Nirvana and I: A Personal Aside

I’ve been asked repeatedly – as work colleagues, friends and loved ones watched me lose a year of life to scribbling or tapping away furiously at Dark Slivers and the supporting data and notes – “why do you love Nirvana so much? Why do you care so much about Kurt Cobain?” My answer in essence is that the love of something has very little to do with the object of that love; love doesn’t float in the air to be inhaled and returned. I was ready to love music at that point in life and by chance, luck, whatever, Nirvana was the group discovered. For some people out there maybe it was NWA or Public Enemy, maybe it was the Summer of Love rave scene in the U.K. or some other manifestation of the surge in dance culture, for others perhaps Pearl Jam hooked them far more…Its all good. In my case it was Nirvana, there’s no qualitative judgement required, it just was.

I was on a school trip, shared a room with the older crew who were along as supervisors, ended up running a group after my supervisor decided that trying to strip out of his trousers to his cycling shorts was a great idea while still riding the bike. It was a bit of a growing up experience basically. On the boat home from France the guy opposite had tapes tucked in a hat on the chair, I fished through, found his Nirvana tape (Nevermind one side, Bleach the other) and was hooked. He was surprised I hadn’t heard of them but genuinely I’d never even heard of Nirvana.

Then came the coolest family holidays. My mum rocks at coming up with cryptic clues – so each year, at Christmas, there was always a treasure hunt in the afternoon and this particular year my parents had decided to really bust the bank and ship the whole lot of us to Florida while we were all still young enough to enjoy it (heck, I’d go now! Disneyworld is FUN and I don’t care who says otherwise!) We went in 1993 and they decided to do it one more time in 1994. So, Kurt Cobain’s demise came tied to this absolutely wonderful and happy time – it’s like in a genuine top-quality comedy where the laugh is greater because of a moment of sadness or vice versa, that a heightening of emotion in one direction makes the opposite emotion even more intense. It gave the timing a significance, last day in Florida equals day they announced Kurt Cobain was dead – coincidences matter because they bind things together, particularly in a young mind.

It was my first real experience of death. I had no memory of older relatives dying, so this was the first time I’d felt engaged by the loss of another person – maybe the first time I was old enough to comprehend the idea that someone had gone. The fact I’d bought, that very morning, the final Nirvana album I didn’t already possess – I can’t recall if it was Bleach or Incesticide but I genuinely do remember forcing my parents to stick Incesticide on the car stereo during that vacation, an odd choice given I never made them listen to Nevermind. Naturally, having no idea how to react, one just makes up an approach from observations of the world around – typical kid – so my reaction was to institute a daily Nirvana listening plus a fairly permanent layer of black clothing. I admit though I never bought or owned a Nirvana t-shirt, it seemed ostentatious and fake as if declaring my allegiance to other people was the important bit, it felt like trying to gain reflected glory. Hate the idea.

Shifting schools was another real upheaval – guess it was my turn to have a teenage blues phase. I snapped out of it eventually but music was a good way of gaining a touch of credibility with the already settled social cliques of school (no criticism of either school, schools are just like that.) It formed a good social glue and a declaration of taste before the audience wanting to figure out the new boy. Naturally Cobain’s disaffected ennui fitted the mood beautifully – I’m sure it had never even occurred to him that everyone feels a bit divorced from things sometimes and that he’d soundtracked and expressed it to perfection. I had a bit of a ritual of listening to a Nirvana song (at one point a whole side of an album) each night before bed – think it helped me get good sleep too, music before bedtime, a recommended relaxation technique. At university it didn’t work quite that way, it was more a differentiator than a unifier – but it did put me nicely in contact with my dear Norwegian punk musician friend who I’ve lost contact with but still retain a huge love for, that’s nice.

Behind all of that, Nirvana provided a starting point, a genuine Ground Zero when it came to my interest in music. I could draw you a graph showing how one discovery led to another, all leading back to Nirvana. Sonic Youth and Swans are the most important bands in terms of the connections I then made, but coming to love SY started via Nirvana and Swans came from SY in turn. I also spent years loving how special it felt tracking down and locating Nirvana rarities. It gave the music a value, a sense of miraculous discovery each time I hauled something off a shelf and got to consider whether I was looking at a new song or just a misnaming. To indicate how deep that enjoyment went I’d sadly like to confess to having a recurring dream where I’m at a record fair picking through a stack of Nirvana bootlegs riddled with unknown songs (yes, I even invent song titles in my head to fit the dream – each one coming with a subtitle explaining the song’s meaning or origin) and working out whether to buy one, or two – if they’re worth £10 each, whether I could swap something else back and get an extra one…This is seriously something I dream 5 or 6 times a year and have done for over a decade.

Are there other reasons I adore the band and Kurt Cobain? Hell yes. My preference, when it comes to ‘heroes and idols’ has never been for stereotypical perfection, it doesn’t inspire me at all. I’m inspired by conflicts, by individuals who achieve much despite flaws, or who were simultaneously great and flawed at the same time. That felt more human, less like admiring a marble statue and less of an unattainable propaganda image. Kurt Cobain fitted perfectly. People think of his life as a depressing one…I never did – his suicide made me appreciate how great and valuable my life was, how much luck I had been given in so many ways. It also made me appreciate the power I had, that if he could do all he did despite the burdens he carried then what excuse did I have? Plus the music was (and is) a comfort, like a well-worn and familiar jumper. Oh, and did I mention I really enjoy the music too? Plus I genuinely admire him, in a world where people seem less and less able to even imagine not wanting money, money, more money, that he stood on top of the world and said no. It’s still the rarest thing, someone who had won over the world to such a degree to hand it back despite all the pressure, the nay-sayers, the criticism he was bound to receive – he went his own way. That’s strength, that’s a true willingness to focus on what one genuinely believes. He told an industry that it was faking and lying and he didn’t want to take part. Brilliant.

Merry Christmas: The Blog Summary 2012

Quick (bad) Nirvana pun – it’s 9am… “I’m on a train, mmmm-mmmm, I can’t complain, mmmm-mmmmm” and all apologies that I could resist this line. Anyways, well, the blog made its first entry on October 30, and in the 53 days since then there have been a grand total of 81 posts including this one.

My basic rules have been clear throughout; firstly, I’m not arrogant enough to believe my life is of interest to anyone other than me — here I spout Nirvana thoughts, no life stories, no “look at me” reminiscences. A friend had to point out to me that I hadn’t mentioned my own name anywhere on the blog during the first week and a half — not even in the About section.

Secondly, there are enough biographical or opinion based pieces out there. Yes, these are still my opinions, but what I’m trying to do is gather evidence and data to make the argument and place them before people so they can make their own minds. It’s the data that makes the difference. For similar reasons I think there are plenty of sources for photos of the band, I won’t be doing anything on that score.

Thirdly, I get things wrong, I’m argumentative, I enjoy proposing ideas and seeing where they lead. Correct me! I’m very sure that I’ve completely misinterpreted Been a Son, I’ve become too caught in my own theory. I welcome anyone who has taken the time to engage with me and inform me. The LiveNirvana community (alongside the ever invaluable Nirvana Fan Club and Nirvana Live Guide) has been invaluable.

Finally, I just hope you enjoy reading it. That, in summary, is the only reason to do this. Perhaps if you like the blog enough you’ll consider taking a look at my book, Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide — if not, what the hey! I still hope you enjoy what’s here.

Running the stats…Those eighty-one posts include:

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Favourites? For sure! My favourites, the ones I’m proudest of, would be the following:

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Anyways, enjoy. I’ll be back on here after Christmas (before New Year), I’ll pop on when I can in the meantime as I definitely owe more pieces of the latest spreadsheet I’ve been toying with. To those of you reading the book (I know the copies to Europe and UK have been arriving, can’t imagine the U.S./Canada copies will be there until late next week at the earliest) just so you know my favourite chapters are; The Rich Man’s Eight Track Tape about the structure of Incesticide, Family Man regarding unifying themes in Kurt Cobain’s lyrics, Coda for the analytical bits, Post-Mersh for having been so much fun to write and for feeling inspired to write something that’s definitely argumentative, oh, and Big Black Songs About… because I feel it’s an original way of looking at Kurt Cobain’s approach to writing lyrics.

But in the meantime, if you’re reading the blog, thank you!! I’m honoured you consider this worth reading, worth a few minutes diversion. Have a great Christmas and my absolute best wishes to you wherever you are in the world.

Misheard Lyrics

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/magazine/lady-mondegreen-and-the-miracle-of-misheard-song-lyrics.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

A neat piece from the New York Times, I enjoyed this very much…Right up to the conclusion. The author basically posits the usual either/or approach to a topic. This isn’t uncommon, there seems to be a discomfort with the idea that something can be more than one thing at once — people prefer a simplistic “it is THIS” answer, a single definition, one unified truth or experience. The conclusion seems to be that parsing and dissecting something ruins the fun of it, that it distances the listener from the music being discussed, that it destroys the mystery and removes the visceral pleasure of musical sensation.

My objection would be that the direction of music for a long time has been toward the purely physical, the voiding of active intelligence in favour of lizard-mind flashy sound. I see few supporters among mainstream musicians or mainstream music commentators who aren’t happy to treat all music as ‘dumb fun’ and leave it sitting there on the plate to be devoured like fast food, filling an immediate hole rather than any deeper nutrition.

…And that’s fine. But, as you might be able to tell from the nature of the content on this blog, I believe, as a life philosophy, that most things are more than one element all at once. Nirvana wrote bloody-knuckled, pummelling music that hits so good…They also wrote music that lends itself to deeper consideration and understanding. I enjoy it on both levels and rather than considering the application of intellect to a subject a way of annihilating its magic, it usually leads to silver linings I didn’t know existed.

Especially in a world where, to an ever greater degree, it seems we’re only meant to use our minds in service of our paid employment, I find it nice to use my mind for the purpose of pleasure, selfish enjoyment, whimsical diversion and journeys into the sounds I love. The mind and body are friends studying a picture from different perspectives, not strangers unable and unwilling to communicate. If I wanted to live the world, to engage with it, only on the physical level I’d be a dog not a man. It seems sad to be encouraged, to an ever greater degree, to refuse to engage our lives with the full power of our minds except if paid to do so.

Shifting focus though, the content of the article is great and highly applicable to Nirvana given the work thrown in to taking the lyrics apart across the years. In my case I’ll admit also to falling completely for the belief that the chorus of You Know You’re Right was “pain” rather than “hey.” Either way I like it; my original hearing seeming more revealing of what I expected of Kurt Cobain circa 1994, while the latter ties into the apparent boredom and self-parody present in so much of what he did with his final years — taking the stereotype of Nirvana to the nth degree.

An Aside: Trends in Nirvana Facebook Groups

This is merely an observation but one based on viewing somewhere around 500+ Facebook groups dedicated to Nirvana and/or Kurt Cobain. I’ll update this post if I recognise fresh characteristics or anything deviating from these points.

Firstly, South America owns Facebook! It’s incredible how many South American sites there are. At least fifty percent of the 500+ groups I’ve observed are from the region (I’ll accept they might also be from Spain or Portugal — my language skills are minimal.) My theories range from the speed of development of Internet connections meaning it was the age of Facebook before that region sought to express its Nirvana fandom; to a preference for social groupings as opposed to the very individualistic style of Europe and the U.S. More views are welcomed.

Britain and the U.S. oddly don’t seem to have too many Facebook groups dedicated to Nirvana. Then again, why would we? In the case of the English-speaking world, there have been effective channels for relaying Nirvana information and unifying fans for over a decade with LiveNirvana and the Internet Nirvana Fan Club leading the pack. British and U.S. users also seem mistrustful of unofficial efforts, instead congregating in the greatest numbers around the official/semi-official sites of individuals, bands or labels. Also, instead of actively engaging with groups it seem more the norm for people to present themselves as unique individuals (“I’m special! I’m me!” screamed the dust speck.)

The Italians have a beautiful habit of using lines from songs as the title of their Facebook groups; it was such a common characteristic I could usually tell at once if the group was for Italian Nirvana fans. The Polish similarly tend to incorporate their references to Kurt Cobain or Nirvana into longer sentences — group titles can be ten words. They also all seem to give personal email addresses at the top of their groups so that people can contact them individually. This is unusual, most sites are fairly anonymous revealing little of the individual who built them.

Not wishing to spread national stereotypes but I’ve yet to find a Nirvana Facebook group in Germany that permits strangers to participate or comment. They’re all closed. I’ve frankly found Eastern Europe and the Balkans more welcoming. I’ve seen a few from Asia-Pacific, nothing from the Middle East outside of Israel or Africa but I need to mine more deeply.

I’d like to state, for the record, that my favourite site names so far are definitely “Give Us Back Kurt Cobain and We’ll Give you Miley Cyrus” and “God, Give Us Kurt Cobain and We’ll Give you Justin Bieber.” Oh, and those named “Come to the Dark Side…We Have Cookies.” There’s also a guy on Twitter who makes me chuckle with his macabre Dead Kurt Cobain @gunreviews; “Kurt Cobain, dead but effectively brings you reviews of weapons and tactics from the great beyond. A total parody, unless you are intoxicated.” He’s a pretty good artist too.

I’m also stunned by how friendly and decent people are. The NirvanaItalia site happily added information about the book. LiveNirvana, Nirvana Live Guide and the Internet Nirvana Fan Club have all been a delight. On Facebook too, remarkable friendliness on all sides, a mass of people, sharing a love of a band, simply being polite and encouraging. It’s been a nice feeling; helps me keep going.