Archive for the ‘In Utero 1992-1993’ Category

Michael Gira: “Jarboe’s version of ‘Your Property’ on Swans Are Dead and Soundtracks For The Blind is awesome: there’s no effects on her voice, she goes down however many tens of octaves and sings those low notes by reaching into her belly and emitting these notes — she was fantastic in that way.”

During the interviews that led to the creation of the book “SWANS: Sacrifice And Transcendence – The Oral History”, there was one conversation, focused on his song-writing at the time of Cop/Young God (1983-1985 era) that truly enthralled me. I had to cut the tale down for the book but the original transcript reads:

“I remember reading Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology Of Fascism in ’83-’84 and it had a particular influence on the song ‘I Crawled’ from the Young God EP. In that book, if I can summarise it in a very plebeian manner, he draws the parallel between the typical model of the family with a strong father as a microcosm of the state. He talks about how that shapes behaviour and identity and helps to inculcate a kind of obeisance to authority very early on. It was written pre-World War Two, and he talks about the parallels between Hitler and Stalin, which was pretty prescient of him: he notes how both men reached back to this mythic atavistic past when everything was great in the country and their goal was to bring it back — they were like avuncular, paternal figures for the nation.

At that time, Ronald Reagan was being re-elected and I thought the parallels — though less overtly deadly and destructive — were very apposite. I wrote that song — “you’re my father, my father, I obey you,” and took it a step further. I had read this essay by J.G. Ballard Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan and thought the image of Reagan fucking and choking me was an apt image for the times.

I had been obsessed with the media’s — not that the media is one entity or one conspiracy — colonisation of our consciousness, particularly in the west and capitalist corporate countries, its shaping of our identities and its formulation of the anxieties that compel one to consume: a recent phenomenon that didn’t begin until the end of the Second World War when advertising and production amped up and corporations had to create need. It had a lot to do with having all these factories after the war that needed to do something, so they began manufacturing anxiety in people so they would consume products. Nowadays that equation is rampantly out of control, culminating in the probable destruction of the planet and the species — all the horrible social effects from mass media on our consciousness and our sense of who we are on the planet.

I felt this whole process, along with working as a low-level wage slave for most of my life, was akin to being raped: being invaded against your will by stimuli over which you have no control and where you’re helpless as it impinges on your consciousness. That’s another reason I used the word ‘rape’, I felt it was what modern existence was. I carried that sort of imagery on for some time and then grew weary of it because it became a cliché in its own right to harp on such things. That was the kind of thing that I was obsessed with in those early days. The song ‘Your Property’ from Cop was probably another way in which I dealt with it, and Time is Money (Bastard), of course… that way of thinking about media, mind control, work as slavery, and consumerism was very much on my mind in those days.”

I’ve interviewed around 600 people in my spare time after/around work since 2012 and I’d not encountered an artist or musician who was able to articulate the imaginative process behind their writing in this way. Sure, I’d heard people ‘tell me the story’ of a song or what it’s lyrics related to – this was something else. This wasn’t just an emotional response. This was hundreds of pages of reading, clearly much independent thinking, intellectual and conceptual influences being woven together into a succinct, concise and tangible result.

The nearest comparison I had was a conversation with the painter Chris Gollon describing the painting he contributed to Thurston Moore’s ROOT remix/art project. He had received a 52 second composition from Thurston and it called to mind Native American burial grounds; a film called Jeremiah Johnson starring Robert Redford where the lead rides his horse through a burial ground; Chris’ studio on an island in the Thames formerly used for WW1 aircraft hangars and where the spice girls would rehearse; the studio next door which created prosthetic limbs which would hang from a washing line; Toledo Cathedral where cardinals’ hats are hung from the ceiling and left to decay; an art exchange between Mexico and the Glasgow Print Studio so he included a death mask; the title coming from Morpheus, the god of dreams, and the House of Sleep/Kingdom of Sleep…

To me, Gira possessed that same artistic intensity: the drawing together of disparate ideas into a composition as sharp, honed and visceral as ‘I Crawled’. I was stunned to really understand that behind the stark lyrics there was this depth: factories, fascism, Reich, Reagan, parents, working, media, the mind, consumerism…

…And Gira was able to grind that down to

You’re my father/I obey you/I want you to be my father/Eliminate my freedom/I know what I am/You know what I am/I’m weak/Take what’s mine/Come into my room/Put your hands on my throat/Now choke me, choke me/Make me feel good/Be my father/Make it right/Think for me/Choke me

You can see all the associations and wider connections flowing from fewer than a hundred words. My feeling is that it’s what makes Gira an excellent writer: that each word is precisely what is needed, but each  word opens up an entire universe of ideas.

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I’m always awed by Adam Casto’s ability to gather together collaborators of deep pedigree from the alternative rock seen and merge their efforts into a seamless whole. The ever amusing, sometimes comedic, sometimes serious, always rocking Nerd Table project is an absorbing combination of underground party, guest curation and decent punk song-smithing.

This time around, the guest list includes Kurt Danielson (Tad), Dave Abbruzzese (Pearl Jam), Elmo Kirkwood, Dale Crover and Buzz Osborne (Melvins), Kevin Rutmanis (Melvins/Cows), Billy Anderson, Geoff Robinson (Blood Circus), Jeff Pinkus (Butthole Surfers)…Sheesh. It’s quite the crew!

BUY: https://itunes.apple.com/…/al…/superficial-single/1391889748
https://tanyahazell.bandcamp.com/edit_track?id=2050538906
LISTEN: https://open.spotify.com/track/6chfNl7pzl0y8EizzQHMmd

 

I had such good intentions to write up my Kurt Cobain/Michael Gira comparison (bear with me on this) but totally didn’t make it…

…So what am I doing that might amuse you? Well, I spent some time absorbing some intriguing work on YouTube: always kinda awesome what people get up to!

What I like about these is the construction of a fictional scenario to explain the context surrounding the making of each record in an imaginary world where Cobain lived. Then there’s the music: full band mockups built on top of shreds never taken to conclusion, revised mixes of work that it always would have been nice to hear without demo hiss, songs placed next to each other creating intriguing resonances and comparisons…The sheer workload that must have gone in impresses me – and what the hey, it makes for a good accompaniment to work on a Friday.

Covers of Nirvana have always left me a bit cold but the cheapness of modern technology has opened up this new avenue of exploration – hearing original Nirvana works tweaked and altered in different ways is intriguing. It’s also valid: Cobain’s death in ’94 leaves an utter void in terms of understanding any musical intentions. There’s simply such limited data that one guess is as good as another – it’s not something worth getting uptight about. Seeing the above in that context I just think, “why not?” and dig through the results to find moments I enjoy.

Also listening to Jpegmafia. The Sonologyst record that just came out on Cold Spring (I’m ALWAYS finding something of interest on Cold Spring: the Bleiburg 2 disc record was five quid well spent) http://coldspring.co.uk/2018/03/sonologyst-silencers-cd/#.Wxp4q4pKhPY

Best gig of the past month was catching Aidan Moffat (Arab Strap) and RM Hubbert at Rough Trade Bristol (really neat performance space they have – even if no one can open the bloody door to get in n’ out!) They were promoting their new record Here Lies The Body which sounds like prime-era Arab Strap (that’s a compliment) with renewed warmth and gentility. http://www.hereliesthebody.com/

Currently putting together a playlist related to the SWANS: Sacrifice And Transcendence. Music books always deserve a soundtrack!

 

 

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I should have mentioned this about a year ago but juggling job, writing, life…Time burns. It’s the one thing I miss about a daily commute: it was an excellent place to read – I carry a book whenever I leave the house even now. At home there are too many distractions – except when in the bathroom of course – but out and about it’s possible to read and just let the world go by.

So, basically, this is an intriguing one. The key to it is just to sink in and let the beauty of the language and the description just flow. The concept stands on the idea of a lonely teenage girl waking up in hospital to discover Kurt Cobain is there too with no memory of his former life and unrecognised by those around; they begin a relationship; they live the fan-dream life of starting a band with him and…And things go wrong. At first sight I could have just yawned and thought ‘fan fiction’ but it’s just too well-written. The book is wreathed in vivid detail that left it somewhere between an enthralling dream sequence and something painted so perfectly it seems tangibly real. Definitely not something I’d have expected to see in the realms of Nirvana/Cobain-related writing but one I’d recommend to anyone who just likes good fiction which I would define as an interesting premise taken on an unpredictable and surprising journey in words that enhance and inspire emotion throughout. It definitely hits that.

I’m often surprised there hasn’t been more literature drawing on the experience of musicians – Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box is the only one that immediately comes to mind – but I’m guessing it’s because few musicians who lived the life also have the talent for writing and, vice versa, few writers have the experience of being actively touring musicians…I reckon Crosbie does a good job of showing that passion, energy and a gift for words can bring something like this to a point where it feels real. Real talent.

Thurston on Shelf

Sometimes it can feel like working in a void: the clear out of the book store industry, the increasing reality that niche books exist mainly via online retailers, there’s often a sense that the books I write – given my particular focus – only exist on my own shelf and among the people I’ve sent copies to myself.

That’s why it’s always warming when a friend or comrade sends me a picture of something I’ve done existing out in the world in a book store someplace. We Sing A New Language: The Oral Discography of Thurston Moore came out in the U.S. only about a month ago so good to see it’s about.

I saw a hilarious review on Amazon.com earlier which really made me chuckle! Sense of humour is a valuable thing in this world and this was glorious:

The problem with Sonic Youth LPs is that they sing on them. If they eliminated the vocals, they could have achieved 2nd level Dead C status (and that’s not a bad thing). The problem with Thurston Moore has always been that nobody in The History Of Rock has ever tried so hard to adopt a “cool” persona…and for the record his ex-wife Kim Gordon trails a close second. I used to see these two all the time around NYC and it was actually painful to see them “downtown” it up. On the other hand, Lee Ranaldo would come off in Washington Market Park as just a regular dad. I’m giving this book three stars for the simple reason I did not read it. If it was difficult seeing Thurston Moore in real life, why would I want to read a book about him? Three stars seems fair.”

It’s just one of those things: human lives move so fast that if you’re there at the start of something and therefore help forge the identity associated with it, then at some point ‘who you are’ becomes seen as a cliche or as a persona rather than as something original that you bequeathed to the world. Most people’s experience of this phenomenon is when their own kids look at them and sneer, roll their eyes or snigger at the idea that you were ever fresh, new, a clean sheet, an empty page starting to fill up with hasty scribbles. Being a star of one kind or another means seeing it play out across entire scenes and cities.

From my personal encounters with Thurston, from all the people I spoke to for the project (some 170 of his fellow performers), the person I met was every bit the enthusiast for life and culture he’s made about to be: 100% authentic and valiantly rare. I’ll admit I hope to retain that absence of cynicism and “seen it all before” some 30 years down the line. I got the same bright-eyed vibe when walking round the Tate Modern with Lee Ranaldo. There’s something about the generation that grew up in that moment of the NYC scene that doesn’t seem to get old…

 

At the Louder Than Words literary music festival in Manchester last weekend I watched Penny Rimbaud (once and always of Crass) speak of his life philosophies and experiences including time spent at a meditational retreat: his conclusion being (I paraphrase) “I stared at a wall for 13 hours a day and discovered I only had enough content for 3 days.” It’s a fun thought, that ultimately the brain gets bored, can’t regurgitate enough of its memory banks to entertain for longer than that. I feel the same at times: writing about Nirvana near every single day from February 2012 to the tail-end of 2016 left me, suddenly, with an absence, a feeling that I didn’t automatically have a reservoir of additional words to draw on. What to do? Well, I’m a strong believer that when inner resources are low, other people are a source of energy.

In this case, I was privileged enough to speak at an event in Carlisle on Friday night for Words & Guitars during which I was asked a fine question (which, again, I paraphrase): “was Cobain unable to bring himself to change?” The question has been whirring round in my mind for a few days now.

The question was a reaction to some of my earnest beliefs regarding Cobain: that music had been a way to live a life free of bosses and free of control, to achieve an unmediated expression of self when, where and how he wanted (an understandably powerful force for a boy/teen who had so many homes, been rejected by so many people, had been so unwilling to exist within the context of a job.) That this way of being had been compromised repeatedly from the days of Sub Pop onward and – in late 1991/early 1992 – became an intolerable imposition on the privacy and freedom he sought. Interviews, intrusion, his personal life and desires, how and when and where he played, the expectations placed upon his performances and his music, the analysis of his lyrics and thoughts, the commercial requirements, legal requirements, managerial requirements: it meant music was no longer an escape, hence the evidence seems to show he virtually ceased to write music, perform music, interview, record music for the remainder of his life.

His attempt at ‘change’ was an interesting one: he essentially reverted to the only other happy life he had ever known – the family that had existed until 1976 (Montage of Heck, the film, portrayed this sense of the mirror image very effectively). It’s 1992, he gets his girlfriend pregnant and instead of insisting on abortion he decides he wants a child and, more so, he wants to get married to create the stability he had never experienced – it’s a strangely conservative move for the world’s foremost punk icon of the era. It creates a retreat for him: a cocoon which his managers, fans, band need have nothing to do with – where he can escape them all. It’s essentially what he does: buries himself in a series of hotel rooms and temporary residences right the way from the end of the Asia/Pacific tour until January 1994 when he moves into his lakeside mansion in one of Seattle’s exclusive areas; hides away with his new family (and his drugs) as long as he can. It’s an attempt to escape, to change the destination his life has reached, to escape the nagging feeling that his genetic inheritance and his owninging condemned him to re-live all that was worst.

It fails. Ultimately he has to return to performance, he’s too polite to turn down a lot of the demands on him (though he might rage in private or engage in mild protest, for example, by never playing Smells Like Teen Spirit for MTV, only turning up to 18 days in studio after the recording of Nevermind, refusing most interviews), he ends up with almost everyone who loves him explaining to him the consequences of his continued drug use…And with his music and his family both no longer providing him a retreat he has a significant spiritual crisis to confront: if the only lives he’s ever known, family and music, are at risk, then can he imagine or foresee a life after them? The answer is no.

So, on the one hand, it’s clear he does make a quite significant attempt at change right there in 1992. But then again, the question really seems to be asking whether there wasn’t a more positive way out – could he stop drugs? Couldn’t he leave music behind (if necessary) or change his engagement with the music industry to suit himself better? Wasn’t there any chance of a continued existence with Nirvana or without it? Couldn’t he envisage life as a divorced father or, at least, a lengthy period of mending the familial bond (not being doped off his head likely helping with that)? My answer at the time came down to the futures I could imagine for him: Cobain was an incredible magpie for the sounds of the underground (think of it: an album at Easter 1986, near entirely new album by Jan 1988, an entirely new album by Jan 1989, a new album by April 1990, a different album by May 1991 with the band saying in interview after interview that they had their next album ready to go and that it’d be out in the summer of 1992 – so fast!) but there’s not much evidence that he could take on the freewheeling Thurston Moore/Sonic Youth cavalcade vibe with diversions into electronica, art/music, free jazz, improvisation – that path would have required something more expansive.

The singer-songwriter, Johnny Cash-vibe doesn’t seem to beckon: people forget MTV Unplugged in New York was a corporately imposed format, that ‘Do Re Mi’ was acoustic because it was a demo not because he definitely intended it to be an acoustic song, that he only placed three fully acoustic songs on any of his albums, that his music had been getting wilder and more aggressive in 1992-1993 (remove the older songs written pre-Nevermind and placed on In Utero and what’s left is a lot of aggro and gloriously punky noise) with the last new songs he played with Nirvana being the raucous ‘You Know You’re Right’ and the small shred played live in November/December 1993 then demo’ed briefly in studio in January 1994. But he was verbally dissatisfied with the repetitiveness of playing loud-quiet, verse-chorus-verse material too: so a more likely path is a dive back into the underground – it was suggested to me that Cobain could very readily have slotted into the noise provocations of Earth, perhaps his continued relationship with Melvins might have inspired him to follow their more aggressively independent path. Essentially if he chose to keep repeating the formula that made him mainstream worthy then he’d have sunk, same as the other alt rock gods of the era (Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam) did when tastes moved on in the mid-to-late Nineties: popular taste waits for no man and few artists get a top flight career for more than a few years.

My favourite vision of him, however, was suggested to me when I thought of another character Cobain is often compared to – Axl Rose. Beyond the mutual abhorrence, the clear differences in style, ego, impetus – Rose achieved what Cobain had wanted: an apparently utter independence from any fresh label demands or requirements. The fading of hard rock hadn’t decapitated Guns ‘n’ Roses, they remained ‘the other’ biggest rock band of the years 1991-1994. I have no desire to see an aged Cobain taking to the reunion circuit looking flabby, plastic, weary and leading audiences in karaoke run-throughs of Nirvana songs: my fondest outcome would be a clean Cobain, retreating entirely into private recording, maybe the odd show here or there, the odd guest appearance with friends, but otherwise devoted to recording the album the world is waiting for…And then never releasing it. Just letting the expectation, the imagining, the myth run wild – while remaining utterly immune to it. It’s pretty much what happened with his death – it’d be lovely if it had been his life too.

So, could Cobain change? The additional thought that came to me was how much change Cobain had already experienced in his life: a vast number of addresses, homes, temporary homelessness and so forth during his young life – he rolled with it. The daily change that comes with touring as one rolls in and out of vans, floor-space or other inadequate sleeping arrangements, on and off stages, round towns and down roads. The changing array of personnel lined up behind his musician vision. The move from demo, to studio, to single, to album, to full label artist, to new label…It seems churlish of me to have forgotten how much change Cobain had endured in a very young life. In many ways he had changed more than most people do by age 27: most people have rolled with the expectations placed on them – from school, to university, to work, to relationship being just one path. People value positive change: quitting smoking, taking up exercise, moving home, moving job – Cobain is maybe not being credited for the amount of change he did endure though it’s very true he remained a man with a particular vision and particular desires until the end.