Archive for the ‘In Utero 1992-1993’ Category

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.

A different take on the Cobain story with gratitude to Jasmine for sharing with me and permitting me to re-share.

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.

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…

https://www.popmatters.com/nodding-god-play-wooden-child-2639519454.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1

 

https://www.gofundme.com/w6ste-genesis-breyer-porridge

Genesis P-Orridge, to me, is a rare example of an individual who has been brave enough to make their entire life a site of experimentation and change. With true artists there’s sometimes an air of ‘they go there so we pedestrian civilian types don’t have to’ – that’s definitely true with Genesis but what I admire most is that, throughout all these transgressions over the decades, there’s a person who values humanity and kindness at the centre of it all.

Reading the various works looking at his music history, his art work, even some of the volumes related to his esoteric magick interests, there’s a breadth of thinking and energy there that awes me. Across Coum Transmissions, Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV and beyond there’s always an attempt to explore an idea, then move on and seek something new. I admire that kind of questing behaviour because it can be so easy to settle into a single groove and dig it deeper to no great end.

Currently, Genesis is extremely ill, I’m hoping people have a little spare change and so forth that they’d be willing to drop into the Go Fund Me to keep him comfortable at this time.

https://www.popmatters.com/green-river-2019-re-issues-2628275330.html

I reviewed the two new Green River reissues for Pop Matters last week: so darn good! A definite recommendation on my part.

 

 

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Everyone gets stress dreams. They’re the visual imagery representing mental pressure – the most common motif is being chased by someone or something, falling dreams have a similar impetus behind them (things being out of control, no longer having one’s grip and so forth.) I’m aware that ‘telling people your dreams’ is high on the How To Bore list…But what the hey, feel free to stop reading here.

My stress dream has been pretty consistent since I was in my late teens. What happens is I’m in a record store or at a market stall. I note that they have a load of Nirvana bootlegs, I mean, a TON of Nirvana bootlegs – more than I’ve ever seen in one place. My excitement becomes sheer awe when I realise there are song names I’ve never heard, or song names that have only been rumoured, song names that I’m sure no one knows. I’m seeing ‘Suicide Samurai’, I’m seeing ‘Lullaby’, I’m seeing ‘Song in D’. I’m seeing an array of covers, I’m seeing bracketed notes telling me ‘alt lyrics’, ‘instrumental’, ‘early version’, ‘demo’, ‘acoustic’, ‘electric’.

The detail is amazing. I can feel the pressure building – I only have enough money on me to buy one CD. You can tell I’m a child of the nineties given that particular physical media is at the centre of my dream. I’m flipping CD cases and reading the brief descriptions on the back – which gig was this song supposedly from? When was this song recorded? It’s an indication of how powerful the Outcesticide series was for me as a teenager that the backs of these discs are formatted like Outcesticide II and III and give summary details for each song.

1

The guy running the stall, the guy running the shop, he won’t allow me to put the discs on his stereo and flick through before I buy. The dream seems to be pre-modern because I don’t whip my phone out and start browsing YouTube or checking for information online about these mysterious songs. I have no way of figuring out which one to buy. I’m just going to have to choose. Tension builds.

I realise I’m looking at songs that no one realised Kurt Cobain created. There’s a showcase gig listed that no one knew took place where, in 1994, Nirvana present three-four brand new songs with names that only exist in my dream. I’m in holy grail territory: the final Cobain demos, the last songs Nirvana had finished – and not a single soul ever let on they existed, never in 25 years…How do I choose? What do I have to leave behind?

And that’s it. I’m trapped. I’m stuck there reading details and trying to use that data to make an impossible choice. I wake up inside a moment where I’m sweating and stressed, reading and re-reading, juggling dates and names and descriptions trying to add up what might theoretically be more valuable than what, all the time aware of the proliferation of fake songs and incorrect song titles and minor rather than substantive differences that haunted bootlegs…

Yup. Geek dream – that’s for sure. That’s what my visits to certain record stores used to be like though, so it’s partially a memory, not just a dream. I remember finding a disc – relatively late in my bootleg-collecting spell – that listed ‘Meat’ as a song title. It was the only thing on the disc that particularly interested me, the rest was a hodge-podge of live cuts siphoned from elsewhere. Luckily the store allowed me to listen and, of course, it was Dave Grohl’s cover of the Unleashed song ‘Onward Into Countless Battles’ – nice to hear but hardly worth the marked up price point:

I’m not too sentimental about some aspects of the bootleg days: bootleg discs with the name Nirvana on tended to be way overpriced – £15 a pop. You’d get home to find the disc sounded like it was recorded through the echoing pipes of a toilet cistern. Tempting song titles would turn out to be mislabels or gig/session details were wrong and you’d find it was something you’d already heard. It was a real quagmire at times.

On the other hand, how often in life does something feel like buried treasure? It’s hard to describe how excellent it used to feel walking into a store and seeing something special. The anticipation, the spirit of discovery. Circa 1998-1999 there was a pretty common perception that the the words on the back of Outcesticide II about ‘record company vaults’ were literally true: that there was the kind of big metal cell you’d see in a heist movie, full from floor to ceiling with perfectly preserved Cobain/Nirvana demos – that there might be hundreds of entirely unreleased songs…It’s that spirit, the sense of unlimited potential, that is at the root of the dream – that moment in time.

Of course reality intervenes. I was reminded of it though when I walked into X Records in Bolton (https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g187053-d13110119-Reviews-X_Records-Bolton_Greater_Manchester_England.html). There came a point where I had to turn to my mother and inquire whether she could go and complete the Christmas Eve family shopping and I would walk home…What I couldn’t tell her was that I quite literally could not leave – there was no way I could walk out of that store. None. I searched through barely a fraction of the shop’s selection before Christmas early closing – it’s a real Aladdin’s cave! Rarities, bootlegs, old CD and vinyl singles…I was in seventh heaven. And the staff were great! I felt sheepish that I was still swapping stuff back while at the counter…

The photo at the top is the Nirvana shelf. Sure, it’s 2018, I know now that there’s only a hundred unique originals written by Kurt Cobain that have been released publicly. I know that the record company isn’t sitting on a treasure trove of polished perfection. I browsed the back of the bootlegs and recognised gigs and songs that I knew pretty well because it’s all out there now pretty well…But it was nice to remember that moment of ‘anything possible!’ And to still believe there are surprises.

Welcome to 2019, 25 years since Cobain’s death, 31 years since Nirvana’s first studio session…Feel old yet? That’s OK. Onwards to new discoveries and good dreams!

 

 

Outside Left_Nick Soulsby Week_Nov 5, 2018

https://www.outsideleft.com/main.php?updateID=1592

Just posted at Outside Left today – a brief account of some of the incident and amusement of the 1986 Swans tour. So much of what Swans was at it’s peak and was to become was becoming clear at this point – sound palette expanding, interest in dynamics overcoming the pure interest in brutality, the ongoing experiments in the potential of volume as a sonic experience, Jarboe’s arrival as a key component of what Swans ‘was’…

Speaking at the Louder Than Words Festival in Manchester at 10am tomorrow morning so good night and all the best.

https://soundblab.com/reviews/books/21112-swans-sacrifice-and-transcendence-the-oral-history-nick-soulsby

This review was loaded with phrases that made me smile – I’m pondering  “Gira is the catalyst and cataclysm” because I think I really love it. Likewise, the spot where Kevin Orton states “…the overall picture painted is as epic and heroic as a Delacroix.” The latter has sent me off to view Delacroix’s work and to get a grip on the depth of meaning there.

What really makes it for me, however, is that – when I’m doing oral history – I want people to ‘feel’ what it’s like to live this kind of life. The fact that Orton can see his own musical experiences in what Swans go through, that really delights me. I don’t write to remove or delete the magic, to ‘lift the veil’ or anything so unromantic, but I do want to make sure the humanity comes across in all it’s glorious, or brutal, or grim, or comical, or majestic, or dull day-to-day hues – all of it. Because, to me, that’s what real life is like.

 

https://blank-slate-creative.com/2018/10/swans-michael-gira-sacrifice-and-transcendence-by-nick-soulsby-book-review/

Saw this today from Blank-Slate-Creative – delighted the book worked so well. In the end, I don’t write ‘PR pieces’ – but I am looking to give people a feel of what it’s like to be in that band, creative scenario, the overall experience!

Speaking of experiences, had a charming time last night at Rough Trade Bristol: a circle of people who all have their own memories of what Swans is like live – and their own perspectives on why it’s such a unique entity. We watched brief clips from Marco Porsia’s upcoming film Where Does A Body Begin? which simply reinforced the excitement and drama of the band – then yakked on amidst that – I was enthralled by people’s views.