photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
LEGACY is a TRICKY thing. on one hand its nice to have a pedigree of QUALITY associated with the very mention of your name, but it can be LIMITING, especially when it comes to something as FICKLE and ONEROUS as AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS.
like anyone else, i was pleasantly surprised to learn that KIM THAYIL (SOUNDGARDEN, THE NO WTO COMBO), KRIST NOVOSELIC (NIRVANA, GIANTS IN THE TREES, THE NO WTO COMBO), MATT CAMERON (SOUNDGARDEN, PEARL JAM, HATER) and BUBBA DUPREE (VOID, HATER) were involved in a new project called 3RD SECRET, especially after hearing their first few releases online to learn that it was a bit of a sonic departure from the bands they're famously associated with. for starters 3RD SECRET is fronted by two women, JILLIAN RAYE & JENNIFER JOHNSON who both previously collaborated in recent years with NOVOSELIC in the decidedly EXPERIMENTAL ALTERNATIVE ROCK band GIANTS IN THE TREES.
with 3RD SECRET, the PHRASING and ODD-TIME SIGNATURE guitar riffage of THAYIL is UNMISTAKABLE, but the context is DIFFERENT. with the TANDEM VOCALS and SPARSE INSTRUMENTATION the effect is often PASTORAL and intriguingly FOLK-adjacent at times to my ears, something id never associate with the AGGRESSIVE ALTERNATIVE ROCK of SOUNDGARDEN, NIRVANA or the UNRELENTING HARDCORE of VOID. most of all, i have to say its just great to see them all in action with a CREATIVE vehicle that nods but is not beholden to their PAST. and honestly, from an outside perspective they seem like they are ENJOYING themselves, so more power to them.
im looking forward to what they come up with in the FUTURE, however long this current project lasts. 3RD SECRET is definitely worth checking out.
what is there to say about NIRVANA's NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) album that hasnt already been said again and again and again over the past three decades ad nauseam.
forget GRUNGE or ALTERNATIVE ROCK, NEVERMIND is arguably the most CELEBRATED ROCK AND ROLL album of all-time, right there with the likes of THE BEATLES' REVOLVER (PARLOPHONE, 1966) or SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (PARLOPHONE, 1967), BOB DYLAN's BLONDE ON BLONDE (COLUMBIA, 1966) or HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED (COLUMBIA, 1965), THE VELVET UNDERGROUND's THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO (VERVE, 1967), LED ZEPPELIN's LED ZEPPELIN IV (ATLANTIC, 1971), THE CLASH'S LONDON CALLING (CBS, 1979), AC/DC's BACK IN BLACK (ATLANTIC, 1980), and THE SEX PISTOLS' NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS, HERE'S THE SEX PISTOLS (WARNER BROS, 1977). unlike those records NEVERMIND made an immediate impact on AMERICAN CULTURE, effectively establishing overnight long simmering UNDERGROUND INDIE and PUNK ROCK scenes as the new mainstream gatekeepers and arbiters of quality and taste writ large. with NEVERMIND, much like with the fossil record, there is a definite delineation of a NEW EPOCH, one in which we are still very much experience decades later. the BRITISH INVASION reacquainted AMERICA with its MUSICAL CULTURE while helping establish ROCK AND ROLL as a vehicle, while later PUNK ROCK revitalized ROCK AND ROLL when it became stale and predictable, but only NIRVANA and NEVERMIND effectively bridged those two movements together in one band, one expression. GIFTED SONGWRITING and AUTHENTIC ATTITUDE.
so now that i got all that out of the way. my recollection of the album, which i got as a christmas gift along with IN UTERO (DGC, 1993) from my parents while on vacation in SAN FRANCISCO in 1994, were the songs. and not just the singles. there is a sense when listening to tracks like "ON A PLAIN," "DRAIN YOU," "BREED," "LOUNGE ACT," "TERRITORIAL PISSINGS" and "STAY AWAY" that what you are experiencing is the aural equivalent of SOCIAL ALIENATION and general DISSATISTFACTION. its not even about the words necessarily, which are often associative wordplay schemes rather than COGENT articulations. the brilliance and genius of NIRVANA and KURT COBAIN as a songwriter was his preternatural ability to seamlessly translate an EMOTIONAL STATE. his songs are unique unto him and the COMPLEX undercurrent of PAIN, DESPAIR and HELPLESSNESS that make them so POWERFUL. even after years of WELL-INTENTIONED acolytes futilely attempting to manufacturing his STEEZE, NEVERMIND still stands UNBLEMISHED as a near PERFECT expression of our individual capacity to locate what we hate about society staring straight back at us within ourselves.
it makes sense that COBAIN was AMBIVELANT about the album and its UNEXPECTED commercial and artistic SUCCESS. he seemed to feel a myriad of ways about multiple aspects of his life. i dont want to glorify MENTAL ILLNESS, but that CONFLICTED MIND-STATE no doubt contributed to a record of such EMOTIONAL RESONANCE and COMPLEXITY, even on a purely sonic level. for me that unique listening experience divorced from pre-frontal cortex intellectualizing is what separates NEVERMIND from everything else. every time i hear it i feel a weight lifted from my shoulders, a sense of RELEASE and TRANSCENDENCE from the MUCK of life.
its been that way ever since i first heard "SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT" from a SHAKEYS PIZZA jukebox at an after-game soccer party when i was starting second grade in 1991. i knew that deep well of feeling and identified with it immediately on impact.
what a REMARKABLE gift that was to the world.
RIP KURT COBAIN
my introduction to BLEACH (SUB POP, 1989) was seeing its cover as promotional square poster on the inside wall of a local TOWER RECORDS in ORANGE COUNTY back in what had to have been 1989 or 1990. i had no idea who the band was. i was four or five at the time and was likely with my dad as he went record shopping.
itd be a few more years until i knew of the album, as i was gifted both IN UTERO (DGC, 1993) and NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) for christmas in 1994, which was several months after KURT COBAIN's passing. i was almost ten. getting BLEACH and INCESTICIDE (DGC, 1992) followed quickly thereafter. so yes, like most of the world i listened to the debut NIRVANA album after hearing NEVERMIND. that was my initial barometer and point of reference and i just want to come out and say that definitively from the jump. i assume also like most people, that my first impression was the qualitative difference in production as the JACK ENDINO-produced BLEACH was much more NOISY, rough-around-the-edges and DIRGE-like then the relative polished sheen of BUTCH VIG's production on NEVERMIND. ENDINO of course is famous for his creative work as guitarist for SEATTLE proto-GRUNGE band SKIN YARD as well as engineering and production on early efforts by the likes of MUDHONEY, BABES IN TOYLAND, GREEN RIVER, SOUNDGARDEN, L7, SCREAMING TREES and NIRVANA. these records were SPARTAN affairs that were recorded and mixed quickly at maximum efficiency with little to no time for niceties like overdubs and studio trickery. BLEACH was likewise recorded in this DIY manner that was the norm for both HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK bands of that era. NEVERMIND was a more EXPERIMENTAL affair with a bigger budget and, importantly, more studio time and its sound reflects such.
and then their are the songs themselves. for me the standout track is "NEGATIVE CREEP," which has this MEMORABLE repeated BUZZSAW riff that mimics the self-flagellatory nature of the lyrics which seem to both celebrate and denounce the deteriorating state of the narrator's mindset and sense of self-worth. for me this song was an gateway to the more DISSONANT and EXPERIMENTAL side of the burgeoning SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene, specifically THE MELVINS and that slow PLODDING SLUDGE METAL sound that was so influential to later bands like DOWN, MASTODON, EYEHATEGOD, HIGH ON FIRE, CROWBAR and TOOL among many others. other notable tracks include "SCHOOL," "BLEW," "FLOYD THE BARBER," "LOVE BUZZ," "BIG CHEESE," and probably most famously, "ABOUT A GIRL." a lot of has been written concerning "ABOUT A GIRL" and its BEATLES' influenced MELODY and chord progression, especially in the wake of COBAIN's iconic performance of such on MTV UNPLUGGED IN NEW YORK (DGC, 1994). i personally found the song ENDEARING in its evocation of having COMPLICATED feelings towards a love interest. its probably why i suggested it to my band in middle school to play at the talent show that year. i was the drummer and was dismissed shortly before the concert. my replacement being the middle school science teacher, who our older guitarist was trying to kiss ass to at the time. not a fun memory, but i chose it for someone i cared about and watching other people perform it was humiliating and a bit traumatic in retrospect. this is all a longwinded way of saying i intimately understood back then on an emotional level what the song was about. or at least i thought i did.
does this record hold up to later NIRVANA records? my personal opinion is no, especially given the gravitas of IN UTERO and his PAINFUL and singularly ARTFULLY CRAFTED response to the pressures of FAME and FATHERHOOD. that record was a statement on an entirely different level with breadth, depth and scope. with BLEACH you see a songwriter and a rhythm section finding their footing before they really took flight. as a developmental curiosity BLEACH is very much worth checking out and becoming familiar with, but really only after consuming and coming to terms with NEVERMIND and IN UTERO. at least in my opinion.
created as a stopgap between NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) and IN UTERO (DGC, 1993), NIRVANA's release of the INCESTICIDE (DGC, 1992) compilation included COVERS, B-SIDES, DEMOS, OUTTAKES and BROADCAST RECORDINGS for radio stations. there are some real gems on this record including originals like "ANEURYSM," "SLIVER," "DIVE," "BEEN A SON" and "STAIN." in particular the track "ANEURYSM" became a concert staple and crowd favorite after this release.
one of the cool things about all the members of NIRVANA was their capacity to utilize their immense platform to promote bands they liked in television interviews and in the press. beneficiaries of such praise included seminal INDIE ROCK veterans like THE RAINCOATS, DINOSAUR JR, THE VASELINES, SONIC YOUTH and DANIEL JOHNSTON as well as peer acts like KYUSS, BIKINI KILL, SOUNDGARDEN, THE MEAT PUPPETS, HOLE, THE BOREDOMS, THE MELVINS and THE BEAT HAPPENING. there are three covers on INCESTICIDE that include "TURNAROUND" (DEVO), "MOLLY'S LIPS" and "SON OF A GUN" (THE VASELINES). when considered alongside the eclectic covers from MTV UNPLUGGED IN NEW YORK (DGC, 1994), including that of DAVID BOWIE, LEADBELLY and THE MEAT PUPPETS, it just showcases a depth and range of appreciation for music that spans several genres including INDIE ROCK, GLAM ROCK, DELTA BLUES, COUNTRY and NEW WAVE among others.
but i think the biggest takeaway from INCESTICIDE is not the music per se. in the liner notes KURT COBAIN made it explicit where he stood with his emerging fanbase, a portion of whom he felt didnt share his values of gender, sexual and racial inclusivity. famously he concluded the liner notes with "if any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us — leave us the fuck alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.” when you consider that this record came directly after the generational cultural phenomenon that was NEVERMIND, it is pretty PUNK ROCK that COBAIN took such a stand to challenge his audience at what was his commercial peak. in the liner notes of IN UTERO he went even further to forewarn that "If you’re a sexist, racist, homophobe or basically an asshole, don’t buy this CD. I don’t care if you like me, I hate you.”
in the years since i've met many people globally who were influenced and appreciated the music of NIRVANA. they were a global phenomenon. but it is this social aspect of their band that gets lost in translation quite a bit. and ive had a hard time swallowing the fact that we've worked with some artists that adore (and copy) COBAIN yet are raging homophobes and misogynists themselves. there is a bigger debate out there of whether or not you can separate an artist's music from their individual actions. i have a hard time with that one, in fact a very early DEER GOD RADIO show (EPISODE #2) is about that very topic: its entitled GOOD MUSIC BY BAD PEOPLE.
i just feel that for my interpretive conception of COBAIN and his career, INCESTICIDE marks that turning point where he was aware of his cultural sway and started utilizing it to promote causes he believed in and celebrate communities that were marginalized during his era. and he should be remembered and commended for such efforts. such are part of his true cultural legacy.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
there is nothing innately special about the concert film 1991: THE YEAR PUNK BROKE (TARA FILMS, 1992) on the surface.
filmed on tour in 1991 while INDIE ROCK icons SONIC YOUTH was on tour in throughout EUROPE, the film has the requisite backstage antics youd expect from an underground AMERICAN band playing overseas while it was still a novel experience. most of the live songs presented are from SONIC YOUTH, but there is also live footage of BABES IN TOYLAND, DINOSAUR JR, GUMBALL, THE RAMONES and NIRVANA.
and basically everyone who watches this film is well aware that NIRVANA was the band that broke punk into the mainstream shortly after this tour, not SONIC YOUTH. in that sense this film functions as a historical document of NIRVANA, and KURT COBAIN specifically, arguably at their peak before the pressures of success, fame and drug abuse slowly dismantled the group over the next three years. the fact that in this film COBAIN is not the focal point only makes it that much enticing as an portrayal of him during an enjoyable moment in time when he was surrounded by likeminded peers like KIM GORDON, J MASCIS, MARK ARM and the like overseas goofing off and introducing cuts off BLEACH (SUB POP, 1989) and the yet-to-be-released NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) to new, unsuspecting audiences. watching that is that moment is the real treat of this film.
speaking of goofing off, there is way too much THURSTON MOORE rambling off bullshit throughout this film. at first it is charmingly annoying but by the end of the film it really is just annoying hearing him go off on tangents leading nowhere. but those pointless interludes in between concert footage only goes to show that this film was originally conceived as a SONIC YOUTH vehicle culled from their footage.
is an interesting historical document with some great live performances by legendary ALTERNATIVE ROCK acts, but if you are looking for something more substantial than definitely check out the documentaries HYPE (review linked HERE), PUNK: ATTITUDE (review linked HERE) and WHEN NIRVANA CAME TO BRITAIN (review linked HERE) for additional context.
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.
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.
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.