Louder Than Words, Nirvana, 11-13 November 2016 in Manchester

Wanted to share the information related to the Louder Than Words festival taking place from Friday this week through Sunday 13 at the Palace Hotel in Manchester.

Quite the event, it’s an entire festival focused on music literature and music writing:

I’m filling some time on Sunday noon in interview with John Robb, formerly of Sounds – currently leading the Louder Than War magazine – who interview Kurt Cobain back in 1989 and on a number of other occasions.

Looks like quite the event, and what the hey, three days worth of events, talks and moments – so if you’ve time then pop in. I’m planning to get in early and just soak in as much as I can. One moment I’m definitely looking forward to is artist Chris Gollon and musician Eleanor Mcevoy on Saturday evening. They collaborated together on a series of paintings and songs which work so well together as a live experience: the music connects one to the art on the walls, while the images let one read more into the words and music. Eleanor is a really great performer, it’s an art being able to dominate a space so completely with just a guitar and voice – to create variety with limited means and an excellent story-teller’s vibe. Bringing in Chris to talk about the pictures and add detail to it all, brilliant. I had a great evening when I saw them together in February.


Live in Carlisle: Nirvana, Cobain on Cobain, Conversation


Friday 11th November at Cakes & Ale (Castle Street, Carlisle) – something a bit different for an autumn evening, I’m going to be sitting down with Doug Baptie (who runs the Words & Guitars magazine/site) and talking about Nirvana.

Sounds like my kind of venue, frankly, the idea of sitting with a group of enthusiasts, with a decent beer, trying to pour out more of the material I’ve learnt these past years. Sometimes I have trouble remembering it all: conversations with 230-odd of the people who played with, shared stage with, recorded with Cobain and Nirvana – conversations with well over 100 of the journalists, radio hosts, students who interviewed the members of the band over the years – that whole visit to the North West of the U.S…

I’ve moved on – just finished preparing “We Sing A New Language: The Oral Discography Of Thurston Moore” for release in the U.K. (Omnibus) next spring, then in the U.S. next summer; commencing work on other works; of course the interviews, reviews, brief articles I’ve contributed to Words & Guitars, The Vinyl Factory, Clash – so it’s nice for me to have had this time to sit and go back over my own words, to go back to the beginnings of the blog and look at what I was working on and the patterns I was seeing from all the data available about Nirvana and their activities.

I’m going to take an album of photographs with me focused on Aberdeen, WA – I think Cobain’s journey is amazing because of where it starts; I want to talk about the speed he’s working at and developing at during the late Eighties (a new album’s worth of material every year 1986-1990 showing off his mastery of different aspects of the U.S. underground); the coincidences/contacts that Nirvana benefited from and that helped them rise…Then, at some point, I guess we’ll talk about the path down.

I like the idea of just sitting discussing it with people who are curious about the subject, hearing what people have to say, knocking back and forth the topics on their minds…Is there a nicer way to spend a night than with fellow travellers?

Naturally, if you’re in the North West or feel like a trip over there (I’m intrigued to see Carlisle, never been myself) then everyone welcome. I’ve been told the bookshop hosting this is charming.

Totally separate topic: I had the good fortune to interview Adam Harding of Dumb Numbers, charming bloke, I’ve become a real follower of what he’s been expressing with the band…

In Conversation: Dumb Numbers’ Adam Harding




Cobain on Cobain Video: Nirvana and the Media

The second interview piece filmed by Omnibus Press. Basically I wanted to yak on about Nirvana/Cobain’s relationship with the press – how it isn’t as one dimensional as is often portrayed, that’s there’s a clear evolution and progression in how the band relate to the media.

The first spell is simply one where, like any new band, they’re barely noticed – a few lines here and there, a quote or two. Likewise Cobain isn’t singled out – it’s almost always the band as a whole being interviewed because the underground isn’t as prone to ‘superstar syndrome’. During the next spell, the majority of media activity happens around touring, snatched time here and there – with the band complaining that there’s not enough of it, that Sub Pop aren’t doing enough to arrange interviews for them. Nirvana’s media activity continues in this off-on tour/off-tour cycle until into 1991 when Geffen are doing a tad more and Nirvana’s status as a major label act (and increasingly one of the top draws in the underground) garners them more attention.

The explosion in late 1991, as you might expect is where things get crazy. The band have to try to find a way to cope with it and they, very sensibly, begin to divide-and-conquer. They’re increasingly interviewing with different people all in the same venue, it’s the only way to accommodate the quantity of attention – and they really do try to accommodate everyone. They’re a courteous bunch and they do their best until it becomes simply too overwhelming.

The nature of the attention influences what occurs at this point. Previously, they’ve mainly been talking to people from fanzines or the music press who possess a fair idea what’s on in the underground – sometimes people who have their own bands (like Paul Kimball who was in Landsat Blister and Helltrout). After September 1991 there are magazines calling who would never have dirtied their hands with anyone Nirvana call their friends, who wouldn’t have bothered with Nirvana until ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ set things on fire. The band are increasingly less inclined to handle these requests except where they have to.

Cobain retreats. This is where the stereotype of the ‘difficult’ relationship with the media commences – and it becomes the dominant story simply because it occurs during the phase of peak attention. It overlooks the years where Nirvana (and Cobain) wanted more attention; it overlooks their attempts to speak to everyone – there’s just too much. Add on Cobain’s troubles plus the media’s natural urge to separate the front man from the rest of the band (the standard media ‘rock god’/’guitar hero’ stereotype plays best where its one person with everyone else in the background) and then recall that late 1991 is the heaviest spell of touring and performing Nirvana have ever embarked on – the exhaustion and desire for peace in 1992 makes a very human sense.

Novoselic shoulders a lot of the duties, the rest of the band speak up and shield Cobain from the attention. The band try to find some good in their situation so increasingly try to use their podium to share the spotlight with favourite bands and artists. A little further down the line they’ll start to talk up good causes too.

But the real game-changer is the attacks on Cobain’s new-found family in Autumn 1992. It brings him out of his media exile because he needs to use the media to launch his counter-offensive. This is when Azerrad is brought in to write the ‘official’ biography, this is where he starts talking to a few more journalists at major newspapers and lifestyle magazines.

1993 is much the same – interviews on tour in South America, In Utero promotion is very much a group affair, then 1994 is another drop into silence…


Paperback of ‘Cobain on Cobain’ is out…


The paperback edition of ‘Cobain on Cobain’ is out on Omnibus Press now too. Different cover, same content (yes, I still pretend to be American throughout the entire introductory essay – I’m so used to spelling American English by now, drives my friends up the wall when I write dates as March XX, 2016 rather than keeping things English…)

As a diversion, I also wrote a piece about Nurse With Wound for the Vinyl Factory recently:

An introduction to Nurse With Wound in 10 records


The main connection between the Nurse With Wound piece and ‘Cobain on Cobain’ would simply be the value of immersion. For the NWW piece I submerged in the music for a full month – it’s amazing how things start to tie together, connections get made, the brain gets used to one sound or another simply through lengthy exposure… For ‘Cobain on Cobain’, imagine pulling that process out to a full year (to be fair, I drowned in Nirvana from Feb 2012 until early 2015). Listening to interviews, transcribing material, reviewing translations, viewing the videos, reading the printed works, heading back to the existing interview volumes or to a few of the magazines I have here, going back to the biographies to check and re-check my timeline, hunting down the copyright holders, discussing the interviewers’ introductions with them… Finishing ‘Cobain on Cobain’, having done ‘I Found My Friends’ and ‘Dark Slivers’, did feel like coming up for air.

The main drive through those three years has remained pretty constant; I wrote ‘Dark Slivers’ because I felt I could say things that hadn’t been said in the existing bibliography – I felt there were quite a few books I could ‘beat’. As a fan I’d collected 40-odd volumes already and I was so sick of the posthumous ‘sainthood’ articles and their overloaded cliches – if I could just create something more original than that, something that added something, then I was happy. ‘I Found My Friends’ and ‘Cobain on Cobain’ then became two sides of a coin; hunting down all these people who have never spoken about performing with Nirvana – getting their testimonies down on the page, shared with the fans; then getting a good chunk of rarer interviews with Cobain and Nirvana, his own words, down on the page, into the libraries and shared with the fans. In each case I knew what had come before and wanted to beat a few of them…

Anyways, there it is. ‘Cobain on Cobain’ for what it’s worth. Hope it’s a fun read if you take a shot on it.


Cobain: “sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces”


Today I wanted to share a piece by one of the contributors to ‘Cobain on Cobain’ – and someone I’m delighted to count a friend – Jessica Adams.

Jessica’s interview with Cobain came out in Select in 1992 from an interview that took place on January 23. She kindly permitted me to include the transcript of her phone conversation with Cobain in the book. I’ll let her take up the story:

“Talking to Kurt Cobain on the phone was a complete fluke. I was supposed to be interviewing Dave Grohl, but at the last minute I heard Kurt’s rather croaky voice in my ear. It is a total joy to be able to share the interview after all these years. I always wanted to give the cassette tape to his daughter, Frances, to prove to her that he had a dry sense of humor and a good heart and that he wasn’t a tormented creature as shown in the media. Kurt was very kind to me in the interview, and I feel bad about the photograph they used on the front cover of Select and the way the piece was written up. Writers can’t control editors or art directors. The piece sensationalized his illness, and to this day I feel guilty about the fact that he trusted me enough to share his memories of recording Nevermind, only to have those memories misrepresented in the published piece, which bore my name in the byline. Just another small letdown in what must have been a sea of letdowns for him, at a time when he was so vulnerable. I was very lucky to see Nirvana in Sydney, and the band was so powerful and so affecting, I have to admit I have not been able to listen to
Nevermind since. I literally have not heard it since that year. Wherever you are now, Kurt,
know how loved you are and how important you are—especially to women, for whom you
always took a stand.”

Jessica worked as a freelance writer at Select and other music magazines before turning to novels, including the bestselling Cool For Cats based on her time writing for rock newspapers. She works as an astrologer for Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar and also works as a medium. Jessica is also the editor of AMMP, the Australian Music
Museum Project, where you can hear her original Kurt Cobain interview online.

Kurt Cobain in Australia

I’m a huge fan of the work Jessica has put into the Australian Music Museum Project – Australia has had a remarkably active, and very original, music scene for decades yet this is the first time there’s been a concerted attempt to document it. Even better, the work is being conducted in cooperation with the bands and artists concerned, not as an official deification, entirely as an attempt to capture the lives and works of the people who made it happen. Definitely a project worth a lot of respect.

All the best Jessica, and all the best to the AMMP!

Why Do We Still Care About Kurt Cobain?

I was invited to sit down at the offices of Omnibus Press and to discuss things on my mind while preparing the Cobain on Cobain book.

The thing I’ve always asked myself is, “I was a Nirvana fan at age 13 – why is it something I still bother talking about at age 35?” The obvious answer is that I’ve always felt that people return to their youth to find elements of comfort and contentment – Nirvana being part of mine. It’s the root of much of my musical taste, it was the start of something for me – a fire set somewhere inside.

Here I talk more widely about what Cobain represented, where he came in the history of rock music, why he’s still so loved and why he – not just his music – his perceived so warmly. Why does Kurt Cobain matter in 2016?

I noticed that ‘Cobain on Cobain’, the U.S. hardback edition, is available via other national Amazon sites with the U.K. paperback to follow in March:

UK – http://goo.gl/cvkOt4

Germany – http://goo.gl/Tr769V

France – http://goo.gl/nKbBmN

Canada – http://goo.gl/unhyah





Cobain on Cobain: Interviews and Encounters

2016; quite a year so far…An immediate apology for the pause in the blog – life, real life. I moved house from London to Bristol hauling 12 years’ worth of belongings accumulated between January 7, 2004 (23 years old) and January 30, 2016 (35.) Gradually returning to normal rhythm and rhyme…

…And in amidst it, on February 1, Chicago Review Press released “Cobain on Cobain: Interviews and Encounters.” I was invited back in early 2014 to act as editor for the volume, part of the publisher’s ‘Musicians in Their Own Words’ series. Their desire was a reasonable one; to create the single most comprehensive go-to compilation of interviews with the band. Professional translation where necessary, thorough translation, appropriate context…I had to pause and consider it.

Money wasn’t an issue. Writing about music is sub-minimum wage measured against the hours put in, plus I have a real job which means I only write – and only WANT to write – about things I love. Music publishing has suffered in the new era of ebooks and Amazon uber-alles; the advance was low – minus 15% (rightfully earned!) to my dear agent, minus 40% tax – but sufficient to cover the cost of the half-a-dozen translators needed, the licenses to reprint purchased from journalists and media worldwide, the legal rights…

What was on my mind though was what could I do with the book idea? What would really intrigue someone like me who has read so many of the interviews before? I took a weekend sketching how my desires. First, lost and unseen interviews – what was out there that had sunk without a trace back in 1988-94? Could I find anything at this late stage? Second, had the journalists, radio stations, TV stations kept their cassettes and their videos – did the conversations that only appeared as excerpts still exist in full form? Finally, Nirvana were on tour so much once fame hit – they toured the U.S. twice after September 1991 but they toured Europe three times, Asia-Pacific once, plus the three gigs in South America – what existed that had never been read by English speaking audiences?

Those paths intrigued me – but there was something lacking. I’ve read three compendiums of Nirvana interviews plus a few for other artists. They just don’t work for me if they’re simply a grab of articles lumped in together. What I chose to do was to sketch out the ‘timeline’ of Nirvana’s life – tours, releases, major incidents and events – to provide the structure. I loved the idea of trying to build a volume in which each interview took place as close as possible to the key moments in the band’s life and Cobain’s life. I wanted to see them reacting to, and speaking about, things as they happened because here we are all these years later saturated in posthumous commentary and revision. I wanted to get back to the real moment – I guess that’s something that steered me on ‘I Found My Friends’ too.

So! I agreed to do it. I’m pretty proud of the results. One pleasing discovery for me was that one gentleman early on would only allow his interview to be used if he was allowed to introduce it – because he felt the interview alone lacked context. I agreed…Then realised what a wonderful thing that was. Normally interviews consist of an anonymous name firing questions, then a famous name responding – it’s flat, a touch dead. The introduction gave the interview real context, a human experience, a sense of the time and place in which the conversation was taking place and how it felt to be there. I started asking each and every interviewer if they would be so kind as to provide an introduction and I was honoured that they all did.

The U.S. version is above, it’s out now and available in hardback pretty well anywhere you can find music books – it’s just under 600 pages long.

The U.K. edition is coming in mid-March.


As for me, well, that’s a million words and 430 articles on Nirvana-Legacy.com, one self-published book, plus the ‘I Found My Friends: the Oral History of Nirvana’ volume. It’s been a wonderful experience and I can’t imagine working on another Nirvana book anytime – bringing more of other people’s memories and experiences into the world has been great…Time for a break from spreading the love of and enjoyment of Nirvana.

There was also the ‘Nirvana Tour’ (https://nirvana-legacy.com/?s=Nirvana+tour) plus getting the ‘No Seattle’ release out…It’s been a wild ride 2012-2016…I’d never have imagined I’d end up writing about the band that’s meant most to me in the world or meeting so many great people, or seeing/hearing/reading so much fascinating stuff.