Archive for the ‘After In Utero – The Final Year 1993-1994’ Category

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A small piece from the Smithsonian Folkways rather impressive volume on Lead Belly. So, in case you were wondering, in 1994 the guitar Cobain stated he was considering buying was donated as an exhibit to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame And Museum.

So…Chris Cornell. I’ve been asked a few times in the four weeks since May 18 why I hadn’t put up a post or whether I’d be game to do a brief article for this place or that…And I shrugged and said no thanks. It’s not because I was dismissing the sadness of Cornell’s death, or his meaning to his fans, or the reasonableness of the request.

Death is simultaneously universal and solitary. We will all undergo the transformation and when we do – no matter how many people are around us – we will communicate nothing of it to those around us, even the most basic confirmation “I am dead,” will be beyond us. That moment in time will belong to you, or I, alone, forever. Similarly, the observation of that moment will tell a spectator little beyond it’s basic unpleasantness; the arrival of ‘absence’ within a body; the mutual private sadness of those still living who stand or sit watching us watch. We can watch and confirm what happened but not feel its significance to each of us.

In its aftermath, those left will be able to recount their grief and touch us with its tangible impact…But we take only so much of their pain inside us – it is their private interior feeling and is ultimately incommunicable to us. The weight that comes with someone’s passing, cannot be handed onto anyone else’s shoulders; nor can we measure our weight against theirs – we each bear it alone, in our own way, work through it alone.

In some ways I find that a comforting thought: that in an over-observed, over-communicated, hyper-mediated world there is something of such ultimate and inescapable significance that it remains inarticulate to all who feel it. That’s why I had no great desire to comment at the time: the point of death is there is nothing to say.

So, sure, I don’t disrespect the flood of obituaries; video clips; tributes; top tens; photo selections; encounters; in memoria op-eds that emerge in the aftermath of any musician’s death. It’s the business of music journalism to report the events of music: it’s an impersonal machine with no moral right or wrong. I didn’t find the repetitive quick summaries of his career enlightening; I didn’t flinch much at the over-egging of Soundgarden’s influence (as opposed to relative popularity); I already have all the albums and enjoy them sporadically as the mood takes me. It was simply another conversion of emotion into product – there’s no harm in that but it is a conversation of the living withh the living, it has nothing to do with the deceased.

The only pieces that resonated with me were one making an initial inroad into reckoning with a historical musical movement that has, ultimately, seen the untimely deaths of a remarkable core of its premier exponents – the ‘death rock’ image of whatever was ‘grunge’ gains yet more reasonable support. The other was a piece reiterating the point about depression and its effect on an individual’s perception of what is normal or rational or sensible. Again, however, in both cases, it meant Cornell became an example for some other narrative or story someone wished to tell: conversion into an intellectual element, again, is a way around the incalculable hole left by a death.

A friend of mine, currently, has endured a tragic loss. I have no words I can give to him that cover the occurrence or provide comfort. Presence, when wished for, is all anyone can give in the end. I believe strongly that death takes something from those left behind. Once age has weakened us sufficiently, seeing/hearing that our friends and loved ones are gone, wrenches the body and mind until eventually we know we’re just waiting for our own without anything left to fight it. Seeing the death of our loved ones and the pain of others when we’re young, again, reminds us that there is no discussion to be had and that the clock is ticking.

But I believe our loved ones, if their deaths are worth anything to us, are worth the giving of a little bit of our own peace of mind; our own comfort; our own spirit. They’re worth a private pain that never gets better though it fades and the memory of it grows dimmer – at which point we feel dissatisfied with ourselves for how frail is human retention of a feeling and a moment.

So I’ve got nothing to say about the death of Chris Cornell. His experience of it was his alone; the feelings of his friends and family remain inside them; your feelings as a fan or casual observer are yours and I have no knowing of them. Death is that one moment that belongs to no one else. I would feel disrespectful in trying to pierce something so ultimately private with any words at all.

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I’d like to thank Mitchell for popping up and asking me to speculate on Nirvana’s next direction in light of the material shared on ‘Montage of Heck’ – if I did the math I suspect we’ve now seen more of Nirvana’s leftovers than we did original songs while the band was actually a living entity. Do they, plus other rumours tell us anything about what ‘the next Nirvana album’ may have been?

Ultimately, after all this time, the answer is still “we know nothing.” While preparing ‘Cobain on Cobain’ I was delighted to be permitted access to the full 40TV video footage of Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl being interviewed (in two different settings) while in Portugal in February 1994. It’s a fun piece, they’re enjoying themselves, then there’s a moment where they look sheepish, where the high spirits fall away:

Interviewer: I’ve heard that you’re going to release another album in several months. How will it be deeper or more poppy than this one?

DG: I don’t know. We’re still trying to figure it out. We’re just experimenting. Might be really weird.

Interviewer: But have you already composed songs or not yet?

DG: A few.

KN: Few, yeah.

DG: Just a couple. We’re still — we don’t know what we’re going to do yet either. It’s kind of — it’s up in the air right now. Still a mystery. To us.

They move on swiftly to talking about Grohl’s work with the Backbeat band. They’ve no desire to halt the cavalcade, but this is a huge contrast with late 1991 when Nirvana were all confidently claiming that they had the next album plotted out and ready to release in ’92. This time ‘a few’ becomes ‘a couple’. They have no plan at all for a new album – not even a vibe they’re thinking of following. In Sandrine Maugy’s interview with Dave Grohl a few days later in Paris, they talk about everything but the idea of new music from Nirvana isn’t even mentioned. There’s nothing here.

The more one looks, the more things recede into fuzziness. Michael Stipe is clear that he invited Cobain to join him and R.E.M. in March 1994 simply because he was scared about Cobain’s state of mind – it wasn’t a plan for a collaboration, it was a musical intervention. The idea that Stipe was about to halt R.E.M.’s own album recording plans for ‘Monster’ in order to record a fully-fledged body of work with Cobain is simply unreal. R.E.M. were in studio in February, booked in again for early April – there’s no time.

Similarly, the ‘Lollapalooza Tour EP’ idea is supposedly the next Nirvana product meant to emerge after the ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ single – again, however, there’s nothing except an ‘idea’ for a release, no substance at all. Interviewing members of Geffen management for the ‘I Found My Friends’ book they were clear there was nothing they recall even discussing at the time. The label’s hottest property’s supposed new release wasn’t worth remembering because it never existed.

What about ‘You Know You’re Right’ though? It’s a demo, a good one, but still a demo. There’s obvious work still to be done to create a credibly releasable song. Its status comes posthumously not because it was album-ready/release-ready at the time. Pat Smear has suggested he was told he could add parts to it but as nothing happened even he is unwilling to confirm that the song was deemed complete. It is true that on ‘Nevermind’ and on ‘Bleach’ Nirvana used older recordings from previous sessions (‘Polly’, ‘Floyd the Barber’, ‘Paper Cuts’ – ‘Downer’ was a later bonus) but it seems that was a decision taken during album sessions, not a deliberate plan. It makes it unlikely ‘You Know You’re Right’ was something being placed in the can ready for later.

And ‘Do Re Mi’ suffers from the shadow cast by MTV Unplugged. Though a titanic performance, that session was a contractually obligated TV format Nirvana was required to adhere to if they wished to perform. It therefore says nothing about Nirvana’s own intentions though they were flirting with acoustic segments for a time in 1993. Nirvana’s albums are over 90% electric all the way – the idea of a new singer-songwriter direction, though alluring and possible, isn’t substantiated by any evidence. ‘Do Re Mi’ itself was unlikely to remain in its unadorned bedroom demo form – when Cobain strains for a note it sounds more like the technique he uses on other home demos to indicate where he’d be adding a scream to the final amplified version.

People point back to Cobain leftovers to claim the band could have cobbled together a complete work, forgetting Cobain’s strong pride in his work, his deep consideration of the final form and selection for each album. ‘Old Age’ was long abandoned – a gift to his wife so no longer even a Nirvana song. With ‘Talk to Me’ there’s, so far, no evidence supporting rumours it was played in ’94 though there is clear evidence that it was so uninteresting to Cobain and the band that in the numerous sessions from spring 1992 onward, all those concerts too, they didn’t even attempt it. ‘Opinion’ and the original ‘Verse Chorus Verse’ had gone missing years earlier too. The use of 1990-1991 songs for early 1993’s ‘In Utero’ is well testified; but is poor evidence for other resurrections.

There are other places to look for potential songs, of course, the https://nirvana-legacy.com/category/unreleased-n-posthumous-nirvana/ thread on here is loaded with them. The unknown rehearsal instrumental added to the In Utero deluxe was so dashed off no one involved had even remembered it existed. Then there’s the ‘unknown’ song that gets played twice in late 1993 and at the January 1994 session – now that, at least, is a credible new Nirvana song but it’s still only a minute-and-a-half shred. Alongside ‘You Know You’re Right’, however, it certainly lays to rest the idea that Cobain was abandoning the effects pedals and volume. Heck, Nirvana didn’t even play MTV Unplugged, unplugged.

One could look to his various home demos with Courtney Love to tease out future works:

https://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/06/10/the-key-category-of-missing-kurt-cobain-songs-love-collabos/

Except nothing seen so far has been a truly credible new song – they’re whimsical games. There’s little to see so far though I look forward to the eventual archive release.

Others hold out great faith for Cobain giving up being the guiding force in Nirvana and letting Dave Grohl shoehorn some songs in – to be fair, at least he had the material:

https://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/05/22/dave-grohl-and-songs-for-nirvana/

Again though, I just don’t see it. This was Cobain’s fiefdom – he might take the odd idea, try the odd b-side, but handing over a percentage of an album to his drummer? This wasn’t a democracy.

On the bright side though, Nirvana were quick, disciplined workers in studio – there’s no reason to claim they weren’t capable of jamming together a bunch of songs over the course of 1994-1995 in the way that ‘MV’, ‘Gallons’, ‘The Other’, ‘I Hate Myself’, ‘Milk It’, ‘Serve the Servants’ and so forth don’t seem to have existed until late 1992. These were talented and experienced musicians.

…But the question “what do the demos currently available show?” The answer is they show Cobain had one unknown song he was tinkering with; he had ‘You Know You’re Right’; he had ‘Do Re Mi’. Three datapoints isn’t enough to draw any kind of pattern. The ‘Path to an Album’ posts (https://nirvana-legacy.com/?s=path+to+an+album) suffered from that same point – that the past isn’t a perfect guide to the future. It’s speculation.

And it’ll always be speculation, which is kinda fun isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncertainty is a beautiful thing. Legends are created not through predictability, but through blank white space into which a reader/viewer/fan can inject wish fulfillment, a gap in knowledge allowing fans to participate and have some degree of ownership over the question of ‘what might have been?’

It’s hard, after twenty years of sainthood, to rewind the clock to ’94 and realise that there’s nothing in the Nirvana story making Cobain’s ‘legend’ status inevitable. That isn’t to say that it wouldn’t/couldn’t have happened without his death – but there’s fair reason to suggest that untimely death was crucial.

Firstly, the commercial picture. Remember the premier bands of the early-to-mid-Nineties? Pearl Jam, while garnering more respect than they acquired back in the day, haven’t had a multi-platinum album in the U.S. since 1994’s Vitalogy. Soundgarden’s multi-platinum sales  for Badmotorfinger and Superunknown stalled in 1996. Stone Temple Pilots’ Purple (1994), Hole’s Live Through This (1994), Alice in Chains Jar of Flies (1994) Smashing Pumpkins Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995) – the heyday of the grunge/alternative bands ended not long after Cobain’s death. The torch passed to a new generation, bands like Green Day – Red Hot Chili Peppers are the only other enduring success story.

The question is whether Cobain’s death played a role in the deflation of the enthusiasm around the ‘alternative nation’ or whether it would have ended anyway. That’s open to debate. Most musical movements, however, barely last half a decade before losing the masses. Tastes change. The ‘cult of the new’ demands something fresh.

Secondly, in terms of musical trends, Nirvana’s rise was the final act not only of punk but of the dominance of the guitar in popular music. Rock n’ Roll had overtaken Jazz as the world’s premier musical form sometime in the early Sixties just as Jazz had usurped Classical. The mid-Nineties saw Hip Hop become the world’s most crucial and effervescent creative form. In terms of commercial success, global presence, artistic influence – Hip Hop superseded rock music. Rock is now where Jazz was in 1970 – full of life, new twists and strains springing up, but no longer visible to mass audiences. Nirvana may have survived as one of the world’s biggest ROCK acts – but one of the world’s most important creative entities? Nope.

Thirdly, the rise of the Internet shattered the music industry. Numerous critically respected rock acts passed back to indie labels as part of a mass clear-out in the early 2000s. Most of the rest didn’t renew their contracts or weren’t given the choice of staying with a major label. That isn’t as important as it used to be but sales are no longer what they were for most artists. Measurements of ‘career longevity’ show that bands aren’t surviving as long, aren’t staying in the spotlight as long. Everyone is smaller even if the smothering of social media, Instagram, Twitter, whatever with certain attention seekers makes some characters seem bigger than they really are in terms of commercial power.

That brings us to Nirvana as an entity – there’s very little indication whether Nirvana would endure. The opposite is true also, there’s no indication that Nirvana was definitely over. Everything happened too fast in 1994 for any final conclusion to be drawn. In many ways ’94 was a repeat of ’92 with tour cancellations, overdoses, Cobain vanishing from the public eye, future plans in the calendar but no certainty, casual studio visits but no big intentions. With that in mind it’s impossible to say whether, with Cobain’s survival, there may have been a new Nirvana album in 1995, 1996, 1997 – or whether Nirvana were done and the era of Foo Fighters was about to begin.

In terms of Cobain’s album-ready material, by his own admission the cupboard was threadbare. Most finished studio works had been released or long abandoned. That doesn’t mean there might not have been some revivals – half of In Utero was filled with songs from before Nevermind – but there’s no indication of him feeling much affection or use for songs like ‘Old Age’ (given away), ‘Sappy’ (already released in ’93), ‘Clean Up Before She Comes’ (abandoned in the late Eighties and never attempted in studio.) His new material in ’93-’94, true songs as opposed to jams like ‘The Other Improv’, consisted of two tracks; ‘Do Re Mi’ and ‘You Know You’re Right’. It doesn’t mean he was done, Cobain was fully capable of writing songs at speed – but he would have been starting almost from scratch. Attempts to fill imaginary tracklistings with old leftovers are fun but fly in the face of the care and attention Cobain paid to the music he put out – who knows?

As for direction; it’s a mystery. Acoustic? Vague statements and a home demo of ‘Do Re Mi’ provide little support for that idea. The opportunity to work with members of R.E.M. also doesn’t suggest an acoustic route given R.E.M. were busy working on ‘Monster’ – one of their most amped-up records (heck, it even had room for Thurston Moore to bust electric on it.) Electric? Well, ‘You Know You’re Right’ was Nirvana-by-numbers (though cool!), messing around with new effects boxes earlier in ’93, all the jams and noisy tracks created in late ’92/early ’93 – it could all suggest Cobain’s sound heading back toward the heavier sounds of pre-pop Nirvana…Or it could be nothing. Preparation for a new album was already well behind:

https://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/01/14/the-path-to-an-album-part-one/
https://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/01/15/the-path-to-an-album-part-two/

And that’s the reality of it all. A 48 year old Kurt Cobain would not be the zeitgeist owning figure of the mainstream that he was briefly in ’92-’93. That ground, in 2015, would still be owned by Kayne West, Young Thug, Nikki Minaj and others. The likelihood is the path of Nirvana would have followed that of all the other multi-million sellers of the early Nineties – there’s no reason for Nirvana to be the one band immune to the shifts in music culture and commerce. That doesn’t mean that a fully functioning Cobain wouldn’t have continued as an effective underground force…

…And that’s where the fun is. Anyone can choose whether they feel Cobain in 2000, 2000, 2015, would have been a strung-out yet occasionally great Johnny Thunders figure; or an eternally productive and collaborative Thurston Moore; or a forgotten death in a squalid room like Layne Staley; or just a respected circuit player like Mark Arm or Eddie Vedder.

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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.

https://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/07/01/nirvana-lollapalooza-tour-ep-1994/

I’ve muttered on about Lollapalooza before, this is just a very brief addition to the topic. I noted that Perry Farrell and the organisers hadn’t been asked about it. A few brief attempts to contact Mr F didn’t get far so I just popped a question on Twitter – land of those incapable of making an extensive or wide-ranging argument or luxuriating in a flow of words (a comment on the medium not Mr F I assure you – he’s a sharp guy!) Anyways, just a minor addition to the store of Nirvana knowledge but he did reply with the following:

Lollapalooza

Not a major addition, more a touch more chronology indicating that the band did accept – after one of their usual bursts of word play and teasing. I shouldn’t credit Cobain with all light plays on words but it does hint that he either was involved, or that he had allowed someone to go ahead and agree on his behalf even if he had only the slimmest intentions of going ahead with it. The silence is just fairly typical passive-aggressive North-West behaviour – best not to reply than to offend by saying something someone might not like or might come back on. It was suggested to me the other day that this is a fairly common characteristic of the area – a bit like how I was once told that the Japanese would rather move office and disconnect the number than say no to you on a phone call. As I’m British and therefore make weasling out of blunt honesty a core part of my average day I can definitely sympathise.

I’d simply been curious regarding what point in time the invitation had been made – this is still up for grabs. I’ve never been a fan of the idea that Cobain plotted his end over a lengthy period of time and I was wondering whether the invitation was made in late 1993 or whether the band received the invitation in the spell from February onwards when he seems at his worst. Ah well, nice there are always questions.

http://thegits.com/?page_id=3459

Even in amidst the peaks and troughs of his troubled final year, Kurt Cobain’s basic decency remained on display. Reacting to the news of the brutal rape and killing of Mia Zapata the band used their weight to ensure that there’d be a good audience for the benefit that allowed Mia’s friends to begin the private investigations into her death that ultimately led to finding the murderer.

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/gits-drummer-blasts-nbc-for-exploiting-mia-zapatas-death-on-tv-20140114

After a crazy time in which band members and male friends were the obvious first suspects, during which the police investigators questioned the role played by whatever Mia happened to be wearing that day in her fate (for the record and though I’m sure it doesn’t need stating, rape is not a crime that relies on someone dressing for the occasion – it’s about power and opportunity. The physical vulnerability of the victim versus the physical strength of the attacker plus the availability of a suitably discreet venue are the key factors – the attractiveness or otherwise of an individual is why you date them not why one forces an unwanted sexual act on them. Anyways, I digress…) and nothing seemed to be moving. An awful lot of money, an awful lot of work went into solving the crime and it took over half a decade to reach a result. Simultaneously, the hopes and dreams of an up-and-coming group of musicians were broken; they lost a beloved friend and also their own day-to-day lives were irrevocably altered as the chance to play, tour, record and progress as a group (and as a job that gave them their living) was whipped away. It’s understandable that the entire incident was extremely wounding to those involved and that reprising it comes with pain that must be considered.

That’s all context though – I think I’ll let individuals at the heart of this speak for themselves.

Happy Friday comrades!

http://fiberglassjacket.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/lets-get-gitsploitation-straight.html

A fun and entertaining sideline presented to me by Jeremy Keene – thank you fella! At about the three minute mark of this neat little interview with Duff McKagan there’s a mention of the famous room at the Marco Polo Hotel. Duff points out the echo of a song by punk band GBH:

The thought therefore occured that maybe the room was wrong but there’s definitely no fifth floor or room 526 at the motel – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a knowing echo. Cobain’s work is strewn with puns on other words and twisted meanings. It’s an intriguing possibility that, even when at his lowest, there was room for a sardonic smile when it came to choosing the room.

I’ve mentioned before how the final months of Cobain’s life are filled with echoes of his past – that he seems to have been looking backwards – a 1984 punk track isn’t out of place at all. Examples? Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam had been played only twice after its heyday in 1991 until it reappeared at MTV Unplugged; similarly Where Did You Sleep Last Night had cropped up only once or twice a year since 1989 before becoming a landmark TV performance for the band; in 1994 only two new songs featured in Nirvana set-lists but one was My Sharona by the Knack – a band Cobain had pointed to back in 1991-1992 as a comparison for Nirvana- while the other was My Best Friend’s Girl by the Cars, played at Nirvana’s last show and reputedly one of the first songs he ever learned; the suicide note reference to ‘dear Boddah’ tying to a childhood imaginary friend; calling his grandfather out of the blue, for the first time in ages, just to talk. It made sense too that key tour partners in Europe were his teenage favourites, the Buzzcocks, and perennial supporters, inspirations and Aberdeen buddies, the Melvins – his desire to support and see favourites was of course on display but was another part of this apparent cocoon of old comforts. The fact he mainly did it with music and with family is an indication of the twin poles of salvation he’d looked to.