As the holidays approach, I feel the overwhelming need to write this after the recent passing of Scott Weiland. We take for granted that our favorite musicians will always be there, but the truth is, life happens, and circumstances in their own lives change, and they are gone.
We’ve lost so many people from the 90’s grunge/alternative rock music scene, and we should not forget them as 2015 concludes, or ever for that matter. The gifts we’ve received from them will last forever, and I am grateful for that. My thoughts go out to their friends, families, and significant others as well, hoping they know the fans are still with them.
Drug addiction is such a hard thing to talk about, so I won’t, but I know all too well the impact it leaves on the living, as I lost my husband in 2010 to a prescription narcotic drug overdose. I then lost my father from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease just 4 days later. The sadness subsides, but never really goes away.
I’d like to take this time to remember those that I often think of and had a huge impact on my ‘alternative music days’ years ago, which I still listen to and love. I’d like to note that not all the artists listed below died of a drug overdose from addiction.
In memory of:
Andrew Wood, Vocals, Piano, Guitar-Malfunkshun, Mother Love Bone
Stefanie Sargent, Guitar – 7 Year Bitch
Mia Zapata, Vocals, Piano, Guitar – The Gits
Kurt Cobain, Lead vocals, Guitar – Nirvana
Shannon Hoon, Lead vocals, Guitar, Various instruments – Blind Melon
John Baker Saunders, Bass – Mad Season, The Walkabouts
Ben McMillan, Lead vocals, Guitar – Gruntruck
Layne Staley, Lead vocals, Guitar – Alice in Chains, Mad Season
Michael Starr, Bass – Alice in Chains, Red Sun Red
Scott Weiland, Lead vocals – Stone Temple Pilots, Velvet Revolver
The biggest losses for me personally were Layne Staley and Mike Starr. Both were such talented musicians, and part of a musical phenomenon that still continues to this day, Alice In Chains. I previously wrote about the sound that Layne and Jerry Cantrell created when singing together, an unparalleled duo to date. Mike Starr played his bass guitar with unmatched aggressiveness.
Unfortunately, thinking about their deaths puts me into a depression, something I cannot explain. But I knew it was time to pull out the music again as I wrote this article, so I started playing Facelift, SAP, Dirt, Jar of Flies and Alice in Chains. I’m sure many of you have done the same when missing Layne, as for me the music is healing. Although the lyrics state something of despair, I find the opposite in their music, and it gets me back to living my life again rather being stuck in a state of depression.
This past August, I brought candles to the Layne Staley and Mike Starr annual vigil at the Seattle Center fountain. Every single person listed above (except for Scott Weiland) had a candle. We even had a candle for Layne Staley’s beautiful ex-fiance Demri Parrott, because the impact she had on so many people.
There have obviously been others that we’ve lost, but the ones listed above I either met in person, or saw live in Seattle. However, I can honestly say that I never got to see Scott Weiland live, but I have always loved the music of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver.
If you have a musician that you have loved and lost, and you haven’t listened to their music for a while, I urge all of you to find the albums, or CD’s, and dust them off and play them. I bet you will feel a sense of happiness in what they left behind, as I did with Layne and Mike.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and wish you joy and happiness into the next year. I also hope you remember the great music these artists have left behind.
In the Crüe book, ‘Kickstart My Heart,’ there is a quote from Nikki Sixx
in which he recalls being able to tell that Nirvana was going to alter the
landscape of rock n’ roll around the release of ‘Nevermind,’ which I found
Yeah, you always wonder how much truth there is to something like that, when
you’re looking back. I can’t remember the exact quote and I’m too lazy to look
it up, but there’s a significant difference about saying something like that
around ‘Bleach’ or around ‘Nevermind.’ I mean, I couldn’t care less if they were
going to alter the landscape or not, but I knew instantly the moment I heard
‘Bleach,’ that this was a cool, incendiary form of punky, heavy metal, and
there were things that Kurt was doing on the guitar there that by some
definitions were heavier than anything we’d heard out of any hair metal
band. Plus the vocals, the lyrics, I don’t ascribe too much of pontificating
about emotion or anger or intensity or energy on these things, but let’s
just say the overall vibe was of anarchy, of a need to retool metal. Grunge
was already a good three years old by the time ‘Nevermind’ was going to pop up
on big huge bad Geffen, home of the bad wind that was Guns N’ Roses.
Although you seem to write primarily about heavy metal, do you enjoy
alt-rock and punk, as well?
Definitely, although alt rock can mean a million different things. And so
can punk, I suppose, and the only punk that I really care about and am an
expert on is the original punk of 1976 to 1979. I know and love all of that
up and down, and I can see having a few punk books in me. And I do indeed
have a Ramones coffee table book coming out in the next few months. I’m
gearing up to write ‘Who Invented Punk?,’ having done a whole bunch of
research on that, and it’s a story I find fascinating. That will be the
companion book to my insane ‘Who Invented Heavy Metal?’ book out last June,
and I may even do ‘Who Invented Thrash?.’ Alternative rock, however? I just
get carsick thinking about that term. I’m more interested in the meanings
and the bands that fill up the spaces known as new wave and post punk.
After reading ‘The Big Book of Hair Metal,’ I felt like it was a good
companion piece to my book, ‘Grunge is Dead,’ as it sets the stage for what
happened in the ’90s in rock music and was interesting to read what was
going on concurrently in LA and Seattle throughout the ’80s and early ’90s.
I seem to think that for the most part, there is “good glam rock” (the early
to mid ’70s variety) and “bad glam rock” (the mid to late ’80s variety). Do
you agree? Disagree?
No, couple things here. First off, the first glam rock, as it existed in the
UK from about 1971 to 1974, really has very little to do with the LA glam
rock of the late ’80s. They basically just had the same name. And even
there, few people call hair metal “glam rock.” That music from the UK was all
over the board, and seldom heavy, except a little bit, Mott the Hoople,
Slade, and quite a bit, Sweet. The only thing they had in common was going
for an androgynous look, along with makeup. To me, the more interesting
comparison of good and bad is the quality of the originals from LA, wild
card Van Halen, but then not wild card, Ratt and Dokken, and then the
insipid nature of all the copycats through most of the rotten core of the
middle ’80s (especially Bon Jovi), and then, what somebody could do a whole
book on, the super high quality of the hair metal bands as they learned and
matured and even got influenced by their own distaste for the ’80s, but also
learning from grunge or other alternative forms of metal, stuff happening in
California like Jane’s Addiction and Faith No More, and made what I think
are pretty well, the best bank of hair metal albums, which arrived in 1992
1993, with 1992 being a particularly good year. Basically every crappy hair
metal band from the ’80s made some of their best music in the early 90s, and
then new bands like Love/Hate, Collision, Saigon Kick, I Love You, Liquid
Jesus, even people like King’s X, Skid Row. I think this is one of the great
unwritten stories of hair metal, how, once the pendulum swung to Seattle, a
bunch of bands in LA were making really good music.
According to your calculations, what were some of the most over-the-top
hair metal bands, songs, and videos of the ’80s? Could Vinnie Vincent
Invasion’s “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” be a winner of all three categories?
Sure, Vinnie Vincent, everybody talks about Nitro, although they forget how
really underground that was. Whitesnake, Warrant, Winger, always the
notorious “three W’s.” Even Guns N’ Roses. I really absolutely do not give them
a pass for being any better than any of the hair metal bands. They were
simply, and quite insipidly in a subcategory I called dirty hair metal, but
hair metal all the same. Firehouse, I also found particularly egregious. But
yes, of course, big poofy, almost misty looking hair, slow motion, shiny
everything, as many girls in the videos as guys, there are all sorts of
Were you sad to see grunge and alt-rock exterminate hair metal, or was it
– to quote Salt-n-Pepa – “very necessary” at the time?
No, it absolutely was necessary. Everybody at the same time was getting
pretty disgusted with the prima donna behaviour, the hedonism, the overt
materialism, and just the watered-down copycat nature of all the new bands
coming along. I’m not one of these guys that found no value in hair metal,
or hated it, because I was metaller than thou. My attitude was always, if
you are a huge metal fan, the more dedicated and more obsessive a metal fan
you are, then why wouldn’t you like more metal, widen your net, and include
hair metal? In other words, Paul Baloff, maybe a metal poser is one that
sees a whole metal category and dismisses it…because you aren’t metal
enough! If you’re into metal, then you should like hair metal! I’m not
saying all of it, or any power ballads for that matter. But the fact of the
matter is that was music completely based around guitar-and some pretty
pyrotechnic guitar playing, when it came to solos. Pounding drums,
screeching, high vocals. There’s lots of metal content across that genre.
Still, there was total magic and excitement around grunge. I was living in
Vancouver at the time, which is satellite enough to Seattle, and buying all
of those early EP’s and albums by Green River, Soundgarden, Nirvana,
Mudhoney. But as I think back, I was still buying every other metal genre as
well, including hair metal, which, like I say, got a lot smarter at the turn
of the decade. But grunge, man, that was incredible. It was dangerous. It
was not verse/chorus. Songs could be short, long, a lark, majestic. You were
constantly being surprised.
How difficult is it to assemble the “day by day” type books you have
assembled on Ozzy, Iron Maiden, and now, Mötley Crüe?
I love this format, because it allows for a really clear, easy reading look
at the story, and an easy way to suggest connections to things like
competing bands, solo careers, personal lives, recordings, as you move
along. And with Mötley, there were so many interesting things to talk about,
given how crazy their lives were. But there was also lots of solo material
along the way, especially stuff coming from Nikki, so that’s all covered in
there as well, plus of course, Vince and Tommy. But I love the idea of
researching, unearthing, nailing down dates for this stuff, and then boom,
right there, putting an elucidating quote about that event. And people love
the fact that with this format, it’s a true coffee table type read, where
you can pick it up at any point, and be instantly interested, rather than
trying to figure out where you left off, or who these characters are in the
story. And then all the yummy photography, pictures of memorabilia, etc.,
further enhance the tale along the way. The Mötley book is just gorgeously
laid out, and every page. I think the word for it is sumptuous.
What are your thoughts on when the Crüe “went grunge/alt-rock” on their
1994 self-titled release?
That is one of Nikki’s favourite Mötley records, and I’m pretty sure it’s
Tommy’s favourite, and Mick likes it a lot as well. And in fact, its way up
there for me as well. Nothing will beat the magic and the magic times of
‘Shout at the Devil,’ but in terms of bravery, cool, pioneering production,
fat drums, just cool writing, yeah, I love that album. And I might be in the
minority, but I really like ‘Generation Swine,’ as well. I just like the fact
that they were fearlessly experimenting, and making some of their smartest
music. Because they really were a stupid band on ‘Theatre’ and ‘Girls, Girls,
Girls.’ It was basically kiddy metal, like the last two Twisted Sister
albums, at that point. It seems like although that album was viewed as a commercial failure
shortly after its release, it has garnered a cult following over the years.
Absolutely. It went gold, simply based on curiosity. But of course, changing
a lead singer is always a tough thing to do. Plus the timing was really bad.
It’d been a long time since the last album, even grunge at that point was in
a mature phase, and we were moving to things like hard alternative,
industrial metal, other electronic forms of music. 1994 was the nadir for
heavy metal, although the rest of the ’90s weren’t much of a picnic either.
But yeah, I instantly loved it, and still do.
Care to predict if Guns N’ Roses will reunite?
No, I couldn’t care less. Especially if the question is specifically
predicting if they will reunite. That’s all gossipy and amorphous and
rumour-milled like talking about sports. Pretty meaningless. The stats and
the scores is all that matters. Talking about who is better is just
insanity. I just really think those guys are the luckiest band on earth.
‘Appetite’ was a pretty good album, nothing more. I even like ‘Use Your
Illusion,’ those records, better, and even then, it’s hard to separate the
sort of miscreant personalities and all the stupidity from the music, and
just enjoy the music for what it is. But I think Love/Hate and Badlands, and
even Skid Row by the time of ‘Slave to the Grind’ were three and four times
the band Guns N’ Roses ever were. So I really couldn’t care less if they do
reunite and run around and play those songs. But I have to give them credit.
People often reduce them to one album. Sure, I won’t give that album nearly
the props everybody else does, but in terms of the material they put out, in
the space of not too, too long – which, again, time is clouded by ‘Chinese
Democracy’ – they did put out the equivalent of about five records worth of
material between ’87 and ’91. So they weren’t exactly slouches.
The rock and roll community took to Twitter on late Thursday night to pay their respects to former Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland. Weiland was found unresponsive on his tour bus and pronounced dead at the scene. Read tributes below from members of Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Velvet Revolver, Guns N’ Roses, Blink-182, and many more.
There has been quite a bit of talk over the years that the guitar riff of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” bears some resemblance to an earlier tune by Killing Joke, “Eighties.” While recently interviewing JK singer Jaz Coleman for the Songfacts site, the subject of the lyrical inspiration behind “Eighties” came up, for which he responded:
We wrote that song in Geneva and it’s kind of an interesting story about it, because we played in a squat – we did two nights in this fallout shelter in Geneva that became sort of a legend in Switzerland. It’s funny, because in 1983, we were going through Switzerland, and the promoter said, “Do you want to stay at a Hilton Hotel or would you want to stay in this seven-bedroom farmhouse, where this couple will cook for you?”
So we took the latter option, and had such a good time there. What transpired is the next morning, I said to this couple, “Can I come back to this house again, to do some writing? I’ve had such a good time here.” And they were very kind and said, “You could.” After the tour, I got a flight back to Geneva, and went to this wonderful house again, and of course, Raven [Paul Raven, Killing Joke bass player at the time] was there – he’d done the same thing! [Laughs] So a new chapter started in Switzerland.
That song I remember was written in the house, and I still live in that house. I’ve still got a room in that house. That song was written upstairs.
That song, of course, became “Come As You Are” for Nirvana. I think of the repercussions of that song and how I went upstairs to the little room where Geordie had his amp. I remember when he knocked that riff out, it was so memorable, it kind of embodied everything that was happening at that time.
And at that time, I was reading Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race, and that line is in the song: “I’m in love with the coming race.” So it was looking forward to the trans-human future that is upon us now.
Killing Joke recently issued their 16th studio effort overall, Pylon, and will be launching a U.S. tour early next year.
With the world waiting in anticipation, the powers that be have brought us a track from the Montage of Heck soundtrack, to be released on November 6th. The soundtrack will feature largely unreleased material. However, this version of “Sappy” is nothing unreleased.
This version of “Sappy”, although much different and noticeably slower and quieter, this version can be found on bootlegs occasionally as “Sad”, because the song has a much sadder tone than the other known versions of “Sappy”.
Alternative Nation has tracked down the tracklisting for Kurt Cobain’s new solo album Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings, set for release on November 13th.
1. The Yodel Song
2. Been A Son
3. The Happy Guitar
4. Clean Up Before She Comes
5. Reverb Experiment
6. You Can’t Change Me/Burn My Britches/Something In The Way
9. And I Love Her
11. Letters To Frances
12. Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle
13. She Only Lies
KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK SUPER DELUXE EDITION and KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK: THE HOME RECORDINGS both include the highly anticipated soundtrack, an aural complement to the documentary in both concept and experience. Comprised from various early and raw cassette recordings made by Kurt alone, the soundtrack allows a rare, unfiltered glimpse into Cobain’s creative progression from early song snippets and short demos to musical experiments and ultimately, pieces of songs or lyrics that eventually appeared on later Nirvana albums.
KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK SUPER DELUXE EDITION will include the 2 hour plus, full-length feature film and 48 minutes of bonus interviews on Blu-ray and DVD, a 31 track deluxe soundtrack on CD and cassette, a 160-page hardbound book with extended interviews and images from the Cobain archive, a puzzle with a collectable storage container, movie poster, postcards and bookmark. The 31 track deluxe soundtrack CD is exclusively available in the Super Deluxe Edition and showcases tracks from the documentary including spoken word, demos and full songs.
KURT COBAIN – MONTAGE OF HECK: THE HOME RECORDINGS soundtrack will be released in two stand-alone physical formats: a 31 track deluxe album available on 2LP vinyl and a standard edition 13 track CD. The standard soundtrack focuses on the music discovered on Cobain’s personal cassettes. The soundtrack will also be available in standard and deluxe digital editions.
Lucky old me got to interview one of my all-time favorite rock n’ roll frontmen, John Lydon of Public Image Ltd (and formerly known as “Johnny Rotten” when he fronted the legendary Sex Pistols), for the Songfacts site. During our chat, we discussed PiL’s recently released album, What the World Needs Now, its leadoff single/video, “Double Trouble,” and I asked his thoughts on a belief I have had for a long time concerning three specific gentlemen:
Songfacts: Something that I’ve felt strongly about for a long time is I think that there are three musicians who spoke their mind the freest about their beliefs in both interviews and their songs: John Lennon, you, and Kurt Cobain. Do you agree with that statement?
John: As far as I’m aware, Kurt wrote one really excellent song, called “Teen Spirit,” which I think is more than enough for anyone in a lifetime. Even writing one most perfect pop song is quite great, that.I don’t know the comparison of Lennon and me, that’s something Oasis brought up years ago. I think we’re all very different from each other, and long may we reign. I seem to be the only one left alive! But in my memory, there’s always a great place for John Lennon. Always. “Working Class Hero” and the album Imagine are highlights of my musical collection.
You can read the entire interview here, and PiL tour dates can be viewed by clicking your clicker here.
Nirvana and Kurt Cobain have been featured heavily in the news and media this year, climaxing with the HBO broadcast of Brett Morgen’s documentary Montage of Heck. Part of Nirvana’s appeal lies in their unique history, emerging out of a know-nothing town from the Northwest to top Michael Jackson in the charts, in a shift of power dynamics that was faster than most political revolutions. The band’s most stable and consistent members were Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl – but their history included a long list of drummers, and later many auxiliary members in the post-Nevermind era. This series of exclusive Alternative Nation articles will deal with the personal and career history of those members of Nirvana that were skewed away and footnoted by history. If you missed Part 1 from last month on Melora Creager, you can read it by clicking here.
Big John Duncan
Before there was “grunge”, there was punk. Punk, like grunge, can be a multi-faceted label. Punk grew out of the harder, weirder, faster rock (proto-punk) rarely tapped into the 1960’s, from groups like MC5 and even the Velvet Underground. Iggy Pop and the Stooges came next, with albums like Fun House and Raw Power often cited by punk and grunge cited both by punk and grunge artists as seminal inspiration. Groups like Television and the New York Dolls closely followed.
New York City’s Ramones arguably became the world’s first punk band, and this punk gospel spread, exploding in the United Kingdom where acts like the Sex Pistols and the Clash emerged as the first wave of British punk. Not trailing far behind was groups like the Germs and the Dickies from California, which advanced the rougher edges of punk with different lyrical content which would regard them as slightly different from groups like the Sex Pistols. “Punk”, as the groups from early to late 70’s knew it, died quickly and was swept away into two different movements: new wave/post-punk and hardcore punk, the former much more commercially successful but hardcore punk might have had a larger impact on youth culture as a whole. The beginnings of hardcore punk emerged out of Southern California and the opposite side of the world around the same, specifically in Edinburgh, Scotland. Indeed, hardcore punk could be described as “north of Punk”, as a colder and harsher form of music which became more abrasive than the original punk that came out of London and more straight forward than the post-punk scenes coming to life in Manchester.
The Exploited became the first archetypal hardcore punk band out of Scotland and out of the United Kingdom as well, maybe even all of Europe. Though the lineup has changed many times over the years, Wattie Buchan remains the frontman he always was. Their classic material from 1980-1983 featured none other than future Nirvana guitar tech and one-off guitarist, Big John Duncan. He helped construct the band’s sound as lead guitarist, laying down the blueprints for the dozens of contemporaries to follow. He played guitar on all their singles and EPs in the early 80’s, including the albums Punks Not Dead and Troops of Tomorrow. They managed to score considerable success as a punk band and even performed on Tops of the Pops. In 1983, however, for one reason or another Duncan either left or was fired. There are many conflicting reports on this, but one report suggests Duncan was kicked out of the band for being an openly gay man. Homosexuality had only been decriminalized in the United Kingdom in the late ’60s and the progress to openness hadn’t quite became instilled in most people.
Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie: Far left is Big John Duncan, far right is Shirley Manson
A few months Duncan later joined Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie (the Mackenzies), a more poppy and alternative band from Edinburgh which featured future Garbarge frontwoman Shirley Manson on keyboards and backing vocals. They enjoyed local success for a few years but poor record label dealings paralyzed their overall success. They are remembered for the airplay hit “The Rattler”, and broke up in 1996.
During a hiatus, Big John Duncan scored a gig as Nirvana’s guitar tech for shows between 1992 to 1993. All three members had listened to the Exploited in their youth as they explored hardcore punk. Cobain needed a second guitarist, as his health and energy due to drug addiction was declining, not remembering as much as he used to. With Duncan already their guitar tech, he seemed like the most practical choice because he was the first person after Cobain to know Nirvana’s guitars intimately. So, Nirvana gave Duncan a chance at guitar. July 23rd, 1993 at the Roseland Ballroom in New York, Duncan joined the band for performances of “Drain You”, “Tourette’s”, “Aneurysm” and “Very Ape”. After this, there are no recorded performances of Duncan playing with Nirvana, though certain reviews suggest he was at other shows. Dave Grohl said in an interview regarding Duncan, “This is just kind of an experiment. No strings attached, we’re just having our roadie play a couple of songs. I want to try it out. Kurt said he wanted to maybe take some songs and thicken them up, see how it words. Besides, John was in The Exploited! Brownie points for that!”
Either way, several months later Nirvana would hire Pat Smear from the Germs as a second guitarist for their last tour, and the legendary MTV Unplugged performance. Duncan would continue to play guitar during soundchecks though, famously on November 5th later that year with members of Japanese experimental rock band Boredoms. They jammed on “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” and the concert closed with members of Boredoms and the Meat Puppets jamming on “Smells like Teen Spirit”. Below is footage of the Boredoms-Duncan soundcheck from the Japanese documentary called “Music for Psychological Liberation” :
After Nirvana, Duncan recorded one more album with the Mackenzies, Five, and left sometime between 1994 to 1995. After his departure, he moved to Amsterdam, Netherlands to work alternatively as a bouncer and roadie for different musical groups and establishments. He still lives there with his partner to this day. Below are recordings with Duncan on guitar with Nirvana:
Musixmatch, the world’s largest lyrics catalog recently put together a new, in-depth study regarding the largest vocabulary in all of music. Musixmatch analyzed data from 99 of the top selling musicians across 25 different genres to calculate the vocabulary size of those said musicians over the 100 (or less) of their lengthiest tracks.
The results were pretty remarkable as rappers make up four out of the top five. According to the study, Eminem, Tupac, Jay-Z and even Kanye West have a more extensive vocabulary within their songs then acts such as Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Elton John and even the Beatles. In fact, the only non-rapper to grace the top five? Bob Dylan.
Noteworthy placements: Metallica (29th), The Rolling Stones (30th), Green Day (37th), Led Zeppelin (62nd) The Beatles (76th), Nirvana (83rd), AC/DC (87th)
West and Eminem also bested non rock artists such as Country stars George Strait and Garth Brooks, who come in at 54th and 27nd respectively. The two also topped pop stars like Madonna (24th) & her modern-era dobbleganger, Lady Gaga (43rd).
You can view the full study above an it should be noted that Bruce Springsteen, Chicago, Def Leppard, Journey, The Beach Boys and The Doors from the original list of 99 musicians don’t grant permission to Musixmatch to use their lyrics. Therefore, they couldn’t be included in the analysis. The website would also like to remind readers that “This analysis should not be interpreted as saying that one musician is better than the other, it is just another insight into the work of these amazing artists. It gives us a peek into the minds of different songwriters, some tear your heart with just a few words while others paint an intricate picture with a thousand words
Frances Bean Cobain, daughter of music icon and Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, has earned her first nomination as executive producer on Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. She’s up for outstanding documentary of nonfiction special, for the Nirvana doc that debuted on HBO. In total, the documentary has seven nominations, including outstanding writing for nonfiction programming and in the documentary or nonfiction special category.
Montage of Heck is set to return to theaters for a limited run beginning in August. As for Foo Fighters, the band confirmed in June that they will make a sequel to Sonic Highways, and it will likely be set in England.
Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl is up for two Emmy awards this year thanks to his work on Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways. The Foo Fighters frontman was nominated for Directing For Nonfiction Programming. Like Montage of Heck, Sonic Highways is also up for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing for Nonfiction Programming. The Sonic Highways documentary, itself earned four Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Informational Series or Special.
The 67th Annual Emmys will air September 20th on Fox.
Since its inception in the late 1960’s, heavy metal has experienced quite a few ups and downs in popularity. But there was one specific decade that sticks out as the most troubling – the 1990’s. In what seemed like one fell swoop, a style of metal that had been popular for much of the 1980’s was rendered obsolete, and in its place, was a much more real, raw, and unique approach – detected in several new metal-based “sub-genres.” Add to it several changes in the music industry and media, and it appeared as if traditional metal may have met its expiration date…before several bands (and a certain traveling festival tour) helped put headbanging rock back on track.
For the book, I conducted over 80 interviews with current or past members of Pantera, Sepultura, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Guns N’ Roses, Faith No More, Primus, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, White Zombie, Stone Temple Pilots, and Kyuss, among many others, while Pantera bassist Rex Brown penned a foreword.
Below is the first exclusive excerpt of three for Alternative Nation, in which Scott Weiland recounts how Kurt Cobain’s death affected him:
“Very intensely [in response to being asked ‘How did Kurt Cobain’s death affect you?’]. I was actually in detox or rehab for the first time, kicking heroin. When I knew that Kurt was over at Exodus [Recovery Center, a rehab center in Marina Del Rey, California], I was in a place in Pasadena. I was actually supposed to be going to Exodus, and [Stone Temple Pilots] had just finished our tour with the Butthole Surfers, and I found out that Gibby [Haynes] was there, so my manager made a change and put me somewhere else. And everything went down – we heard over the TV that he’d jumped the wall [a famous story in which rather than traditionally checking out of Exodus, Cobain jumped over the facility’s wall], I’ve known a lot of people who have done that. Then he was missing, and then found out that he was dead. It was really heavy. It was kind the death of the age of innocence of our thing we had going. As far as that genre of music, there was a certain innocence about it, and then the innocence was gone. I guess every generation has their ‘Don McLean moment.’ Y’know, ‘This will be the day that I die’ [in reference to the McLean song ‘American Pie’] – the whole ‘death of rock n’ roll’ moments. And that was our generation’s death of rock n’ roll.”
You can read an entire chapter from the book (which recounts how guitar solos nearly vanished from rock music by the mid ’90s) here, and find ordering info for the paperback/Kindle versions here, and the Nook version here.
Nirvana and Kurt Cobain have been featured heavily in the news and media this year, climaxing with the HBO broadcast of Brett Morgen’s documentary Montage of Heck. Part of Nirvana’s appeal lies in their unique history, emerging out of a know-nothing town from the Northwest to top Michael Jackson in the charts, in a shift of power dynamics that was faster than most political revolutions. The band’s most stable and consistent members were Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl – but their history included a long list of drummers, and later many auxiliary members in the post-Nevermind era. This series of articles will deal with the personal and career history of those members of Nirvana that were skewed away and footnoted by history.
Born March 25, 1966 in Kansas City, Missouri, Melora Creager was born to a graphic designer and physicist, who in their private and professional lives promoted the arts. Creager and her siblings were brought up learning instruments, Melora taking up piano at age 5 and then cello at age 9. She attended Parsons School of Design in New York, where she took cello back up and began to play shows with friends’ local bands as cellist.
Her band and largest project, Rasputina, began in 1989 after she put out an ad in Village Voice seeking “female electric cellists”, with an accompanying manifesto. Originally a huge nine piece, the band’s permanent members have dwindled to just three as of 2015: Melora Creager, Luis Mojica and Carpella Parvo. Hailing from New York City, the band played around the city’s club circuit until landing a record deal with Columbia in 1996.
In 1994, Melora Creager was recruited to replace touring cellist Lori Goldstein for the European leg of the In Utero tour, the latter who had also performed at Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged appearance. The first performance on record with Creager and the band happened February 5, 1994 in Cascais, Portugal. The version of “Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam” on the With the Lights Out boxset, featuring Creager on cello. Creager, as quoted in Borzillo’s “Eyewitness Nirvana”:
“I got really excited, so all my parts were cadenzas and crazy cello everywhere. [Then] Krist would ask me, ‘You’re playing like the record, right?’. . . Those guys [Cobain and Novoselic] didn’t really talk much. And inmymind, Kurt’s the leader and he told me to play whatever I wanted, but Krist didn’t like it like that… Itwasreally nerve-wracking!”
The session also featured “Polly”, “The Man Who Sold The World”, “Dumb”, “Where Did You Sleep Light Night” and “Something In The Way”, but these recordings have yet to surface. Creager toured with Nirvana throughout France, Portugal, Spain, Slovenia, Italy and lastly Germany, where Nirvana played their last show on March 1, 1994 in Munich at Terminal 1 of the old Flughafen München-Riem airport, which had fell out of use by 1992 but the buildings were left and used as venues for concerts and festivals. The death of Kurt Cobain devestated everyone in Nirvana’s inner circle, but like Dave Grohl, Kurt’s death inspired Creager to dedicate herself to working harder on music. Creager laments, “He was an artist, and the world wanted to hear what he had to say, and he shut it off. You can’t do that.”
From left to right: Kurt Cobain, Melora Creager, Krist Novoselic
Nirvana’s subsequent end had Creager return to Rasputina with a determination to make and play music better than she ever had before. Signed to Columbia in 1996, Rasputina saw their first major label release Thanks for the Ether, released later that year. The following year, Rasputina famously collaborated with Marilyn Manson, a collaboration which gave birth to their follow up EP, Transylvanian Regurgitations. Around this time, they opened up for Perry Farrell’s Porno for Pyros during their last tour in promotion of their second album, Good God’s Urge. Their second album, How We Quit the Forest, features Chris Vrenna (aka Tweaker) of Nine Inch Nails/Manson on drums/percussion and producer.
After their first two albums, they left Columbia and signed with Instinct from 2000 to 2007, and sporadically have released albums and EP’s on Filthy Bonnet Records. Many of their recent releases have been self-released and produced. In 2010, ex-member Dawn Miceli directed and produced a documentary on the band, entitled Under the Corset.
Rasputina’s sound steps into a multi-platform time machine, having one foot in the Victorian era, one in the Edwardian, and your head somewhere between 1988 to 1992. While Rasputina has a separate legacy and artistic vision, Kurt Cobain was looking to step into a direction that involved much less of the “Seattle sound” and “grunge” and more of acoustic and classical stringed instrumentation. This is marked by the steady increase of cello instrumentation from Nevermind to In Utero, climaxing with the MTV Unplugged performance. Rasputina’s lyrical subjects were also typically disturbing and profane, not unlike Nirvana’s, though Creager’s themes are often times more historical.
Below are examples of Creager’s live work with Nirvana, and selected tracks from Rasputina’s discography. Look out for more parts in the Lost Members of Nirvana series in the near future on AlternativeNation.net. To learn more about Rasputina, visit their website here.
<h2> Nirvana featuring Melora Creager </h2>
“Heart Shaped Box” from Nirvana’s last show in Munich, March 1st 1994
“Dumb” from the last show in Munich (same as above)
Excellent version of “Polly” from Nirvana’s show in Rome, February 22nd, 1994.
<h2> Rasputina </h2>
“Transylvanian Concubine” from Thanks for the Ether
Smells like teen death. The Gallows is the latest film hoping to be the next summer blockbuster this season. The horror film, which is produced by Blumhouse productions (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister) is about a boy named Charlie who is killed in a horrific accident during The Gallows, a school play that takes place in the fictional Beatrice High School in 1993. Fast forward to 2013, students at the school attempt to resurrect the failed play in an attempt to honor the anniversary of the tragedy – and that’s where things start to go horribly wrong in this new found footage horror flick.
You can watch the trailer below, which features a cover (albeit a weird hipster one) of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Think Up Anger ft. Malia J below, along with the official video for that cover:
Continuing with the Nirvana news, Universal Music announced that they will be issuing remastered editions of Nirvana, 2002’s compilation album with the exclusive hit “You Know You’re Right”. Available August 28, 2015, the vinyl release will be available as standard 33rpm and 45rpm double LP editions, the latter a pressing of 200-gram vinyl. Additionally, the album will be available for release as Blu-Ray Pure Audio. The track listing is featured below:
1. “You Know You’re Right”
2. “About A Girl”
3. “Been A Son”
5. “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
6. “Come As You Are”
8. “In Bloom”
9. “Heart-Shaped Box”
10. “Pennyroyal Tea”
11. “Rape Me”
13. “All Apologies”
14. “The Man Who Sold The World”
Dave Grohl recently commented on Nirvana’s reunion in 2014, as featured in this article here:
“I think more than angst and gloom and doom there was catharsis,” says Grohl, “and that’s what made the band, the engine that drove the entire thing.”
“I hadn’t heard that sound since Kurt died,” said Grohl regarding his initial reunion rehearsals with surviving Nirvana bandmates Pat Smear and Krist Novoselic. “When we played together, it sounded like Nirvana.”
“I was just the drummer, I could walk in the front door of a Nirvana show and people wouldn’t really recognize me. So I kind of got to experience it all from the outside.
“I’ve seen a lot of my friends have a really hard time with fame. But when the world around you changes it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to change with it. I didn’t go and buy a Lamborghini because I had a million dollars. I was excited that so many people liked the music. To walk into a bar and see some kid air drumming to a song I recorded on, I love that. That’s the way I took it in. It doesn’t make me any better than the kid. It’s just kinda cool.”
Through the years of production that were invested in making and producing Montage of Heck, filmmaker Brett Morgen was given access to tons upon tons of unreleased artwork, material and personal belongings of Kurt, never before seen (or by very few). In a new interview with Bedford + Bowery, Morgen went into detail about his experiences with relics from Cobain’s past.
From the storage unit where Cobain’s possessions are contained, which has been in use for several years as it was curated and cared for by a faculty member, Morgen found “107 cassettes featuring over 200 hours of never-before-heard or rarely heard music — I mean I would lean heavily of the never-before-heard, probably 95 percent”.
From this material, Morgen and his team are comprising an album of this material due out for this summer. As Morgen replied to Bedford + Bowery, “We’re going to be putting out an amazing album this summer that I think will answer that question…[the album] will feel like you’re kind of hanging out with Kurt Cobain on a hot summer day in Olympia, Washington as he fiddles about. It’s going to really surprise people. Just to be clear, it’s not a Nirvana album, it’s just Kurt and you’re going to hear him do things you never expected to come out of him.”
Morgen when approached about the material on the tapes was quoted as saying, “The audio ran the gamut from jam sessions with Courtney, some jam sessions with various friends and Nirvana, his first demo tapes, his Fecal Matter demos, his mix tapes and oral canvases like Montage [of Heck], a lot of silly spoken word stuff and not-silly spoken word stuff like the story he told of losing his virginity, covers of the Beatles songs, it just ran the gamut. And a lot of sound effects and a lot of sound design. As that would essentially serve as the basis of this movie, because I wanted to make a film in which Kurt could tell the story of his life in the best way he could — not through sharing it to an interviewer, because that was never a format that Kurt was that expressive in, but through his art, through the very reason we’re talking about him.”
Montage of Heck, Brett Morgen’s highly anticipated film on Kurt Cobain’s life, is due out on HBO May 4th, and has already enjoyed premieres at international film festivals like Sundance, theatrical release in the United Kingdom and limited theatrical appearances in the US, including the Egyptian Theatre premiere which Frances Bean Cobain spoke at.
I recently interviewed Agnostic Front singer Roger Miret for the Songfacts site, and he discussed when he felt that hardcore punk and heavy metal first joined forces (a style that has become quite common nowadays):
Songfacts: Something I always find fascinating is trying to pinpoint which bands were the first to merge heavy metal and hardcore. To the best of your knowledge, who were some of the first bands to merge those two styles together?
Roger: I would say Void. Void is an early band from Washington, DC. They had a split single with Faith. Faith was a lot more hardcore – it featured Ian MacKaye’s brother – and Void had a little more of a metallic edge to it. I would pinpoint it to them, and you had your Suicidal Tendencies, but we all kind of started doing it at the same time. You had your Corrosion of Conformitys, your DRIs, your Agnostic Fronts, your Leeways, your Cro-Mags. But for some reason, Void is something that sticks in my mind. I used to cover Void songs when I played in the Psychos – before I was in Agnostic Front. They always had more of a different style.
And it turns out that Miret is not alone in his appreciation of the band Void – Mr. Kurt Donald Cobain once picked their one-and-only release issued during the band’s career (1982’s Void/Faith split LP), as an all-time favorite.
Agnostic Front’s latest album is titled The American Dream Died.
On Thursday, I was lucky enough to catch a screening of Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck at Seattle’s Egyptian Theatre, just a block from Linda’s Tavern, where Cobain was last seen alive. The film, which will premiere on HBO on May 4, is directed by Brett Morgen, who was granted access to a private archive of Cobain’s belongings by his widow Courtney Love in 2007. The previously unreleased material that Morgen found – revealed in an untouched storage unit of Love’s – makes up much of the film’s content. Montage of Heck is appropriately named: while it references a mixtape Cobain made as a teenager, it also describes the constant stream of videos, drawings, and recordings that drive the film.
Montage is set apart from other Cobain documentaries by its deeply personal experience, in contrast to more historical, musical, or biographical perspectives. The presence of Cobain’s often-intimate audio and visual art, as well as the sparse, family-oriented use of interviews, aids this personal touch. With vivid quality, we’re introduced to the various periods of Kurt’s life through family videos, acoustic or vocal recordings, diary entries, and much more. It’s a complete immersion into Cobain’s art and worldview, or as executive producer Frances Bean Cobain put it to Rolling Stone, “it’s the closest thing to having Kurt tell his own story in his own words — by his own aesthetic, his own perception of the world.”
It’s also clearly a Kurt-centric, rather than Nirvana-centric, documentary. The freedom Morgen has with Nirvana’s discography is noticeable, and tweaked versions of “All Apologies” and “Something in the Way” define some great scenes detailing Kurt’s childhood. The band’s rise to fame is represented by lively and immersive concert and behind-the-scenes footage, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle for Montage, and not the priority or focus. Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic is introduced by a title card as “Kurt’s Friend” rather than as his bandmate, and Krist’s interview is oriented more towards Kurt’s personality and psychology than his musical development. Additionally, an interview with Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl didn’t make it into the film in time for the Sundance Festival. For director Brett Morgen, this positioning of Nirvana was intentional. “This isn’t a film where I wanted to go interview everyone who played with Nirvana, nor is it a film where I wanted to interview any more than the base minimum of what I had to do, so it was almost like primal,” he told Consequence of Sound. “Like the mom, the dad, the sister, the first love, the wife, the best friend.”
The interviews that Morgen did include in the documentary, however, are certainly revealing. Courtney Love admits that she did heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean, although she and Cobain aggressively denied the notion in 1992 after a damning article was published about them in Vanity Fair. One of Kurt’s diary entries is also shown on screen, with Kurt noting his ten experiences with heroin between 1987 and 1990. Tracy Marander, Cobain’s first serious girlfriend, says that he never told her about doing heroin and that she never saw any evidence of it. Kurt’s mom Wendy O’Connor shares an emotional story about noticing her son’s weight loss and sores and confronting him about his heroin usage. O’Connor says that when she asked him about using needles to inject heroin, Kurt was too emotional and couldn’t respond.
Kurt’s father Don Cobain is interviewed for the first time about his son, alongside Kurt’s stepmom Jenny. They recall Kurt’s attitude and resentment towards them as well as the difficulties they had with Kurt after he was kicked out of his mom Wendy’s house. Meanwhile, with the help of surpisingly decent animation sequences as well as never-before-seen family videos, Kurt’s childhood is vividly reconstructed. Morgen constructs a nostalgic narrative in which the idyllic, hyperactive childhood of Cobain and the idealistic era of the 1960s were shattered by Don and Wendy’s divorce, resulting in Kurt’s social withdrawal. There might be some understandable mix of nostalgia and revisionism when Wendy O’Connor describes the picturesque nature of Aberdeen, WA, Cobain’s small hometown that was hit hard by the decline of the timber industry in the area in the 1970s and 1980s. Still, his perspective of social alienation, family rejection, and affinity for punk rock is made apparent and personal.
Beginning with the turbulence of his post-divorce childhood, Morgen draws out several incidents in Cobain’s life that reveal recurring elements of shame, and subsequent social withdrawal and depression, or rebellion and rage. One revealing story – told by Cobain in a previously unheard recording and put to life with animation – describes his awkward first sexual experience with a girl he describes as “not retarded” but “slow and illiterate.” After her father revealed the secret to their high school, Cobain felt so embarrassed that he got high and drunk and laid down on train tracks, waiting to be killed. The next train that came happened to be one track over, and Cobain was spared. It’s clear that Morgen wants the story to illustrate some common feelings of shame and its link with suicidality in Cobain’s life.
This might irritate some Cobain conspiracy types, who would argue that Montage of Heck is the product of a Courtney Love agenda. Love played no part in the artistic direction of the film, whereas Frances Bean, who loved the film, served as the executive producer. According to The Stranger, a woman at the Seattle director Q&A session Wednesday night “shouted her displeasure that the documentary was all ‘from Courtney [Love]’s point of view.’ As Morgen began to defend himself, the woman said she knew both Kurt and Courtney, and reiterated her point.”
Frances Bean Cobain and Courtney Love with director Brett Morgen at the Sundance Film Festival.
Towards the end of the film, as Courtney is discussing Kurt’s hypersensitivity, she says that she never cheated on Kurt, but that the one time she thought about it and had the chance to do it, he could sense what she was up to. She then implies that this led to Cobain’s apparent suicide attempt in Rome in March of 1994. It’s another interesting and honest admission from Love and a revealing glimpse into Cobain’s last days. Cobain’s suicide is only addressed by a title sequence at the end of the film that states that he took his life one month after the Rome attempt at age 27.
Still, it’s clear from watching the film that Morgen’s initiative, rather than the family members’ agenda, are driving the film. A scene that Wendy O’Connor asked not to be included in the film was actually included in the final cut by Morgen. It’s difficult to watch: Cobain is clearly high on heroin while playing with Frances during her first haircut.
Although I missed the Q&A with director Morgen later that night, the Egyptian’s theater setting was a great way to experience the Montage of Heck. Never-before-seen footage, including extensive home videos from Kurt and Courtney’s time living in Los Angeles in 1992, is really valuable throughout. It humanizes Cobain like no other work has and I think many will get a fuller, although not any less confusing, understanding of Cobain’s life. Like executive producer Frances Bean, who labeled the project “emotional journalism” and wanted to avoid the “mythology” and “romanticism” of her father, Morgen produces the most intimate documentary about Cobain yet. With this goal in mind, as well as unprecedented access to Cobain’s personal art, notebooks, and tapes, Morgen produces a film richer in detail and more honest to its character than any previous Cobain doc.
Montage of Heck will premiere on HBO on May 4. You can check out the film’s limited theatrical screenings at HBO.
Last month, it was revealed that Robotic Empire will release a tribute album consisting of many modern alternative rock groups covering each track of Nirvana’s Nevermind on Record Store Day. Now that the day has passed, you can stream the entire compilation via the record label’s bandcamp. You can also click here to purchase the digital version on iTunes. All the artists and tracks can be viewed below the bandcamp stream player.
Whatever Nevermind: A Tribute To Nirvana’s Nevermind tracklisting:
1. Smells Like Teen Spirit (covered by Young Widows)
2. In Bloom (covered by Torche)
3. Come As You Are (covered by Kylesa)
4. Breed (covered by Cave In)
5. Lithium (covered by Boris)
6. Polly (covered by La Dispute)
7. Territorial Pissings (covered by White Reaper)
8. Drain You (covered by Circa Survive)
9. Lounge Act (covered by Touche Amore)
10. Stay Away (covered by Wrong)
11. On A Plain (covered by Pygmy Lush)
12. Something In The Way (covered by Nothing)
13. Endless, Nameless (covered by Thou)
14. Even In His Youth (covered by Thou)
Last month, it was revealed that Robotic Empire will release a tribute album consisting of many modern alternative rock groups covering each track of Nirvana’s Nevermind. With the announcement, Circa Survive’s take on “Drain You” was unveiled. You can click here to listen to the song.
More recently, the twelfth track off the compilation debuted on Noisey. You can stream Nothing’s cover of “Something in the Way” below. The noise rock group recently finished their tour with Torche and released their debut studio album, Guilty of Everything, last year via Relapse Records. Whatever Nevermind: A Tribute To Nirvana’s Nevermind will be available this Record Store Day (April 18th). The record will be available as a 12″ + 7″ set with a digital Download. Exclusive color pressings will be made available just for this year’s Record Store Day. You can click here to pre-order the digital version on iTunes. You can view all the artists and tracklisting below the soundcloud stream player.
Whatever Nevermind: A Tribute To Nirvana’s Nevermind tracklisting:
1. Smells Like Teen Spirit (covered by Young Widows)
2. In Bloom (covered by Torche)
3. Come As You Are (covered by Kylesa)
4. Breed (covered by Cave In)
5. Lithium (covered by Boris)
6. Polly (covered by La Dispute)
7. Territorial Pissings (covered by White Reaper)
8. Drain You (covered by Circa Survive)
9. Lounge Act (covered by Touche Amore)
10. Stay Away (covered by Wrong)
11. On A Plain (covered by Pygmy Lush)
12. Something In The Way (covered by Nothing)
13. Endless, Nameless (covered by Thou)
14. Even In His Youth (covered by Thou)
To the best of my knowledge, there has never been an oral history book that focused 100% on Nirvana. But that changed in 2015 with the arrival of Nick Soulsby’s I Found My Friends: The Oral History of Nirvana, via St. Martin’s Griffin. Instead of tracking down the usual suspects to be interviewed, Soulsby has taken a unique approach – speaking to members of the bands (many of which remain ultra-obscure) that opened shows for Nirvana back in the day, to reflect upon when their paths crossed with Cobain & co. Mr. Soulsby was kind enough to answer some questions via email for Alternative Nation, about his book and thoughts on the band that altered the landscape of rock n’ roll back in the early ’90s. Soulsby also took a look back at some of Nirvana’s craziest concerts.
Care to share a few new facts about the band or Kurt Cobain that you discovered?
It was great speaking to the Argentine and Brazilian bands – DeFalla, Biquini Cavadão, Dr Sin, Los Brujos, Pirata Industrial – they’ve basically been ignored by western media ever since, but they were there for these shows which probably rank as Nirvana’s biggest and worst all at once. The Buenos Aires show in October ’92 has always been portrayed as just one-sided sexism, but the Argentine band think it was just a bad decision to put an underground punk band after a gold selling set of national superstars and before the platinum-selling global superstars.
Realizing how poor and ordinary Nirvana were so late in the day – it’s autumn of 1991, Nevermind is almost out and Krist Novoselic is having to sell his motorbike for cash. Kevin Kerslake, the film director, was kind enough to talk in real detail about working on what became the Live! Tonight! Sold Out! video with Cobain in 1992 through 1993.
The spring 1990 tour after which Chad Channing gets sacked – I don’t think I’d realized what an appalling tour it was; there’s everything, broken equipment, bad venues, arguments with support bands, booed on stage…I’d never realized what a mess it was. And straight after that, I hadn’t realized how many drummers Cobain invited to join Nirvana – I spoke to half a dozen people who were asked to try out for the band on top of the further half dozen candidates mentioned at various times over the years.
I loved talking to Rod Stephen of Bjorn Again about Cobain personally inviting their Abba tribute to open for them at the Reading 1992 festival, he really made clear how supportive Nirvana were, how funny they thought it was.
Photo credit: Nirvana-Legacy.com
I enjoyed recounting the story of Nirvana’s first show entirely through their then manager Ryan Aigner plus Tony Poukkula and Duke Harner from the band Black Ice who lived in the house in Raymond where it took place. They made it really personal, this sense of Nirvana having to be railroaded into playing, then being jumpy and nervous performing…I guess what makes me proudest is getting the support of Nirvana’s third drummer, Dave Foster, when I wrote the chapter focused on him. A lot of the important stuff – move to Seattle, first notice from Sub Pop – happens when he’s drumming but he’s not been treated with as much respect as I feel he deserves. He read the chapter I wrote about him and was willing, afterwards, to be quoted on the cover of the book. I think his has been a story that hadn’t been told – he’s a nice guy, still hoping he’ll tell it all himself some day.
When and how did you begin listening to Nirvana?
I discovered Nirvana while on a school trip cycling round the battlefields near Arras in Northern France. I was thirteen so maybe it was the time, on the trip back a guy sat opposite had his cassettes in a hat on the seat and I dug through them, pulled out a tape with Nevermind on one side and Bleach on the other. I remember him saying, “You’ll like that,” turns out he was right. A year later the family had saved up and we visited Florida, the whole Disney World experience. On the last day there, Friday April 8, we went to some mall in the morning and I bought the last Nirvana album I didn’t have – Incesticide I believe – then headed to the Magic Kingdom. We made it home late, turned on the TV and the news anchor said something like “Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the grunge super-group Nirvana, was found dead today at his Seattle, Washington based home with gunshot wounds to the head – apparently self-inflicted.” I was young, I’d never experienced anyone dying, not even someone I didn’t know personally but had an engaged interest in – guess it was just that age where fixations form easily and everything feels intense.
What made you decide to do an oral history on Nirvana?
Accidental and fortuitous discovery. I was into doing data-based analysis of Nirvana for the blog and I’d written a piece sometime in February 2013 giving the headline numbers; Nirvana played alongside 234 bands (not counting festivals), there were only 36 they played with more than 4 times…I made some jokey point about how numerologists should love the fact they played with 27 bands in 1992 then 27 across 1993-94; can you hear the theme music from the Omen playing? Staring at all these band names I just became so curious about who they were; Lansdat Blister, Victim’s Family, Steel Pole Bath Tub – some really stellar names. So, I started seeing if I could find former members – just intending it to be blog fodder at first. But it kept building and certain people were such a pleasure to speak to that it encouraged me to keep going and find more. Gradually, my spare time around my actual job turned into 25-30 hours a week Nirvana time, working from 9pm each night until 1am, then getting up at 6.45am to head to work, coming home at 6.30 and doing it again. Putting in the work made the difference. Making a book of it became the intention probably sometime in the summer of that year because there were just so many stories I felt (and still feel) deserved to be told, a lot of talented people who lived intriguing lives and I ended up feeling a desire to bring them into the light. It was like writing a book then erasing myself from it piece by piece, until gradually as much of it as possible was crammed with other voices – means it’s something I can read back on and enjoy. Guess that’s it in the end, I wanted to write something I’d enjoy as a fan.
How does your book differ from previous Nirvana books?
There are obviously the classics one works around – Gillian G. Gaar is the best, Charles Cross and Michael Azerrad are essential – between them they’ve sewn the biographical approach up tight. I don’t think my own thoughts and opinions are particularly remarkable hence why I save them for the blog mainly – it means when it came to considering doing the book what interested me was bringing together the people who were actually there and letting them tell their own story. I think it’s pretty rare to find an oral history built entirely around one band, told entirely by the bands who shared the stage with them – I kept a list and basically ticked them off as I found members game to talk, 170 of my list of 234 bands in the end. The key for me is in the title, I Found My Friends, that felt right for a book that’s about the lives of people in the underground scene in those years, about situating Nirvana in the environment they came from and shared with all these people…plus, it’s so clear that once Nirvana became famous they spent their entire time trying to share the spotlight with their friends in the underground, trying to take their friends with them, promoting underground bands, getting favourites out on tour. To write a book that hopefully shares that supportiveness and inclusiveness – I kinda just hope the people in the book feel their time was well-spent and that I’ve honored them.
Who would you say were the best interviews you conducted, and why?
Blag Dahlia of the Dwarves is a true gentleman – profane, sardonic, rude…and incredibly sharp-witted. He’d give the most hilariously vicious replies but over and again the underlying points he was making were absolutely accurate. A deeply intelligent man. Victor Poison-Tete of Rat at Rat R, likewise, has an awesomely capacious intellect and a great way of expressing it – a real artist. Truth is there were moments over and again where I felt really lucky and privileged that people would let me into some part of their lives; sharing homebrew with former members of the bands Machine and Yellow Snow in Tacoma was a really good night. Being reminded that writing about Nirvana or Kurt Cobain isn’t just some academic topic for dissection, it’s a story about people’s friends and loved ones and I don’t ever want to forget that. In the time it’s taken to write the book, I’ve lost my father, my grandfather, and my godfather – the week the book was handed in, the book I usually joke is my Kurt Cobain memorial week, I finished the last touches sat on the tiles on the floor of a hospital in Spain doing what I could to keep my father comfortable. We hadn’t known he was dying, he hadn’t known, I’d been traveling out to celebrate our birthdays which are just a day apart then the news hit. Kurt Cobain was a guy with a lot of friends who loved him and who still feel hurt when they think back – I think I maybe understand that better now.
You mention at the beginning of the book that the Nirvana Live Guide site proved helpful to your book. What can you tell people about the site (who are not familiar with it)?
The Nirvana Live Guide is the combined knowledge of a set of uber-fans who have put in so much sweat and toil that I feel unworthy each time I utter a word about Nirvana. It’s essentially a chronology of Nirvana’s appearances, set-lists, known footage or recordings, plus evidence from the occasion such as flyers or photos. Especially in the first three years of the band when they were playing a lot of house shows and barely had a song out it’s a real mission discovering where they played and when. A lot of the energy now goes into the LiveNirvana site which is an even more comprehensive hub for data on shows, recordings, rarities. There’s a community there dedicated to tracking down unreleased material and lost shows – nice guys, awesome work.
Are you a big Nirvana live bootleg guy? If so, which live recordings do you recommend the most?
I admit after twenty plus years of listening to these songs there has to be something pretty fresh or different for me to pay great attention to live material. I’d totally recommend the Outcesticide bootleg series or a set called The Chosen Rejects to anyone just wanting to hoover up particular rare songs and material that hasn’t been officially released – that whole “Montage of Heck” sound collage has been circulating for years. Live-wise, what I’d say is it’s about picking an era you enjoy, or deciding what kind of show you want to go for – late era sets are longer, early set-lists are brief but more varied because the band aren’t playing as often, 1990/early 1991 sets catch the band at their peak blowing clubs sky-high over and again…I go for the early material where they’re still sketchy, keep testing out songs, get things wrong. The Off Ramp Café show from November 1990 is the show everyone raves about; a ton of rare performances plus energy like you wouldn’t believe, everyone sounds thrilled to be there.
Nirvana-Legacy.com. Pretentious title I admit – not a clue what was on my mind when I wrote that, forgive me! I felt there was no reason anyone would give “Dark Slivers” a chance (another pretentious title…must have been a phase) if I wasn’t willing to push my work out there and let people see it and decide for themselves if I was worth giving a hoot about. Early on it was about analyzing, trying to explain things about Nirvana via graphics and charts, by giving people the raw data to work with wherever possible. I’ve a feeling I was a bit possessed at the time, I was pouring out thoughts on Nirvana, posting most days, building up this pool of material…I had to pause after a year or so and go in, tidy up, delete some posts altogether, but still there’s over 400 pieces on there now all from October 2012 to present. I enjoyed posting my tour of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest up there – sharing the trip with people, such a great place and I think the friendliest people I’ve ever met. It was one week after I’d watched my grandfather die, two weeks after we’d had to have his partner arrested for basically robbing him blind…a strange time to go but maybe darkness makes the bright sides of life seem more special. I sometimes feel less or more inspired, I feel like apologizing sometimes when I don’t feel it but it keeps coming back. Next thing I really want to do on the blog is use all the leftover material from I Found My Friends to write stories focused on each of the bands in the book; who were they? Where did they come from? Testify to their existence, show a little of what people might have missed or just scanned past on an old flyer…
A publisher issued an open call for proposals back in early 2012. The desire was for one volume histories/analyzes of important albums – I saw the advert and thought, “I could do that,” so the demon on the other shoulder sneered and said “Yeah…right” I decided to prove him wrong. The choice of Nirvana’s Incesticide compilation was simply because it was on the mind that year what with the twentieth anniversary of its release creeping up, plus it’s a deeply neglected release – a full EP from Nirvana’s first recording session, songs from each previous year of their development, all the tracks that showed the move between Bleach and Nevermind. I didn’t get through the contest, I didn’t give a fuck – I’d done too much and I finished it because I was damned if I was quitting. I found a friend with a small publishing imprint who was willing to help, a friend in Oregon worked into the nights with me to finalize the design and graphics, we got the printers set up and paid for, prepared the eBook version too. I just had this desire to write a Nirvana book that was something more than soap opera and a ‘pretty story book’ – I wanted to analyze, dissect, cut it apart, build data, over-think it. I think music is often treated as if musicians aren’t intelligent beings who use their minds, they’re not considered worth deeper study in the way one would the works of an author. I think that’s a shame and that while music can be enjoyed on the physical and emotional level that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an intellectual or literary level too. The coolest thing was how many intriguing people I ended up in touch with, all these people sharing art, music, writing or just their thoughts – that really made the days so much better when someone would come back and share a little of themselves with me, an underrated feeling.
Are you curious to see the new Kurt Cobain documentary, Montage of Heck?
Can’t imagine any Nirvana fan not being intrigued by Montage of Heck right now. I get the impression that a bloody talented director was given what was undoubtedly a difficult project and that he took time over it and chose the path less traveled – 100% a cool thing. Question on most true fans’ lips is whether there’ll be a soundtrack release or accompanying compilation of some sort – it’d be nice to see a touch more of Cobain’s undeveloped work, but guess it may need more patience. What’s been coming across in the reviews is the sense of the personal and private guy being exposed to view – he’d probably hate it but in the end it’s not like he chose to become a librarian or to stay a janitor, the catch 22 of performing for a living. Brett Morgen seems a decent bloke too – honest about what he’s done and his intentions, trusted by the key people who have the right to tell their tales, a track record worthy of respect. Hats off to him. Love the idea of working so thoroughly with the visuals, to make something more artistic – seems appropriate for a subject who seems to have seen himself more as a total artist than just a musician. Music, artwork and writing all on an equal standing seems a real declaration of who Kurt Cobain wanted to be and felt he was and I’m looking forward to seeing how Brett balanced it.
Any other book projects on the horizon?
Thanks to the book I had the chance to pitch a music compilation idea to Soul Jazz Records called No Seattle: Forgotten Sounds of the Northwest Grunge Era, which came out last year, bringing together a lot of rare and lesser known bands from that scene – the crew at the label were a pleasure and if/when it feels right to them we’ll potentially do a sequel. I helped select the bands and wrote the inlay booklet. Latest thing I’ve completed is another music release, there was a pretty cool band called Fire Ants back in the mid-Nineties in Seattle. It was Nirvana’s former drummer, plus the brothers of Andy Wood. Chad Channing put me in touch with Ed Dekema who’s working on a reissue of the band’s only EP plus a load of rarities – he asked if I’d be up for helping them and I agreed. I interviewed all but one band member, plus the label owner, plus Jack Endino who produced the EP and wrote essentially the band’s history for the inlay booklet. Ed really feels he wants to create a proper tribute to the band, something marking that they did something worthwhile. In return for a t-shirt and a copy of the album, I was delighted to help. There’s another book I was invited to act as editor on which’ll come out next year as part of Chicago Review Press’ Musicians in Their Own Words series, that was fun to do. There’s maybe one more Nirvana work I could imagine doing mainly for fun – and maybe a travel guide to touring Nirvana locations but that’d just be a freebie on the blog. It’s all too busy now preparing for the book to come out – the last big thing I wrote was a 30-40,000 word dissection of Thurston Moore’s solo discography that I’m still finishing, that guy is prolific.
Out of curiosity, have you ever checked out my book, Grunge is Dead? If so, did you fancy it?
Heh! Dude, Grunge is Dead is on the shelf behind me right now. The books I felt gave a sense of ‘what good looks like’ while I was preparing I Found My Friends, the only music books, were Grunge is Dead and Jon Savage’s England’s Burning. I just felt if I could get somewhere in that terrain, weave the voices together, treat everyone with respect without it becoming inhumanly polite – like a marketing brochure or some crap – then that would make me proud; Grunge is Dead hit that hard. Warts n’all portraiture, real life, truth but not a hatchet job, not one that wasn’t clearly done with love, with people who felt good about being a part of it. Community is important even in writing.
A new snippet from the new and authorized Kurt Cobain documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck has been released, via The Guardian. In it, pages from Cobain’s diaries are animated to show the various rejected band names Cobain came up with before finally choosing Nirvana.
HBO will airing Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck which will be produced by Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean, on May 4. It will also be hitting theaters around the world on April 10.
Dave Grohl discussed Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged rehearsals in a recent interview with American Way.
“Oh, yeah,” he starts, looking toward the ceiling, searching his head for details of a long-ago faded memory. Then he straightens up and nods. A smile purses his lips. “That show was supposed to be a disaster. We hadn’t rehearsed. We weren’t used to playing acoustic. We did a few rehearsals and they were terrible. Everyone thought it was horrible. Even the people from MTV thought it was horrible. Then we sat down and the cameras started rolling and something clicked. It became one of the band’s most memorable performances.”
The interviewer later mentioned that he had attended Nirvana’s Halloween 1993 show in Akron, Ohio.
“You were at that show? When Kurt was dressed as Barney the dinosaur and I was wrapped in gauze like a mummy? That gauze was so tight that the roadies had to try to cut it off me while I was still playing!”
When asked how he could remember a show from over 20 years ago, Grohl said he remembers all of his shows.