How I Came to Write Dark Slivers

The publishers of the book series 33 1/3 requested proposals for new, 25-35,000 word, volumes in their collection of album guides. For no reason I can discern I was seized by enthusiasm and went for it. There was no process of weeding out before I chose Incesticide; it popped into my head and it felt right. I justified it because (a) it’s barely discussed and has always been under-appreciated (b) the three studio albums are deeply covered and (c) the coincidence of the anniversary coming up on December 15, 2012 felt worth marking regardless of what Universal were doing. The first draft chapter submitted, and since revised, stated “Bleach’s anniversary was marked with a Sub Pop special edition; Nevermind’s saw several deluxe reissues; for Incesticide…So far nothing.” A liking for waifs and strays meant it appealed to me.

The year since has disappeared in an avalanche of notes, scrawled ideas on paper scraps at the gym, emails sent from work to home and back again, plus the main manuscript in the middle. My average day became six hours sleep, twelve hours at work or commuting, then six remaining hours (plus whatever was stolen from my sleep hours) for writing and the rest of life.

I was one of 473 proposals for 33 1/3 so didn’t get through. Their feedback helped drive me on; the factors were that I was up against people with years of music experience and also they couldn’t imagine publishing a second Nirvana study if it wasn’t on Nevermind. Very reasonable! By this time I’d pushed beyond the initial remit and knew my destination. The book is a bit of a hybrid; there are four chapters exclusively on Incesticide while the others weave the album into wider analysis showing how illuminating Incesticide is and how integral its songs are to Nirvana.

Eventually I’d moved far enough along, sought out and, by some miracle, secured a literary agent willing to support the book — she said she liked my writing style and that I seemed to know my subject incredibly well. Alas, times are hard for publishing and music publishing in particular is suffering. Ten rejections later all focused on (a) too much competition and/or (b) not general enough to appeal to an audience beyond Nirvana fans, we were done…

…NO. Approval from a publisher would have felt nice but frankly, by this point, I was working day in, day out on what is, at finish, a 15 chapter, 72,000 word study of 230 pages. I felt the book had things that might be of interest to lovers of Nirvana; to people like me. Again, good luck intervened and I located a small publishing imprint.

As a Nirvana fan, treating the topic, the people and the people who might read it (i.e., fans just like me) with scrupulous respect was crucially important. I didn’t even use a photo of Kurt Cobain on the cover because I felt it would be taking advantage of him (fanatical I know…) I have a shelf full of Nirvana books (27 at last count) and while some are great I’ve genuinely felt ripped off by a number of them — I knew what I wanted to avoid creating. As a fan first and a writer second I constantly tried to make sure I was creating something I might enjoy.

In terms of my style, my feeling was that the basic storyline had been rehashed many times over and that I didn’t want to just create another chronological biography stringing together anecdotes. I interviewed a small number of people on a specific number of questions and used them sparingly and as appropriate. My core focus was on using the music itself, backed up and supported by my bootleg collection, by online sources and YouTube to create a book where others could go and look up the evidence themselves if they wished.

My writing is definitely a result of my working career allied to my academic work (I have two degrees in history from Cambridge University and I work at a technology analysis firm.) What I created was a series of argumentative essays, analyzing and interpreting specific themes or topics. It does make for a harder read, but I hope a convincing one. I felt throughout that there were lots of works describing ‘what’ happened in Nirvana’s career but very little space dedicated to wondering about ‘why’, or ‘how’, or what significance the events held.

In a few days, the creative artwork and design will be concluded, the book will be in the hands of the printers. It’s the only book I have any intention of writing about Nirvana; I’ve said everything I have to say and my reasons for writing this book have never had anything to do with starting a music writing career; I don’t want to turn something I love into something I do purely to get paid and live, that would rob me of the pleasure I’ve had in creating this work.

My remaining thoughts, leftovers from the book, responses to news, ideas I never got to develop — I’ll put it all out on the blog, I genuinely just hope you enjoy reading it. If any of it means you feel motivated enough to see what I’ve written in the book then I’m certainly delighted — I loved writing it and if others like what I’m doing enough to want to read it then that’ll feel fantastic.

Memory Lane: Nirvana Exhibition London 2011

A year ago Brick Lane, London hosted a really neatly done exhibition consisting of relics from the sainted Kurt Cobain, photographs, a showing of the (then) not-quite-released Live at the Paramount film and even an anorak/hoody that used to belong to the man.

I made a special trip across town to catch it (and foolishly ended up sinking cash in the record shop across the street too) and strolled a while. It was a moderate sized gallery space with an upper mezzanine floor. Very classy, typical Brick Lane combination of trash/flash.

My major problem was knowing how to react to it all. Standing in front of Kurt Cobain’s hoody I wondered if I was meant to feel a proximity to the man himself, or to appreciate his ordinariness, or take it as a clear statement that he was gone and these remnants were in some way feeble. A shard from a guitar made me think of medieval pilgrims travelling miles to touch alleged chunks of Christ’s cross. The organizers had done a great job, the back room was packed with people watching the concert on a big screen, people meandered studying the photos…

…And I left. The problem was me. I admired the photography, it was nice to see the posters and other pieces…I still felt like I often do at art exhibitions, slightly blank. I seem to need a story line presented, a context given underneath/alongside an image or sculpted item before I can connect.

Rape Me

I’m intrigued by ghosts, by what is present through known absence — the building that once was, the house sparrows gone from London skies. Kurt Cobain’s music contains quite a number of haunting presences and Rape Me particularly intrigues me.

The song endured an unusual trajectory in terms of its writing. The solo acoustic is quite a lengthy initial effort (admittedly degenerating into scratch lyrics.) Yet it is almost all stripped away leaving just a skeletal refrain when performed live in June 1991. That form is then retained all the way to its showing in Seattle on September 11, 1992. The ultimate second verse and bridge are then created in the fifty or so days leading up to an October 26, 1992 demo session. It’s very common for Kurt to retain the core of a song and shift the elements around that ‘spine.’ But it’s unusual to find three distinct iterations of a song. While some initially pointed out cosmetic similarities to suggest Rape Me was a response to Smells Like Teen Spirit, it was mainly reinterpreted as the female rape victim in Polly’s internal fury toward her attacker.

I’d first point to the fact that the time of the rewrite makes this song not an assault on the discomfort of fame as felt in late-1991/early-1992 but a comment on betrayal and external judgment which was his situation right then-and-there in late 1992. But then what I’d suggest is that, rather than Polly or Smells Like Teen Spirit, the real family ties for this song lie elsewhere in Kurt Cobain’s catalogue.

In its solo acoustic rendition, Rape Me’s true lineage stretches back through Even in His Youth, all the way to Laminated Effect on the Fecal Matter demo. In Laminated Effect, the first verse dwells on a key character who, “raped by his daddy” ends up dying of AIDS with the song ending with the refrain of “made not born” to suggest that his fate was the creation of the father. Rape Me begins not as an anti-rape song but as a song in which the father rapes his son. In the case of the former, the very next line is “told he was at fault” while, in Rape Me, the next line’s motif is “my embarrassment.” It’s an intriguing combination that it’s the victim not the perpetrator who is left with the guilt and negativity. It’s a connection he made again in Floyd the Barber with the raped victim responding with the chorus “I was shaved, I was shamed.”

Even in his Youth is overtly and knowingly bonded to Laminated Effect by the insertion of the line “kept his body clean” taken wholesale from the latter song. This ties the disappointing and shameful son in Even in his Youth directly to the unsympathetically treated and ultimately doomed son in Laminated Effect. While lacking the rape motif of Rape Me and Laminated Effect the crucial connection is the association of the father in all three cases with the main character’s guilt and shouldering of the responsibility for perceived failings.

The first ghost of this song lived within Kurt; in his retention of the memory of what this song’s inspiration and scenario had initially been, even long after all visible male-on-male rape motifs were erased. This can be seen in the way his Journals propose two video treatments for the song; one dwelling on the forced feminization of men in prison; the second in which a man takes on the female role and is examined in stirrups in a gynecologists’ office. Whenever these entries were written (late 1993?) it’s still about the feminization and abuse of a man, not a woman. He reinforced this once again by using the image of a seahorse on the cover of the single specifically because with seahorses it’s the father who rears the young.

So, the song morphed from a song about incestuous rape of a male child, into an anonymous refrain, into the ultimate version in which the refrain was harnessed to a commentary on the media’s treatment of his family. This same bonding of past family and present family seems to have haunted Kurt given it’s precisely the same sandwich he made on Serve the Servants.

On the October 26, 1992 demo of Rape Me it was creepy that Kurt should insist on inserting the cries of his two month old child into a song with this theme. Yet — as with the image of the male seahorse that rears the baby, as with the refrain “made not born”, as with the son accepting that his father’s shame was the son’s own fault — there’s a genuine point to it. The image of the seahorse fulfills a deeper purpose in that it is there not just as an inversion of roles but also because it shows the father influencing the fate of a child at the earliest phase of existence.

This was a song about family and specifically about what a father bequeaths genetically to his child — the guilt and self-critical negativity is the crux of the issue, not the rape itself. In the initial demo of Rape Me and in Laminated Effect what takes place is not a literal rape, it’s the father imposing, against the child’s will, a fate and an identity upon them via the sex act that created them. The line about “our favourite inside source” therefore possesses a double-meaning; the supposed traitor in the Cobain camp in late 1992 but also the internal source of his inspiration. Again, it’s the same trick as used in Serve the Servants where “that legendary divorce”, despite its sarcastic phrasing, is indeed a crucial event for Kurt — the fact he’s fed up of hearing it doesn’t erase its importance. The wry line about the “inside source” refers back to whatever it is that his father has placed within him that makes him who he is.

In each case, and in Even in his Youth, the child’s negative feelings about himself leads within the lyrics to a line holding destruction as the son’s ultimate destiny. The end result of the father’s presence in each song is that the son has no alternative fate other than the release of death. Placing Frances Bean Cobain in a rendition of Rape Me wasn’t just about being ghoulish; it was symbolic of the relationship between a father and their child. It was a statement of Kurt’s fear of what bad things he had willed to his baby made by placing his child inside a song originally about being raped by his father.

These are the ghosts within Rape Me. The first is Kurt Cobain the enraged husband railing against the media. The second is Kurt Cobain, the shameful and un-masculine son. The third is his father, the source of Kurt’s feelings of inadequacy. The fourth is Kurt Cobain, the fearful parent unsure of his influence on the child. Emphasize this by rereading his suicide note and the context in which he refers to the potential for his child to follow him and to become him.

 Thank you. Now, if someone could pass me a torch? I just crawled up my own ass and it’d take a lot of work to clamber back out of here in the dark.

Something in the Way

Hands in the air if the sight of Kurt Cobain on an acoustic guitar in a New York studio full of flowers is an image that’s been solidly lodged in your mind for years?

It’s a curious way to remember the man given the key releases during his life time barely featured acoustic guitars at all. The nearest Bleach came to acoustic strumming was turning the amps down for About a Girl, Nevermind spared time for Polly and Something in the Way but Incesticide had nary a one while In Utero made way for Dumb and that was basically it.

Something in the Way was, therefore, something of a rarity. It was also the last brief story Kurt Cobain told in song form describing an exaggerated version of his brief experience of semi-homelessness. It’s a rare example of Kurt Cobain describing on record his relationship with the animal kingdom. His attitude is intriguing, the idea that he can’t bring himself to kill animals except an occasional fish.

It links to two songs; the first being Smells Like Teen Spirit. It’s funny that the Nevermind album commences with an image “load up on guns, bring your friends” that suggests a hunting party outing then ends the album by pointing out that the gun-toting redneck was the last thing he could be described as given even hunger can’t drive him to kill what he catches. The second song is Sappy, a song inspired by his pets and how sorry for them he felt. The song describes efforts made to make them happy and keep them happy yet ultimately his knowledge that they were still prisoners trapped in a laundry room. It’s typical Kurt Cobain that his narrator self-identifies with the captives, those without an escape.

The song is a perfect example of the band’s ability to strip a song down to simple unpretentious elements (the guitar chords are almost autistic in their simplicity) and build something that expresses an emotional depth. The starkness of the presentation coupled with the downbeat tone of Kurt Cobain’s voice, the pauses between lines as if it’s taking all he has to dredge up the memories and tell them.

There’s a hidden point to the song, however. With Kurt Cobain it’s worth remembering that he was able to address private jokes, snipes and comments to his circle of intimates in songs that appeared to have a universal tale. In this case his family knew he had always had the option of a room, his friends knew they’d given him somewhere to crash. So to place a song on the album that claims he’d been so neglected in his late teens he’d been living under a bridge like a derelict is quite a stinging snipe at his family.

How Long Does a Band Stay at ‘The Top’?

Fame is unpredictable so an absolute answer is impossible. But we can indicate what the norm is. We all want our heroes to go on forever and as a fanatic the idea of Nirvana ‘falling off’ is hard to imagine. But, in reality, popular taste moves on, fans are fickle, commercial and creative peaks are short; the zeitgeist doesn’t walk, it runs.

Just as an indication I’ve used the stats from to examine the top ten best selling albums each year from 1960 to 2009 in the U.K. This gives a sample of 500 albums. What I’m looking for is the span of time over which artists had album sales in the top ten; how long does dominance tend to last? 75 artists had more than one unique album featured but 15 of those only managed one hit album then their greatest hits.

Of the 60 remaining artists only 17 had hit albums over a period of more than 10 years. So from our starting number we’re down to a fifth. The spans were as follows:

These are the most popular artists in the U.K., bands and artists with a cushion of support that should have sustained them, to some extent, through any fall off in quality and/or popularity. Yet, even with the support each commanded, only 17 managed to stay at the peak for long than ten years. Remember also that the last album for Elvis, Cliff Richard, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Elton John, R.E.M., Oasis and The Beach Boys was a greatest hits or singles collection — not a brand new album. Without those collections their creative careers fall as follows:

The result is just ten artists still operating at a peak of popularity over a period longer than ten years and in most cases the career trajectory involved taking a hiatus to allow scarcity to restore interest. That’s essentially the benefit that was reaped by the sizeable gap between The Muddy Banks of the Wishkah and then Nirvana’s greatest hits followed by With the Lights Out; time enough that saturation didn’t set in.

I’m not saying Nirvana wouldn’t have had a career. In fact I dare say it might have been a career that was more comfortable to their troubled front man. What I am saying is that even the biggest artists rarely retain world-beater status for more than a short spell and that level of persistent fame and success tends to be retained (by definition) only by artists firmly in the field of pop. Lots of bands break up, move onto new groups or solo performance — not many end up with a Sonic Youth-esque thirty year career at a comfortable mid-level of support.

Pearl Jam are a fair indication of the fate of the alternative rock demi-Gods. Despite staying together, despite continuing to create music of interest, and despite clearly enjoying themselves, they’re not the multi-million mega-stars anymore. Maybe Nirvana, as the figurehead of an entire spell of music, would have bucked the trend but it’s unlikely.

I’d like to run this same thought experiment using American album sales but I need to find appropriate data first.

If Kurt Cobain had Lived…

Let’s pose a counterfactual; instead of committing suicide in April 1994, Kurt Cobain had survived — what might we expect his life to have looked like since then?

Looking at the most likely scenario, the answer, tragically, is “dead of an overdose.” Kurt Cobain overdosed on numerous recorded occasions, his addiction seems to have reached extreme levels and — as shown by his reaction to the intervention his loved ones staged in March — he had no desire to quit whatsoever.

So we need to make another assumption, that Kurt had either solved or at least been able to manage his drug addiction — what next? Firstly, it’s hard to see Nirvana continuing given the actions Kurt had taken that year with tours abandoned, Lollapalooza refused, barely showing up to the band’s last recording session and making no effort to collaborate with Krist or Dave. It’s impossible to tell if the name Nirvana would have continued in the absence of two of its core members, the Guns n’ Roses approach, or if we would have seen a solo Cobain. As a side-note that would make it likely that the Foo Fighters would never have written My Hero either — a genuine loss to the roll-call of Foo Fighters’ highlights. I have no doubt Dave would have proceeded onto his own impressive career.

As for his musical direction, Kurt gave statements about his future sound at the end of Azerrad’s Come as you Are. While most assume that we were about to see an acoustic statement of some kind I think it’s more likely we would have seen an even noisier, less mainstream Cobain moving away from the verse-chorus-verse model. The man was chronically nervous regarding his guitar playing (read Charles Cross’ account of the Unplugged performance) and it’s unlikely he would have been willing to be seen musically naked. Remember after all that you can count acoustic songs on Nirvana’s albums on one hand — it seems an unlikely approach, or at least not without the protection of a full band. The band had been creating noisier punk compositions in every session after Nevermind (the quiet moments; All Apologies, Pennyroyal Tea and Dumb were all written before Nevermind came out) so it’s about whether that trajectory would have continued. The 1994 demos that apparently exist are a poor indicator given all the evidence of Cobain turning his acoustic homework into electric efforts.

Certainly it’s unlikely Kurt would have been touring much at least for a while. 1992-1994 had been Nirvana’s quietest years since 1988 in terms of live shows — it doesn’t look like something he had any interest in doing at that point. With no financial impetus pushing him onto the road there seems little reason for him to put himself through it. We might be looking at a spell akin to John Lennon’s retirement from music during the 1970s or Axl Rose’s retreat into private studio experiments from the mid-nineties onward. That’s certainly a possibility; a quiet Cobain life trying to mend things with his wife, painting, ignoring the press and his own management — most of 1992 all over again in other words.

The next Nirvana releases don’t seem in much doubt. Pennyroyal Tea would have come out as planned in April and wouldn’t be commanding the stratospheric prices it does today. Kurt Cobain had initiated work on Live! Tonight! Sold Out! Some sort of video release would have been likely if he ever finished the work required. I can imagine pressure from the record label to release the Unplugged performance but whether Kurt would have permitted a record with the MTV name front and centre…It’s uncertain. With no Lollapalooza tour it’s unlikely we would have seen the mooted supporting EP.

One direction regularly pointed out is the potential for collaborations with other artists — Mike Stipe being the name that comes up regularly. There was indeed a real possibility of Kurt sitting in on R.E.M’s session for the Monster LP. Then again, he’d already rejected the opportunity in March so, for it to happen, would have required a persistent and patient Mr. Stipe and a changed attitude from Mr. Cobain. In a future post we’ll look more closely at collaborations but for now let’s simply note that a spell of exploration and learning in the company of others could have provided the new paths Kurt seemed to desire. Again, there’s no evidence.

It’s also highly likely that Kurt would not have been immune to the tail-off in rock music as the nineties progressed. As a wider background trend the music world was about to enter a phase of worshipping DJs prior to hip hop establishing universal dominance of music charts. Whatever career Kurt/Nirvana had forged beyond 1994 is unlikely to have maintained the multi-million sales they’d enjoyed briefly. As a comparison, remember how big Pearl Jam were. Pearl Jam outsold Nirvana in the mid-nineties then increasingly vanished despite being one of the big survivors of that era. Hole, Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr, Soundgarden — they all saw declining interest and disrupted times. Kurt Cobain was a superstar but he wasn’t God and he wouldn’t have been immune to what was happening around him.

The hope would have been, however, that Kurt persisted with music and became one of the small core of elder statesmen able to have careers through several decades; think Neil Young, Bob Dylan, David Bowie. All had to weather a spell in which they were out of favor before returning to a state of grace. Music seems to be a generational thing with one age group reacting against that which came before. Hard as it is to imagine, Kurt would have lost his halo and it would have required some above average work at ten, twenty years distance to spark the ‘return to form’ headlines.

What can certainly be said is that a major spell of song-writing was needed. In Utero had used up most of Kurt Cobain’s leftovers (as well as Dumb, All Apologies and Pennyroyal Tea it’s also possible to say Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, Tourette’s and Sappy were all pre-September 1991 songs.) There’s talk that he reprised Opinion and Talk to Me in 1994 but no evidence. Some new versions of unreleased old songs may have filled the gap for a while but as far as can be told Kurt wrote only two songs in 1993-early 1994. He would have needed far more.

The key issue with this kind of thinking is that past trends do not indicate future events. Kurt Cobain left few indications of future plans, perhaps because he simply didn’t see one. Fun to consider though isn’t it? One definite prediction is that Twitter and Facebook wouldn’t have as many Cobain or Nirvana profiles; without the tragic ending there wouldn’t be the same urge to commemorate and also our idol would have failed, at some point, he would have failed. It’s easy to worship a man who never grew old or un-photogenic. It’s rare to see as much attention given to a man in his forties with an expanding waistline, first wrinkles, drug-user damage visible on the face.

Break In at Frances Bean Cobain’s Home

Kurt Cobain and Nirvana used their fame to fight sexism, racism and homophobia. They berated audience members who would grope girls in concert; they kissed live on one of America’s biggest TV shows; they gave performances in support of these causes; he gave an exclusive interview to The Advocate magazine and was delighted by Pansy Division’s affectionate cover Smells Like Queer Spirit. This was a band determined to tell people that no one has the right to invade another’s right to privacy or to use fear and intimidation to impose one’s will upon them.

Which is why the news of a break-in at the home of Frances Bean Cobain is so disturbing:

It’s a horrendous incident; the invasion of one’s home, of one’s place of safety is deeply traumatic for anyone. The added elements, the potential murder plot plus the link to a father one last seen when not even aged two, makes it worse.

Yet one thing that is clear, no one who had absorbed the music of Nirvana and had any respect for the band’s social/political opinions would believe they had the right to commit such an act. This man was sick, psychologically disturbed, dangerous…But not a Nirvana fan. The definition of a fan is (variously) “a devotee”, “a supporter”, “an admirer” — for someone to claim an identification with Kurt Cobain or Nirvana and then to act so much against the spirit of the individuals concerned refuses him entry to the community of fans.

As a wider question, there’s always an unsettling relationship between bands and their audiences. The (excellent) Nirvana Live Guide website records numerous incidents during the 1993 In Utero tour of Nirvana stopping shows to prevent male audience members groping unwilling girls in the crowd. Nirvana were certainly sensitive to this issue, look at the liner notes from Incesticide in which Kurt Cobain demands that anyone homophobic, sexist or racist “leave us the fuck alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.”

But a band doesn’t get to dictate who likes its music. An audience does get to declare a band’s behavior beyond the pale via its power to give or withhold support. It’s also good that fans don’t slavishly follow the often dim-witted and thoughtless behavior of artists. Maybe the answer is to separate being a fan of a band or an individual from being a fan of their music? Declaring oneself a fan of Nirvana’s music means one likes the music. Declaring oneself a fan of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana means one shares many of their views and identifies with their positions. If one wants to be a true fan of Nirvana, not just a consumer of their catchy tunes, then there must be actions to back it up. Words are not enough.

As a final comment on the incident at Frances Bean Cobain’s home I’ll turn to an old Calvin n’ Hobbes cartoon: “a man’s home is his castle, it shouldn’t have to be a fortress.” The same goes for the home of any woman.

Why I Wrote Dark Slivers

This project has consumed evenings and weekends around my real life for so long…I’ve been sunk into Nirvana so deeply that I admit I can’t quite remember how I filled time before it. But I do remember doubts ganging up on me when I started. It would have been all too easy to say “write? I don’t have the right.”

I wrote this book because I was inspired by Nirvana in a literal sense. 1986-1990 they were just a cluster of poor boys in the back end of nowhere making barely a penny and with only the slimmest scraps of hope. The sour jokes they (and their associates at Sub Pop) made about impending success betrayed how few chances they saw, how little they could imagine what was going to happen. But, because they loved what they were doing, they kept on finding the time, the resources, the opportunities to keep music in their lives. Even with no hope beyond “maybe then I can get off this piss-stained mattress I’ve been sleeping on” they focused not on mythical end goals but on taking pleasure and triumph from their immediate actions; from doing something in the here and now.

My best day was realising that life will never slow down, will never wait for me or pause to let me package the day-to-day up neatly before I begin. I realised it was on me, regardless of what I had to do out of practical necessity, to focus myself on the people and on the things I love. It occured to me that these are the pieces that couldn’t be taken away; something you create then you hold it in your gut.

The story of Nirvana, for me, is a story about miracles occuring. The image stuck in my mind all year, the vision that drove me, was the picture of Kurt Cobain sat in a car, by a phone booth, refusing to move in case the radio lost its signal, waiting twenty minutes to hear the station play Nirvana’s first single having called in and requested it. He’s quoted saying something about it feeling like a bigger triumph than he had ever imagined. I love that idea of the future superstar, sat like an excited kid, stunned by his own creation and not caring at that moment whether he was the only person asking for it. There have been nights, after a moment of revelation while writing, that I’ve been too excited to sleep. It’s unlikely I’ll make back the money I’m investing in the preparation of the book, but what thrills me is the idea of holding something I created, the physical object, in my hands in a few weeks. Life’s little victories in bloom.
Nirvana taught me you need to start doing what you love before life gets so full that you can’t even remember what it was that made life feel good in the first place. While writing Dark Slivers, each time I’ve fulfilled my desire to write something I’m sure is original, new thinking on Nirvana, I’ve felt fire inside. That’s how it should feel when we do what we adore; the love buzz.

I think the important things in life are those we do, not because they’re what we have to do in order to live, but because they’re what we have to do in order to be alive. Everything else is barren necessity – the void.

Nirvana Reunion?

It’s always been a pleasure noting that the end of Nirvana didn’t sever the friendship between its surviving members. Over recent years Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl have been spending musical time in one another’s company while Pat Smear (Nirvana’s second guitarist during the In Utero tours) rejoined Foo Fighters on a permanent basis.

Things like this have led to rumors of, and calls for, a ‘reunion’ of Nirvana. I use the quote marks deliberately because with a project so centered around the output of a single individual there’s no way some kind of performance could qualify as a reunion.

I’d be perfectly happy to hear the band back together pumping out the music — for two generations of fans it’d be the closest we could come to experiencing Nirvana and the appeal is obvious. But I’m not sure I can see anyone taking over Cobain’s vocals. It isn’t that there aren’t candidates who could mimic the style; and it isn’t that there aren’t individuals who would have a certain legitimacy in the role…

…But that’s the point. It’d be a role, theatre not authenticity. To take songs as loaded with personal pain and experience as the catalogue of Nirvana and replay them as pantomime, no matter how skilled the performer, would be hard to swallow. Kurt Cobain was a singer who used to shred his voice on stage as he tried to push as much power and emotion out as he could. For anyone else to take his words, even if willing to put in that same all-out spirit, it’d only be mimicry. Losing your voice for someone else’s song would make it a quality rendition, a heartfelt effort at showing respect, but still just a good cover of the original. In the context of a performance draped in the identity of a long dead band no amount of effort would allow the performer to truly possess the song — it’d always be a tribute and a facsimile and nothing more.

Foo Fighters performing Nirvana songs or some regrouping of Nirvana’s survivors would be worth a watch. Also these guys — consummate performers one and all — have a legitimate right to perform the songs they helped create and bring to the world. But a piece is missing. It’d still lose the earnest emotion at its centre. Best to adopt a different name, make it something independent and different, to be enjoyed without the feeling that it’s a cash in on an identity. It would also clear up any questions if they could simply say “we’re not Nirvana, we’ll never be Nirvana again…But we love these songs, they’re a part of us and we wanted to perform them again.” That’s not unreasonable and it’d be a pleasure to listen.