photo manipulation by nacrowe
its funny how there is the psychic cultural connection between the UNITED STATES and the UNITED KINGDOM, whereby both influence the other in and out of context. it is a dynamic that i have found endlessly fascinating. you can see it in all the great BRITISH INVASION bands taking CHICAGO and DELTA BLUES and making it there own, or in PUNK ROCK initiating a mutual admiration society of artists turn musicians that flourished on both sides in POST PUNK, HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK of the 1980s and ALTERNATIVE ROCK in the 1990s.
so NIRVANA was a continuation of that push and pull across the pond. what is interesting about the recent WHEN NIRVANA CAME TO BRITAIN (BBC, 2021) documentary is that it focuses on the influence of NIRVANA by those who roadied, booked and attended those early shows. also interviewed are surviving members KRIST NOVOSELIC and DAVE GROHL as well as members of the BRITISH music press and members of THE RAINCOATS and THE VASELINES, whom KURT COBAIN famously championed.
what comes across is the organic embrace of the band pre-fame by the BRITISH public as well as an open-minded set of outsider and working-class booking agents and support staff. NIRVANA to these people represented a conscious break from the austere conservatism of THATCHERISM and a peak into a more inclusive and freeing future. NOVOSELIC makes the point that NIRVANA was a "feminized" band that consciously rejected the hollow machismo and outright misogyny of ROCK N ROLL during that period. COBAIN is the very archetype of a more enlightened, progressive and ultimately inclusive form of a modern-day MASCULINITY. the fact that within a BRITISH context he cultivated that sort of reaction by an outsider culture he so deeply felt aligned with is heartwarming. because i dont believe he ever felt that way stateside at any point during his life, pre or post-fame.
the narrative of NIRVANA and COBAIN has been retread so many times in books, tv shows, documentaries and articles since his passing 27 years ago that the topic itself seems completely barren of surprise or insight. i think the BBC here did an interesting job of presenting a new angle on NIRVANA by focusing on their work ethic, determination and innocence and how that touched a nerve with a small public and working-class support staff at a formative stage in their career.
WHEN NIRVANA CAME TO BRITAIN is a very touching and ultimately productive documentary worthy of investigation.
photo & text by nacrowe
i was 10 when KURT COBAIN passed away and my initial introduction to the MTV UNPLUGGED IN NEW YORK (GEFFEN, 1994) record was at a friend's house when my family were living in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. we didnt have MTV back then and in fact didnt see the actual show until it came out on DVD in 2007. which i have to say was a pretty surreal experience given that by that point i had long since committed every nuance of the recording to memory.
obviously this record is celebrated for its focus on COBAIN the songwriter in a stripped-back intimate setting. in my openly biased opinion several of these performances are iconic, especially "THE WHO SOLD THE WORLD," "ABOUT A GIRL," "ALL APOLOGIES" and especially "WHERE DID YOU SLEEP LAST NIGHT." its ironic that people use this specific live recording to espouse at length about COBAIN's strength as a songwriter as six of its fourteen tracks are covers by the likes of LEADBELLY, THE VASELINES, DAVID BOWIE and THE MEAT PUPPETS. the original songs they did opt to play were largely deep cuts with the exception of NEVERMIND (GEFFEN, 1991) single "COME AS YOU ARE," which in and of itself is quite a confident statement.
what strikes me about these performances is not COBAIN the songwriter, but COBAIN the performer. in this bare-bones environment what really shines is his voice and his preternatural ability to connect emotionally with an audience. at times his performances are so authentic and so real that they are almost uncomfortable to listen to, as if you are hearing close family arguing. he comes off so vulnerable yet in firmly in command that you really sense being in the presence of a genius. you dont sense any affectation or posturing on his part, as you do other lesser performances by peers in this series (STONE TEMPLE PILOTS, PEARL JAM, etc), with the noteworthy exception being the ALICE IN CHAINS performance in 1996.
obviously the death of COBAIN in 1994 permanently effected the public's memory of this legendary performance. when i hear it i am transported back to my teenage years and it perfectly distills a lot of what i felt back then during that period in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. that included feeling insecure and a total outsider in a close-minded, often racist ORANGE COUNTY community that i felt little in common with. its funny to me now that i feel that i have more in common with those i met a few years later in 1996 when living in NIGERIA than i ever did back "home."
i wonder if COBAIN felt that way ever. if he ever found solace within a new home or community. to my ears this record sounds like a person profoundly in touch and cognizant of his own vulnerability. aware of his own search.
legendary performance by an iconic performer. well-worth revisiting and further investigation.
photo & text by nacrowe
L7 is the shit.
just wanted to get that out of the way right at the beginning. i got their album BRICKS ARE HEAVY (SLASH, 1992) my senior of high school in the early 2000s after reading somewhere that BUTCH VIG produced them and that they were part of the early ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene before it blew up. when i first heard them i remember thinking that this band is so heavy, so political and just so incredibly badass. like i stumbled on my new favorite band. specifically songs from that album like "SHITLIST," "WARGASM," "EVERGLADE" and, of course, "PRETEND WE'RE DEAD" as well as "FAST AND FRIGHTENING," "FUEL MY FIRE," and "ANDRES" from other albums just made me so content as an angry recently relocated teenager stuck in a boring suburban hell-hole. it was just the aggression, attitude and assault of their sound. very similar experience to when i discovered THE GERMS a few years before and GG ALLIN a few years later.
i recently came across this documentary L7: PRETEND WE'RE DEAD (BLUE HATS CREATIVE, 2016) which follows their career from navigating the concurrent LOS ANGELES 80s SUNSET STRIP / HARDCORE PUNK scenes to riding the ALTERNATIVE ROCK wave of the 90s as it ebbed and inevitably waned. interviews with band members DONITA SPARKS, SUZI GARDNER, DEMETRI PLAKAS and JENNIFER FINCH as well as the likes of SHIRLEY MANSON (GARBAGE), ALLISON WOLFE (BRATMOBILE/SEX STAINS), LYDIA LUNCH, VALERIE AGNEW (7 YEAR BITCH), JOAN JETT, LOUISE POST (VERUCA SALT), EXENE CERVENKA (X), ALLISON ROBERTSON (THE DONNAS), CSS, BRODY DALLE (THE DISTILLERS/SPINNERETTE), KRIST NOVOSELIC (NIRVANA) provide context to their ability to conquer the competition and, even if misogynist fans or music magazine editors couldnt get past their gender. it sucks having to even bring up gender at all, since it has literally nothing to do with their musicianship, but the fact is that stories like theirs is long overdue within the context of music history. it is too often overlooked. hopefully this and other documentaries that have popped up over the past decade (THE PUNK SINGER: A FILM ABOUT KATHLEEN HANNA, JOAN JETT BAD REPUTATION, PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER, PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE) will begin to reshape that unfortunate narrative.
i remember watching an interview with GARBAGE once where they described the beginning of the millennium as a pivotal moment in their career, basically because file-sharing had cut into their record sales. L7 ended in 2001 but little mention is made regarding such factors as widespread piracy. sales dwindled after HUNGRY FOR STINK (SLASH, 1994) only matched its predecessor, BRICKS ARE HEAVY (SLASH, 1992) in sales and they were eventually dropped. i mean it all makes sense that they were never huge because of said reasons earlier, they were authentically aggressive with attitude and a bludgeoning sonic assault. they were too original i guess. i thought it was real interesting that the only mention of technology was how fans gathered online and effectively forced the band to reunite in 2015 and tour.
this is mentioned in the film, which released in 2016, but it also makes sense that they released a new album in 2019 on JOAN JETT's label. women supporting and promoting women. L7 did the same when they started ROCK FOR CHOICE nonprofit back in the 1990s to promote FEMALE REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS, they just put themselves out there. im glad that they are similarly being supported by the wider rock community writ large in recent years.
that and they came back to take on TRUMP with their latest album and how can you not love that?
photo manipulation by nacrowe
this is pretty cool.
the MUSEUM OF POP CULTURE in SEATTLE recently did their annual fundraiser for local music education and community engagement initiatives by celebrating the work of regional favorite sons ALICE IN CHAINS. aside from their performance at the event, there were also performances both on-site and via video submissions by various peers and artists, many of the METAL and ALTERNATIVE ROCK persuasion.
while i am pretty on the fence about music-related museums in general (in my mind movements are only truly dead once you can visit an exhibit), these performances by the likes of MARK LANEGAN of SCREAMING TREES, MASTODON, HEART, FISHBONE, KORN, SOUNDGARDEN, TAD DOYLE of TAD, KRIST NOVOSELIC of NIRVANA, DAVE NAVARRO of JANE'S ADDICTION, COREY TAYLOR of SLIPKNOT, METALLICA, BILLY CORGAN of THE SMASHING PUMPKINS, TAYLOR HAWKINS of the FOO FIGHTERS are amazing and serve of evidence of the cultural impact ALICE IN CHAINS had on their peers and the next generation of musicians.
makes me miss LAYNE STALEY and MIKE STARR all the more deeply. not to mention their fallen peers in CHRIS CORNELL and KURT COBAIN. rest in peace brothers.