Archive for the ‘I Found My Friends: the Oral History of Nirvana’ Category

Back in 2016 I posted a conversation with John Hurd, a member of the band Tic Dolly Row/The Magnet Men, who shared a stage with Nirvana (then going by the name Bliss) at the Community World Theater in September 1987.

Mysteriously, a cassette of the band performing on KAOS Radio in 1987 has surfaced with Chad on drums, John Hurd on guitar, Ben Shepherd (future Soundgarden) on vocals and Chris Karr on bass. The session took place under the auspices of John Goodmanson who hosted Nirvana for their first radio session in May of the same year.


Way back in 2013 I was in the midst of this weird outpouring of Nirvana-related analysis here on the blog: spreadsheets, estimated set-lists, mapped tours, aggregated tables of information, which song did Nirvana play live the most/the least, which titles of apparently unreleased songs still exist…

As part of that, I took the data from the Nirvana Live Guide and looked at the bands known to have supported Nirvana over the years:

The crazy names, all the bands I’d never heard of, it fascinated me – so I ended up trying to track them down to interview them and the results turned into the I Found My Friends: The Oral History of Nirvana book (it’s $4 on at the moment – the publisher is clearing out their stock it seems.) Amidst it all, one of the people I was most privileged to meet was John Purkey and his friends Bob, Pat, Ryan, Sally, Mike (RIP) and Rochelle – my visit to Tacoma stays in my memory as one of the finest times of my past decade.

John was a friend of Kurt Cobain and he has recently commenced a YouTube series talking about his memories, playing the cassette tapes Cobain gave to him, generally describing a world n’ time some quarter of a century ago in a part of the world most of us know little of (though I recommend a visit).

I still treasure the memory of sitting in John’s front room and seeing how much it still affected him speaking of a lost friend – it was a privilege to be there.

If you’re interested, the videos are on YouTube under the channel ‘The Observer’ – all worth a watch.

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.

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…





Shows Shared with Nirvana:

  • April 18, 1987 — Community World Theater, Tacoma, WA
  • June 27, 1987 — Community World Theater, Tacoma, WA

I’ve been rather blessed these past couple years by the Purkey brothers, both Bruce and John were a huge support during the work on “I Found My Friends.” Today I’d like to focus on Bruce’s band Soylent Green who played alongside Skid Row (A.K.A. Nirvana’s incarnation for much of 1987.)

Bruce Purkey — The band I was in previous to Soylent Green, The Grind, featured Kurt Flansburg on lead vocals. (he was later in Dangermouse.) At the time he was in our band, he was dating Tracy Marander, so I got to know her pretty well. I am sure you know that name…

My brother and I grew up in a pretty boring house-hold musically. My parents listened to the worst of 70’s AM music. They didn’t really restrict us from music, but they also didn’t really encourage or help our musical tastes grow. By the time I reached Jr. High, in the late ‘70’s, I was mowing lawns and doing chores, earning money to buy my own albums. I started with KISS and Judas Priest, Scorpions, AC/DC, catching up on all the rock that had passed us by. Before long, my two friends and I were ahead of the curve, leaping head-long into NWOBHM with bands like Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Tygers of Pan Tang. We were deep into heavy music at that point.

In high school, I and my friends George and Bill, would take art classes pretty much just to make our own Motorhead and Saxon t shirts. It was in this class that we met a kid who was into punk. He made us a mixtape of Killing Joke, Sex Pistols, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys. We were hooked. It had the aggressive edge of metal, but was actually about something. It seemed more primal and really tapped into all of the feelings we had as teenagers. In addition, it seemed accessible. We were never going to take the time to reach the technical prowess of our favourite metal gods, but even we might be able to start a punk band. So, there it started, we were going to buy any punk we could find and try to start our own band.

I bought a cheap guitar and a shitty amp. My little brother John, only 12 or 13 then, had a couple of drums, my friend George got a bass and amp, and my friend Bill would sing/scream. We came up with a band name, ATG (Against the Grain). It seemed suitably anti-establishment. Little did we know, we were literally one of the first and only punk bands from Tacoma. We played a couple of house parties, my brother John’s Junior High School, then John met some other punks from across town  — real punks with a real punk rock house. John Grant, one of the guys from the 56th Street house, AKA the Hell House, enlisted John into his own band, Noxious Fumes. John played with us too, for just a bit longer. Next Bill got his girlfriend pregnant and left the band so we got John’s friend, David, to sing and changed our name to Vampire Circus. That band only played a couple shows — most notably a show at The Tropicana in Olympia, where I got to play through Buzz’ (Melvins) amp — before my brother left the band for good. Without him we had to start again. The band reformed with Shawn (later guitarist for Subvert) and Kurt (later singer for Dangermouse), plus a second guitarist whose name I can’t recall. George was really into skating by this time so we ended up renaming ourselves The Grind, partly to describe the music, partly as a skating reference.

So, it’s ’83-’84 by now, we start playing a few shows in Seattle, mostly at a place called the Gorilla Gardens. It was an abandoned movie theater split into one side which would usually have metal acts while the other side had punk acts. Again, times changed, our second guitarist moved to California, Kurt moved on, so we turned into a four-piece with myself on guitar, George (the other founding member) on bass, Matt on vocals and Fred on drums and now became Soylent Green. As you can tell, I’m an avid movie fan hence why I always pushed for horror/sci-fi movies as band names hence Vampire Circus (Hammer Films) and Soylent Green. Fred’s father owned a meat packing plant, Crown Meats, so we made that our practice space. At first, we tried practicing out in a storage shed, but it had metal walls and was very noisy. For a short while, we actually practiced in the meat locker, surrounded by sides of frozen beef (think Rocky). Once again, it was very cold and the concrete echoed. Eventually, we moved our practices to the sales office. It was warm, well-lighted, carpeted. We dreamed of recording a single or album, but sadly never did. Finally, we decided to just record our own tapes and sell them at shows. We rented a multi-track PA mixer from a local music shop and recorded our music live straight onto cassette. It was very rudimentary, running, essentially four mics to a stereo mix, then flipping the tracks to even it out and dub copies. We made two demo tapes over the next year or so, even selling a few copies. We had a few fans, but mostly just played for fun and an excuse to go to lots of shows and hang out with people. After the summer of ’87, I went to college in Bellingham and the band broke up for good.

Before and after The Community World Theater, there were not a lot of band-friendly venues. Most of the venues were pretty quick to close down, or just bars, rarely good to bands, pretty much paying them little to nothing, run by people who didn’t really love the music scene. The Community World Theater was a rare thing. Run by Jim May, one of us. He didn’t make anything on the venture, I’m sure. It was probably a huge headache and I would guess it lost him money, but for a brief moment, the kids had their own place to play. Sure, it was a former porn theatre with no heat and a shitty PA, but it was ours. It is no accident that The Community World Theater is remember fondly by most everyone who ever played there, or saw a show there. It was as if for a moment, the punks actually ran things.

You’ll notice the “no dancing” sign isn’t always present. If I remember correctly, that was behind the movie screen. What Jim May used to do was set up the headlining band’s equipment behind the screen, then, when the earlier bands were done they would just take their equipment off-stage, raise the screen, and the final band was ready to rock. I think this night was one of the few times we headlined. Frankly, we weren’t near as good as Skid Row, but at that point, we were more of a known quantity.

And I drew the flyer for the Nisqually, Skid Row, Soylent show. Rather chuffed to get a mention in Pitchfork – and the critic clearly can’t stand me! Heh! Made me chuckle. He’s got it right though, the reason I wrote the book was to put other people’s voices first rather than my own so wanting more of them and less of me seems pretty reasonable. I’d have to say my desire was to get away from the same ol’ superstar voices ad infinitum, ultimately if one wants to know Krist Novoselic’s view on Cobain and Nirvana then there are several hundred interviews over the past twenty years providing that… It does put me in mind of the difficulty of wearing several hats. Am I a writer preparing a book on Nirvana? Am I a fan and hobbyist doing something because it amuses me? If the former, then the obsessiveness and the personal journey kinda stuff is irrelevant and distracting. If the latter, then why should a critic take it anymore seriously than any other garage project…? Being fair, to professional journalists and writers trying to make a living in an ever more difficult space, squeezed by the ever declining quantity of space provided to ‘culture’ in the mainstream media, working long years learning the theory and practice of their trade, it must be fairly galling having some amateur pop up and take a shot. I can imagine if I was busy pursuing my professional skills I’d look askance at someone popping up and trying to do it as a part-time activity… Criticism isn’t a bad thing – ultimately its fairly un-actionable, that’s the intriguing part. I’ll not be going back and re-writing the book to fit a critic’s views. All one can do is see if there’s a lesson or two, some ongoing reading or research to be done. But, like most things, one must close a lot of it off – both praise and criticism – and just do whatcha gon’ do. I saw someone the other week state “I wouldn’t be surprised if Courtney paid him to write this – same old myths about how Kurt was at the end,” while in the Pitchfork review the guy claims the book heaps abuse on her. Sheesh, I thought I’d minimised her presence because I was bored of her being such a strong part of Nirvana’s story…And I thought I’d decided not to use a lot of the unpleasant stories people told of her for that same reason. People are uncomfortable not just with multiple hats but with multiplied responses also. On the one hand, I think there’s something to be taken from the criticism, things I didn’t do, things I could do, things I’ll maybe use on the blog at some point. On the other hand, sure, there are aspects and elements I discount and believe are wrong and disbelieve. That’s life; you can’t be everyone’s friend all the time and you can’t be so open to their thoughts and feelings that one forgets ones own. So! Pitchfork did me a true honour by commenting on the book on their site – I mean, wow, I read Pitchfork every morning, it’s part of my daily routine. So to be mentioned there, for me, is a real pleasure. And the positives were nice to read also – the things that I wanted to do and that he says I did (even if he doesn’t like them!) 🙂 The crucial thing, for me, the reason I think it’s sound criticism, is that he commences with the key question; is a new book on Nirvana important? Does it add anything different thus validating the effort and energy? In this case, though he acknowledges what I did was a valid idea, he doesn’t like the execution and result – that’s an entirely reasonable position to take and I certainly would feel a heel chuntering about that.

Kurt sleeping at WNYU 1989 300 dpi

Thanks for the photograph to Hugh Foley – and like the individual pictured, my day started with a lie-in. Well…I mean…It started with the dog getting me up for an 8am walk, THEN with a lie-in. The rest of the day? Well, I checked the paintwork on the two tables I stripped, sanded and varnished yesterday – then I hung some family pictures for my mum. Another dog walk, a little book work, a pleasant lunch, arrival of my little sister…A pleasant day in Spain.

And that’s the truth really, a ‘book launch day’ is just like any other day – were you expecting more? Books are all about the early days – think about it, does any site/paper/station review an old book? For the last few months I’ve been putting in a little blood, sweat, tears and toil to get it out there, do what I can to support, make sure I feel I’ve done enough and that I feel nothing but happiness and pride over here.

So, here I sit waiting to see if “I Found My Friends: the Oral History of Nirvana” meets the approval of fans, of critics…We’ll see shall we? Naturally I hope it lives up to billing, that it makes the people involved proud, that it shows proper respect all round.

So, all I can do today perhaps is make the many thank yous due…Apologies for the lonnnnng list but as I’ve said all along, 210 individuals, 170 of the bands who played with Nirvana 1987-1994, two-thirds of Nirvana’s shows…That’s a lot of people due a thank you! Hope it gives you a sense too of who was a part of this and who you’ll hear from:

24-7 Spyz (Forrest), 3 Merry Widows (Charles Shipman, Alice Spencer, Sean Garcia, Marc Enger)

Aaron Burckhard (Nirvana/Under Sin), Adam Kasper, Alex Kostelnik, Amorphous Head (Joe Goldring), Andre Stella, Jux County (Andrew Monley), Anxiety Prophets (Josh Kriz), Arm (Danielle Mommertz, Stephan Mahler, Marcus Grapmayer)

Bad Mutha Goose (Tim Kerr), Barb Schillinger, Bayou Pigs (David Yammer), Becca Jones-Starr, Bhang Revival (Lori Joseph), Bible Stud (Glen Logan), Biquini Cavadão (Bruno Castro Gouveia), Björn Again (Rod Stephen), Black Ice (Duke Harner, Tony Poukkula), Blank Frank and the Tattooed Gods (Bill Walker), Blood Circus (Geoff Robinson), Bruce Pavitt, Butthole Surfers (Paul Leary)

Calamity Jane (Lisa Koenig), Calamity Jane/Sister Skelter (Gilly-Ann Hanner), Captain America (Andy Bollen, Gordon Keen), Carl Chalker (the Twist), Cat Butt (James Burdyshaw), Caustic Soda (Rénee Denenfeld), Chad Channing (Nirvana), Charmin’ Children (JB Meijers), Cheater Slicks (Dana Hatch), Chemical People (Dave Naz), Chemistry Set (Scott Vanderpool), Chokebore (Troy von Balthazar), Claw Hammer (Jon Wahl), Cliffs of Doneen (Lex Lianos and Flynn), Coffin Break (Peter Litwin), Come (Chris Brokaw), Come (Thalia Zedek), Conrad Uno, Cordelia’s Dad (Peter Irvine, Tim Eriksen), Cows (Kevin Rutmanis), Crash Worship, Crow (Peter Fenton), Crunchbird (Jaime Robert Johnson), Cynthia Bergen, Cypress Hill (B-Real)

D.O.A. (Joe Keithley), Dangermouse (George Smith), Dave Foster (Nirvana/Helltrout/Mico de Noche), David Von Ohlerking, Death of Samantha (Doug Gillard), Defalla (Castor Daudt, Edu K), Dickless (Lisa Smith), Distorted Pony (Ted Carroll), Dominic Davi, Dr Sin (Ivan Busic)

Eleventh Dream Day (Janet Beveridge Bean & Rick Rizzo), Enas Barkho

Fitz of Depression (Ryan von Bargen), Flor de Mal (Marcello Cunsolo)

Gillian G. Gaar, Girl Trouble (Bon von Wheelie), Gobblehoof (Tim Aaron), God Bullies (Mike Hard), Grinch (Billy Alletzhauser), Grind (Ben Munat, David Triebwasser, Pete Krebs), Gumball (Don Fleming)

Half Japanese (Jad Fair), Haywire (Vadim Rubin), Heavy into Jeff (Robin Peringer), Hell’s Kitchen (David Chavez), Helltrout (Jason Morales), Herd of Turtles (Shawn Lawlor), Hitting Birth (Daniel Riddle), Hole (Eric Erlandson, Jill Emery), Holy Rollers (Joseph Aronstamn)

I Own the Sky (Joseph Hayden), Industrial Pirata (Elias Ziede), Inspector Luv and the Ride Me Babies (Ty Willman)

Skin Yard (Jack Endino), Jacob’s Mouse (Hugo Boothby, Jebb Boothby, Sam Marsh), Jardal Sebba, Jello Biafra, Jesse Harrison, Jim Merlis, JJ Gonson, Jonathan Burnside, Jose Soria (Happy Dogs)

Kai Kln (Neil Franklin, Scott Anderson), Kaptain ‘Scott Gear’ Skillit Weasel, Kevin Kerslake, Kill Sybil (Larry Schemel), King Krab (Nathan Hill), Knife Dance (Tom Dark)

Leaving Trains (Falling James), Lisa Sullivan, Lonely Moans (J.M. Dobie), Lonely Moans (Shambie Singer), Loop (Robert Hampson), Los Brujos (Gabriel Guerrisi), Love Battery (Kevin Whitworth)

Machine (John Purkey, Ryan Loiselle), Yellow Snow (Brian Naubert and Pat Watson), Bobby Delcour (Sleeper Cell), Maria Mabra (Hell Smells), Meat Puppets (Cris Kirkwood), Medelicious (Henry Szankiewicz), Melissa Auf der Maur (Hole), Mexican Pets (Patrick Clafferty), Midway Still (Paul Thomson), Monkeyshines (Tom Trusnovic), Mousetrap (Craig Crawford), Mudhoney (Steve Turner), My Name (Abe Brennan)

Napalm Sunday (Ed Farnsworth), Nardwuar, New Radiant Storm King (Peyton Pinkerton, Matt Hunter), Nubbin (Timo Ellis), Nunbait (Shaun Butcher)

Oily Bloodmen (Seth Perry)

Pansy Division (Jon Ginoli), Paradogs (Eric Jeevers), Paul Harries, Paul Kimball (Helltrout/Landsat Blister), Pele (Ian Prowse), Pirata Industrial (Elias Ziede), Portia Sabin (Kill Rock Stars), Power of Dreams (Keith Walker), Psychlodds (Ryan Aigner)

Rat at Rat R (John Myers, Victor Poison-Tete), Rawhead Rex (Eric Moore), Rhino Humpers (Brian Coloff), Roger Nusic

S.G.M. (Cole Peterson and Rich Credo), Saucer (Beau Fredericks, Fred Stuben, Scott Harbine (Saucer), Screaming Trees (Mark Pickerel), Second Child (Damien Binder), Seven Year Bitch (Valerie Agnew), Shawna at Cosmic Primitive, Shonen Knife (Naoko Yamano), Sister Double Happiness (Gary Floyd, Lynn Truell), Sister Skelter (Chris Quinn), Slaughter Shack (Colin Burns, Dana Ong), Slim Moon (Nisqually Delta Podunk Nightmare, Lush, Witchypoo, Kill Rock Stars), Sons of Ishmael (Tim Freeborn, Mike Canzi, Paul Morris, Glenn Poirier, Chris Black), Soylent Green (Bruce Purkey), Sprinkler (Steve Birch), Steel Pole Bath Tub (Mike Morasky), Stone by Stone (Chris Desjardins), Strange Places (Xavier Ramirez), Sun City Girls (Alan Bishop), Surgery (John Leamy), Swallow (Chris Pugh and Rod Moody), Swaziland White Band (Lloyd Walsh, John Farrell, Dennis Fallon), Sweet Lickin’ Honey Babes (Jim Roy)

Tad (Tad, Josh Sinder and Kurt Danielson), Teenage Fanclub (Gerard Love), Television Personalities (Dan Treacy), Terry Lee Hale, The Bags (Crispin Wood), The Bombshells (Siobhan Duvall), The Boredoms (Yamantaka Eye), The Buzzcocks (Steve Diggle), The Cateran (Cam Fraser and Murdo MacLeod), The Derelicts (Duane Lance Bodenheimer), The Didjits (Rick Sims), The Doughboys (John Kastner), The Dwarves (Blag Dahlia), The Fluid (Matt Bischoff), The Gits (Steve Moriarty), The Guttersnipes (Andrew Rice, Mark Hurst, Michael McManus, Paul Brockhoff), The Jesus Lizard (David Yow), The Thrown Ups (Leighton Beezer), The Wongs (Kevin Rose), Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 (Anne Eickelberg and Mark Davies), Thornucopia (Jed Brewer), Tracy Marander, Treacherous Jaywalkers (Josh Haden), Treehouse (Ronna Myles-Era and Damon Romero), Tumbleweed (Richard Lewis)

Unrest (Mark Robinson), Unwound (Justin Trosper)

Vampire Lezbos (David Whiting), Vegas Voodoo (Kevin Franke and Marc Barmotholomew), Victim’s Family (Tim Soylan), Volcano Suns (Peter Prescott), Vomit Launch (Lindsey Thrasher)

Wool (Al Bloch, Franz Stahl)

Youri Lenquette