Archive for the ‘Incesticide’ Category

A month or so back Brett R. raised a point of which I confess I’d been utterly unaware; that the same year that Nirvana released Incesticide, JG Thirwell (A.K.A. Foetus) had curated a compilation called Mesomorph Enduros and contributed a song called…Incesticide.

Naturally, having written a book wrapped around the Incesticide album it was a jolt, in the most pleasant sense, to receive a question I hadn’t even known existed; did Kurt Cobain invent the title of Incesticide or was it a phrase fortuitously delivered into his hands? It’s a tricky question to find certainty on given Mr. Cobain’s absence, so I thought I’d take the direct path and simply try and ask Mr. Thirwell his thoughts. He very kindly responded:

JG Thirwell_7 Feb 2013_Incesticide

Sure you can read it but the core piece reads “I already had the title Incesticide before the Nirvana album came out — I just thought it up, but I think it isn’t so strange that two people would think of that play on the word. I didn’t assume that he stole it from me, I just thought it was a coincidence (despite the fact that our mutual pals the Melvins and Jesus Lizard are on the Mesomorph Enduros compilation, which I curated.) I don’t remember what month that album came out.” To summarise further therefore, yes, JG Thirwell had the word already…But though an intriguing coincidence there’s still no clue whether Kurt Cobain, or someone associated with the Nirvana release, appropriated the title or not.
Let’s make the case for it being Kurt Cobain’s own invention then argue the counter-factual. Firstly, the title is a very Cobainesque phrase, whimsical word play was a fairly regular amusement for the man concerned, check his Journals (i.e., “Billbored…Bowling Stoned…”) for other examples. Similarly hygiene/disinfectant imagery wasn’t uncommon (Bleach, Incesticide/Insecticide, “kept his body clean”, Stain, Beeswax) while the dysfunctional family vibe had a recurrent presence. On top of that, the title fitted perfectly as the title of Nirvana’s family of orphaned songs and as his sarcastic Christmas gift to the masses (See https://nirvana-legacy.com/2012/11/13/incesticide-kurt-cobain-gives-a-christmas-present/.) All these points support JG Thirwell’s surmising that it’s just one of life’s coincidences.

On the other hand, it’s an unusual coincidence, a very specific one too — two releases both given an obscure pun on Insecticide in the same six month period. JG Thirwell’s song was certainly out prior to the Nirvana release as he states clearly. Similarly, the fact that both Melvins and The Jesus Lizard were involved, at precisely the time that Nirvana were conversing with The Jesus Lizard about doing a split single, has a nagging quality yet, again, it doesn’t come with anything approaching proof of a connection. In some ways I’m pleased if Kurt Cobain did actively think “yes! That title is what I need here,” rather than just splurging something down onto paper on a whim one evening in a hotel suite. It would indicate a moment of inspiration, a word he deemed perfect and appealing for what he had in mind.

What makes it all most tricky is that Mesomorph Enduros was a U.K. release at the time — despite Nirvana’s brief visitation to the U.K. in August there’s no indication if record shopping played much part in the trip, there’s no indication at all Kurt had a copy. Similarly, tightening the noose, the compilation was dedicated in memory of Charlie Ondras, founder of and drummer with the band Unsane, who died on June 22, 1992 of a heroin overdose meaning the compilation couldn’t have been released until July/August at the earliest. Nirvana meanwhile sent out the initial press copies of Incesticide around November 11, 1992 (according to Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna’s rather excellent Kurt Cobain: The Nirvana Years) but there’s no indication if the release was still under its working titles (Filler, Throwaways.)
Plus, I get stuck on the point about open theft. Melody Maker’s report dated August 15, 1992 is readily available explaining Killing Joke had just decided to sue Nirvana for, allegedly, stealing part of their song Eighties for Come as you Are. Borrowing a name isn’t in the same category but I could still probably accept a subconscious theft more than a deliberate one; unless there was an element of tribute about it, a tipping of the hat in the same way as “daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more” is so blatant it seems more a cheeky wink than a steal from Mudhoney.

So, yes, I’ll stop speculating. Where we remain is that though Nirvana were looking up songs for what became Incesticide from summer 1992, there’s no way of knowing when they chose the title unless Dave or Krist are forthcoming on the subject. Similarly, there’s no way of seeing what made that title the final selection, or when. Isn’t it nice not have the world locked down and filed away neatly…?

Kurt Cobain's Homes_1967-1994

A pause to give credit where it’s due, http://www.shapedbox.blogspot.co.uk featured an excellent range of photos of the houses and I have used a number of them for the collage above. Credit for the Pear Street photo must go to Diamond Brooke and her Flickr feed – again, worth a look for Nirvana fans.

Over the past two days we’ve been dividing Kurt Cobain’s life down into time spent in specific ‘homes’. Naturally I accept that a lot of what I do on this site is simply aggregate existing data but I’m often stunned by the picture that results simply by loading data into a single view.

My reasons for compiling the data, initially, was that I wanted to attempt (as best as possible) to correlate Kurt Cobain’s song-writing to where he was while writing. In the kind of coincidence to gladden the heart of any data chimp (a friend once bought me a t-shirt reading “I love data” repeated over and over — thanks Shane!) the picture that emerges is remarkably clear.

To the best of my ability, in the Over the Edge chapter of Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide, I’ve tried to pin down, to periods of six months, roughly when Kurt Cobain wrote various songs. The approximate result is as follows:

Songs by Half Year

I’ve not included the Fecal Matter songs (e.g., Spank Thru or Downer), nor have I included Kurt Cobain’s solo experiments (i.e., Montage of Heck) simply because it’s hard to pin down when they were made with any degree of guesswork. The only changes I’ve made since the book are to include Opinion in 1H 1990 and shift Tourette’s to 2H 1989. When compared to Kurt Cobain’s living arrangements, however the results are emphatic:

Songs by Home_Figure

While money may still have been hard to come by during the years Kurt Cobain spent in Olympia, it truly was his artistic home. Given how long he spent in that location it’s no surprise that he wrote more songs there but the sheer quantity is overwhelming:

Songs by Home_%

Dividing the figures by time spent in the location doesn’t alter that picture of dominance:

Songs by Home_Per Month

While making clear that Kurt Cobain’s peak occurred in Olympia, there is some fudging involved that I can only acknowledge but do not have sufficient information to fix. If I could untangle Kurt Cobain’s living arrangements from January 1992 until January 1994, it wouldn’t erase the overall picture but it would make clearer whether, for example, the Carnation house permitted a real focus on writing or whether most of the work was done while running around hotels and temporary accommodation with Courtney. Similarly, the two songs written in the second half of 1992, I’ve noted as Curmudgeon and Talk to Me (based on live data) but Curmudgeon at least might more properly belong earlier in 1991, I can’t prove it. The dominance of the Olympia spell may be even more pronounced given Kurt moved there in April 1987 so my estimates, based on six month periods, don’t correspond perfectly — 114 ½ Pear Street may filch a song or two from the previous eight months spent in the Melvins’ practice space and at 1000 ½ E. Second Street.

The first spell of relative stability Kurt Cobain had enjoyed since he was a child seemed to allow him the space and time to write and create. Tracy’s willingness to support him also meant he didn’t have to divide his time quite so much between work and music — though she, very reasonably, came to resent him sponging off her it did have a beneficial effect on his core pursuit. Similarly it can’t be underestimated that Krist Novoselic provided Kurt a steady and dependable musical collaborator reducing the impact of changing drummers so often and ensuring ideas could be turned into full work relatively swiftly. Kurt was surrounded by beneficial circumstances thanks in large part to the individuals he could now rely on.

My ultimate thought on the ‘meaning’ of all this information is that the place of greatest veneration for any Nirvana fan shouldn’t be the house at 171 Lake Washington Boulevard East. The place where the majority of Nirvana’s music was created, where Kurt Cobain truly lived as a creative soul, was at the unassuming and unglamorous property at 114 ½ Pear Street, Olympia between April 1987 and July 1991. To my mind, celebrating the place that gave the safe cocoon needed to build something is of far more importance and significance than the barely lived in site where he chose to tear everything down.

Yesterday we examined the record of Kurt Cobain’s childhood wanderings, how he was shunted from home to home throughout his teens. Finally relative stability arrived in the form of his first long-term relationship with Tracy Marander and a resulting departure from Aberdeen. That single residence on Pear Street in Olympia ended up being his home for just over four years, the longest he’d been in one place since he was nine years old though the couple did change flats within that building and Tracy did move out to be replaced as flatmate by Dave Grohl.

Returning home in the aftermath of the recording of Nevermind, the move to a major label, standing on the cusp of his true fame Kurt managed to get himself thrown out for not paying the rent. That was the end of the stable spell of life. It’s genuinely fascinating realising that the rock star who ruled planet Earth for that spell in the early nineties didn’t have a home from July 1991 until January 1992; imagine it, the biggest rock star on the planet as living in his car.

Even after that, there was still nothing close to a home. Kurt Cobain — now with wife in tow — bounced between rented apartments, tour hotels and hotels in LA and Seattle right through until spring of 1993. Even with all the money now floating around him, it doesn’t cease being the case that he was essentially homeless. At least this time there were comprehensible reasons, the Cobains were trying to purchase a home but there was little time in between tours, festivals, recording, battles with the authorities over custody of their child and major drug problems. In the chart below I haven’t calculated the spells spent in a number of rehab facilities:

KC_Homes_1987-1994

It’s curious, having arbitrarily made the start of Nirvana and of Kurt’s relationship with Tracy the dividing line between his youth and adulthood, that the pattern is much the same as his childhood with the stable period being superseded by yet another spell, this time of three years from age twenty four until his death, during which he lived in six definite locations and a slew of temporary accommodation.

One link (www.city-data.com/king-county/N/NE-78th-Street-1.html) has conveniently placed the sales record and other details of the Carnation home online:

Carnation

It’s an intriguing property because, despite the understandable attention paid to the site of Kurt Cobain’s death, it was the Carnation property that was the first home he owned and that was retained throughout the maelstrom of mid-1992 through 1993. It’s also mysterious because it’s impossible to tell how much time Kurt Cobain actually spent living at the house or why it seemed to be less than wholly beloved. For whatever reason retreating to a country village, one with a population of just 1,243 in the 1990 census, where Wikipedia lists the local activities available as “Harvold Berry Farm where you can pick your own berries in the summer”, doesn’t seem to have worked regardless of whether the idea was to evade drugs or intrusion in general. There is a rumour Kurt returned to the home sometime in early April having fled rehab.

Working out the estimated dates of accommodation also throw Cobain’s relationship with his place of death into the spotlight. The Cobains moved into the Lake Washington house in January 1994. Nirvana toured until January 8. Kurt joined the band for their final studio session on Jan 30 then they left on tour two days later. He was in Europe until March 12 when he was definitely home given the Police were called to a domestic incident that night and again on March 18. He headed into rehab on March 30 returned home around April 3. At most Kurt Cobain lived in that house for three weeks in January, then just over two weeks in March.

Observing his entire life, ranking locations, what emerges is as follows:

KC_Top Living Locations_1967-1994

Of the 25 ‘phases’ identified, only five added up to more than a single year. Worse, of the years spent in solid locations, 13 ½ of those years took place from the age of less than one to only just fifteen years old. The remaining half of Kurt Cobain’s life, his entire rise to young adulthood, involved only the briefest of respites in which he had something that could be called a home.

Twenty five years ago today, Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dale Crover entered the studio with Jack Endino and recorded five of the songs that would end up on Incesticide.

Back last year I asked Jack Endino if, when listening to the songs he worked on that made it onto Incesticide, whether there were any moments that gave him a particular pride and he replied: “No. None of them were recorded or mixed with any time spent (due to budget), plus I had only been working as a recording engineer for three years at that point. The songs with Dale drumming were all mixed in a total of two hours… ten songs on the original 1/23/88 demo, do the math. It would have been nice to remix them with some care taken.” It’s interesting to me that I’ve listened to these songs for some eighteen years now and never had any complaint regarding the sound quality or its features, yet, to the ear of a trained recording engineer, it felt less satisfactory – maybe sometimes less sonic knowledge is aural bliss.

The stories regarding this first studio session are well known; Nirvana recorded at speed, just six hours or so of work, instrumental versions done first, then Kurt’s vocals, mixing done within two hours, out the door. The session was paid for from Kurt’s wages as a janitor hence the fade-ending to the song Pen Cap Chew because “the multitrack master tape ran out just at the start of the second chorus, and the band didn’t want to buy another reel, so more correctly the song is “permanently incomplete”, not “unfinished”. You can’t finish it when a third of the song is missing. I did the fade ending for the hell of it, just so they could listen to what was there less jarringly.” That same night the band played all the songs from the studio session in the precise same order with two more songs tacked on the end.

This is what intrigues me, the guesses that can be made based on the band’s behaviour. LiveNirvana contains a ‘set-list’ for one practice session prior to the January 23, 1988 studio visit and suggests there were two more preparatory sessions. The band knew before they arrived in studio that they needed to move quick; the banged through the instrumentals then Kurt did his vocals one after the other in just one take; that evening, having driven umpteen miles to a performance, they then ran through all the songs in precisely the same order. It suggests to me that between the January 3 practice and the January 23 session, the band actually planned out a clear order of what they were going to play and practiced it ensuring they could act smoothly in studio and explaining why they duplicated the studio running order that evening. The extrapolation that can be made from this is that one of the preceding practice sessions, if a recording ever turns up, should have the same (or a close) order. As a touch of support to this, in March when Dave Foster joins the band, the set list has curious similarities:

Set Lists Jan-Mar 1988

The top line is the January 23, 1988 performance – the bottom line and a bit is March 19, 1988. Note immediately that despite a change of drummer and a gap of three months the only changes to the opening five songs are Love Buzz has supplanted If You Must as the opener and Papercuts and Spank Thru swap fourth and fifth place. The next disconnect is interesting too; the next song in March was Hairspray Queen. On January 23, though the next full song played was Aero Zeppelin, in fact Nirvana attempted Hairspray Queen and stopped due to a broken string – if not for that accident of fate, the same song would have been in sixth place both nights. The next point of comparison is to look at Beeswax, Mexican Seafood, Aero Zeppelin and Pen Cap Chew as a unit – in January the broken string meant the band shunted that unit up by one song, in March they play those same four songs together, with Hairspray Queen back in place, with If You Must dropped in beforehand having been shoved out of its starting position. The only other change is that Beeswax and Aero Zeppelin have swapped positions. Now the band bring in the new songs; Big Cheese replaces Annorexorcist, Blew is squeezed into the longer set…But the ending is still pre-determined; Erectum is the big set closer with whatever jams and covers the band feel like shoved on the end (the band play Bad Moon Rising at the end in March.)

From the coincidences surrounding January 23, 1988 it’s therefore possible to extrapolate the decisions taken by the band before that date; to suggest a likely set-list for at least one practice prior to the session; to suggest that Kurt and Krist taught Dave Foster this specific set-list in practice after that date; and to suggest a likely set-list for the only other show the band played between January 23 and March 19.

As my tribute to Nirvana’s first studio session I thought I’d simply show how an event taking place so long ago could still inspire thought and consideration today. Happy twenty-fifth!

It’ll be no surprise to learn that a lot of Incesticide’s early material suffers from the limitations of our vision at twenty years distance. Yet, what is noticeable is more the centrality of some songs to Nirvana’s live identity in the early days. Mexican Seafood is remarkable, it’s present in every fully known set-list from March 1987 when the band first perform, until February 1989 just days before the band departs for their first gigs in California. Hairspray Queen and Aero Zeppelin have a similar dependability which elevates these three songs above the rarities described in Part One of this piece, as well as above a number of the dashed off last-minute additions to Bleach. It certainly looks like these three songs were held in higher affection than the barely performed Scoff or Swap Meet.

As an aside on those two songs, it’s fascinating how deep Nirvana’s collective memory was; they seem never to banish a song from mind; Scoff and Swap Meet are reprised in September 1991 and June 1992 respectively as cases in point. It’s a fascinating working practice specifically related to the way they play their live performances; songs are stashed away, like Vendetagainst, then after a year, two years, out of favour, they’re given an airing. It suggests that, at least from 1987-1992, there was substantial practice going on behind the scene to keep a solid grip on the lesser songs. On the one hand, it gives credibility to the rumours about songs like Clean Up Before She Comes, Opinion and Talk to Me springing to life in the Cobain basement in 1994 — no song seems to have been forgotten if there was any use that could be made of it. On the other hand, it makes one wonder why Mrs. Butterworth, utterly unseen, invisible, unknown (and actually unnamed) until the With the Lights Out box-set was erased so thoroughly alongside, according to Gillian G. Gaar, two other 1987 compositions. The song stands alongside Big Long Now as a genuine ghost in the catalogue; a song with a murky past, a gossamer thin presence, and no future.

Similarly, Beeswax looks ever more like a lucky addition to the January 23, 1988 session and doubly-lucky to still merit a place on Incesticide. The song receives just two work-outs in 1988 with only one intervening show at which its presence is therefore likely. This is a no more impressive record than Annorexorcist or Rauchola, Downer, If You Must and Pen Cap Chew are all given more visible shots as part of the Nirvana live experience.

While all of Nevermind gets its day on stage, the higher percentage of available set-lists makes the rapid fall off in appearances from certain songs at least noteworthy. Lounge Act is the very last of the Nevermind tracks to make it on stage and the quickest to depart; after that one show in Ireland it crops up just once more that year, returning only in 1992 to make inconsistent appearances in sets throughout the year.

When it comes to In Utero, the drawn out nature of the album’s creation is the greatest point of note. The first appearances of Milk It in January, plus Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol’s only known appearance, is slightly misleading given it was only a soundcheck appearance, it’s April before the band really give it a full live shot. There’s still an ‘outlier’, however, on the album just as Scoff and Swap Meet were on Bleach, just as Lounge Act was on Nevermind. Very Ape doesn’t make an appearance until late July, it serves a purpose on the album but fades from the live set only to be brought back in to pep things up for 1994. It’s curious that the song should follow the exact same trajectory as Lounge Act, again, it’s a positive feature that even on the In Utero tour there was some apparent desire to add at least some freshness to playing, the reappearance of Sappy after a long absence also bearing this out.

There is a persistent tendency to trial songs live, for a month, two months, at a time then move on. Thus tracks like Curmudgeon, Sappy, Talk to Me, Oh The Guilt, Verse Chorus Verse receive brief flurries of activity then either vanish permanently, or vanish until the next time the band are considering the need for songs for future releases. This fits with Kurt Cobain’s method of writing; most lyrics seem to be written in a flurry of inspiration, tweaked for a short period, then concluded – potentially with later rewriting before a recording session. He never seems to have mused on a song for lengthy periods (six months, a year…) even if a song remained unused for that long. Thus the appearances and disappearances mark renewed enthusiasm, keeping a song in mind, then putting it away again. He doesn’t seem to have ever wholly forgotten many songs though, especially after 1989.

On the other hand, in the late spell, the enthusiasm for working songs over seems to vanish. As someone commented the other week, there’s a rumour that I Hate Myself and I Want to Die, but no definitive confirmed sighting in 1993-94. You Know You’re Right appears once in full form (plus its main riff appears in an on stage noise jam), M.V. doesn’t appear at all, Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol makes it into a soundcheck apparently but that’s it. These songs were functional items fulfilling a need for extra material to be used wherever. Their absence from setlists simply confirms there B-Side status.

There were clear gaps in the live record, songs that showed up far later than seems realistic or that simply don’t show up at all. This post is just a brief look at those two circumstances.

The early days of the band were deservedly the core of Gillian G. Gaar’s latest book Entertain Us. Beyond the reprised tale of rags to riches, the early days retain a mystery. The band’s rising status and ‘most likely crossover success’ status in 1990 owed a lot to Sub Pop’s success at shoving a low-selling strictly local scene onto a global stage — in 1987-1988 this was just one band in a field of thousands. The live stats support this with just 7 of 30 set-lists known:

Set Lists 1987-1994

Understandably this leads to a raft of suggestive stats. As a first example, the fact that Annorexorcist appears in the set-list in mid-1987 and then again six months later in January 1988 suggests it likely featured at two further intervening shows. Likewise, given it was a leftover from Fecal Matter, there’s a possibility it may have appeared at the two shows prior to its May 1987 appearances. Raunchola (A.K.A. Erectum) flops into the territory of God knows — a first appearance in January 1988, a last appearance in March with just one intermediate show, yet then a space of sixteen performances until the next fully revealed set. There’s simply no way of knowing when either song died out. There is, however, good reason to believe there was more live life to them than there strictly limited edition status. Pen Cap Chew and If You Must also have a chequered history; they appear at the start of 1987, are excluded from the May gig (though Pen Cap Chew did make the KAOS Radio performance), then reappear in January-March 1988. In conversation with Jack Endino early in 2012 he stated, with regard to If You Must “…at the time we recorded it (Jan 88), they were opening their set with it. Much later he decided he didn’t like it, who knows why.” There’s a good chance that he’s correct and that both songs featured in the final two gigs of 1987 but then hard to discern if the January 23, 1988 appearance was their final showing or if they made some brief resurrection later in the year.

We’re looking at the gap between reality and posthumous truth. Vendetagainst (A.K.A. Help Me, I’m Hungry) exists for a brief appearance in 1987…Then a gap of 83 shows and 29 months until it pops up twice; November 5 and 8 with a gap of one show. Blandest, only ever seen on June 11, 1988 in studio, likewise appears for two shows in July. Blandest may have been present at the eight ‘ghost’ shows between March and that date, or the show a week later in Ellensburg. It’s also hard to believe that the song wasn’t featured at all earlier.

On a related note, it isn’t a surprise Chad Channing knowing Blandest, but it’s unusual that he would be aware of Vendetagainst, a song recorded a full year before his arrival in the band. I’m speculating but, in the month pause between their show in August 1989 and the commencement of touring in late September, the band seems to have decided to take stock of the songs they had left in reserve and trained up on them. During this phase the band are varying elements of their set almost nightly, it’s as if they’re keeping material alive with new releases in mind. The set is knee-deep in, as yet, unreleased songs; Token Eastern Song, Dive, Polly, Even in His Youth, Breed, Vendetagainst, Sappy, even a jam on Hairspray Queen. Nirvana were a very smart unit, already one eye to the future and a range of possibilities.

While unsurprising that the rarities are conspicuous by their relative absence from the live record, it’s fun to consider the fate of a certain portion of Bleach. Essentially the gaps in the known set-lists cast a veil over the likely presence of some songs. Blew, Mr. Moustache and Sifting were all given a first airing in June 1988 in studio, but eight set-lists are unknown meaning it’s October 30, 1988 before the songs are first seen. Likewise, it’s unlikely that Negative Creep and Scoff were first performed when they’re first ‘visible’ to us twenty years later, in April and May 1989 respectively given they were definitely finalised and recorded by the start of the year and there are ten shows leading up to the known displays.

The most remarkable disappearances from the Bleach sessions are Big Long Now (I dissect it’s likely performance in the Songs The Lord Taught Us chapter of the Dark Slivers book) and the way Swap Meet doesn’t appear at all until November 1990 — that gap for the latter just doesn’t ring true. A further curious feature is that, with the exception of Blew, the ‘late arrivals’ from Bleach into the Nirvana live record are all clustered toward the back-end of the album. Apparently Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman were involved in deciding how to sequence Bleach and it’s quite intriguing that those songs that were rushed into place to fill out the album, that weren’t ready for live performance until late 1988 or even later in 1989, were all shoved to the rear. The first side of Bleach places some of the band’s earlier recorded works (Floyd the Barber, Love Buzz, Paper Cuts) to the front of the album so it seems Sub Pop were aware at the time that certain songs were rush-jobs.

Tail end of last year we started looking at a chart showing the first appearances of Nirvana songs in concert as detailed at the Nirvana Live Guide — shall we continue?

New Originals_1987-1988

Naturally it’s worth disregarding the tranche of new songs in March — anything they played was by definition a new performance given it was Nirvana’s first show. What’s most noticeable really is how many of the songs emerging in 1987 and the first month of 1988 were simply discarded; Hairspray Queen, Aero Zeppelin (these two until 1992), Beeswax (until 1991), Downer, If You Must, Pen Cap Chew, Annorexorcist, Vendetagainst, Erectum/Raunchola — most of an album is thrown away by the end of January 1988. The speed with which new songs were appearing would be impressive were it not for the fact that the band wasn’t exactly overworked at the time so there was plenty of time to come up with new songs. The issue was perhaps one related to the nature of the songs being created — Nirvana’s 1987 identity lay in relatively complex new wave songs, with extremely long-winded lyrics, hardly conducive to fast preparation. To be fair, Kurt Cobain was honest in saying that he was hardly a constant or prolific writer, he relied on catching the moments of inspiration and getting them noted down, recorded, before they burnt out. 1987 still relied on three year old songs refreshed and reprised from their Fecal Matter form to flesh out the setlist. On the other hand, wow, almost every month Nirvana perform (and for which a set-list is available) there’s a new song featured. The band were moving at speed.

Of course, particularly in the early years, we’re looking at a record with gaps — a particularly low percentage of set-lists from 1987-1988 are present, even in 1989 only just over 50%. Given Mr. Moustache and Sifting were present in vestigial form back at the June 1988 recording sessions for the first Sub Pop single, it’s likely they made it onstage for the first time during the seven-eight shows seen between that recording session and the next full set-list on October 30. Likewise it seems unlikely that the apparent appearance of Blandest in July 1989 was the first or only time the song received an airing before its abandonment:

New Originals_1989

What’s also interesting is the ‘late’ arrival of a handful of the tracks from Bleach. A good portion of Bleach was written long before the album session, however, there was significant rewriting of Blew, Sifting and Mr. Moustache after their first appearance and as late as mid-December (evidenced by the footage captured on the With the Lights Out DVD.) Meanwhile, the fact Negative Creep and Scoff don’t make any showing of any sort until April-May 1989, though partially a consequence of the long gap in the record, also suggests that those two songs specifically were last minute hurried additions to Bleach; the brevity of their lyrics likewise.

The nearly uniform month by month drip of new songs is quite remarkable in 1989, December is the first month in which the band play that year (even if only a smattering of shows) in which they don’t chuck either a fresh original, or a rarity into the mix. It says a lot about their desire to keep the experience of playing entertaining that they vary their shows so much. It made sense in 1987 through early 1989 when the band were repeatedly replaying Washington State venues (take a look back at the maps on this blog) — they’d be seeing the same audiences quite regularly — yet, from mid-1989 they were setting off on their travels, the audiences were brand new to Nirvana’s performances, the knowledge and trade of Nirvana rarities was minimal, the only people who would know it was a new song, or an abandoned track, were the band. I feel that it was for the band’s own pleasure that they made these efforts to vary their performances.

Nirvana-Incesticide-258802

Kurt Cobain was so interested in the Incesticide project that he personally created the art work for the front cover, selected the image for the back cover, wrote the liner notes and, as I argue in chapter four of Dark Slivers, gave detailed personal attention to the song selection and order. Each element of the record benefitted from his attention, he didn’t compromise on any aspect of the release and it remains as one of only four major releases to have his intense focus.

I argued the other week on this blog (Incesticide: Kurt Cobain Gives a Christmas Present & Celebrating Incesticide at 20 Years Distance) that the album represented Kurt kicking back against fame, against Nevermind – that it was this release NOT In Utero that formed the reaction to unwanted superstardom. I also explained that the release was a reaction against cosy family vibes and the demand that he release ‘Christmas product’. Faux-offensiveness is often cynically used to promote bands; Incesticide was the real deal on every level.

But it was also a release of sheer quality; there are no untidy, untrimmed demo versions of existing songs, no dulled live recordings, nothing that sounds obviously unfinished. This was the CD era, the band had enough material for a full 70 minute release cramming on anything and everything. Instead they stuck to their usual 40-45minutes of actual music, vinyl-length in other words.

(New Wave) Polly stands out – the only alternative version of an album song on the compilation. Why? Well, again I talk about this more in the book, but the release is riddled with games in terms of creating parallels. Incesticide was about reacting to Nevermind therefore what could be more appropriate by taking one of Nevermind’s softest tracks, finding a far more roughed up version of it, then placing that same song in the same position at end of Side A?

Without the clear, rigid deadline of Incesticide’s anniversary I’d never have got all this finished. Also, with the book finished (logistically speaking), finally I should be able to get back to building up more material for the blog. For the time being though, there are now 70 articles on here, around 50,000 words, to go on top of the 72,000 words in the book Dark Slivers. So! I hope you Nirvana fans are enjoying having a full book worth of content free – all yours! Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Incesticide!

There’s a late 1993 interview on YouTube in which Kurt Cobain, when asked about the meaning in his lyrics, straight up denies his lyrics have any meaning raising his hand in the air and declaring “swear to God brother…”

If he means, “I don’t intentionally write meaningful stuff” he would still be playing loose with the truth; he admits over and again to songs having a story line or an autobiographical element, he just refuses to do so in a uniform way or without disclaimers. If he means “my songs have no meaning” then he’d be either (take your pick) wrong, lying or willfully self-deceptive. It’s a well known fact that, at least after his early writing visible on Incesticide, Kurt often mashed lyrics together at short notice. Again, however, that wasn’t a uniform writing pattern. There’s no evidence of how long the songs written in late 1990-early 1991 took to write but they were written at home, in private, not in the run up to album recordings or on the spot at rehearsals.

Also, the key point is that ‘meaning’ isn’t automatically entangled in authorial intent. If an artist writes a song and deliberately makes it about a specific topic (i.e., Sweet Child of Mine was written, deliberately, as a wistful love song hence the focus of all the lyrics) then fine, its about that topic but it doesn’t mean that the images used aren’t tied to other ideas in an artist’s work. The other way to void meaning would be to do a William S. Burroughs style cut-up in which all lyrics are found and thrown together from other sources – the author doesn’t write any of them. But even Burroughs arranged those cut ups into narratives and stories that he did, deliberately, construct. Therefore authorial meaning was returned to words that didn’t originally have any.

In the case of Kurt Cobain, the fact that he wrote fast, that he wrote things on the spot, actually brings us closer to interior meaning. Why? Because all the words and images poured onto pages came from his internal world without being warped or corrupted by deliberate intention – these words and images were what spilt out of him.

This is why, when studying Kurt Cobain’s life and works, the same themes occur again and again whether in lyrics, in diary entries, in his suicide note, in the authors he payed homage to or in his art work. He didn’t deliberately set out to write more songs about rape than about heterosexual sex – but that’s what came out when he sat down. He didn’t mean to write numerous songs in which the character is restrained, bound, under control – but that’s what came out.

A good comparison would be to query the meaning of a quality film. The Godfather is a film about the Mafia. Well, yes! True! …But it’s also a film about the bonds of family, about inheritance, the corrupting of good intentions…And on top of that it’s a film displaying Hollywood’s love affair with glamorous violence and crime, its relationships with organised crime (the tale is that the word Mafia is never used because the makers were pressured by associates of local crime families) and also the influence on screen portrayals of crime can have on individuals who have modelled themselves on it since then. Kurt Cobain’s lyrics aren’t Transformers; all surface explosions and no depth. Kurt Cobain’s lyrics bear comparison to detailed cinematic work.

The quest for meaning has given too much credibility to his own statements regarding his ‘meaninglessness’ while simultaneously every Nirvana fan looks at In Utero and can add up countless personal references and links to other songs in the Nirvana catalogue. Its part of the reason I adore Kurt Cobain so much; I think he’s, inadvertently, one of the most psychologically honest artists ever to breach the mainstream world and the linkages and connections between songs written across his entire career are quite stunning to behold.

Brett (Beautiful Day) commented that Flowers of Romance would have been another good choice to include on the cover shot for the Dark Slivers book – Dan808 replied too pointing out how curious it was that “Cobain picked that as one of his favourite albums rather than PiL’s Metal Box or PiL’s debut.” I can see a connection to a topic I briefly comment on in relation to the song Beans in the Post Mersh chapter of the book.

This is a argumentative theory, not a fact. But Kurt Cobain wanted to include Beans on Bleach – it would have been there if not for others intervening. While reciting the reason for the exclusion, there’s not been much desire to ask ‘why would Kurt Cobain want to include this song?’ I think it’s similar to Axl Rose’s decision to wedge a similar scrap of dubious quality at the end of Use Your Illusion II, My World. In each case, sticking a solo track at the end of your band’s album is a declaration of ownership and authority over the album and therefore the band – everyone else is submerged in the group identity, you aren’t, you’re allowed to show your experiments and stand out as an individual. Flowers of Romance was a difficult album for PiL, until that point the music had been essentially the creation of Keith Levine and Jah Wobble with John Lydon confined to lyrics. On this album, Wobble had left, Levine contributed but was a heroin-induced wreck, so Lydon dominated the music too. To mark it even more thoroughly as HIS property he gave it a title that tied it to a very early Sex Pistols song (a jam track they used to use in various forms to open shows). So, if looked at as the singer’s declaration of independence and dominance, rather than simply as a musical composition, Flowers of Romance seems to be an album that would resonate with Mr. Cobain.

As an aside, the timing of that list of favourite albums is interesting. The final album on it is PJ Harvey’s Dry, released in June 1992. So, the famous list of fifty albums was created either in late 1992 or sometime in 1993. Given Kurt was very much off doing his own thing and divorcing himself from the band (see the piece from earlier this week on trends in press coverage) its a neat coincidence with the concept above – but I do think a coincidence. It’s also a nice coincidence with the whole issue of the bathtub filling with sewage and wrecking his stuff.

Also, I’m interested in the unknowing, the things that can never be truly known. What we do with them is we stitch a narrative over the top of the gap to connect known events and thus cover the absence in between.  I’ve talked a lot on this blog (see Killing Nirvana Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 plus Trending Kurt Cobain’s Creativity) about the nosedive in Nirvana’s activity post-fame. The incident that I took as the inspiration for the cover is of deep significance to that theme.

Kurt Cobain stated that he lost a number of notebooks with all their lyrical ideas. There’s little further comment on the incident in the nearly two years left to run so its impossible to tell how much was lost, how many potential lines or new song ideas went missing in that event. It creates an absence; Kurt Cobain never publically assesses the damage caused or the quantity of work he couldn’t recover. We therefore can’t see whether Kurt wrote more than he appears to have done in the first half of 1992. Its still unlikely there was much (given overall trends, tours, TV, press, marriage, heroin…) but the survival of those journals and notes could have meant a Nirvana that had twenty new songs left in them rather than the dozen or so they do come out with.

Anyways, just to show I’m paying attention to the comments. 🙂

And Dan808 – yes, if you want a copy of the book, drop me at email, NirvanaDarkSlivers@gmail.com and I’ll put you on the pre-order list. No payment needed until I can confirm postage back to you and you decide you’re cool with it. Stay good!