An overlong ramble from me about riots at shows – specifically about the difference between trouble within crowds versus trouble between crowd and performer.
Archive for October, 2015
A straight-forward, to-the-point, pleasant pair of guys with whom to spend thirty minutes sat round a dictaphone.
Also wanted to share my review of Adam Golebiewski’s “Pool North” record, it’s what I’ve been listening to a lot recently.
Kudos and acknowledgment to Osty and to LiveNirvana for the early review AND for LN always being the best source of Nirvana news and information. A true legacy that site.
I think it’s fair to say that Montage of Heck has been a treasure trove for Nirvana fans. The film contained intriguing interviews with individuals who have rarely spoken extensively in public about Cobain, it contained substantial quantities of home movie footage either self-recorded or recorded by those around him, it gave a fresh experience of large amounts of Cobain art work, displayed a significant amount of Cobain audio recordings whether spoken word or musical – I mean, what a great year 2015 has been! The book, again, allowed an opportunity to read and consider the interviews from the film in greater depth and at leisure – it’s a valuable release – and the art work was worth looking at. As experiences, the cinema showing of Montage of Heck was really slamming – the volume, the sound quality, I loved it, it’s as close as I can imagine coming to seeing Nirvana in their heyday playing live, I found the sound that good. Similarly, being at home, watching Montage of Heck on DVD – brill, contemplative, varied, a full range of experiences at work. This is worth celebrating!
And now, in just a few weeks, we’ll be seeing the full Montage of Heck soundtrack release. S’ok if I just say “woohoo!!!” Leaving aside the not so super ‘Super Deluxe’ release which I think I griped about sufficiently last week, I think it’s fair to say that the soundtrack release is looking really great. Here’s the 31 tracks of Cobain compositions emerging:
So, let’s do the numbers – because this is the biggest release of previously unknown Cobain originals since his death in 1994. That’s how significant this release is. With the Lights Out contained 25 songs that hadn’t previously been officially released in any other form of which 8 were covers (Heartbreaker, White Lace and Strange, Moby Dick, They Hung Him on a Cross, Grey Goose, Ain’t it a Shame, Immigrant Song, Seasons in the Sun) but – even more significantly, 13 had been seen on bootlegs (Anorexorcist, Help Me I’m Hungry, If You Must, Pen Cap Chew, Raunchola, Beans, Don’t Want it All, Clean Up Before She Comes, Blandest, Token Eastern Song, Opinion, Verse Chorus Verse, Talk to Me) leaving just 4 songs (Mrs Butterworth, Old Age, The Other Improv, Do Re Mi) that hadn’t previously emerged prior to the official release.
The Montage of Heck soundtrack contains no fewer than 14 unreleased songs of which only one – the Happy Guitar – has been previously bootlegged. This is awesome. We’re 21 years after the death of Kurt Cobain and there’s this kind of quantity of genuinely unheard material emerging? Brilliant. A massive result.
Also, it’s always been under-appreciated that Cobain wasn’t just a song-smith, the guy had a genuine interest in the potential for sound creation with the limited means available to him as a dirt-poor unemployed guy in the Northwest. The ‘experimental pieces’ see him manipulating and testing the limits of his guitar, his voice, the effects he could access, his enjoyment of seguing together audio clips and snippets. Cobain was more than a guy whacking chords together into pop song structures. Whimsical though his efforts may have been, at least in the late Eighties, he was playing around and experimenting and the soundtrack makes a genuine effort to account for that with a number of these efforts – I admit I’m pleased, as a bit of a noise freak I’ve always wished there was more official record of Cobain’s freak-out moments.
The presence of audio clips of Cobain speaking to tape is also intriguing. It’s often forgotten that Cobain had a literary side, that his lyric-writing was – in his eyes – often a by-product derived from his poetry writing rather than singing being the first priority. The ‘Aberdeen’ clip has raised controversy given the likelihood that it’s fictitious or massively exaggerated but, regardless, it shows Cobain practicing his story-telling abilities, his interest in telling a tale. He’s been notorious for a long while for his willful inventions during interviews – this is akin to that aspect of his character. There’s an unfortunate tendency to hammer singer-songwriters with the need to be ‘true’ in their words, rather than appreciating their right and ability to inhabit other characters, write through other eyes, tell tales just as thoroughly as Hollywood or the great American authors. These audio clips may not elevate Cobain into those ranks, but it does indicate his striving for artistic expression – an expansion of how Cobain should be considered. The 10 audio/experimental pieces really do deserve to be here.
And that’s what I love about the Montage of Heck soundtrack. In conception, yes, it hangs together as a collage of sound material – an obvious intention well-performed. Secondly, it’s a richly varied approach to Cobain’s works which does so much more than just demand he adhere to verse-chorus-verse songwriting – thank God! Finally an open-minded attempt to show Cobain as a guy with an expansive taste and creative muse encompassing a full range of different outputs. Thirdly, hoping for vast wealth remaining in the vault has been looking ever less likely year-by-year…To be suddenly shown that YES! There is something approximating the hopes of the early 2000s, it gives me enthusiasm for the future of Nirvana/Cobain releases, that there might be more to come over the next decade.
As for the eight ‘known songs’, let’s look again and remember that ‘the Happy Guitar’ and the version of ‘Sappy’ are nice to have in improved quality (and not just on bootleg), that ‘Do Re Mi’ and ‘Clean Up Before She Comes’ are rarities in and of themselves and great to see more of. When this project was first mooted all I imagined we’d see – and this is only a year ago, less in fact – was home demos of known Nirvana songs. That would have satisfied me. To see so much other material – wow, beyond my dreams. I’m looking forward to hearing the four demos of major songs (Been a Son, Scoff, Frances Farmer, Something in the Way). OK, I could do without Beans but it seems that part of Beans is used as a motif in another collage – plus the context, blending Cobain’s serious and humorous homework, makes some sense of the tracks inclusion and what the hey! It’s brief! I’m good with it.
(EDIT: 1am, Tuesday 20 October. Brett Morgen has confirmed that this is in fact an entirely different source of ‘Beans’ to that used on With the Lights Out. I’d like to acknowledge this and apologise to readers and to Mr. Morgen for the inaccuracy on my part.)
Finally, quality. All I can say is “what do you want to hear?” Cobain seems to have had a very shrewd understanding of his own works; it’s why the band were able to release three albums and one compilation in his lifetime with barely an ounce of filler – he knew what his best efforts were in the context of whatever he was trying to do at the time. If all you want to hear are studio-readied, mainstream-ready recordings…Then go listen to the albums released 1989-1993. If you want to hear his also-rans, then check the singles, check With the Lights Out for a fair summation of what Cobain deemed his ‘second string’ songs. If you want to hear the stuff he deemed incomplete or abandoned, then there’s a lot of that now floating about. Here we have a young guy sat at home trying things out, seeing how they feel. We have no way of knowing if he might ever have returned to any of this – just instincts and vibes and impressions of how complete or otherwise something sounds. I enjoy that space of imagining, where there’s no proof, we just see how we feel in absence of categorical truth.
31 tracks of Montage of Heck? Bring it on. Autumn is here and a few nights with this on the stereo sounds just fine with me.
Archive releases exist between two opposing poles. Firstly, by their nature, they’re not about quality.They’re leftovers and unfinished material – they’re never going to be what was intended to be released until an artist makes a later decision to monetise them. Secondly, unfortunately, sometimes a curatorial desire does seep in – suddenly, while raking through the material, someone decides to be more cautious, to pick material that can be deemed to have a certain degree of quality. The best of the leftovers, the most finished material, the most original material – other urges creep into an exercise in completism.
In the case of “Montage of Heck”, I’ve actually been a pretty big supporter of the work. Brett Morgen took the material that exists in Cobain’s archive and made a film about families. He ignored most footage of Nirvana playing or interviewing except for use in the rapid-fire montages, he made a good decision to consider the career of Nirvana known territory and therefore background to what he was doing. I also thought the ‘layered’ nature of the campaign – cinema experience, book, DVD, soundtrack release – made absolute sense with each format being a legitimate facet of the project.
So, why am I wincing a little? OK, you can buy the DVD or Blu-ray for $22.50 on Amazon.com. You can buy the book for $23.37. The vinyl is $29.99. The initial pricing of the Super-Deluxe package at $150 dollars for the whole lot isn’t wildly outside of the ballpark. But…Really? I’m not sure about you but I don’t buy Blu-ray because I don’t watch enough TV to bother with yet another format – especially to watch a film made up of 1970s home movie footage and talking heads. And if I did buy Blu-ray, then why would I also want the DVD if I’d deemed it an obsolete format? Getting both together doesn’t interest me so all that does is the music and the extras. Let’s focus on them.
Let’s be blunt, this isn’t about art. The idea of turning Cobain’s artwork into a puzzle isn’t illegitimate, but it’s a novelty item – and I try to avoid anything that reeks of novelty when it comes to Nirvana and Cobain whether that means drinks coasters, posters, dolls, a ‘collectible storage container’, postcards, bookmarks…Oh, in other words most everything coming with the boxset. No harm in any of it but I’m pretty sure this is still about the music so that’s what matters. I considered the magnet on the front of the ‘In Utero’ Super-Deluxe a waste of time too incidentally. Fun but very what the heck.
I’ve purchased the Super-Deluxe of both ‘Nevermind’ and ‘In Utero’ without the slightest quibble – why? Because I felt I was getting both music and content. The books accompanying each were interesting and well-done and upped what I was willing to pay slightly. But acquiring the CD and DVD of the respective live shows was the key factor for me, however. I don’t watch TV much as I said so the DVDs were once-a-year viewing, the CD a lot more. Here, there’s a DVD I’ve already seen.
But there are 48 minutes of extras…But the film is already too long. It’s the chief flaw, just my feeling, that even I was getting restless in my seat and I’m a fanatic – and who else is going to buy this other than fanatics? So they’re touching the right audience, but as I’m audio-orientated, book-orientated, not film-orientated or art-orientated, getting more of the film doesn’t enthrall me unless they mean its 48 minutes of Cobain recording himself playing music. In which case…
…In which case, my only issue with the ‘With the Lights Out’ box-set? I’m sad that the DVD component didn’t come with a matching CD. I’d like to have heard some of that material just as audio. It’s a minor complaint – it was a good box-set. So, in this case, if there’s musically interesting material amid the DVD extras then I already feel a degree of annoyance having to pick through whatever else is on there – and having to boot up DVD player and TV – just to find it.
Which brings everything back to the music. I am truly excited to hear the 31 track release – end of story. No quibbles. No doubts. No whining! I wanna hear it! I’ll buy it! I said right back months ago that I was all set to buy tickets for the film (done!), buy the DVD (done!), buy the book (done!) and buy the soundtrack (not yet!) I was very happy to exchange a rather insignificant quantity of money, over several months, to experience a range of settings. The film was worth seeing at a cinema – Morgen was right to set the volume levels as he did, it really added to the ferocity of it all. The film was worth seeing on DVD – the film does bear repeated viewing.
The book, to be honest, didn’t do much for me. It wasn’t a poor product, no issue there at all, if you don’t have it it IS worth checking out for the interviews with people who don’t normally speak – plus the focused nature of the book. Artistically, hate to say it, but though I think Morgen’s team did amazing work with the visuals in the film I’d have been slightly more interested in more of Cobain’s unseen artwork and so forth. But that’s a minor quibble – I’m not very visual anyway.
The suggestion that the Super-Deluxe would be the only place one could acquire the full 31 tracks was genuinely upsetting. The idea of forcing people to purchase the DVD – that they would most likely already possess – in order to get at it was very wrong. With the ‘Nevermind’ and ‘In Utero’ super-deluxe sets one was always getting more for one’s money but the most crucial new audio was available more conveniently. It seemed a guaranteed way to force people to download illegally. It seems that statement isn’t entirely true – which is positive.
The cassette. Ho hum. I buy cassettes. I’m buying a few things from Blank Editions at the moment (http://www.blankeditions.com/), when it comes to new music I find the cassette a very valid format. But if it’s available on CD or vinyl then I’ll just buy it that way. Having to get out my grandfather’s ol’ cassette player is pesky. I’d have bought the Super-Deluxe if the cassette contained anything not on the other formats – I’d have considered some kind of collage blending of elements from the film a legitimate ‘Super-Deluxe Only’ release that was both reasonable and worth finding.
So, ultimately, unlike the previous super-deluxe boxes, for the first time, I’m thinking I’ll only buy the 31 track edition of the music. I’ve got the DVD, I don’t want to buy it a second time. I don’t want a cassette that I’ll never play. The ‘Sappy/And I Love Her’ seven inch satisfies completists who are obsessed by format and it’s a very reasonable way of stirring additional interest and attention – great work! As a campaign this hangs together very nicely and I think it’s highly intelligent.
But, so far, with no additional component to justify the re-purchase of things I’ve already got, the super-deluxe is piled too high with ephemera, with irrelevance. Buy one visual format – get one you consider not worth it or already obsolete! Get the same music on cassette, vinyl, CD for no real reason! Get trinkets! I was ready to buy the box-set but this amassing of slightly purposeless mass-produced items, this repetition and recycling when it was a deliberate decision not to release all of this to the U.S. market already (and when I’m in the U.K. so already have everything bar the 31 tracks)…That’s why it feels exploitative. The true fans already got the book – they don’t need it again. The true fans saw the film and just want the DVD. The true fans wanna hear the music – f*** the jigsaw puzzle.
And, again, let me just say, I am hugely looking forward to the soundtrack. I am hugely impressed with the work Morgen and Universal have done this year to create a multi-platform, multi-format release that’s kept interest in Nirvana high for an entire year. I think the film is really good. I think the book is decent. I think rationing the music out rather than doing some ridiculous all-out thing (like that 18 disc Dylan set that’s coming) is precisely the way to keep the music alive and interesting.
People forget that if you get EVERYTHING, then the thing dies. Someone can die and their work lives on if there’s still something to discover and uncover. When one receives too much at once, stuff sits on the shelf, it becomes unimportant, it becomes boring to sift through and there’s no longer anything to look forward to. I’d rather wait. And every few years I’ll happily pay for someone to curate a selection for me. This isn’t exploitation, it’s what I pay a professional organisation for. Keep it coming!
…Just do me a favour and don’t make me pay for the same stuff twice over or more.
Courtesy of my friend and comrade JJ! A few shreds of Nirvana ’87 material apparently from the same session as Mrs Butterworth.
Apologies for absence of posts here this past month – been LOTS on!
Here’s a piece on Kim Gordon’s book I did for a new online culture mag just while I’m passing things on: