Artists: Depression, Anxiety & Rage

I’m a great believer in the redemptive power of creativity, that fashioning one’s own refuge or torrent can provide safety when the world becomes too much or can expel negative feelings so they don’t hiss inside the head so much.

Of course, I think it’s clear that many artists have no alternative, they have to pour their experiences and feelings out somewhere – to all our benefits but often to their detriment or suffering. There’s always hope to be found there though, the learning of lessons, the sharing of hard won alternatives, the chance to give something to someone else who may need it to get through.

The new documentary above, “Artists: Depression, Anxiety, & Rage” is made by two people I respect hugely – Lydia Lunch and Jasmine Hirst – and if you happen to have an interest in the subjects of mental health, the experiences of artists, the limits of human endurance…Then it sounds worth investing a few dollars in.

The GoFundMe link is here and all contributions will go toward sharing the work with the world:


The Rarest Thing: an Insightful Nirvana Article at 28 Years’ Distance

I haven’t posted about Nirvana much in quite a long while. Essentially, being consumed by the topic on a daily basis, long into each night after work, left me quite ’emptied’. I’d spent hundreds of hours manipulating spreadsheets of data to provide answers or, at least, suggest thoughts about questions I had about the band’s career. After about half-a-decade, I was done.

One other factor was that, after that kind of prolonged focus, I needed to move on mentally – there are new challenges, new topics. I found myself seeing articles and realising it was increasingly rare they were spinning my head or turning my mind. It’s precisely the reason I never post on Cobain-related anniversaries – I’ve never felt my voice was so special that the world needed one more generic remembrance or space-filling anniversary post…

…The above piece by Abraham Gutman made me glad I never completely relinquished my attention.

It succinctly summarizes Cobain’s life and how a privatized healthcare system fails to intervene with the appropriate treatments that could save lives. Even a cold heart just focused on economic dollars and cents should be able to recognize the vast wastage involved in leaving people either unable to function, or meaning that families lose a care-giver and wage-earner.

Gutman also provides a good summary of his argument on Twitter in extended form:

Beth B’s Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over Comes to U.K. Cinema

Finally! Britain at last gets a chance to absorb Beth B’s fascinating film on the life and work of Lydia Lunch. 28th October, I’m off to The Barbican in London, for the U.K. premiere showing – and because I’m curious to hear Lydia speak herself in the Q&A portion.

Music is a conversation between kids and their parents. Each generation bounces between reacting to, making peace with, ignoring, or stepping beyond the sound of their forebearers, embracing the wholly new or remaking what is past to create something they can call their own – sometimes the gap can be as vast as a conversation between a young adult and a never-met great-grandparent, sometimes as small as a reaction against the taste of an elder sibling in an effort to define teenager self. A small number of people then step so entirely outside of the past that they become the figures future generations need to reckon with. Lydia Lunch is one of those figure who – through force of will – have made themselves timeless and their creative works an unsettled source of creative intrigue to be revisited because it avoids easy conclusions.

Beth B’s films have, over the years, grappled with the legacy of relationships, power, what those who have been wounded are compelled to do in order to lift the burdens placed upon them. From outside in the land of the uninjured, the actions of the damaged can feel incomprehensible and confusing when, with empathy, there’s a sense to be discerned. It doesn’t fit into the glib language of wellness and healing either, what is broken can’t simply be fixed and just because it offends or discomforts those with lesser problems doesn’t mean it should be glossed over or replastered to give a smooth impression.

The image of ‘scales of justice’ weighing elements against one another to come to a single decision is such a ridiculous, overused, and ultimately harmful concept. Often things simply don’t connect. The good doesn’t balance out the bad, the two simply co-exist separately even when we’re referring to a single body. Your charitable donations, good deeds, and humanity doesn’t cancel out your venality, selfishness, brutality and greed – credit and criticism are due in equal measure and there’s no need to tidily merge the two. Watching Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over, what I was struck by initially was the way in which New York City mirrored the psychic state of so many who found themselves in the arts scene there. Yes, the city was dangerous and damaged and gave little succor to polite society – but it was also vibrant and energetic and imaginative too.

Beth B’s film reflects both those sides simultaneously, the ways in which both these sides co-exist within Lunch’s work across multiple forms of art over several decades. The film also refuses to demystify Lunch’s creative drive, it isn’t a crib-sheet or quick note – there’s no easy way into such a sprawling catalogue of music, spoken word, literature, theatre, film. The film exists as its own artwork with Lunch at the centre exploding outward in all directions and giving you, as the viewer, a sense of her spirit and concerns…But no tell-all striptease or over-simple revelation.

What I appreciated most about the film was its humanity, the kindness at its heart, the possibility of defending the weak against the strong without letting anyone off their bullshit.

I’m hugely looking forward to the showing at the Barbican in London on 28th October – featuring a Q&A with Lydia Lunch herself – and heavily recommend getting over to see it on the big screen at any of the nine U.K. showings.

The Music of Kevin Drumm Matches the Moment

One of the lyrics that floats through my head quite often is “what happened to us? We were the kings of the back of the bus and now it’s just massage music in your house,” from Steven James Adams’ song ‘Kings Of The Back Of The Bus’ (Old Magic, FortunaPop). There’s more functional sound than ever flooding the world. Muzak infiltrated our ears and minds initially as the wallpaper against which we shopped, wreathed in over-hyped and poorly measured claims about altering our purchasing decisions. Now, it’s increasingly invited into our homes as generic accompaniment for exercise, yoga, meditation, a myriad other activities. Sound voids disconnected from the act of listening as an active engagement with creative art. Mindfulness, a worthy endeavour for those requiring a little stillness, has become a trojan horse for the robotisation of sound production which is the desired end goal of firms like Spotify who benefit if they can cut out payment to record companies or artists (from an already low benchmark).

It’s a shame given this extended COVID moment, with it’s alternating surges of distorting noise/stress/tension matched by the stripping away of distractions and interjections, is a great time to experience music capable of mirroring one’s mental state. That’s what I find in the work of Kevin Drumm.

Recently I’ve been aiming to invest $2-3 dollars a couple times a month in Drumm’s 152 release-deep back catalogue on Bandcamp. His recent monthly missives in particular are all falling in a 20-30 minute zone which feels like the perfect release from day-to-day concern, without requiring a vast ‘stepping away’ from work or life.

What I love about the work is that, when I’m tense, I can let thoughts go and follow the small sounds and intricate detail within a piece like ‘By Way Of No’ (released in March 2021):

Likewise, when I’m chilled out, the music can stoke energy and power, I whip the volume up and it consumes the room with this gargantuan weight. Either way, it rewards this diversion from the day, the deep listening reveals layers and choices and slalom rides orchestrated and designed by the artist. It’s ambient music without the wishy-washy emptiness of so much mindful muzak, that supports a unique independent artistic path rather than corporate sound production.

I’ve been intrigued by Kevin Drumm some 20 years now. I admire the decision to devote himself to a particular approach to sound, one that is so malleable and flexible, that can manifest in so many ways (how about the classic ‘Sheer Hellish Miasma’ for heaviness…?) and has been pursued to the nth degree. An artist of stunning power and whether you’re a noisenik or a meditator, a metalhead or a contemplator of healing crystals, there’s a sound you can live within whether the desire is to go up, or down.

The Long Threads of QAnon Conspiracies

As a fan of outsider musicians, fringe music scenes, and alternative cultures, I’ve always been fascinated by mainstream responses to ‘the weird’. In essence, a majority of people are trying really hard to fit in and avoid standing out: it means, when young, they don’t get bullied or abused, and it’s the easiest path to avoid loneliness or the weight of criticism or self-criticism. Most people just want to hide. The model is instilled that the way to avoid such consequences is to present someone else as the target. There’s also guilt and shame involved in suppressing oneself, knowing one isn’t brave enough to fully be oneself – again, it’s easier to send that anger out into the world rather than living with it directed inward. That can happen in small ways, the gentle (and unfounded) claim that to attempt something different is to be ostentatious, or a poseur, or in some way antisocial. It can also swell up into baroque fantasies that promote someone or something as a literal enemy because its easier than looking in the mirror.

The 80s were full of such incidents. The Judas Priest ‘subliminal messaging’ and Ozzy Osbourne ‘Suicide Solution’ court cases were absurd events rooted in the grief of families after the suicide of loved ones. In each case they tried to claim that a band had persuaded their children to kill themselves. Ludicrous stuff: there were no backmasked subliminal messages revealed when an album was played backward, the lyrics of ‘Suicide Solution’ tackle the negative consequences of alcoholism and were quoted incorrectly by the plaintiffs…In the end, families simply couldn’t accept their loved ones’ actions or the more complex realities of mental health. Then there was the even more extreme case of radical musician Genesis P-Orridge. The Channel 4 investigative series, Dispatches, claimed to have video evidence of P-Orridge and his associates in the pseudo cult Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth abusing children and sparked a raid by the Obscene Publications Squad. P-Orridge wound up having to leave the U.K. permanently despite Channel 4 being embarrassed to learn that the video in question was an art piece Channel 4 itself helped fund in the early 80s that didn’t show anything like what was described – they withdrew their allegations. There’d already been the 1987-1990 police investigation, Operation Spanner, where various men involved in private BDSM practices and body piercing were investigated, arrested and charged for what were entirely consensual activities. As is typical when it involves the liberties and freedoms of people outside the mainstream, the court ruled that it didn’t matter that all the people involved had consented, the need to punish deviance took priority.

The backdrop to all these cases was an increasingly hysterical belief in Satanic Cult sex abuse which wound up diverting resources away from the support and protection of actual victims of abuse. The idea that there was this mysterious group of ‘outsiders’ mutilating, abusing, even cannibalising and murdering children led to police investigations in multiple countries…And not a word of it was true. You saw echoes of the same ‘projection’ in 1999 when Marilyn Manson and fantasias about ‘trenchcoat mafia’ bullied weirdos were blamed for the Columbine High School massacre rather than looking at how easily two kids with major mental health issues, who blended in easily, acquired major league weaponry.

More precisely, what it pointed to was very broad awareness that child abuse was indeed a significant issue inside churches and other acceptable and respected institutions of mainstream society. What had happened was that people were unwilling to confront the political, economic, and social power wielded by their own institutions. They were also unwilling to look inward and confront the problems rife in the mainstream – to do so would have required them to take responsibility. In retrospect, everyone claims to have spotted that Jimmy Savile, Britain’s most famous serial rapist and pedophile was odd, what they ignore was that the reason he got away with it was because he WASN’T odd, he was a friend of the establishment, closely connected to the Royal Family and to senior politicians, a buddy of local police leaders – incredibly normal and conservative and so acceptably normal that he was a TV institution for decades. Instead, it was far easier to present popular entertainers, those of different sexual preferences, the marginalised and the excluded as weirdos and culprits rather than looking at what happens when ‘the normal’ acquire power. As ever, the marginalised are more likely to be victims but that didn’t matter. They served a purpose in allowing people to maintain their own illusions of purity and to evade questioning those who had succeeded within the conformist model of society.

Now, here we are 30 years later, faced with QAnon – it’s a virtual reprise of the 80s Satanic Cult panic. The basic claim of QAnon, underpinning bland virtue statements about “stopping child abuse”, is that the Democrat Party in the U.S. and global elites everywhere are Satan-worshipping pedophiles and that President Trump is engaged in a secret war against them. Bleugh.

The elements are pretty obviously rooted in a refusal to take responsibility for failings on the U.S. right. First is the idea that a mythical and hidden ‘other’ is out to get people’s children. The identification of the Democrat Party with people of colour and other minorities makes it overtly racist, homophobic, and ridiculous. It incorporates homophobic illusions about men going with young boys, ignoring that the majority of sexual abuse is heterosexual, familial, and rarely conducted by strangers. It also rests on anti-Semitic cliches about Jews running the world (Zionist Occupied Government) – again, pushing responsibility for society’s failings onto someone else.

There’s a refusal to take seriously the proven criminality and corruption of President Trump or his associates – something demonstrated in court over and over again in recent years. Instead, it’s his enemies who are the criminals, the worst kinds of criminals, and – as required – one can project that idea onto all parts of government, the entire justice system, the law enforcement system. Anyone and everyone who has been a part of investigating and prosecuting the repeated crimes of the current U.S. leadership is part of the ‘deep state’ and not just that, they’re f***ing kids. For QAnon believers, accepting that they were part of electing a criminal/criminal enabler to office would require self-evaluation and critique, so it’s easier to believe the worst of those who point it out.

Finally, it’s a matter of fact that Donald Trump was friends with, or associated with, any/all of U.S. high society’s key providers of young/borderline female flesh for social or sexual occasions. The reports of voyeurism, groping, unwanted touching, outright assault, payment for sex in relation to President Trump has been substantial…So, QAnon projects all of that onto his opponents. It’s no longer him who is the sexual predator with appalling views and approaches to women, there’s a bizarre oneupmanship involved in making it his enemies who are secretly in league with Satan and feasting on children – QAnon means that even if someone accepts, or doesn’t completely dismiss, allegations against Trump, they still get to claim his opponents are worse.

While British defenders of Prince Andrew make absurd claims about him being in a Pizza Express in Woking (where no one recalls seeing him and there’s no record of his visit), hands being photoshopped into pictures, deny the record of him being seen with a sex trafficking victim, ignore the bizarre sight of him meeting a convicted sex offender in a park like they’re Mafia members avoided bugged rooms…At least they engage with the evidence however dimly. In the case of QAnon, no evidence is required. If one is unwilling to believe that one has been part of electing a criminal pervert to office, or if one desires absolution, then the only answer is that all his sins, and one’s own, can be flung over the fence onto ‘the other,’ the outsider who threatens you by making you face and take responsibility.

It’s comical, in a way, that so many people would rather believe in a secret level to the world – one that would require impractical and absurd levels of complicity – rather than just accepting the overt and obvious. It’s visible in the invention of ‘antifa’ as another all-purpose bogeyman, at the same time as ignoring the minimal amount of violence that has occurred during the Black Lives Matters protests; while ignoring the shootings, intimidation, kidnap/murder plots, attempts to spark police responses by provocateurs… The only way to justify one side’s violence is to claim the other side started it, or were much much worse than evidence suggests they were. It’s why, in the U.K., the right stabbed and bludgeoned a politician to death – but then hark to the Baader-Meinhof gang of the 70s to claim political murder is a left wing thing (answer, it’s common to extremists of all shades, it’s just more common currently among those on the right including Islamic conservatives). The same is happening in the U.S. where right-wing violence is the most prevalent current, but honestly examining and evicting such lunatics comes hard when ‘they’re our terrorists.’

Making ‘the other’ into the threat to society and civilisation, one that can be manipulated to fit any scenario or personal inclination also allows a substantial number of people to ignore the extent to which the Republican Party has decided to overtly aim for a one party/one race/one religion South African Apartheid type system. Gerrymandering to try to compress undesirable votes, crippling the U.S. postal service, removing voting facilities from minority areas, fake dropboxes for votes, removing people from voting rolls, maintaining barriers to voting, adding ID requirements that will prevent people voting in order to tackle non-existent fake voting, encouraging one’s own side to vote more than once, reducing counting periods or stopping activities that would allow counting/organization to start before election day, court challenges to complicate and undermine faith in the system, stacking the courts to try to influence the result…it’s all a vast attempt to prevent people truly having their – already small – say in the running of the country. It’s justified by claiming the other side are the enemy of the country, even while one goes ahead and tries to damage the underpinning mechanisms of democracy. You don’t need conspiracy theories because it’s all so overt and obvious.

What we’ve seen in past years via the Panama Papers, Operation Yewtree, investigations into the U.K. housing market, the ongoing knowledge that the sex/drug industries are based alongside our key financial centres for obvious reasons (it’s where the rich people who can afford it are) is that there are massive public, overt, legal, and acceptable careers to be made hiding the money and socially unattractive activities of people with wealth. I’ve sat in expensive restaurants watching the gentleman dining with their ‘nieces’. It’s easier to believe in mystical Satanic cults and the complicity of ‘enemies’ rather than recognising what goes on publicly day by day.

None of this will go away regardless of tomorrow’s outcome. Every few decades we’ll see a major new myth take hold to avoid having to tarnish those identified most powerfully with ‘normal’ whether that’s the Republican candidate for government, or priests in local churches.

“Kurt Was Here”: The Kurt Cobain Art Book – Corporate Cash Grabs Still Suck

All credit and a heap of praise for the video above goes to Brett R, he invested $100 plus postage for what he – indeed many Nirvana fans, including myself – hoped would be a serious volume gathering together and curating the art works of Kurt Cobain. The card accompanying the collection states that the intention behind the book is to “celebrate his legacy” which seems strange given the book is the most gross and egregiously exploitative item of Cobain/Nirvana merchandise so far released.

Watching through the six minute clip it’s immediately obvious that the book is not in any way a serious study of Cobain’s art. There’s no attempt to contextualise the material in relation to Cobain’s life or experience, or to share any information about how/when/where any of it was created. There’s an occasion mention of materials and blandly literal ‘titles’ given to each piece. Oh, plus occasionally there’s a wildly unnecessary description, for example, “winged puppet with ghostly figure, small puppet, pixie, cat” – yes, we can see the picture too. It’s part of an apparently determined belief that anyone buying the book must be an idiot therefore they should be spoken to as such.

What the book is very clearly serious about is acting as overpriced sales collateral pitching a similarly overpriced Cobain t-shirt line. The book looks substantial on the outside but for every page of art, there’s a corresponding page showing the same image, just printed onto a t-shirt – a 50% reduction in content, purpose and interest. Better still, to keep the purposeless duplication as high as possible, if a t-shirt has been created in slightly different colouring then that version is printed too. I’m being unfair saying that this is purposeless, it has a purpose…If you’re trying to market t-shirts to the kinds of vapid fashion-victims who, in 1993, would have shelled out on Marc Jacob’s grunge collection for Perry Ellis because buying thrift store clothing was beneath them and they wouldn’t wear something that didn’t have a brag-worthy brand label.

The quantity of dead white space is extraordinary: every single image, regardless of whether it contains any intriguing detail, is blown up to fill a page. The 10-15 words needed to give the title/materials/description is printed in a corner of an otherwise blank page. Each t-shirt, duplicating the artwork seen on another page, takes up an entire page. Velum page inserts exist just to give random whimsical section titles. And because we haven’t had enough white space other pages are simply blank. In an art volume, one might give a sketch or painting room to breathe; space so the details stand out; a paper equivalent of a gallery wall so the image can be contemplated. Nothing here seems to warrant the space – it’s massive padding of a slender quantity of actual material.

Having billed the book as a volume of Cobain’s artwork, an entire section would fail any investigation under false trade description regulation. The book abandons visual art and simply reproduces random word scribbles and exercise book graffiti: ‘Sad And Ugly’ ‘Cold And Wet’ Bliss’ ‘Fun With Clay’ ‘Pen Cap Chew’. The absence of context to the words rob them of any meaning (i.e., the above seems to be one of Cobain’s various attempts to pick potential band names for what became Nirvana): there’s nothing visually intriguing or entertaining at all about them.

Leaving that section to one side, Brett notes significant issues with the other content selected. Various felt tip doodles were apparently drawn as part of psychological evaluation rather than as any attempt at art – clustered together across a two page spread they might have some interest but as standalone pieces they’re just tedious. The most elaborate and fully realised art pieces, meanwhile, have been seen before in other books (Come As You Are, Cobain Unseen, Journals, etc.) or in the Montage Of Heck film. That wouldn’t necessarily mean they couldn’t be reprinted but this particular volume doesn’t position them with other pieces that bring fresh enlightenment, or with information that would flesh out the ‘it is what it is’ air.

It has to be said, Cobain’s collection of mutilated dolls does form a curious segment. Doll faces are discoloured, figures are laid out like corpses, a skeleton has it’s face blanked, baby dolls are scored and marked. It’s irksome that it has to be in a section called ‘Kurt Makes Contact’: the titles regularly tip over from casual into the realm of infantilisation, the kind of cooing one might associate with a baby sensory class rather than with an attempt to position someone as an outsider folk artist.

Overall, this is truly a “wow” moment – I’m stunned it proved possible to put so little effort, homework, attentiveness or simple pride into the making of this book and to care so little who knows it that it’s obvious from start-to-finish. One doesn’t have to be a fanatical fan to take issue with a book that is as exploitative as this – and, of course, the only people even vaguely likely to pay $100 for such a book are going to be fans. No expense has been spared in terms of spitting in the faces of those fans – you’re paying for nice paper, stuff you’ve seen before, two-three copies of the same picture but one or two happen to be on a t-shirt.

There was a paranoid theory at the time of Montage Of Heck (which I personally enjoyed very deeply as film and as record release) that there was a concerted campaign, by people associated with the deceased rock star, to denigrate his work, destroy his reputation, undermine his posthumous status and trample respect for him into the dirt. I filed it away in the mental trash can alongside the (still) preposterous and incoherent murder rants. This book is the first time I’ve seen something come out with the Cobain or Nirvana name on it, that is so bad, that I seriously wondered if it was a prank by Frances Bean Cobain aimed at showing fans how stupid they are to give a hoot about Cobain/Nirvana so long after his death in 1994. I’m still undecided.

What I am decided on is that this book is irredeemably rubbish.

Fun Nirvana Stuff on YouTube

Someone has painstakingly pieced together, from extant audio/video of the ’93-’94 In Utero tour performances, every time Cobain screams while performing Drain You.

It’s a ten minute scream-athon – fantastic! The cuts in sound quality, prominence of the different instruments, the visual shifts, it’s all enthralling. The way the sound might soften or punch differently dependent on where the person recording happened to be located made it impossible to not pay rapt attention throughout.

That led me to watch the Canal+ footage from ’94 too with the Beatles-esque bows to the audience at the end of each song – hilarious. Plus it’s funny watching Cobain, at the end of Drain You, tied to the microphone without the guitar:

Final thing I did this past week was whip out a quick review of an album I’ve been loving these past few months…