Archive for July, 2015

I just closed Nick Davies’ “Hack Attack.” If you’re in the U.S. the Kindle edition is $9, the hardback is out at $16. In the U.K., the book is on ‘buy one get one half price’ at Waterstones or is £7.49 on Amazon. It’s money very well spent.

It’s the account of the ten year battle to finally bring to light the role of Rupert Murdoch’s News International organisation in using illegal means to acquire information; the way the organisation deliberately attacked individuals and their families if an individual dared to protest their behaviour; how News International created a climate in which neither police, regulators nor politicians dared tackle their corruption because the consequences would be massive assaults and vilification by a news organisation that owned a vast percentage of news coverage online, on paper and on TV in the U.K. and internationally. It’s about how that organisation explicitly and knowingly lied over the course of a decade to the police, to the regulator, to the courts, to all the democratically elected representatives of the British people. Andy Coulson even sees fit to lie directly to the Prime Minister’s face for months on end.

Here are a few numbers. In the court trials that took place over the last few years, the representatives of our democracy, the Crown Prosecution Service, were able to muster £1.7 million, one full time solicitor and one administrative assistant to make the case. News International spent £30-40 million aggressively defending its representatives and deployed an army of legal representatives and support staff. Why does it matter? It’s an example of what happens when greater powers are invested in private corporations than in our public services. The corporation is able to devastate any attempt to make them take responsibility for the harm they’ve done to the public good. The government that the people have elected to represent, as best as possible, their collective interests and to protect them from harm is no longer able to wield true power in the face of the buying power possessed by the corporations. There is nothing defending the lives and well-being of the public; we are all at risk.

It goes deeper. News International is an organisation that recognises that governments are the only bodies able to exercise any control over their behaviour. Therefore News International deliberately advocates the shrinking of governments, the reduction of their revenue, the weakening of their regulatory powers, the most stringent controls over their spending. News International does so in order to ensure that it possesses a competitive advantage over the only organisation able to exercise any restraint upon their corruption. It attacks tax levels, attacks public service in general, in order to reduce the expertise and skills available to the judiciary, to the police force, to the tax authorities, to all levels of our political establishment making it less likely wrong-doing will be detected, prevented or punished.

The hacking scandal was not a case of a few celebrities getting their fingers burned. Of the hackers exposed after all those years, one had hacked a minimum of 5,500 people, another had hacked a further 1,600. Those people included the family and friends of a couple who’s child was abducted. It included the family and friends of a murdered school girl – the newspaper’s representatives went further and didn’t hand over evidence that at the time they believed indicated where the girl was, they wanted to claim credit themselves and to sell more papers so didn’t give it to the police. News International went after the family and friends of two girls murdered in the town of Soham. In other words, if you, your family, your parents, your children, your friends – anyone you know – gets caught up in a tragedy, all their conversations and information (medical records, police records, bank records, employment records, diaries, etc.) and yours too would immediately have become something News International stole and used to make profit for their company.

News International destroyed 210 million emails during the course of the investigations. The leaders within the police service who led the early investigations were being wined and dined by, and were friends with, the people they were meant to investigate – the police deliberately misled parliament, the public, the courts and the inquiries. The Press Complaints Commission which was meant to ensure that newspapers respected the laws of this country saw its role as being to deflect criticism away from its richest benefactors and was too scared to speak out against them because it would mean News International (the Sun, the Times, the News of the World, Sky News) would send teams out to attack and slur them. The governments, both Labour and Conservative, were too busy trying to ensure good coverage and to avoid attempts to undermine them with sleaze stories, critical coverage and attacks that they were unwilling to speak out and decided instead to give jobs to people who had broken the law, to attend their parties, call them friends, privilege their views. News International was allowed to tell your government and my government what their policies should be. Surely that’s meant to be the right of the people?

At root, in amidst the sheer scale of it all, there’s a simpler story of bullies and damaged people who gain satisfaction from the exercise of power over ‘the little people’; it’s a tale of people who grew up as we all did on the bible tales of doing unto others as you would have done unto yourself…Then abandoned that in favour of personal profit over any moral consideration. Rebekah Brooks, having acquired information indicating that people she called friends, Sarah and Gordon Brown, had just learnt their six month old baby had cystic fibrosis – an incurable condition that would lead to life-long health problems and a life expectancy of between 37 and 50 years – called them and reduced them to tears by refusing to allow them time to reveal the information themselves because Mrs Brooks wanted to sell newspapers by using their pain as an exclusive front page story.

It’s an amazing book. Well written, lengthy but with so many moments of stunning revelation that you’ll barely be able to close your mouth at times for sheer fury. I found myself punching the air through sheer frustration as the suit-wearing white-collar criminals slipped through the net (while setting themselves up as judge and jury over everyone else.) Amazing. Nick Davies’ “Hack Attack”. An amazing book and I’d like to bow respectfully to the author for what sounds like a harrowing experience over more than a decade.

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I admit I am. I’m long past any kinda rationality when it comes to the leftovers of Nirvana, I’ll listen to anything out of sheer curiosity even if it doesn’t necessarily sustain lengthy re-listening. So, I confess I’ve been listening repeatedly to illicit YouTube dubs of soundtrack material from Montage of Heck. What to make of it?

There are a few different ‘spliced’ editions of the previously unheard material up there now. Now, to be fair, I enjoy listening to it, very much so. But trying to be cold-eyed about it, what are we faced with amid this ten minutes of material?

OK, ignore the ‘band rehearsal’ shreds, they’re just chatter basically. That’s followed by what the text below the video states has been referred to as the ‘Cry Baby Jenkins’ riff – I confess to being ignorant of the reasons why this brief electric clatter and band joke links to the ‘Cry Baby Jenkins’ tale found in the earlier YouTube link here but perhaps that’ll become clear elsewhere. Again, it’s kind of a nothing, it’s very visible he’s just made it up on the spot without a thought.

Then we’re on into vestigial renditions of future Nirvana songs which, though welcomed, from a completist perspective aren’t exactly stunning reinventions. Really what we’re looking at is half formed, very early attempts which are interesting from the perspective of seeing how Cobain would work around riffs and ideas and gradually flesh them out and fill them in.

Then we get into an intriguing element for those of us who thirst for Cobain/Nirvana leftovers – a run of unknown tracks lasting 2 minutes and 5 seconds. The four pieces featured don’t offer too much food for thought I’d have to say. The first two pieces are barely 15 seconds between them, the acoustic riff is nondescript and the vocal is barely more than playtime. The ‘Change Me’ electric shred is neatly metal-tinted, chunky, but there’s nothing there beyond one line of lyrics repeated over in a gasping, short of breath screech. There’d have to be a lot more to the song to make it more than an example of Cobain roaming widely over musical territory when experimenting at home (a bit like ‘Black and White Blues’ or whatever that jazzy finger-picked effort is called these days…)

Then we’re onto the most meaty of the new material seen so far, the 36 second long ‘rainfall song’ (it’s what I call it, maybe I should become a bootlegger and make up song titles as a hobby.) I love the use of the field recording – i’m going on trust that it was Cobain working with field sound and playing over the top. It’s a wonderful combination, atmospheric, moody, neat. The guitar riff tumbles down in a steady cycle – there’s something like a chain rattling at one point…It works well for a song with no words, with little beyond an overall tone and style holding it together. It’s a great example of Cobain’s ability to focus on creating an emotional colour first, then any technical structure or actual words second. It’s why his music is so affecting, he had the emotion down first then everything else after.

Next up is the longest piece here and exhibits Cobain’s tendency to moan sounds when he hasn’t yet worked out the words, it’s not unpleasant, there’s a drift to it that’s quite appealing, a relaxed sway. But let’s be under no illusions, it’s another piece where it’s unclear if he’s even awake, it’s like he’s on automatic just trailing this pattern over and over while thinking of something else. It’s hard not to want these interludes and curios in some form because they are interesting, diverting, distracting…But there’s a distinct lack of anything substantial anywhere in this track or in the preceding two minutes. The later piece marked ‘Come on Death’ in the credits has a similar absence of anything marking it out as noteworthy. There’s a useful reiteration of Cobain’s desire to play with sound and with sound effects which is already well-known to anyone playing around in the bootleg field…That’s it.

So, there’s one cover song too, the much commented on rendition of “And I Love Her.” There’s not much to add really. It isn’t the best guitar work from Cobain, there’s nothing here bar sophomoric practice strumming, no fresh touches, nothing to mark out a superstar versus anyone else in their bedroom. The vocal too, quavering notes, a gravel-throated aspect, no real difference in tone or anything heroic. It’s ‘nice’ but that’s it. A fairly dead work.

The best of what’s here is the segued versions of Sappy with the acoustic and electric neatly cutting from one to t’other. The acoustic vocal benefits from the additional echo, the added sounds in the background, the ‘sea monkeys’ muttering at the start – it’s these additional touches and inflections around a known riff that make it intriguing. The electric meanwhile sounds so menacing – was there anything that couldn’t be done with this song? It’s so adaptable! And he clearly worked so hard on it given the number of extant studio versions and home versions already in existence and now an additional two versions with neat differences that make a genuine difference in the feel created. I think this song is amazing. Sappy is the great survivor of the Nirvana era, the song he tries over and over again, devotes more time to than any other on tape…

So, if this is all that was deemed worth inclusion in the soundtrack that kinda worries me, was there really so little that was worth trailing in the film? And leaving such a long gap between the film and the actual soundtrack release seems silly on the part of Universal though I can understand they’re digging for the Christmas nostalgia market. Building all that buzz then letting it drop away again… As ever, I live in hope of surprises and being proven wrong and discovering my own error and that there’s a full set of intriguing demos just around the corner. Fingers crossed!

With thanks to ‘Doombug’ for sharing this with me. This is Tom Grant’s note explaining the closure of his Twitter and Facebook accounts. I’ve nothing much to add to it. I may disagree with him on the matter of Cobain’s death but I can only wish him well in his life in general. Hope he does OK.

Dear Friend,
Thank you for noticing my Twitter and Facebook accounts are closed. I didn’t notify anyone in advance because I didn’t have the time or inclination to either read or ignore, (due to time constraints), hundreds of “private messages” or “tweets” about my decision.
The reason for closing my social media accounts is very simple—I spend far too much unpaid time online dealing with issues surrounding the Cobain Case. Now that I’m no longer needed here, I must create a source of income to supplement my inadequate retirement income. Like everyone else, I do have bills to pay.
Since the release of “Soaked In Bleach” you now have Ben Statlerand several highly qualified experts who are more than capable of taking the Cobain Case to the next level. It’s no longer a matter of MY opinion anymore! Prominent experts have expressed alarm and outrage over the improper handling of the case by the Seattle authorities as well as established evidence discovered about the events and details surrounding the death of Kurt Cobain. As most of you have seen, even the former Seattle Chief of Police, Norm Stamper, has stated that if he were the Chief today, he would reopen the Cobain case!
Even though my name seems to be permanently attached to the Cobain case, in reality, my name is now completely irrelevant. And I like that a lot!
Now that the basics of my story have been told on my website and through the release of Ben Statler’s great film, “Soaked in Bleach,” I’ve been personally analyzed and ridiculed by some, but all of that has been offset by compliments and words of encouragement from our supporters.
So I’m finishing a new page on my website at http://www.cobaincase.com that will focus on the specific issues that should result in the Seattle authorities changing the findings in Kurt Cobain’s death to “Undetermined” or “Homicide.” I think you’ll be amazed and surprised at the simplicity of this approach. It details the issues I’ve wanted everyone to focus on for years.
It’s time to take the focus off of me and put it where it truly belongs. I’m not yet sure what I’m going to name the new website page but it will deal with the strategy needed to bring all of our hard work to a successful end.
Once I’ve finished the new page, I’m going to be developing another website where I’ll be selling E-Books based on a variety of short, true stories. I’ll also be writing about several of my favorite topical issues. These E-books will sell for just a few dollars each and will, hopefully, help supplement my monthly income.
Thank you all for your support and understanding.
Tom Grant

Reading the comments below any piece on Kurt Cobain or Nirvana it’s stunning how rapidly someone pops up and blurts “Kurt was murdered.” No matter what the topic, what aspect of the band or the individual is under discussion, someone’ll slap the statement down making clear they see nothing as important to the band’s story as the lead singer’s exit. The reduction to a singularity is understandable; musical tales that transcend and become part of wider cultural conversation stop being about music and become part of wider threads speaking to ambition, comedy, tragedy, sex, death – often all at once. Thus John Lennon is reduced to ‘Imagine’ or to quotes about being ‘Bigger than Jesus;’ Elvis becomes Vegas judo moves and bathroom death; Sid Vicious is a safety pin and a swastika; Michael Jackson becomes white skin and odd squeals. I saw a beautiful Kim Gordon quotation the other day stating that pop culture is all about how “people pay money to see others believe in themselves.” Musicians don’t need to overtly stand for a cause, or a declared meaning, to be bound into the desires, wants, needs, fears and wishes people project onto them. What intrigues me in the case of Cobain is how impossible it’s become to speak of him, without speaking of the conspiracy theories surrounding his death.

This isn’t about my views on the theories themselves, it’s about the conversion of a perspective harboured by a small minority of individuals in early 1994, becoming a far more widely held belief among audiences who don’t necessarily have a dedicated adoration for Kurt Cobain’s music. It’s a wider cultural theme in line with popular threads of commentary and discussion rather than a topic rooted in music or Nirvana’s actual existence as a band. Why should a topic so unrelated to Nirvana’s life become so unavoidable after the lead singer’s death?

Firstly, stand-out events in the popular imagination are never the ordinary, the everyday, the common experience. Quite regularly recently people have mentioned to me how worried they are by events like the murder of several dozen tourists on the beaches of Tunisia, that they believe ISIS will undoubtedly attack in the west soon, that terrorism is a major fear for them. I’ve grown an unhelpful tendency to respond with the latest death statistics to explain why I’m totally unconcerned; in the U.K. in 2013 there were 17.8 deaths per 1,000 people – a grand total of 506,790 dead in a single year with barely a tremor of disruption to reality. Death is everywhere – we lose Britain’s fifth largest city every single year with barely a murmur. The U.S. lost 2,600,000 in 2013 – that’s Chicago or Houston wiped out annually. I’ll next point out to them that the U.K. murder rate dropped to 526 in 2014 (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/crime-stats/crime-statistics/focus-on-violent-crime-and-sexual-offences–2013-14/rpt-chapter-2.html) which, given a population of 64,800,000 means a miniscule chance. Now compare that to the presence of violent death on your TV, newspaper, comic book, latest record… There’s a massive disproportion between the amount of time people spend thinking about or learning of violent death versus its actual presence. Near all of us are going to die of petty injuries or disease peoples.

(Here’s a beautiful visualisation of the 2009 death totals – http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2011/01/14/Factfile_deaths_v2_2011.pdf – showing the death rate hovering merrily around the half a million a year mark. For the U.S., here’s a quality historical review of death from 1935-to-2010 from the Centers for Disease Control; http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db88.htm#x2013;2010</a>).

The commonplace nature of death is what elevates certain deaths to a higher level; society needs ‘spectaculars.’ The deaths that become part of wider discussion and popular memory need to happen to someone of ‘significance’ on the public stage; need to be outside the everyday experience; need to come wrapped in a wider story worth retelling. Other aspects might put some deaths ahead of others in the popular imagination, as an example, Dr. Harold Shipman committed a series of quite boringly ordinary murders – injection of drugs, people slipped away. The deaths on their own were so ordinary they were barely worth of note and beyond friends and family the names go unrecalled – the elevating factor is that Shipman is likely to have committed 250 such murders making him one of the world’s biggest serial killers. The scale of the exercise makes Shipman the significant figure while the deaths become anonymous. Think of a stamp collection; one Canadian stamp might be more or less interesting – but a complete collection of every Canadian stamp ever issued, now that’s significant. Size, timing, method of exit – they all make a difference to what’s recalled and repeated across the media and among circles of people. As another example; Eazy E, rap impresario, major figure in the formulation of gangsta rap, multi-platinum selling artist…His death is barely mentioned because dying of AIDS in a hospital bed was neither photogenic nor even particularly exceptional. Tupac Shakur, multi-platinum artist, one of the most diverse rappers ever, dies at peak of career in a gloriously dramatic manner – tie the Notorious B.I.G.’s death just before releasing an album called ‘Life After Death’ and with the East/West media thread, gang connections, the fall of Death Row Records – it’s Hollywood baby!

Cobain easily passes the test for a spectacular; dies young, dies close to peak of fame, plenty of controversy keeping him in the papers 1992-1994 and reaching a peak after the Rome incident so lots of eyes already waiting to see what would come… But why should the conspiracy theories have become so loud? Well, it’s about cultural production. A concluded story can only be re-told so many times, that’s why articles on Nirvana constantly need to have a new angle, new pitch, new info – some claim to being NEW. That’s simple logic; why buy precisely the same information one already possesses? The human desire for culture is for novelty. Retelling requires there to be a gap between known and new in order to create tension – so, Dave Grohl has been asked about Nirvana several thousand times over twenty years, he’s told and retold every tale – but he might emphasise different details, will usually use different words, tell it a different way – this grants a degree of longevity to known material as it’s new to those who haven’t heard it and there’s a nugget of freshness for those who do. The same impulse is at play in the collection of bootleg renditions of Nirvana material; will the quality of what’s found live up to the power of what’s on the official records? Rarely, but it might. Will something truly new occur? Rarely, but it might. That potential, that deviation from the known, that slight tweak is vital to keeping a cultural object – whether a memory, a song, a story – alive.

This is the terrain where the conspiracy theories work perfectly. They overwrite the closed and complete story with one where there’s still an open potential and where the tension that makes it interesting exists in the gap between the known (i.e., listening to Smells Like Teen Spirit for the thousandth time doesn’t create the same kick as first hearings) and the unknown (i.e., a ragged bootleg rendition providing the unexpected and the potential to give something new.) It’s why there’s a far greater market for Nazi memorabilia than other World War Two ephemera, why playing the Nazis in a computer game for the umpteenth time, or films about Nazis on the moon, documentaries about secret weapons and research all get a listen because the tale of what might have but didn’t is an open space into which imagination can be poured and excitement found when re-reading what actually did happen and what the victors actually did do is already closed down and clear. You don’t see books around proposing counterfactual tales of what if the Allies had won the war a different way – there are quite a few re-fighting the battle from the German side. Secret histories turn dead stories into repeatable, re-playable experiences that the present-day consumer can explore.

Similarly, the interest in what didn’t happen is a reaction against the everyday quality of what did; again, it’s about the spectacular versus the lived experience of the average person. Malcolm X became the poster boy of the hip hop generation despite having contributed little beyond thought to the civil rights struggle because he was a figure who was unsullied by reality. Martin Luther King Jr. personally engaged with the Presidents of the era, staged the greatest march in the nation’s history to that point, was present at numerous flashpoints of the struggle while acting as talisman, figurehead and voice of what was occurring. He’s become an accepted ‘hero’ figure of the establishment however, identified with the reality of what did and did not happen for the racially oppressed in the U.S., his views are deemed to have been played out and the results seen which makes him a harder figure to rally excitement around. Malcolm X, by contrast, died at the start of a new journey into greater engagement with the wider civil rights cause, a different vision and set of beliefs – an untapped future potential. His views – simplistically reduced to an openness to self-defence and the application of revolutionary violence – never had the chance to play out across society, they remain an unrealised potential possessing the excitement of the unknown. On top of that he retains the allure of the rebel, he hasn’t become part of the dominant culture so there’s space for the marginalised, those believing in themselves as outsiders, to tag onto him. The fact his views can never be truly tested, his methods and ideas never fully explored or known makes him invulnerable to the boredom inherent to society’s winners.

To move to a symbol, why does the confederate flag persist? It’s the symbol of traitors to the current United States of America, of a group of people who chose to stand for racist exploitation of slave labour against what we would consider modern quality – so why fly their flag? The reason is that it stands for an independent identity against a central, dominant identity – the United States of America, the Union, Washington, is the being against which the flag declares independence, resistance, rebel status. Those who fly it once upon a time were holding on to a vision of society that they felt would be better than what came to exist – the disappointment of the everyday had set in, they had an untested alternative they could hark to. There are few now who wave the confederate flag in support of the 1860s vision of what the south was or could be. It’s become a wider rejection of the everyday standing in for whatever the individual wishes it to – a blend of those who are and are not deliberately raising one part or another of its actual historical meaning. The same process has happened to Cobain – as it does most historical figures – he’s now a symbol of ‘live fast, die young,’ of the outsider, of the person wanting to claim readymade rebel status with a t-shirt or a bedroom poster.

In the case of Cobain, he never had the chance to reach the disappointment that every musical figure eventually creates when they get old and no longer align to the latest thrill of the new zeitgeist. While every other musical figure of note – from Dylan to McCartney to Bowie to Pop to Rotten – has had to endure a period of dismissal before being admitted to the lexicon of ‘all time greats’, Cobain was never dismissed, hadn’t done enough to disappointment critical opinion as yet. That opens up a huge space for imagination, to ponder the hints of what might have come next, to tease out what avenues weren’t pursued – to draw one’s own designs (however logical or well-reasoned) on blank white space. Living musicians of that era – Eddie Vedder, Courtney Love, Thurston Moore, Dave Grohl – are a closed space, there are few surprises left after a further twenty years in which to perform them. Cobain is still open because the question can never be closed; what would he have done next?

Suggesting Cobain’s murder opens that space up even further, adds a fresh ‘what if’ to a known tale. There isn’t much interest in asking ‘what if Nirvana recorded Nevermind for Sub Pop not Geffen?’ because that’s a point about music – Cobain’s murder or otherwise resonates with the wider cultural interest in violent death, in themes of justice, redemption, tragedy…It’s Hollywood. It also permits individuals to retell a closed incident in as many ways as they wish – it creates ‘new’ where it didn’t previously exist. Into a space with “Cobain commits suicide,” one can write ‘accidental overdose and cover-up by multiple suspects,’ ‘deliberate assassination by one or more of a variety of suspects,’ ‘earlier discovery by a variety of individuals subsequently covered up,’ ‘death at location other than where he was found,’ ‘CIA MK-ULTRA campaign against seditious cultural figures,’ ‘improper investigation by incompetent or complicit officials,’ it’s a universe of new stories opened up for consideration. This allows the tale to be remoulded across time and space, to be fitted to individual views and experiences, in a way that an official, established and documented story cannot.

It also comes stamped with the spirit of the rebel, the idea that this is a counter-view to that of an amorphous ‘powers that be’. Cobain’s rebel status – the Nineties repetition of the archetype – is reinforced by pledging allegiance to the idea that even his death wasn’t what the squares in the media, government, police say it is. That call may only get stronger among newer Nirvana fans given the reality of Nirvana’s career has long since faded into imagination which makes written versions of the tale all seem equally valid but increasingly it’ll be a way to resist the view of elders and parents; a neat generational gap. The individual can own their own vision of what happened to Cobain and no one can take that away from them. The paucity of evidence is indeed a large part of the appeal of the conspiracy theories, the sense that there’s the potential for something new to occur or appear, that the story isn’t closed and might be radically revised, that there’s the possibility of discovery rather than just a dead certainty. The sense of being part of a community resisting a central view or vision, a lone warrior, seeker after truth, open-minded, is a neatly self-justifying addition to an individual’s identity and view of themselves.

Cobain’s death is therefore, understandably, a perfect candidate for posthumous revisionism. It had the ‘spectacular’ nature that propelled Cobain from being solely a piece of music history, to being a wider cultural cypher and figure. That moved him from conversations about music into conversations about larger societal themes – drugs, love, suicide, divorce, sickness, capitalism, conformity, submission, hypocrisy. There’s the reality that Cobain’s full potential can never be answered so he possesses a permanent appeal that the majority of artists can’t match. The need for novelty and newness made counterfactuals, alternative histories, more appealing. The existing ‘what if’ of Cobain’s tale laid open imaginative space into which people could project their own theories and imaginings – claims of murder push that even wider. The rebel status accruing to Cobain and adopted by those adopting him as an idol is reinforced and made more current, individual and personal by claiming his death as a resistance to the official history.