photo & text by nacrowe
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!
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.