i have to come out and admit it. initially i thought audio engineer AARON RASH's NIRVANA-focsed TONE-CHASING YOUTUBE CHANNEL was more than a bit on a clickbait tip. its NOT UNCOMMON on social media to see people acquiring KURT COBAIN-inspired gear in the hope and pursuit of chasing views and clout while exploiting the generations of 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK fans still out there, me included.
this first impression was thankfully ABSOLUTELY WRONG.
while RASH is focused on the NIRVANA catalogue, what makes his pursuit INTRIGUING is not necessarily the subject per se (although i am a huge COBAIN fan since childhood), but the manner in which he actively DECONSTRUCTS the mechanics of how sound is PRODUCED and RECORDED. my cousin is an audio engineer and listening to RASH wade through CLOSE EXAMINATIONS and COUNTLESS off-camera SONIC EXPERIMENTS regarding SPEAKERS, PICKUPS, MICROPHONES and the more technical aspects of PHASE CANCELLATIONS, POLARITY, WAVE TRANSIENTS and the like and their effect on tone takes me right back to being in my cousin's presence listening to mixes he was tinkering on for UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA and YEASAYER. if anything, the end result is the CONSEQUENCE of a long chain of DECISION-MAKING, some INTENTIONAL and some not. knowing what GUITAR made from the CORRECT MATERIAL with the CORRECT PICKUPS, going through the CORRECT AMPLIFIER with the CORRECT SPEAKERS and so on is a maddening proposition.
but RASH pursues such tones off of BLEACH (SUB POP, 1989), NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) and IN UTERO (DGC, 1993) with a PASSION and an almost ACADEMIC, SINGULAR focus that comes off as both CREATIVE and IMAGINATIVE. it really makes you consider the PRODUCTION CHOICES behind MEMORABLE guitar tones.
now if only RASH decided on tackling FAITH NO MORE'S ANGEL DUST (REPRISE, 1992) or JANE'S ADDICTION's RITUAL DE LO HABITUAL (WARNER BROS, 1990) id truly be in guitar dork heaven. wink, wink.
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.
i discovered the JUSTIN HAWKINS RIDES AGAIN channel a few months ago on YOUTUBE and was really taken aback by how INFORMATIVE it all was. if you are unfamiliar with JUSTIN HAWKINS, he is the frontman and main songwriter for BRITISH ALTERNATIVE glam metal band THE DARKNESS who first came to fame in the 2000s along with the wave of other INDIE ROCK REVIVAL groups. whereas other ENGLISH and SCOTTISH groups from the period (including BLOC PARTY, FRANZ FERDINAND, THE LIBERTINES, THE FUTUREHEADS and THE CRIBS) seemed heavily influenced by both the POST PUNK and INDIE ROCK movements, THE DARKNESS felt like a breath of fresh air with their stadium-sized AMBITION to be more in the vein AC/DC, MOTLEY CRUE, AEROSMITH, THE CULT or especially QUEEN. they definitely stood apart and where not afraid to look absolutely RIDICULOUS (which i appreciate)! personally i still rock DARKNESS singles like "GROWING ON ME," "OPEN FIRE," "NOTHIN'S GONNA STOP US," "BARBARIANS," "ROCK AND ROLL DESERVES TO DIE" and "LAST OF OUR KIND" on regular rotation while driving to work, i just have to watch my speed in the process.
the JUSTIN HAWKINS RIDES AGAIN channel is reminiscent of RICK BEATO's channel in that HAWKINS also dives into and EXPLAINS music theory and recording / production techniques on popular songs. what differentiates it though is his sense of self-effacing HUMOR that knowingly showcases the ABSURDITY of his life's work as well as his unbridled capacity to call out musicians and industry participants. and he does such from a place of EMPATHY. in other words, he has actual first-hard EXPERIENCE being a ROCK N ROLL star and its that kind of insider KNOWLEDGE that makes his YOUTUBE channel FASCINATING. HAWKINS' channel appears to be a way of BYPASSING a BRITISH press that has long abandoned and even mocked his musical efforts. its rather BEAUTIFUL that an artist in today's DIGITAL ecosystem has the ability to CULTIVATE and COMMUNICATE directly with an audience sans middlemen and gatekeepers.
i feel its also great that he has used this new platform to promote artists he's discovered (sometimes even through his audience). it was through him that i became aware of two INCREDIBLE modern AUSTRALIAN PUNK bands, THE CHATS and AMYL & THE SNIFFERS. if anything, i tend to rely on HAWKINS through his channel as a vehicle for DISCOVERING new bands, which is always a fun thing. my hope is that HAWKINS continues to be PROLIFIC with his channel and further PROMOTE an INCLUSIVE community that follows his lead as a highly IDIOSYNCRATIC, but musically KNOWLEDGEABLE and stylistically OPEN-MINDED guide to new cultural ideas and sonic terrains.
i look forward to seeing where HAWKINS takes this.
THE BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD EXPERIENCE (GEFFEN, 1993) is quite the interesting 1990s CULTURAL ARTIFACT. produced by none other than STEVE ALBINI, this compilation was obviously a bit of a cash grab at the height of the ALTERNATIVE ROCK movement that the BEAVIS & BUTT-HEAD TV SHOW had no small part in helping popularize (just as WINGER and all those HAIR METAL bands that got pilloried and became instant cultural pariahs), but as such go this one had staying power.
the unquestioned standout track by a mile is the strong NIRVANA track "I HATE MYSELF AND WANT TO DIE" which was one of the last tracks released prior to his suicide. in fact, this song was the would-be title track to IN UTERO (review linked HERE), as I HATE MYSELF AND WANT TO DIE was the original working title for their third album. other notable tracks include a memorable ANTHRAX cover of the BEASTIE BOYS' "LOOKING DOWN THE BARREL OF A GUN" track (off PAUL'S BOUTIQUE) and the hard-charging WHITE ZOMBIE song "I AM HELL." the album is rounded out by largely forgettable, hit-or-miss tracks by the likes of THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, PRIMUS and MEGADETH.
i originally had this record on cd back in elementary school in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA and the two songs i remember pretty distinctly (aside from the NIRVANA, ANTHRAX and WHITE ZOMBIE tracks) was the updated CHER duet "I'VE GOT YOU BABE" with BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD and of course the epic BUTTHEAD slow jam "COME TO BUTTHEAD." looking back now you have to hand it to CHER that she had a sense of humor and was able to laugh at herself. you wonder how much her inclusion may have also been to show how cool she was to her young son ELIJAH BLUE ALLMAN (of much later DEADSY fame). i wouldnt blame her for a second if that was the case. it's pretty badass. "COME TO BUTTHEAD" is also surprisingly well-produced and no wonder, it was composed and recorded by none other than funk brother par excellence NILE RODGERS himself. BEAVIS & BUTT-HEAD creator MIKE JUDGE definitely had lots of surprises on this cash grab no doubt.
the humor surrounding teenage attitudes towards BODILY-FUNCTIONS and SEXUALITY would be a hard sell in today's environment, but that is why it is interesting to revisit this record from time to time. it also makes you consider how the reboot of this show will fair now 30 years later from a different historical moment with TECHNOLOGY and CULTURE moving at speeds unheard of back in the day. it is an interesting conceit nonetheless.
i love this record but i am completely biased. i listened to this record during my formative years so of course id recommend it. definitely worth checking out.
parodies by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO celebrating SLUDGE METAL icons MELVINS!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
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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.
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.
given DAVE GROHL's reputation for being an affable, righteous dude i had some initial misgivings about reading the biography THIS IS A CALL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVE GROHL (DA CAPO, 2011) by former KERRANG! editor PAUL BRANNIGAN. i was worried it would veer towards hagiography, especially given author's decades-long relationship interviewing and covering the towering ALTERNATIVE ROCK musician. but i am glad to report that THIS IS A CALL is a pretty even-handed accounting of GROHL's sprawling career up to the point of the FOO FIGHTERS' WASTING LIGHT (ROSWELL RECORDS, 2011) record a decade ago. this book is unauthorized but includes interviews with past band members and the man himself, many culled from past publications and documentaries, but also from BRANNIGAN himself.
i should state that i have read numerous NIRVANA books at this point, but what makes this book interesting is obviously seeing it from GROHL's perspective. at this point in 2021 GROHL is effectively the flag-waving elder-statesman of ROCK AND ROLL writ large. this has only been further cemented given his actions over the past decade (since this book's publication) in connecting more and more musicians and their stories to a wider audience with his personal television (SONIC HIGHWAYS) and documentary projects (SOUND CITY, WHAT DRIVES US).
so it is interesting being taken along for the ride with GROHL, as his story in popular culture is so unavoidably intertwined with his time in NIRVANA and its doomed frontman KURT COBAIN. and that is unfortunate, because the sense you get from THIS IS A CALL is that for GROHL the defining relationship of his life is with music itself. time and time again you sense that for him music was a means of community, escape, passion and above all else, fun. like COBAIN, GROHL lived a childhood marked by divorce. unlike COBAIN, GROHL grew up in a nurturing, supportive environment. my sense is that PUNK ROCK to GROHL represented an extended family/community of like-minded individuals with a similar pragmatic DIY ethos towards life and art. i am not sure that was the case for COBAIN, who seemed to have boundless ambition maybe in hopes of proving his value. im playing armchair psychiatrist here, and i probably shouldnt, but it seems obvious from the get-go that GROHL never had the same hangups or guilt in following his musical ambitions, especially post-NIRVANA.
again, from the beginning GROHL's enthusiasm was all about chasing the fun of playing music. as a child he became aware of the neighboring DC HARDCORE scene and started teenage bands in his native VIRGINIA. from his first serious project in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE to his stints in other outfits like DAIN BRAMAGE and local PUNK legends SCREAM, you get the sense these experiences provided him a vocabulary about how to interact with others. and obviously the musical shorthand faired him well in his later career with outside projects (THEM CROOKED VULTURES, PROBOT, LATE!, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE), session work (GARBAGE, NINE INCH NAILS, SLASH, DAVID BOWIE, KILLING JOKE and TENACIOUS D) and soundtrack work (TOUCH, RISING SUN: THE LEGEND OF SKATEBOARDER CHRISTIAN HOSOI).
but a lot of this i already knew, what made this book interesting for me where the details about how if personal life affected his lyrical content in the first few records. there are several songs i didnt read as autobiographical that now i can plainly see were. i also appreciate the fact that BRANNIGAN didnt shy away from presenting GROHL at times as being highly opportunistic and unempathetic to the feelings of his "friends" like former FOO FIGHTERS WILLIAM GOLDSMITH and FRANZ STAHL, both unceremoniously booted with little patience or grace, just echos and silence.
if anything, this biography is a great primer for GROHL's upcoming memoir which will highlight stories from his career. make sense, the dude is about connecting people. it is what makes him, well, him.
up until my family moved to NIGERIA when i was 12, we basically never went on trips. the two exceptions to that was a basketball camp i went to in ARIZONA and a memorable road trip to SAN FRANCISCO that included stays in MONTERREY, SOLVANG and SAN SIMEON. its funny because since our big move in 1996, ive now been to somewhere north of 60 countries in the past 25 years. which i admit is insane. but that trip north was a pretty big deal for me.
it was also the trip i got NIRVANA's last record IN UTERO (DGC, 1991) along with its predecessor NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) at the former TOWER RECORDS in near FISHERMAN's WHARF on columbus avenue and bay street in SAN FRANCISCO. years later after graduating high school i got TRICKY's MAXINQUAYE (FOURTH AND BROADWAY, 1995) at that same store.
anyway, like most fans of INDIE ROCK, PUNK ROCK and ALTERNATIVE ROCK, for me NIRVANA was an important band. by the time i got the STEVE ALBINI recorded / produced IN UTERO, frontman KURT COBAIN had been deceased for a few months. what struck me about the record at the time was how raw it was compared to NEVERMIND, which stunned me. COBAIN is obviously celebrated for his preternatural sense of melody and opaque lyrics, but as a 12 year old that was beyond me at that point. really i fed off the aggression and sense of pain in his voice. specifically i am referring to songs like "TOURETTE'S", "RADIO FRIENDLY UNIT SHIFTER," "VERY APE," "SCENTLESS APPRENTICE" and especially "RAPE ME." to me that is the real power of NIRVANA in general. just that vibe of being dissatisfied with the world / yourself. in essence IN UTERO has been the soundtrack to me youth, from moving to AFRICA and visiting places like SPAIN, GHANA, ITALY and COTE D'IVOIRE. i hear the songs and i am snapped back to those trips with my family. alienation is a universal experience, but being a THIRD CULTURE KID really puts that sense of disconnect in perspective. at some point you come to feel comfortable in unfamiliar settings.
in some ways that is how i look at IN UTERO as an adult. COBAIN at that point in his life was at a point of great transition in his life, becoming a father, a generational icon and a hardcore drug addict. all that is reflected in his lyrics which i would argue the most poetic and meaningful of his career, due undoubtedly to the influence of his criminally underrated wife COURTNEY LOVE. dont believe me? read her lyrics from HOLE albums of the period and tell me they are not superior. i think it is beyond doubt that her influence, for good or ill, is indelibly reflected throughout IN UTERO. songs dealing with themes of childbirth, death and reproduction as well as the guilt, shame and lack of control associated with emotional dependence and drug addiction. i cant even begin to imagine the disorientation associated with becoming a media sensation in your mid-20s, especially given his isolated biography and inward artistic leanings. then again he feverishly chased that attention so at the very least the dude was a deeply conflicted and endlessly fascinating figure. with IN UTERO you are given a sense of his mindset post-fame with songs like "DUMB," "PENNYROYAL TEA," "HEART-SHAPED BOX" and "ALL APOLOGIES" being both intimate as well as caustically sardonic and self-lacerating. it really is quite the achievement.
this is one of those records that i feel strongly shaped my identity, worldview and even sense of masculinity from a pretty early age. because of that it is difficult for me to separate it from my own lived experience. it is easily one of my favorite records from the period, only SOUNDGARDEN's SUPERUNKNOWN (A&M, 1993), TOOL's ÆNIMA (ZOO, 1996), RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE's RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE (EPIC, 1992) and ALICE IN CHAINS' DIRT (COLUMBIA, 1992) are in the same ballpark in my opinion. culturally IN UTERO and NIRVANA in general represent the last impactful movement in ROCK AND ROLL.
its been 30 years and we're still waiting for someone to match it. still. waiting.
SING BACKWARDS AND WEEP (HATCHETTE, 2020) is probably one of the more harrowing memoirs i have ever come across. its author MARK LANEGAN, gifted singer/songwriter and former frontman of SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK icons SCREAMING TREES, recounts an drug-addled existence that ranged from the 1980s through his final successful rehab stint in the early 2000s. and that addiction literally cost him everything he valued: relationships, collaborations, touring opportunities, friends, love, money. the list goes on and it is brutal.
there is no doubt that many who investigate this book are interested in the PACIFIC NORTHWEST INDIE/PUNK music scene that exploded in the early 1990s, of which LANEGAN was a central figure within. there is some ink here dedicated to his relationships with other participants such as KURT COBAIN (NIRVANA) and LAYNE STALEY (ALICE IN CHAINS), but the real dominant actor here is DRUGS. and by that i mean literally every make and stripe. COBAIN, STALEY as well as numerous other victims such as KRISTEN PFAFF (HOLE) and JEFFREY LEE PIERCE (THE GUN CLUB) are integral to his narrative in that they exemplify the cost of participation in this downward spiral of needless suffering.
LANEGAN is unflinching in his account and i have no doubt that writing this must have been cathartic. it also no doubt took courage to look at himself and unshrinkingly scrutinize his life's decisions and make them public without being patronizing or worse glorifying said behavior. he seems to be a reliable narrator as he relates how the ever-present threat of dope-sickness and withdrawal effectively corrupted his moral compass and led to a never ending search for a fix to maintain his equilibrium and all its attendant decisions that resulted in the suffering of others.
in HUBERT SELBY JR novels there is often an inverse character arc at play whereby as the individual descends into MADNESS, it is their affliction (FAME, POWER, DRUGS, etc.) that prevails in equivalent fashion. for me that is the feeling i get when considering the SEATTLE drug scene and its effect on several key participants in this book, COBAIN and STALEY being the prime examples.
there is a light and that is the MUSICIANS' ASSISTANCE PROGRAM that effectively saved LANEGAN's life. that and his ability to forgive himself and the capacity for other addicts to enable each other in recovery, here COURTNEY LOVE (HOLE) and DUFF MCKAGAN (GUNS N' ROSES) being such examples. you get the sense that despite the absolute depths of DEPRAVITY that drug addicts wade through, that there is an opportunity for RESTORATION. that we can always be REHABILITATED, RECONSTRUCTED and REINVIGORATED by our choices and actions moving forward.
contrary to what others may read into this memoir, i found it inspiring, compassionate and intensely optimistic. maybe this book is his way of paying it forward.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
RICK BEATO is a trained engineer and producer of nominal fame, having mentored and produced minor bands in the 1990s, mostly out of his studio in ATLANTA, and before that was a instructor at ITHACA COLLEGE in upstate NEW YORK. nothing particularly noteworthy but he did make a living as an engineer and producer with CHRISTIAN artists from what i could find online.
however, what i find compelling about BEATO is his YOUTUBE series of videos called WHAT MAKES THIS SONG GREAT where he basically dissects popular music utilizing the stems from the original recording. it is super interesting because the guy gets into the weeds about MUSIC THEORY and it is completely wonky. i may only understand a third of what he's talking about technically, as i am not a trained musician, but what you come away with is the complexity and depth of thought involved with constructing compelling ROCK AND ROLL music.
even songs by bands i thought i had a handle on (AC/DC, NIRVANA) are unwrapped and presented in a way where the tricks of PRODUCTION and SONG CRAFT are revealed. and example of such is how KURT COBAIN in terms of his singing voice will complete and alter chords that are evoked with the guitar, essentially creating haunting melodies that transcend their individual parts. you get the feeling that COBAIN did this innately, but its still cool to know that in technical terms what he did is of interest to scholars that have the ability to inspect his work on a purely compositional level.
this series, along with WARREN HUART's related INSIDE THE SONG YOUTUBE series, gives you a deep dive into MUSIC THEORY and RECORDING TECHNIQUES within the context of specific songs, which is such a gift. its like learning MUSIC THEORY through osmosis and i am a fan. his actual engineering/production career not so much.
photo manipulations by nacrowe
i dont understand the reason for this film.
i do understand that since his untimely death in 1994 (when i was in elementary school) there has been a demand for material and content related to KURT COBAIN and NIRVANA as their enduring legacy continues to be that they are the last ROCK AND ROLL band of consequence of the last 30 years. the impetus for this immersive documentary, MONTAGE OF HECK (HBO FILMS, 2015) came about when COBAIN's daughter FRANCES BEAN became executor of his estate and commissioned BRETT MORGEN to direct it based on an inherited treasure trove of unreleased recordings and artwork left in the family's privately held archives.
that is not to say that the film is not visually arresting. as a constructed project, it is cleverly edited utilizing various art and nonart pieces from notebook scribblings and paintings to sculpture of his to create animations that draw home the point of his intense alienation throughout his life. it really makes the narrative come alive as his very words come alive.
but with all that being said, what was the point? what statement was this film attempting to make about COBAIN? watching this film felt uncomfortable since any NIRVANA fan knows the lengths to which COBAIN went to secure his privacy from the unforgiving, glaring eye of the media. especially post-VANITY FAIR article. this film is effectively a worst-case scenario for an artist that jealously controlled his band's public image. it doesn't seem a stretch that he would be rightly horrified by the publication of his tapes that were his sanctuary to experiment and hone his craft. as a fan, i don't need to hear it.
there was also numerous claims in the film that seemingly don't hold up to scrutiny by those who knew him at the time in Aberdeen (i.e. BUZZ OSBOURNE of THE MELVINS). key of which is the proposed sexual conquest of a mentally disabled girl by COBAIN in his late teens. the fact that such made it to print is reckless and wholly irresponsible as there is no way to corroborate such.
in my opinion, this film is an equal mistake to that of the publication of COBAIN's JOURNALS (RIVERHEAD BOOKS, 2003) which was heralded for its "transparency" with fans but in reality was just another cash grab 12 years earlier.
finally, after watching this i didn't feel like i new COBAIN any better. yest the home footage of him and COURTNEY LOVE with their infant daughter showcased their undeniable affection for one another and may be the only worthwhile inclusion in this well-produced yet innately hollow film.
i honestly wish i could unsee it. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND this from my memory. it desecrates the memory of COBAIN and feels like an uncomfortable intrusion and needless debasement of his legacy. the fact that such a project originated with his immediate family just compounds the mistake. i dont question their right to pursue such, just the rationale.
leave the man alone. let him and his memory rest in peace.
parodies by nacrowe
check out HERE a special episode of DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC with a playlist dedicated to the music production career of BUTCH VIG, from his career recording DIY releases from obscure 80s midwestern HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK bands at his own SMART STUDIOS to his commercial breakthrough with 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK icons NIRVANA, SMASHING PUMPKINS and GARBAGE and beyond.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
much like his later JIMI HENDRIX biography ROOM FULL OF MIRRORS (SCEPTRE, 2005) which we reviewed (linked HERE), CHARLES R. CROSS in HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN (HYPERION, 2001) arguably provides a definitive account of another troubled SEATTLE musical icon, KURT COBAIN of NIRVANA.
and i don't think that is an irrelevant connection to make. aside from both being part of the bullshit "27 Club," they both navigated multiple worlds and transcended less than hospitable family situations. HENDRIX dealt with issues related to RACISM and VIETNAM, as well as dealing with fame that came from his genius remolding of BLUES and ROCK traditions and bending them to his singular artistic will, essentially defining his era. COBAIN similarly reinterpreted INDIE ROCK and HARDCORE punk culture into what later was termed GRUNGE and ALTERNATIVE ROCK and effectively transformed 90s culture in his image.
both in my opinion dug from a deep well of pain that was rooted in isolation (HENDRIX being an army brat and COBAIN the forgotten, neglected son of a painful divorce) and their gifts were transmitting that depth of feeling into music that touched the world.
HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN is a well-researched, dry affair that relies on public records, published interviews and background info from COBAIN's family and former bandmates and peers. you get the sense from reading it that CROSS strove to create a definitive document and it reads as such. that choice has its pros and cons as there are moments when as a reader i do not feel that COBAIN was in his right mind and could be counted on for accurate information. case in point: his excuses of stomach pain necessitating his abuse of heroin. seems like an excuse to a layman, but i understand CROSS' dilemma. bullshit excuse or not, that was the logic that informed his decision so he needs to report it. i just wish junkie excuses like that would have been given some context by professionally as, no doubt, there are people out there that will mimic such in their misguided fealty to COBAIN as some type of doomed demigod or divine messenger. people are crazy and the story of COBAIN seems to be a teachable moment as any to provide the proper support needed to readers dealing with issues of drug abuse or mental illness.
or maybe that isn't the job of the author. i don't know.
well-researched and expertly written in an almost academic way with little flair. a must for any fan of COBAIN, NIRVANA and the 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene in general.
so much of this HIT SO HARD (DA CAPO, 2017) by HOLE drummer PATTY SCHEMEL is about self-destruction. the enduring image of KURT COBAIN, a friend and former collaborator and even housemate of SCHEMEL, is seen as an example of being too far down the road of despair and drug abuse to turn back. he isn't portrayed as a victim as much as someone resided to their own fate. with SCHEMEL we see someone who took that road to its logical conclusion, losing literally everything: friends, family, financial independence, even her sexuality.
this memoir is less concerned with the story her journey from being an awkward, red-headed lesbian teen from eastern WASHINGTON who found in HARDCORE and drums her identity as it is about the harrowing depths of depravity associated with her road to recovery from opiate addiction.
her being a famous musician is only noteworthy within the arc of this book in that it showcases the cottage industry of enablers and hangers-on that provide celebrities with the means of their own destruction within the entertainment industry. i feel like reading as many biographies as i have about musicians, the recurring trope of drug abuse is a known cliche. that being said, any jadedness i had to the topic was obliterated by the honesty and clarity by which SCHEMEL dissects her actions and behavior and the wake of destruction that followed for bother her and those that cared about her.
to me this hit home, because an overriding theme of this book was kinship. the connection between musicians that is almost a surrogate family. there are surrogate families that fall apart (HOLE) and others that come and go as a means of support from friends (JULIETTE & THE LICKS, IMPERIAL TEEN). even her actual family, especially her brother and father, support her even when all was dire and hopeless. i have family and some friends that have been on similar trajectories, though nothing thankfully as harrowing as described in this book, and it feels comforting to know that an addict like SCHEMEL sees love and human connection as a means for maintaining sobriety.
and that is what makes the death of CHRIS CORNELL so poignant in this book, not just because it bookends the death of fellow SEATTLE musician KURT COBAIN. CORNELL's recovery mirrors that SCHEMEL and serves as an example that once you are an addict, always an addict. recovery is always ongoing and having a support system is your lifeline. which ultimately positions this book as being earnestly involved with the redeeming potential that hope and human connection can foster. it is easily one of the most affecting memoirs i have read to date.
artwork by nacrowe
watch HERE for our most recent episode of DEER GOD RADIO where we play nothing but 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.
with the recent 25th anniversary of his passing it was only fitting that there would be yet another entry to the canon of written work dedicated to KURT COBAIN, especially given that a long rumored and awaited COURTNEY LOVE memoir is in the works. SERVING THE SERVANT (ECCO, 2019 ) encapsulates the recollections and experiences of NIRVANA manager DANNY GOLDBERG as he navigated the group from northwestern obscurity (post-BLEACH) to global domination.
whereas other books dealing with this subject, notably HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN (HYPERION, 2001) by CHARLES CROSS, tend to fixate more on the self-destructive aspects of his life as well as his unhappy upbringing, GOLDBERG here chooses to present his friend as he knew him: intelligent, funny, talented and ultimately flawed. what made this read ultimately interesting were his retelling of how media-savvy COBAIN was how he used this hyper-awareness to manipulate the media to present an image of himself that successfully melded several strains of underground demographics.
if you're interested in tales of drugs, excess and self-defeating behavior, this book shies away from anything remotely sensational. on the other hand if you are interested in marketing and how to successfully position a musical act, this book will satiate that itch.
i do want to commend GOLDBERG for speaking his truth despite the barrage of misinformation regarding his former client and the despicable innuendo projected on him and the family of the deceased. this also marks the first addition to the canon that hasn't felt exploitative, much as the JOURNALS and the recent documentary MONTAGE OF HECK did.