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If one believes in a god, then that god provides rules and meaning for one’s actions – though, of course, even then no one else is required to accept your meaning. If one doesn’t place meaning in the hands of a supernatural being, then the meaning of life becomes whatever one chooses to devote one’s own time and energy to – it’s your choice and no one can tell you you’re wrong because it’s something inherently and specifically personal to you. I think there’s amazing freedom in that. By that same virtue, I love seeing people dedicate themselves to labours of love that aren’t underpinned by other motivations like career plans, financial rewards, a desire for influence – no one else may care, but you do, so you do it in spite of obstacles, dismissal, lack of interest, because it means something to you.

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The Love Buzz 7″ site is a recent favourite on that score. Massimo Salerno and Mattia Cuda built on work by Joris Baas and Enrico Vincenzi, to create this rather nifty website where they identify and log the owners of the 1,000 hand-numbered copies, and the 200 unnumbered copies with a red marker dash where the number would be, of Nirvana’s first single. Original copies go for several thousand dollars and there’s a quite substantial quantities of fakes out there – a bit of a minefield. What the guys have done is provide a source indicating the features that identify an original, a listing so it’s clear which numbers already belong to a known owner, a map showing where in the world copies have wound up over the years, and a guide to the known test pressings too.

They’ve gone beyond that by adding the stories volunteered by individual owners explaining how they came across their copy, the pedigree of each one and so forth. It’s a rather fun read, for example the way a test pressing of Love Buzz wound up with an east coast distributor called Pier Platters, was purchased by a gentleman called Nihility X, then sold to Discourage Records. Or Chad Channing’s personal memory of snagging the third copy of the single, or the story of Nils Bernstein found under #6.

The photos too are interesting, there’s a certain fascination in the way these repeated shots of the ___ / 1000 box vary in terms of photo quality, position, condition…

The home page scrolls beautifully and intelligently through the core details of the release, the counter indicating that 355 of 1,000 copies have been identified so far – rather impressive for an object as small as a seven inch record and one released 32 years ago – links to the genuine copies currently on sale, and the mission statement to get rid of the bootleg copies…All leading to the submission form at the bottom where people can choose to remain anonymous but are invited to provide their story and/or to have their copy studied remotely to prove its genuine.

Parasite

We’re in the midst of what looks like being the longest ever drought between significant official releases of Nirvana material. The six year pause between From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah (October 1996) and the greatest hits record/unveil of ‘You Know You’re Right’ (October 2002) has now been superseded by the gap since September 2013’s In Utero anniversary or November 2015’s Montage Of Heck compilation of home demos by Kurt Cobain. The big difference is that the earlier pause was due to legal disputes but everyone was aware that, as documented on numerous bootlegs at the time, there was a lot of unreleased material to come – now we’re contemplating an empty well.

Doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some fun this year! A real pleasure, for me, was receiving Marcus Gray’s art collection “Parasite: A Photographic Wake for Kurt Cobain.”

https://www.blurb.co.uk/b/9897611-parasite

It kicks the hell out of the embarrassing ‘coffee table book’ that the estate put out last year. Gray specializes in making visual suggestions, specific to Kurt Cobain’s life and work, that provoke thoughts that spill well beyond the edges of the photo frame – memories, additional facts, associated moments, spiraling out from the initial image. Substantial work has gone into sourcing era-specific objects (a Mrs. Butterworth’s jar, for example); or selecting non-obvious media (Cobain’s grandfather’s phone book entry, a back page newspaper advert for X-Ray glasses that ties to the 1990 In Bloom video); or combining items that resonate with meaning to those with fair background on Cobain’s story (a card from the Marco Polo Motel inside a Tom Moore cigar box). The initial selections are already impressive but what elevates them is the visible thought that has gone into how to move beyond blank documentation into artistic imagining. Images are treated, slurred, magnified, placed against a range of backdrops, every single work presented here has a specificity of both image and effort that makes them art. I particularly liked how subtle the work could be: the famous red-and-black striped jumper Cobain wore in 1993 is rendered in a way that looks like neon light and would be impossible to identify as a jumper if one’s own mind didn’t make the leap to that item of clothing, with the photo caption providing a useful pointer.

There was a bit of an outpouring of books collecting photographs of Nirvana and of Kurt Cobain a few years back, and they all had their virtues. It’s just really nice to see someone going way beyond that and taking Cobain – a quintessential outsider artist – as an artistic muse prompting hard work, significant skill and deep thoughtfulness. It’s not a huge volume but I’ve found myself returning repeatedly to the book because it’s not of an intimidating length or size, and because each image rewarded fair lengthy contemplation, I can spend 5-10 minutes thinking outside of the edges of the image at the events, times, places and actions that the photo points to.

https://castbox.fm/channel/NIRVANA-Podcast-id2115615?country=nl

Was intrigued to come across the Nirvana podcast on my Twitter feed yesterday – wanted to spread the word if anyone wants an in-depth and well put together telling of the Nirvana story.

https://castbox.fm/episode/Nirvana-Podcast-00-Teaser-id2115615-id163561079?country=nl

 

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.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/15332370/art-rock-and-revolution-and-the-punk-grace-of-mia

One of those great lost hopes of the music scene, The Gits were on the cusp of breaking through to wider awareness and onward hope at the time the band came to an unceremonious and unfortunate end. A few years ago I had the good fortune to be in touch with Steve Moriarty of the band and I was delighted when I heard he was going to be creating a deep dive volume about the band and Mia Zapata – their iconic (and bloody awesome) lead singer.

One of Nirvana’s precious few shows in the first half of 1993 came about after the death of Zapata. Courtney Love persuaded Cobain to call the organisers of a benefit concert to raise money to investigate her death and to suggest Nirvana take part. The condition was there’d be no official mention of Nirvana’s involvement until the day itself – word of mouth only. The Gits were part of the new generation of bands emerging in the north-west (though the band originated elsewhere in the country) in the aftermath of Sub Pop’s initial success and the relative popularity and fame of the first wave of bands associated with grunge. This was the post-grunge phase rubbing alongside Riot Grrrl and such scenes.

https://www.gofundme.com/please-help-dawn-recover-from-cance

If you’re a Nirvana fan, you’ll know the name Dawn Anderson, you’ll recognise the line “Nirvana could become…Better than The Melvins!” Dawn was responsible for the article that appeared in Backlash magazine in the spring of 1988 marking the first interview with Kurt Cobain. If the piece – ‘It May Be The Devil And It May Be The Lord…But It Sure As Hell Ain’t Human’ – wasn’t already so well known it would have been my choice to open the Cobain On Cobain book last year (I wanted to use the word count for something else in the end.)

http://www.livenirvana.com/interviews/8804da/index.php

Dawn is currently in recovery from a run in with cancer. If you have spare change, a touch of cash, anything that might help her toward full health – the link is above and there’s some good to be done in the world.

 

http://www.nirvanaguide.com/announce.php

http://www.livenirvana.com/forum/index.php?threads/important-future-of-nlg-and-lnth-and-introducing-the-lncc.40418/#post-673233

Anyone who has read any of my ramblings these past years will know that I incredible respect for LiveNirvana and for the Nirvana Live Guide. Whenever I’ve been asked what fandom looks like at its best I think of these sites and the work they’ve done sourcing lost, unknown, different recording of Nirvana shows and sessions; compiling accurate data and sifting myth from reality; bringing together information on Nirvana concerts and shows including photos and set-lists…

It’s amazing what they’ve achieved. Anyone can ‘comment’, anyone can write a thought-piece, but it takes a special dedication to do what these two sites have done. Hunting down and locating evidence of house parties in the far north west of America in the pre-internet late eighties, finding cassettes hoarded by people who attended and taped shows a lifetime ago, persuading people to let them safeguard, protect and share material that would otherwise deteriorate and disappear forever. Any of the analytical pieces I ever did relied on the bedrock that the people at these two sites created.

So, I was delighted to hear that the Nirvana Live Guide will now be migrating to and integrated with the resources at LiveNirvana: a single uber-source for anyone interested in where, what and with who Nirvana played over the years that band was together.

My absolute best wishes to all concerned and anyone out there with information regarding lost Nirvana shows, stuff they might have taped long ago, anything they can contribute to the knowledge placed their for fans – go see these guys!

 

Wanted to share the information related to the Louder Than Words festival taking place from Friday this week through Sunday 13 at the Palace Hotel in Manchester.

Quite the event, it’s an entire festival focused on music literature and music writing:

I’m filling some time on Sunday noon in interview with John Robb, formerly of Sounds – currently leading the Louder Than War magazine – who interview Kurt Cobain back in 1989 and on a number of other occasions.

Looks like quite the event, and what the hey, three days worth of events, talks and moments – so if you’ve time then pop in. I’m planning to get in early and just soak in as much as I can. One moment I’m definitely looking forward to is artist Chris Gollon and musician Eleanor Mcevoy on Saturday evening. They collaborated together on a series of paintings and songs which work so well together as a live experience: the music connects one to the art on the walls, while the images let one read more into the words and music. Eleanor is a really great performer, it’s an art being able to dominate a space so completely with just a guitar and voice – to create variety with limited means and an excellent story-teller’s vibe. Bringing in Chris to talk about the pictures and add detail to it all, brilliant. I had a great evening when I saw them together in February.

I don’t do clichéd kneejerk criticism of record labels. Labels deliver the benefits of scale to artists and handle all the elements individuals usually want to shed in order to retain time to create. Labels are a valuable component of the ecosystem of getting music out. Major labels exist in a difficult industry. Computer games, for example, command vastly higher prices and far higher abilities to garner ongoing income as players pay for upgrades/add-on/extras. Increasingly people are feel (wrongly in my view) that music should be near free, then feign outrage when asked to pay more than a token amount, while shelling out far greater sums on clothing brands and tech accessories. Music is a volume business. By that I mean there’s vast competition (anyone can start a label), a high supply of ‘product’ to the market (anyone can make music and distribute it to some extent), high commodification (it’s ultimately no different than buying inexpensive underwear – pick one, pick another, there’s always another ‘brand’ to suit your taste and no reason to be loyal to a particular label) and low predictability of success.

The only way to survive is to keep cost low (minimize advances and upfront expenditure), keep risk low (invest in artists with a sound/style/approach – i.e., product – that’s similar to what has succeeded before), then blast out a range of material in order to see what ‘wins’ – before pumping support in behind the winners while letting the ‘also-rans’ sink naturally. It’s simple logic of survival and it’s precisely what happened with Nirvana ‘Nevermind’ – 50,000 copies of the record pressed initially, tour plans involving mid-sized venues in Australia and the Far East, all designed to gradually build the band’s profile and turn them into another ‘Major-indie band’ selling a couple hundred thousand at most (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., etc.) The pressure has simply increased.

 

I spent last week from 9am Monday through early afternoon Friday (including two exams and a couple hours of homework a night) being trained on the ‘Managing Successful Programmes’ (MSP) methodology. Ignoring the consultant-speak and corp-language, the underlying point of it is to say that when you’re trying to deliver an objective, there needs to be a carefully critiqued initial plan, with numerous checkpoints permitting observation of the plan from multiple angles in order to allow people to shout out “this isn’t going to work like this! We need to change!” There’s been a massive failure of proper management at Universal in relation to the ‘Montage of Heck’ release.

I’ll go further and say that Universal, on a professional level, should feel pretty ashamed of the work done around ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck – the Home Recordings’. It’s no secret I’ve hugely enjoyed the 31 track full release as envisaged by Brett Morgen. For me, in my view, it’s a good record. But my personal enjoyment is pretty irrelevant; it isn’t the same as commercial success or satisfied audiences. Reports last week claimed negligible sales and one of the lowest ever charting positions for a Nirvana/Cobain release and, I feel, the reasons have very little to do with the music on the release and almost everything to do with choices taken at Universal.

 

Firstly, I’ve said this before, the film this release is accompanying came out in January-April 2015 – that’s where the peak of affectionate, warm, widespread coverage took place. Releasing the associated soundtrack over six months later meant there was no way to sustain that peak – the audience and media alike were weary after an entire year of Cobain/Nirvana coverage related to the film. It meant having to attempt to ‘re-heat’ interest after only a short break. It also relegated the soundtrack to an after-thought, something with no greater status than the DVD/Blu-ray issue of the cinema/TV film – a secondary product. On the PR/Marketing front Universal has successfully executed a strategy designed to ‘strike’ only once they’ve deflated the sense of excitement, positivity and expectancy around ‘Montage of Heck.’ Timing matters and this was foolish.

Why have they done so? Well, in my opinion, it’s about the ‘Christmas market.’ The decision was taken to wedge what – until now – has been a solid, reliable source of high revenue into the final quarter of the year (same as Nirvana’s ‘Incesticide’ release in 1992.) The commercial choice to schedule the release independently from the best moment in terms of PR/Marketing has undermined their goal. This suggests a senior-level decision imposed on the teams responsible for executing the release itself. With no one empowered to question the intelligence of that choice, all the teams could do is react to a fait accompli. What has the result been? They’ve apparently decided to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the release while failing to recognize or value the crucial point of a music release – content.

One approach visible is an appeal to specific music-buying demographics without taking the time to gain real comprehension of those audiences. The key exhibit is the release of the cassette edition cottoning on to the ‘indie-cool’ trend of the month. Yet they failed to understand the cassette trend is mainly about getting a short-run souvenir of one-off live events and happenings, having 1 of 200 copies all handmade and hand-designed by a lo-fi one-person operation – it’s about uniqueness, rarity and personal touches. The ‘Montage of Heck’ cassette, by contrast, is a zombie resurrection of mass-produced, generic pre-recorded cassettes and thus has nothing to do with what people are buying cassettes for. The decision to release a cassette – aping a low-selling minority trend – would be a bizarre decision on commercial grounds, which suggests that it was a move driven purely by a desire for publicity. It’s a bad move by the PR/Marketing team based on low intelligence regarding the market or the trend they’ve copied. It also failed to garner any significant notice from media sources because ultimately no one cares about a novelty feature.

 

The cassette reinforces a sense in which the music is being deliberately treated as an irrelevance to this release. The cassette is a ‘trinket’, a toy. The focus has been on format. For some reason, someone took the lesson that it was the magnet on the front cover of the ‘In Utero’ box-set or the prettiness of the ‘Nevermind’ box-set that made people buy it. Dead wrong. Music products are purchased for the contents which, in the case of the ‘Nevermind’ and ‘In Utero’ box-sets were the CDs of  ‘Live at the Paramount’ and ‘Live and Loud’ respectively, each accompanied by substantial, high gloss and well-done supporting books in each case. There was a further deeply odd attempt to wrap ephemera around the release. If you ordered the CD direct from Universal then you could get a ‘limited edition’ art print of one of the record covers – which translated as something I could do on the top-of-the-range printer at work.

The format issue rears its ugly head again when confronted with the ‘standard’ and ‘super-deluxe’ editions of the ‘Montage of Heck’ release. The ‘Standard’ release is an utterly arbitrary slicing n’ dicing of the 31 track edition – it’s neither fish nor fowl. It mostly removes the audio experiments, but it also hacks off ‘What More Can I Say’, ‘Bright Smile’, ‘Burn the Rain’, ‘Rehash’, ‘Do Re Mi’, ‘She Only Lies’ turning a one CD set into…Errr…A one CD set? It spoils the montage effect of the ‘Deluxe’ for no apparent reason except to make it shorter with a lunkheaded “well if it’s half as long then we’ll charge this – if they want the other half then…” mentality.

The ‘Super-Deluxe’ meanwhile is entirely redundant. Again, a note has been made of the ‘record collector’ demographic without understanding that the audience in question will purchase something because of rarity value (a quality the ‘Montage of Heck Super Deluxe’ doesn’t possess), because of the presence of content that’s otherwise hard to get, historical value and at a specific sensible commercial price point. I’ve bought one record this year costing over £100 and I did so because it’s one of only 100 copies in the world, it’s a Thurston Moore record and I collect his stuff avidly and it also supported the equipment fund for the Café Oto venue so I didn’t mind seeing it as a donation. The ‘Super-Deluxe’ bells and whistles are not what a record collector looks at to justify a purchase and it would have to mean more than “a puzzle with collectable storage container, movie posters, postcard and bookmark”. These extras appear to have been chosen to keep costs down while allowing for mass production hence just as the cassette made this look like a novelty, the ‘Super-Deluxe’ extras make the release look cheapskate, miserly and penny-pinching.

 

Ultimately, all music released in exchange for cash is a commercial product – there’s a compromise all the way down the line. In this instance there’s been a major miscalculation of price point for the U.S. market. To make a comparison, the Bob Dylan ‘The Cutting Edge’ archive release recently came out in three versions which, on Amazon U.S., are currently: 2 CD for $16.59 ($8 per disc), 6 CD for $106.39 ($17 per disc), then there’s the 18 disc limited edition at BobDylan.com for $599.00 ($33.00 per disc.) The step-up in quantity of music understandably leads to a step-up in the price point – likewise, the associated bits and pieces step-up with the 18 disc version containing a 170 page book unavailable anywhere else (as opposed to the 6 disc version’s 120 page book), 9 mono 45 RPM 7” singles, a strip of film cells from a print of the ‘Don’t Look Back’ film. There’s a logical increase and the quantity of music rockets each time; 36 songs, 110 songs, 379 songs. For the ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck’ soundtrack U.S. audiences are being expected to pay $11.29 for 13 songs (not unreasonable) but $117.99 for 31 (deranged.) By contrast, in the U.K., the 31 track CD is £10.29 ($15.51) on Amazon. The price points are utterly illogical and are, understandably, deeply upsetting to U.S. fans. The removal of the ‘deluxe’ option from the U.S. market has destroyed the incentive for purchase, forces fans to order on import from abroad – or more likely has turned them off so much that they’re not willing to bother acquiring it legally because the price point makes the release look like a scam.

The issue with the ‘Standard’ is that it chops the music in half for no discernable reason – cherry-picking 379 Dylan songs down to a core of 36 makes rational sense; releasing ‘Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’ in a two disc edition with a live show then a three disc with a load of studio demos has a logic; releasing a five disc version of Soundgarden ‘Superunknown’ with demos, rehearsals, 5.1 sound version, then a curtailed two disc set makes sense. In the case of ‘Montage of Heck’ where’s the justification in turning 74 minutes of music into 40 minutes of music? Great albums are underwritten by a logic of flow, message, storyline – it’s as if people read musical statements in the way they would fiction. The same goes for compilation, a simple, easy to comprehend division of music is necessary – something people understand when making a quality judgment on a purchase.

The ‘Super Deluxe’ suffers the same fault – the step up in musical quantity from 14 to 31 tracks doesn’t justify a price point that jumps ten-fold. Likewise, in an era where many DVDs are already packaged with the Blu-ray (and vice versa), the presence of both the U.S. DVD and Blu-ray release doesn’t advance the case for the ‘Super-Deluxe’. Nor does the presence of a threadbare set of extras to the DVD. Nor does the presence of a book that’s already been released and purchased by anyone with sufficient fan urges to want it. The ‘Super Deluxe’ is a mess. Cassette, but no vinyl – why? DVD and Blu-ray when anyone buying the latter already feels the former is redundant while anyone wanting the former feels the latter is unnecessary meaning everyone who buys the release is getting something they don’t want. A book that had already been seen six months earlier. There’s nothing here justifying the egregious price-tag given the DVD/Blu-ray is just $14.70 and the book is $23 – the idea that the cassette, ‘Deluxe’ CD and extras make up $80.29 of value is ludicrous and can be seen as such by anyone with a calculator and third grade math skills.

 

Having made errors of timing, audience, format and pricing Universal have compounded them all by deciding to miscommunicate and mis-sell the product. It’s been notable that, in recent interviews, Brett Morgen makes clear that the ‘album’ he’s referring to is only the 31 track release – that’s what he created. Other decisions were taken by the record label to cash in on what could have been a solid-seller. Morgen spoke to near every newspaper, culture supplement, music magazine and online source six to twelve months ago regarding the film meaning that hauling him back out to act as spokesman for the release – which he then makes clear has been festooned with baubles and chopped in half completely independently of his involvement – is odd, who was left he hadn’t already spoken to? The sense of weary repetition, in a fast-changing music news landscape was a poor choice by Universal’s PR team. It would have been better to go with press releases and new statements from the label (in the same way that the inlay of the ‘Deluxe’ release has been written by someone within Universal).

There was a quite bizarre failure to comprehend that music fans now operate on an international level when it comes to the consumption of news even if they mostly still buy music at a national level. Fans across the world were confused by the emerging messages; “no ‘Deluxe’ edition in the U.S.,” “no ‘Super-Deluxe’ outside of the U.S.” The same week the release was coming out I was contacted by a fan from Europe who still thought the only way to get the full 31 track release was on the ‘Super-Deluxe’ and that he’d have to import it from America. I did exactly the same and initially ordered the ‘Super-Deluxe’ from Canada before cancelling it once I realized that the 31 track was available in the U.K. but not in the U.S. I made clear back in January that I was definitely going to buy the cinema tickets, the DVD, the book, the soundtrack – that I’m the kind of obsessive who would buy anything they put out – but even I spent two weeks deflated and a bit despondent because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get the 31 track without going to massive expense to buy a box of junk from another continent that I didn’t want. I buy from abroad regularly, but only for things that are hard-to-find or difficult-to-get. To know that the only reason I would/would not receive a part of the release was because of a management decision at Universal felt like a slap in the face.

So my heart goes out to fans in the U.S. who really have been shafted by Universal. The decision to simply eliminate the ‘Deluxe’ in that market leaves U.S. fans with just the ‘Standard’ (half pack) or the egregiously expensive and unnecessary ‘Super-Deluxe’. It’s an actual insult to music fans forcing them to either order from abroad or to just give up and refuse to be taken advantage of by a record label with such a fundamental lack of respect or courtesy for them. I can understand why the release has been so poorly received when people have had the option of simply and easily purchasing the core music at a fair price. To ask them for over $100 for just 17 more tracks (35 minutes of sound) while trying to force them to buy a second copy of a book they already have and two formats of a film (so one of which they won’t want), plus some card/paper ephemera…Wow, now that’s gross. European fans, meanwhile, are unable to get the DVD extras thanks to another arbitrary choice within the management chain.

I’ve got two degrees from Cambridge University and I still found Universal’s communication strategy confusing and the market segmentation offensive. It managed to turn someone who genuinely liked the film and was feeling pretty positive about the whole ‘Montage of Heck’ campaign into someone unsure whether to bother at all. The effect on fans less friendly toward the film and soundtrack has been to stoke irritation and outright anger, again, serving to undermine the good will and good spirit that stokes sales and makes people want to part with their cash.

 

Finally, I mentioned mis-selling? I went into four or five music stores in the last fortnight and not one of them is stocking ‘Montage of Heck’ in the Soundtracks section. It has been pitched as one of the most major releases of the year when it’s explicitly (and very effectively) an audio accompaniment to the film. Instead of allowing it to be measured against other soundtrack releases, it’s being measured against major living artists’ key statements to the detriment of the originality and generosity of the soundtrack. Most soundtracks are a hodge-podge of previously released music maybe with some ragbag demos or live material tossed in (re: the ‘Amy’ soundtrack accompanying the Amy Winehouse documentary this year.) The ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck – the Home Recordings’ soundtrack is a fully conceptualized collage combining multiple forms of Cobain’s creativity into a single cohesive statement. It’s generous in terms of length; presence of truly unseen, unheard and unreleased material; freshness of its take on the subject’s work. It’s head-and-shoulders over most soundtracks. But saddled with undue expectations, the kind of release formats reserved for all-time classics, the treatment and release schedule intended for a modern artist’s magnum opus – it has garnered unfair criticisms of sound-quality and pop-quality. A low-key treatment emphasizing that it was a soundtrack – or timing so that it was seen more clearly in the context of the film – would have been of huge benefit to the release. Instead the over-pitching and over-selling has helped kill it stone dead. Nice one Universal.

 

So, smart-arse that I am, it’s easy to poke holes in something – what would I suggest would have fixed it? OK, well, the ‘Montage of Heck’ campaign running from late in 2014 through the release of the book in spring 2015 had an underlying coherence – the soundtrack should always have been a part of this. The TV and cinema showings worked because they offered legitimately different ways of experiencing the material. The book was fine (though not outstanding) and, again, made perfect sense. The Soundtrack should have been released in April 2015 thus making it an integral part of this multifaceted project. This would have had the advantage of piggybacking on the massive amount of media coverage, almost all extremely positive, garnered by Brett Morgen’s extensive interview load. The release should have consisted of one thing only; the ‘Deluxe’ 31 track disc exactly as it is – nothing more, nothing less. A single worldwide format, a single worldwide release date with the simple low-key visual image Morgen was right to emphasize; the sensation of a quiet day in the tiny town of Olympia, in a cheap apartment, with an ambitious and artistic guy who loved making music and having fun with the possibilities of sound. If there was a determination to create some kinda ‘uber-package’ at a higher price point then it would have needed (a) an exclusive book, perhaps a large-scale art volume purely showcasing Cobain’s artwork to allow it to standout versus the mash of interview/film art/Cobain art present in the existing book (b) additional music content. A version with an exclusive book would have allowed for a small rise in price to cover CD and book. To jack it any further there would need to be something unique only to the deluxe – not a clue what. A DVD with no interviews consisting solely of self-filmed material by Cobain? A compilation of pre-released Cobain home demos all compiled into a single disc? A compilation of Cobain’s non-Nirvana forays with other artists and labels (e.g., his work with The Go Team, the Burroughs hook-up, the material with Earth, his minor contributions to the Melvins, the Lanegan version of ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’ from 1989…)…? Ultimately the 31 track disc works and it’s good as it is – I’d have left it there.

 

Addendum: Spoke to a friend in the U.S. who, on the day of the release, drove round Best Buy, Target, Wal Mart, an independent record store and Barnes and Nobles only to find that none of them were stocking the Super-Deluxe so, even though he was willing to pay the $130 dollars, he couldn’t get it anyway. Eventually someone told him he could only get it online. Another disappointed customer left with a sour taste in his mouth thanks to truly poor communication and bad distribution from Universal. It’s just so sad. I love the ‘deluxe’, well worth what I paid, delighted to hear it…But all of this poor management? Groan.

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This is 114 1/2 Pear Street. Kurt Cobain lived with Tracy Marander in one half of the house (the right as facing), then he moved into a small one room cabin at the rear.

https://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/09/10/nirvana-tour-hits-olympia-inside-kurt-cobain-and-tracy-maranders-former-home/

Across the Montage of Heck soundtrack, Cobain strains his voice, never letting loose his full force or volume. Partly it’s because, over an acoustic rather than the roar of a full band practice, the sound would be too stark – it would overwhelm his playing. Yet also, in such a small living space, every sound could be heard and would be fully exposed. Instead, he marked later intentions, where his yells would go – a guide in place for when he could later let rip.

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That’s where the brief intervention of ‘Scream’ stands as a neat juxtaposition. One of Cobain’s signature elements – his scream – is isolated and captured in this single, solitary moment, otherwise absent. And what a scream too. It further emphasizes the distinction between ‘domestic’ Cobain (non-screamer) and ‘public performance’ Cobain (screamer) which the Montage of Heck project has so neatly picked out. The differences between the persona of Cobain and the private individual.

The Kurt Cobain – Montage of Heck: the Home Recordings soundtrack ultimately felt no more intrusive or voyeuristic than scrabbling through a painter’s paint palette – the ‘voyeur’ comment is shown to be just another cliche tossed at every posthumous project, not just Cobain’s. These are all the elements of his songs, these are sound recordings with artistic intent behind them, they’re part of his art – they’re not chunks of CCTV footage recorded without Cobain’s awareness.

Cobain’s vocal work stands out on the record. Cobain said many a time that he came up with the music first – that extends to the vocals too. Something like ‘the Yodel Song’ shows him finding the sounds that fit the music long before he considers creating actual words. It’s like he’s writing a second song, first, the instrumental music, then the vocal melody – the rise-and-fall cadence showing where he might stretch for a note, where he might go from murmur to roar – then, finally, he converts those sounds into words/lines slaved to the initial tune. The music – meaning both the instrument and the vocal – is of far more significance than the words just as he always said.

The CD era did infinite harm to the coherence of albums with forty minute triumphs being replaced by forty minutes, plus filler, plus repetition, plus flabbiness – a seventy minute mainstream album is always at the limits of endurance. The soundtrack works for me because of the sheer variety therein; it neatly avoids the trap. Something still at the level of a first attempt or ad-lib, is replaced by a more developed instrumental, in turn passing to a song that’s reached the point of having a vocal line, then on to something that has made that next stage of having words too. The (brief) bursts of experiment are a neat contrast and, likewise, the spoken word pieces too maintain the uncertainty over “what comes next?” These interventions and deviations keep the surprise factor high throughout.

If they do come to do a Cobain ‘singer-songwriter’ record (which would seem a viable proposition) I hope they keep it down to 40-50 minutes. Anything over that consisting of song-follows-song-follows-song-follows-song would lack drama. The deviations within the soundtrack appeal and I can’t see how else one can really showcase the scale and variety of what Cobain was doing in a more polished record. Incidentally, whatever mixing was done, it sounds great – the sound is far crisper than I would have expected from cassette tapes originating in the damp north-west anywhere between 20-25 years ago.

The balancing act of ‘Rehash’ next to ‘You Can’t Change Me’ stands out for me. ‘Rehash’ features lines related to the typical bar band/cover band scene that dominated the Aberdeen/Grays Harbor area. What’s telling is that when Cobain barks “chorus!” it’s not a note for the future, it’s a deliberate lyric – he already has a chorus (i.e., “rehash!”) What he’s actually doing is parodying the local bands who just wanted to do impressions of Van Halen in a formulaic way hence ‘rehash’ and hence the lyrics “solo! Chorus!” – it’s the same point he made later with the title “verse chorus verse”, that there was a cookie-cutter song approach he felt was tedious.

On ‘You Can’t Change Me’ or ‘Been a Son’, by contrast, he really is making notes about the development of the song. Placing ‘Rehash’ and ‘You Can’t Change Me’ next to one another is a neat trick of arrangement as it calls out Cobain’s self-knowing comment on his way of creating songs. He’s using his approach to marking song structure to resolutely different effect.

‘Rehash’ fits into Cobain’s ’86-’88 spell of writing songs marking his disdain for aspects of his surroundings. This whole record is loaded with musical ‘ghosts’; they’re a real joy. A casual listener might wonder why Cobain kept all these random pieces, but the impression is reinforced that Cobain genuinely listened back to these pieces and cannibalised aspects that caught his ear and imagination. Again and again brief wisps of a later Nirvana song come through like hints at ‘Sliver’ and ‘Stay Away’ for instance. One can see that ‘She Only Lies’ acts as a potential origin point for the core riff in ‘Sappy’ while ‘Poison’s Gone’ bears markers that would later show up in the demos of ‘Old Age.’ It’s an indicator of Cobain’s deep listening, his ability to tease out a crucial motif and to turn off-the-cuff ideas into something deeper and more developed.

In other places a single line might point toward the future, for example in the way ‘You Can’t Change Me’ echoes the chorus of ‘Swap Meat’ or how the word ‘recess’ creeps in alongside ‘rehash’ and ‘rehearse’ before he explicitly smacks “smoke hash” down at the end of ‘Rehash’ to show he’s knowingly playing with the word and how it might sound in his mouth, working it over, chewing on it, trying it on for size. No wonder people thought he was mumbling or incoherent when sounds were so malleable to him.

There’s a further sense of him finding his voice by testing others in the way he did very explicitly on the ‘Fecal Matter’ demo. He’s regularly testing what he could do with his voice whether that’s through his story-telling tone, the voice he uses for poetry, the different singing styles he attempts. Behind the tale of the ‘lazy slacker’ there’s this deeply active guy working hard and thinking about where everything could go.

Outside of the overt tribute of ‘And I Love Her’, other points seem to show Cobain learning from songs that caught his eye. There’s an apparent snatch from Shocking Blue’s ‘Venus’ in the ‘Rehash’ riff for one (thank you Marcus.) The way snags from one or another place in Cobain’s work appear in fresh contexts also entertains, whether that means the “why is that so groovy?” line taken from ‘Spank Thru’; or the bullying scene from ‘Beans’ (on ‘With the Lights Out’) reappearing as a distinct (and extended) element here; or his fixation with using sped up tapes to create squeaky helium voices… For the first time I’ve realised this wasn’t just a one-off, this was an approach to creating new voices Cobain enjoyed – something fun and worth a smile.

Sub Pop refused to let Cobain break the mood of ‘Bleach’ by putting ‘Beans’ on. Yet that song meant enough to Cobain that he pushed them to include it – he didn’t fight for anything else to be a part of that record, he even let Sub Pop choose the order of songs. Similarly, Nirvana’s very first single ‘Love Buzz’/’Big Cheese’, a first chance that he absolutely needed not to screw up…But he insisted on splicing pieces of his ‘Montage of Heck’ into the recording. That’s how key these playful elements were to him – he wanted them slammed right into the art of his first releases.

Cobain vented dissatisfaction with ‘Bleach’, most overtly with ‘Nevermind’, with ‘In Utero’ too (he told Azerrad he felt the record was barely different from ‘Nevermind’) – he was never wholly pleased with any of them because, ultimately, there was always a gap between his desires and his politeness. ‘Montage of Heck’ demonstrates the other Cobain that was always there in the background agitating for squeaky toys to be added to songs, for randomness to replace the grind of regularity, responsibility and compromise. I think he’d have loved this release for boldly stepping away from the expected, the norm, the tedious professionalism that left him cold again and again. This was who Cobain was when he was alone and who, in his own telling, he would have liked to have had the bravery to be in public with no apologies, no politeness, no pulling his punches at the last minute as he often did.

I heard some f***tard say something about “if this was any old eighteen year old and not Cobain we wouldn’t care about this.” Well, any child under the age of six months looks pretty much like any other kid and has no massive distinguishing characteristics – but a parent/sibling is still entitled to love THEIR child more than that of a friend or random stranger. Yes, I care about this recording because it’s Kurt Cobain and because that’s someone, a music, a topic, I care about. There’s no apology to be made for that and the denigration is meaningless. Origin matters.

Krist Novoselic, in his eulogy to Cobain, stated “Kurt had an ethic towards his fans that was rooted in the punk rock way of thinking. No band is special, no player royalty. But if you’ve got a guitar and a lot of soul just bang something out and mean it. You’re the superstar.” I remembered those lines a lot while listening to this record.

Do you need another Eighties’ vintage hard rock/hair metal demi-god or 2000s commercial hip hop bling merchant lauding it over you? Do you want to believe that great achievement only comes from the mythical 1% of magic geniuses who we should feel lucky are willing to share their gifts with we lucky mortals? I don’t. When I look at Cobain I see a mortal with few chances in life who worked hard, took chances, made something happen. I had hoped he’d killed the rock star image dead but it was resurrected in new form to reinforce the divide between creators and consumers.

That’s another element missing from critiques of the record. I’ll talk later sometime about the obvious criticisms that can be made of the commercial approach of the record label to this release, but in essence this isn’t anyone else’s work, this is Cobain. We’ve had the rock star major label Cobain image; the martyr Cobain image; now here’s a Cobain previously unseen – and some people are uncomfortable realising that they don’t like the person they see. The whimsical, DIY, ad-libbed, in development, noise-addicted, poetic Cobain. It’s amazing it’s taken twenty years to finally meet this guy on record – “hello Kurt, nice to meet ya.”

If I heard an 18 year old who could put something this intricate together – I’d be impressed and I’d encourage them to keep going, to keep ignoring the haters and those with nothing but spite to share. Cobain took the base metals present on this release and shaped them into gold through persistence and experimentation. Anyone could do this – and that feels great. That’s alchemy – and it’s a magic open to anyone who wants it.