, then again, at least Nirvana were finally contesting that top billing with their comrades Tad in the U.K. and Dutch markets. It was progress but what we’re still seeing is a band that didn’t have pole position even in the eyes of Sub Pop.

The January 6, 1990 and January 12, 1990 shows continued the state of equivocation – Nirvana appear above Tad and Melvins respectively and though Nirvana would fall back into line beneath local legends the Melvins – Melvins were billed over Nirvana as late as September 1990 despite having jostled for position at the Legends show in January where Melvins appeared first on the poster but Nirvana came first on the ticket – Tad would never again surmount Nirvana.

There were others, however. In February in Portland Screaming Trees, soon to sign to a major label, had top billing. With Mudhoney on hiatus, with Soundgarden never to share another bill with Nirvana, it’s still surprising to see there were still local bands who took priority over Nirvana contrary to twenty years of retrospective hagiography.

There is a change taking place, however. The August 1990 shows saw Nirvana second billing to the legendary (and deserved top-of-the-bill) Sonic Youth, at that point a major label band as well as sainted figures in the underground. There still comes the surprise that as late as June 1991 another band could stand above Nirvana on their State of Washington home-turf, but it becomes less of a surprise when that band is Dinosaur Jr – at that point in time a new recruit to the majors and seen as one of the most likely bands to cross-over to wide success. Nirvana were finally competing with bands from out-of-state.

Where to go from here? Well, again, it’s worth making an aside. One would think that Nirvana, with the release of Nevermind, strode immediately and confidently to the head of the class above all-comers but the realisation of what had occured wouldn’t come until into the start of 1992. Nirvana ended 1991 second on the bill to proven pan-national and international record selling force the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

The flyers and tickets stubs do, therefore, show a development – from being just another State of Washington band until into 1989, to being a second-rung Sub Pop outfit for most of that year though now beating bands from other labels and from outside Seattle, to becoming the leaders of the State of Washington class by end of 1990 with only the cream of U.S. underground/major label bound bands stood in front of them. Their ultimate status was to contest position against the pop world’s major rock superstars – they’d never go home again as anything other than the top billed band of an evening.