Archive for April, 2014

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http://www.cbsnews.com/news/kurt-cobain-death-scene-note-mocks-vows-to-courtney-love/

It’s one way to commemorate an anniversary…The Seattle Police Department chose to mark the twentieth anniversary of Cobain’s death by reviewing the evidence they hold and releasing a report summarising their views. Their conclusion? Nothing contradicting the verdict of suicide. In terms of new information, there’s almost nothing; they uncovered that on Tuesday April 2, 1994 Cobain took a taxi into town to purchase the shotgun shells that he then used. There’s an interesting discussion of the movement of the gun at time of firing which concludes that Cobain’s death grip on the gun results in the final position of one shotgun casing and one misfired round. Oh, and in what should delight murder theorists, turns out the 1.52 milligrams per litre level of heroin in Cobain’s blood stream is entirely correct though the report also notes the presence of fresh needle tracks and puncture wounds indicating sustained use of heroin and more than one recent injection (wounds is a plural in the report – not just one indicating injection at time of death but several.)

They also released a postcard that was in Cobain’s wallet but unsent in which he scribbles down “Do you Kurt Cobain take Courtney Michelle Love to be your lawful shredded wife even when she’s a bitch with zits and siphoning all (your) money for doping and whoring…” Apparently there’s more not included in the photo released. Funnily enough, the stationery Cobain uses for the postcard above, that was found in his wallet, comes from a San Francisco hotel called the Phoenix – apparently popular with a rock clientele, perhaps partially due to its proximity to a neighbourhood known for drug dealing. As an aside, Cobain doesn’t visit San Francisco in March 1994 – however, Roddy Bottum, keyboardist for Faith No More and a friend of the Cobain couple flew in from San Francisco sometime after March 18 and left before 25 suggesting he might have left the postcard at the house and Cobain had later scooped it up and used it as scrap paper sometime among the smattering of days between Friday March 25 and Tuesday April 5. (Added Note: pointed out in comments, it’s likely the card was written by Courtney herself – sheesh, couples! They have the weirdest sense of humour. :-))

This is the Police Report incidentally:

SPD_policefile_27df

A thank you at this point to Jon for adding a YouTube link in the comments a week ago to Tom Grant’s response to Mike Ciesynski which, neatly, includes detective Ciesynski’s verbal comments on his review.

For once I’m going to give an inch to the murder theory – Cobain isn’t exactly a candidate for world’s tidiest human being as demonstrated by the photos last month of how he and Courtney Love left one apartment they shared and the numerous comments on his apartment in Olympia previous to that. The idea that he put the syringe back in his box and put the caps on is a bit weird…BUT. Suicide isn’t a normal act, it isn’t a normal time and this is a guy who has shown meticulous attention to the staging and positioning of art projects suggesting it isn’t that he’s constitutionally incapable of being tidy, orderly and precisely arranged. Having laid out items next to his body, putting away the syringes was just one more preparation…Or his supposed killer takes the time to it which is pretty unconvincing too. I’m sure the Seattle police are pretty aware that by this stage people will just believe what they believe.

The postcard’s main fascination comes from the way in which it’s such a common behaviour on Cobain’s part; the Journals are riddled with unsent letters, vicious missives to all and sundry explaining their sins and crimes. My perspective was always that it was his way of discharging his more negative views and I’ve always doubted that any of the letters were meant to be sent because I think Cobain knew fine well that what he was writing was usually extremely slanted and didn’t even capture the totality of his own feelings. Instead it was more akin to the sentiment put out in his lyrics about politeness (“if you wouldn’t mind/if you wouldn’t care…”, Come as You Are, All Apologies) that he often felt he couldn’t say things, or just as likely knew he’d be talking sh** if he did. Really I put the postcard in with that, a semi-nonsensical scree aimed at his wife who has just threatened to take his child away and to divorce him. I mean, those couple of lines are pretty silly.

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I was too busy that week of the anniversary (April 5-8, wherever you want to draw the line) to really dedicate some time to doing something so rather than dashing something off I thought it was better just to say nothing if I had nowt to say well.

It didn’t mean I didn’t find time for quite a significant amount of reading though. Now. I try to make a real point of avoiding sweeping generalisations except in error, but here’s one; the Cobain anniversary really brought out the worst kinda space-filling, low quality pop culture criticism I’ve witnessed circulating around any event this side of a British royal wedding – a vast array of dashed off click-fodder.

If you feel like playing bullshit bingo sometime, go to Google news, tap in Kurt Cobain and scan through a few – you’re looking for the following; James Dean/rebel references, references to the power of Cobain’s voice or ‘voice of generation’ hyperbole, inability to name one song other than Teen Spirit and endless quoting from same song, repeated summarization of the Nirvana life story cribbed from existing biographies, point of article confined to a paragraph or two at most surrounded by repetition of tragic/flawed eulogies cut/paste from a thousand other articles.

Sadly, in amidst it, there were a few interesting thoughts but usually without the knowledge of the topic to advance or develop the idea. Here are a few examples:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandpopfeatures/10751850/Kurt-Cobain-had-nowhere-to-go-musically-when-he-died.html

Of six paragraphs, only the fourth and the fifth aren’t autopilot recitations designed for people who neither know about nor are interested in Nirvana/Cobain. There simply isn’t the depth to answer the question set – it argues Cobain may have struggled to articulate anything fresh as he aged without offering any evidence supporting the proposition. This is a shame because it’s a worthwhile line of inquiry. The fifth paragraph deviates entirely to discuss the changing landscape of music post-Cobain – again, it’s not a bad topic (though spit-roasted to the consistency of leather by this point in time) and could have carried a full article.

Pop Matters made a far better show of asking the question raised in the fifth paragraph of the Telegraph articleeven if, again, the depth into which the average music journalist can go is simply to make surface-skimming points about modern guitar music compared to Nirvana:

http://www.popmatters.com/post/180441-the-legacy-of-kurt-cobain/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-26776170

This is how to do it (God bless the BBC!) A very brief article but an original story about a specific point in time and Youri Lenquette is a top notch individual. Similarly, here’s NME doing a quick burst about plans to record. The issue would be that these are news bulletins rather than criticism or proper thought-pieces but, again, I’m ok with the idea that one says as little as possible if one has nothing fresh to say.

http://www.nme.com/news/nirvana/76574

Again, in the Oregon Live piece below, the idea of discussing the topic of how Cobain changed anything at all is a topic worth exploring…Thing is, Charles Cross has already done it for this anniversary (I scanned the rather light, rather small, hardback of his new book in a store today and somehow couldn’t stomach the £14.99 asking price – I’ll wait for the paperback) so what’s left are nine barely related factoids with no central thesis and no link to the title. It’s mainly an ad for the Cross book. A tragic waste of a good angle that could have worked well in this media format.

http://www.oregonlive.com/books/index.ssf/2014/04/kurt_cobain_9_ways_his_life_an.html

CNN disgrace themselves by pegging a space-filling slideshow under the title “Kurt Cobain: His Death and the 1990s” – I mean, I almost like the 90s-palooza thing but even that could have been more stylish; Nostalgiapalooza perhaps? I mean, what’s next? “The Manson Murders: Fun and Frolicsome Memories of the 1960s”? Tagging this photobook of amusing “d’ya remember when…?” pieces to a death feels pretty wrong even beyond the depthless ‘commemoration’ aspect.

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/04/04/showbiz/kurt-cobain-death-anniversary/

At least one of the local Seattle papers did a better job by making a few light comparisons between Seattle c1990s versus modern Seattle – there’s surely a lot more to be added on this one but let’s not quibble given its a concise and distracting enough job well done on an original angle. I mean, heck, it’s a different city now entirely:

http://www.seattlepi.com/entertainment/music/article/Kurt-Cobain-and-Seattle-in-the-90s-Then-and-now-5375275.php

MTV do some truly uninteresting merging of personal bio and Cobain text that could be sold in a box as a word game – construct your own posthumous Cobain article:

http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1725695/kurt-cobain-man-who-changed-world.jhtml

And the other week I mentioned not being particularly impressed by Everett True’s “I knew him, you didn’t” (I summarise tragically fairly accurately) piece in the Guardian – the guy has done so much better before. I enjoyed the reprint of Jonathan Freedland’s original 1994 report for the intriguing reportage on Seattle at that moment in time, local reaction and questions regarding the depth or otherwise of Cobain’s representation of a generation.

http://www.theguardian.com/music/from-the-archive-blog/2014/apr/05/kurt-cobain-an-icon-of-alienation

What’s lacking is commentary that has an argumentative depth, an original angle, a willingness to assume sufficient knowledge on the part of the audience that the rehashing can be abandoned, a degree of depth on the part of the critic allowing them to roam more widely through the Cobain tale and greater effort having been put into finding primary sources to speak on specific questions or debating points – I’m presuming the North West was flooded with dashed off journalistic inquiries along generic lines no more evolved or intelligent than “so…tell me…What was he LIKE?” or “what’s your biggest memory of him?”

Essentially pop culture media seems to have been stripped down to nothing more than the simple relaying of soundbite and imagery courtesy of PR agencies on behalf of their clients with any attempt at depth confined to full-scale books – there have been some impressive ones in recent years. I may not enjoy hagiography and applications for Cobain’s sainthood but he genuinely is one of those few standout figures in the musical world that would seem to demand that a commentator know a bit more about than is on evidence in the above pieces – it’s like someone writing a piece on Shakespeare based on reading the back cover of a biography plus a sonnet or two.

Just for balance though, here’s an article I genuinely did appreciate (in part) for its willingness to marry the subject of Cobain to a wider question, to a new angle, to evidence I hadn’t heard or considered before:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/32fd8cf0-b42c-11e3-a102-00144feabdc0.html#slide0

I saw it in the FT in which it was a four column full-page piece and for sure, it does suffer from some of the sins of pieces described earlier. The first column strings together a set of non-sequiturs and clichés taking in the recent statue in Aberdeen, quick references to Cobain’s art, two brief quotations from his lyrics (simultaneously marking the beginning/end of Kurt Cobain’s existence to a majority of people – Smells Like Teen Spirit he begins, You Know You’re Right he ends) then finally states that the article has a point. The first two paragraphs, really, are a document describing how the writer failed to find any information out from a primary source so had to rely on quoting another media site to fill some space; the third column in the newspaper returned once more to a retelling of the Nirvana tale at least pepped up with some quotes from Bruce Pavitt related to the article’s main topic.

The redemptive components of the article are the second column – everything from the mention of Scott Sandage to the next … break – plus the final three paragraphs (column four.) The dissertation regarding the evolving model of what failure has meant over time is a welcome one – giving a historical context to the entire ‘loser/slacker’ topic is a really rich theme to run with and certainly sparks thought about where Cobain/grunge belong in the overall narrative of American social/political/economic history.

In fact, it’s a good angle despite the fact I disagree with the author’s point fundamentally. He simply asserts that ‘Generation X’ was the slacker generation and that it was self-evident that a wave of young people were embracing a form of nihilism at the time – untrue. The generation coming of age alongside and around Cobain was just as likely to be employed, more likely to be entrepreneurially active, more likely to have pursued getting an education as a potential advantage in the jobs market (I hate to rely on a Wikipedia article but what the hey, it’s a decent summary and raises the wider point about the different forms of ‘Generation X’ worldwide – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_X), has a higher level of involvement in social causes…Need I go on? The flipside was that it was the generation that had to deal with a new economic/political complex that no longer believed the point of the government was to aim for 100% employment for citizens; in other words, no matter what anyone/everyone did, there would always be more jobs than people and no way for some people to find a job. The tales of over-qualified individuals taking service industry positions wasn’t the tale of a lack of ambition it was the tale of an economic realignment toward a service-orientated economy with more part-time jobs, more unskilled jobs, fewer opportunities overall.

The author has conjoined two separate arguments here; one is about the overall nature of the post-baby boom generation, the other is about the professional respect to be offered to artists and musicians. He essentially – and oddly for a ‘pop critic’ – is claiming those who pursue income via the creative arts are the same thing as slackers. This is a really tangled arena; are only those musicians who aim to be multi-millionaires from the outset worthy of being deemed professionals and accorded the respect that any entrepreneur should receive? Are musicians who are content developing steady but predominantly local audiences unambitious or just establishing a secure and realistic measure of success as opposed to the fantasists who see visions of cheering throngs in their heads even while touring the toilet circuit? Is it only Cobain’s ability to sell millions that makes his art worthy of note despite the fact all the songs on Nevermind originated long prior to his band being anything more than another underground band with reasonable respect? The question of why precisely the author deems Cobain to be a failure, or whether he’s reserving that epithet for the bands around Cobain who didn’t miraculously go through the roof, is the piece he doesn’t answer – again, like the assumption that Generation X were the slacker generation, he assumes it’s self-evident that Cobain was a loser simply because that’s the casual association made regardless of whether it has substance behind it.

I’m not specifically answering that question here (might have a go another time though!) but what I’m saying is that article raises an intriguing intellectual argument that made me think a lot more than most of the pieces published these past weeks – it just doesn’t particular answer or pursue its own subject matter to a finale.

Similarly, there’s a disjointedness within the article’s wider point given Generation X itself has been the biggest purveyor of the ugly blend of new age self-help philosophies coupled with hard-nosed Social Darwinian economics that is manifested via latter-day mainstream hip hop and via the economic politics of a majority of voters. The broad brush tarring doesn’t explain that ‘Generation X’ wasn’t a single phenomenon and therefore was, on the one hand, the ‘me generation’ of the Eighties (recently toasted and semi-celebrated in The Wolf of Wall Street) and the ‘stocks only go up’ cash-in crowd of the Dot-com bust and the same crew recently found corruptly manipulating financial markets, selling financial products that created systemic risks and cashing out million pound bonuses, as well as, on the other hand, being the generation that has pushed for ever more ethical decisions by corporates, is more involved in green causes, anti-corruption campaigns, anti-war movements, local grassroots social activities and so forth than ever. The mythical drop-outs the article is taking aim at don’t have too much in common with Kurt Cobain, nor with the majority of their own generation.

The final three paragraphs are a separate article really pointing out that Jay Z’s appropriation of a Nirvana sample for a recent song was simply a way of contrasting the failure of others to rise within a certain paradigm with his own claim to self-made success. That’s a really neat and sour point and at least a strong conclusion. Unfortunately, having failed to identify why exactly Cobain should be deemed a loser or a slacker, these final paragraphs barely connect to the main thesis.

There was potentially a far more coherent angle for the article. The second column explained that success/failure were concepts that changed over time according to specific circumstances, needs, opinions and therefore are not intrinsic physical realities that can be scientifically defined – that the current definition is NOT the absolute, eternal way it was or should be. The article could have either taken aim at the lazy reporting of Generation X clichés (that really had more to do with typical “older generation dismissing younger generation” thinking) as fact – or debated why Cobain is held up as an icon of failure when by many measures he’s one of society’s one percent of high-achievers. At least, however, it was an article with a bit more substance to it. If there was anything to be taken from a couple of weeks of magazines, newspapers and online media sources deciding to fill a few quick pages with Cobain-talk it’s that an ‘icon of depression’ twenty years dead managed to achieve more, inspire more, pump more thought and effort into his works and make a far less shoddy job of what he did than a vast number of media commentators (who I’m presuming all self-define as relative successes) manage here in the enlightened future.

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/the-inside-story-of-nirvanas-one-night-only-reunion-20140416

Never say never I guess…Given the three musicians involved have reached whatever state of peace required to allow them to approach the work they formulated with their friend Kurt Cobain, there seems no obstacle to more activity going forward. For a long time, this is just my feeling, I think there was a pretty reasonable taboo at the idea of original members of Nirvana playing Nirvana songs simply because the originator of the vast majority of the music had shut the door so firmly on his way out. It’s hard to explain to a fan in their teens that time really does make these things fade but here we are twenty years later and I’ve not noted anyone reacting negatively to the presence of Dave, Krist and Pat on a stage together playing as some unnamed form of Nirvana. Partially this is because of the gentle way in which they edged toward it over the years – everyone was used to Pat and Dave in Foo Fighters, then the occasional appearances by Krist made the idea of them altogether seem less of a jump, eventually a Nirvana song dropped in casually here and there showed it wasn’t such a heavy thing anymore if a song built by Kurt appeared under different guise but with the stamp of authority provided by at least some of its originators. There were some murmurings about the decision to play with Paul McCartney but in general the choice of songs, the way the individuals spoke about the performances, the fact they were playing a new song intended for a specific one-off project – it all put things in that interesting space where it both was and wasn’t a Nirvana reunion, it was implicit but not made explicit which made it easier to focus on whether the new song was any good, whether the concerts looked like fun, rather than having an overt argument over the idea of a Kurt-less Nirvana. The Rock and Roll Hamm of Fame show and the aftermath performance were the lengthiest ‘Nirvana’ set these guys had played in twenty years, the timing was pretty well perfect, there was an occasion that provided some justification for doing it and they made such a point of making it ‘different’ from a Nirvana performance that its simply been accepted as an impressive thing. It’s like slowly squeezing out a spot (sorry for the metaphor!); rather than excessive pressure then POP! and a big mess, they’ve eased it and worked at it over years with no great drive or aggressive attempt to force a result and the result has been a smoother, less painful, less dramatic experience – sheesh, we just saw a band that died twenty years ago do something that back at the time we thought would never happen! And I barely looked until now!

http://kristnovoselic.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/punk-rock-gender-parity.html

Nirvana’s commitment to gender politics was always present back at their peak – over and again its possible to add up the ways in which they brought the issue to the fore either explicitly by supporting pro-female events (Rock Against Rape, Rock for Choice, Home Alive), by drawing female-fronted bands on stage (Calamity Jane, L7, Shonen Knife…) or by simply stating their views when given the opportunity in interview – or implictly, for example in Cobain’s original feeling that there should be a Girl and a Boy side to Nevermind, the dress wearing on the In Bloom video, the female imagery deluging In Utero, various lyrics, video imagery and components… The conversion of Nirvana’s hits into female vocal performances was a superb choice in terms of providing a true surprise within the performance the other week, turned a historical occasion (apologies for the hyperbole) into a quick summation of some of the strong female figures of past and future (note Joan Jett’s strong links to the Seattle scene – she fronted a post-Mia Zapata version of the Gits in order to help raise money for the Home Alive organisation), plus it showed a continued desire to foreground the subject of women in music. That Krist has used that as a springboard for a wider commentary on the roles open to women in society and their treatment is a step that 1992-1993 Nirvana couldn’t have made because they’d simply have been pointing people to the works of others while, now, in 2014, Krist was able to point to work done by an organisation in which he is personally involved and committed. I guess sometime I should write a piece purely talking about the subject of ‘personal connection’ as a guiding principle in Nirvana’s music and activities.

Here’s the actual report produced by Fair Vote – a worthy piece of work. In general gender issues are a pretty fascinating area, I sometimes get this sense that there was a deliberate effort to demonise the phrase ‘feminist’, to eliminate the positivity within the phrase and to endlessly link it to conflict and aggressive tactics and attitudes rather than to the rational and well-argued points being made. The repetitive focus on more controversial (thus entertaining) individuals, to ignore the matter under discussion in favour of coverage of shock tactics or harsher soundbites – there’s been a thirty year effort to drive the issue of female participation in society into specific boxes and to legislate so that organisations can claim compliance with the letter of the law rather than having to truly consider the right/wrong of a female individual for a role.

The music industry certaintly has done a phenomenal job of reverting to type; the Nirvana era came complete with quite a number of female acts and personalities but ended up focusing on the rather ideological side (Riot Grrl) or the stripper-ish side (Hole) – women were pushed back into the channel of being able to coo softly over gentle songs, the idea of ‘women who rock’ still remained in a ghetto rather than mingling on the same streets as the mainstream. The replacement of hair metal with hip hop as the dominant American music – and that music’s subsequent merger with most other music forms in the charts – brought the music industry back to a position where the dominant gender philosophy is that of an unsophisticated nineteen year old. A friend of mine went to a DMX concert a decade ago and was thrilled to be picked out of the audience to come ‘meet’ the artist. She was queued with the girls then each one was led to a room individually. She dissolved into tears when told she was expected to give oral sex to a bouncer and that the same was expected of her when backstage – “what did you think you were back here for?” she was asked as if she was the one who had the problem or who had the weak grip on reality.

There could be a fair study done of the remarkable way in which pro-female soundbites stretching back to the Spice Girls’ “Girl Power” phrase have been slaved to a visual and lyrical language in which a woman’s power is deemed to lie in her ability to titilate, entice or please men. In some ways that is equality – speaking in the same language as the male stars who rate their value in terms of their attractiveness to and ability to dominate women. I guess what’s sad is that people expected ‘equality’ to mean something more than sexual boasts – that it could mean being better than the low expectations of male behaviour. The bit that’s disturbing, however, is not the expression of the artists but the industry built up entirely to select, mould and propagate those female images – there are entire organisations whose sole purpose is to locate marketable female flesh, ensure that body shapes only sustainable via surgery are prioritised, that choreographed dry-humping is substituted for dancing, that lingerie substitutes for clothing and that appropriate press releases are issued all wrapped in the language of female empowerment. That’s what’s worrisome, it isn’t about a female artist saying one thing or another, wearing one thing or another, it’s about the way in which they’re converted to manufactured product with the ‘wrapping paper’ plastered with the kinds of imagery and ideas that the average pimp could get behind and that wouldn’t look out of place in the lyrical philosophy of an Eighties hair metal band. Ah well, I digress.

http://www.representation2020.com/our-report.html

Oh, so, anyways, i’ve not been around these past weeks – a family medical emergency means I’ve been at the parental home in Spain. It did make me chuckle that Nirvana seemed to follow me there anyways. I didn’t get to go to the Charles Peterson exhibition but my bus back through Malaga yesterday did take me past this familiar image…How nice…

IMG_0528

http://freewilliamsburg.com/video-nirvana-played-a-surprise-show-in-greenpoint-last-night/

Courtesy of my comrade Isabel Atherton.

Similarly, a fellow named Bob Wilson was in touch having poured quite a bit of time and energy into this piece below which I’m delighted to share:

http://liveforlivemusic.com/features/kurt-cobain-20th-anniversary-death-l4lm/#.U0sZZFVdVie

Mr Chris Compte of the Annex Theater in Seattle has very kindly corrected errors I made back on the tour of Seattle in September – hey! Thanks Chris! Here’s the full message an opportunity for anyone wanting to tour the sites/sights:

Nick,
Just wanted to let you know, the two sites you visited on Capitol Hill (The Vogue and Annex Theatre), aren’t the actual locations where Nirvana performed. The Vogue was originally located at 2018 1st Ave, closer to the waterfront. Over the years, the venue moved several times, finally ending up at 1516 11th Avenue, where you were. Likewise, Annex Theatre’s original venue was at 1916 Fourth Avenue, just north of the downtown retail core, which is where the April 7, 1989 show took place, and which I was fortunate enough to attend.

If anyone DOES seek out our 11th Avenue location – and the door is open – come up to the 2nd (er, 1st) floor, and there’s a framed print in our lobby by photographer Charles Peterson of the band performing that show.

CHRIS COMTE
chris.comte@annextheatre.org

Pretty cool huh? 🙂

In other quality responses, Jim – a regular commentator here – has provided a link (I apologise I hadn’t had a moment to drop this up here until now) bringing together all the photographic material released by the Seattle Police Department – Jim, a definite bow of respect:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/dozens-of-new-photos-released-from-kurt-cobain-death-probe/

Finally, Carlos Sierra based in South of Spain will be viewing an exhibition of Charles Peterson’s work hosted in Malaga on April 10th and is in touch with the man himself, which is rather nice. Have fun Carlos!

1538680_10203229109279541_601024349_n

http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2014/apr/05/would-the-real-kurt-cobain-please-stand-up-nirvana-20th-anniversary-death

Nirvana stuff everywhere at the moment…Guardian is having a bonanza…