(First one from new email address... let's see how this one works.)
I have to address all the Kurt business going on right now. You're about to read more about him than I've written in ten years, and it's still hard. April 5th is the ten-year anniversary of his death. Everyone's doing their grunge retrospective stories, and they're all asking me to say the same stuff all over again. At least they are reading my website first. I'm sure Albini and Vig are dealing with the same people. I try to be nice, but their deadlines are not my problem, and I really have no dirt to dish. So far I've heard from journalists in Brazil, Austria, France, UK, Germany, Australia, and plenty from the US including some home-town folks. I've accommodated many and turned down a few, notably a local TV station. Go on camera? Nah. I will however be on the air at Seattle's KNDD next Monday the 5th, 5PM PST, with DJ Dick Rossetti, who is a good friend of mine and also the singer of the band Combover, who are pure genius
(see my Weed site for their songs "Mowing Down The Critics" and "Leave Paul Alone".) I expect I will have to watch myself so I don't say anything too cavalier and sacrilegious. (Though I may lift my shirt at some point.) The fact is, I lost both parents and two aunts to long, slow deaths just a couple years ago, and a nephew committed suicide last summer, so I'm pretty well over Kurt now. Perspective, people. Like Eddie sez, "I'm still alive." Would I call Kurt a jerk for killing himself? Maybe, maybe not. But I am able to joke about him now, albeit with black humor. (Kurt: "I'm still dead." Sing along.) From reading the full-blown, downright worshipful mythologizing which is going on now full-throttle in all the magazines, I seem to be a little out of step in this regard. Kurt is now a full-on ""L E G E N D"" and I fear it will only get worse. I think we would be better off grieving for our dying democracy, and Krist would probably back me up on that. (I'm not kidding about Krist: go to http://www.fixour.us) Don't get me wrong, Kurt was a total sweetheart to me and everybody I know, he would give you the shirt off his back. I don't think he had a mean bone in his body. Yes, he was extra-gifted musically, and his end was tragic. I was pretty shaken by his manner of death, and it messed me up for a long time (see "Hype!"). But lots of other people are dead, including 3000 people in NYC, and thousands of Iraqis. Do you think the families of US soldiers maimed and killed in Bush's war care about Kurt shooting HIMSELF? What do you think a 19-year old soldier in Iraq, dodging bullets and trying to stay alive, thinks about Kurt and his personal problems? How about the hundreds of thousands of people doing hard time, right now, for mere possession of a joint? I fear that Kurt's "story" has itself become another WEAPON OF MASS DISTRACTION. John Dean, former White House counsel in the Nixon years (I'm old enough to remember those!) has written a new book about Shrub called "Worse Than Watergate". He should know. Google it and see. Dead Kurt? Whatever. He blew it, big time. He's dead. Get over it. Yeah, music still matters to me... it's why I'M still alive. We still have the music... thanks, Kurt... and we're still here ourselves. Start your own damn band!
I'll say this again, loudly and clearly, even though Spin chose not to print it: I'm just glad for all the great people, the survivors, who are STILL HERE, still doing it, still making music. Thanks to Mudhoney, Melvins, Pearl Jam, Gas Huffer, the Accused, Walkabouts, Fitz Of Depression, Presidents of the USA, Young Fresh Fellows, Fallouts, Posies, Zeke, and the former members of Soundgarden, Fastbacks, Solger, Fartz, TAD, Gruntruck, Fluid, Swallow, Screaming Trees, U-Men, Treepeople, Hazel, Love Battery, Dickless, Bundle of Hiss, Coffin Break, Feast, Vexed, Thrown-Ups, and my own bands, as well as plenty of others... for living through those crazy years, and still being around now to make music. Some almost didn't. Glad y'all are still here. Life's too short... let's keep making music, friends. RIP: Andy, Baker, Layne, Mia, Stephanie. And Kurt? I don't know if people will let him rest in peace. Fred Durst has him tattooed on his chest!
On this subject, some BIG Seattle news: Mia Zapata's killer was found guilty a couple days ago. Go to www.thegits.com for updates. I will have some Gits tunes on my Weed site soon (from the newly remixed, remastered CDs) so you can actually hear Mia kicking ass. Mia was murdered in 1993. Some people are working on a movie about her, and there will also be a TV special about the case soon. This will all bring attention back to what matters: the music. Go find the remixed "Frenching The Bully" CD and see what I mean.
See Spin for April? Kurt on the cover. It's slightly out of character for me, but what the hell, might as well gloat a bit. "20 greatest grunge albums of all time"... it doesn't even include Bleach (more on that) and I still got 4 of 'em. Of the 16 artists listed among those 20 records (not counting the comps), I've worked with 11 of 'em. "Ten best grunge songs that aren't Teen Spirit": I did 4 of those too. One notable error: they list (in their top 20 albums) Mother Love Bone's "Star Dog Champion" as being issued in 1990. Actually, the "Shine" EP was issued first, then "Apple". Some years later they were combined as the single CD called "Star Dog Champion", minus the "Shine" hidden track "Zanzibar" which I recorded.
I smiled at one more bit of irony... Later in the same issue there's a huge article on Death Cab For Cutie, Seattle's current biggest band, where they talk about guitarist Chris Walla's "home" (?) studio called "Hall Of Justice", but Spin failed to mention that it is in fact the old Reciprocal Recording building... where all of those grunge records they hailed a few pages back were recorded by yrs truly, years earlier. Meanwhile, Death Cab is proving (yet again) that the "grunge years" were no fluke. (And Death Cab's records, expertly recorded by Chris in that horrible old building, sound great.) Seattle still rulez!
Revolver also has a great issue about Seattle/Grunge/Kurt, including one of the most concise articles about those years I've seen, and they make notable mention of the unsung role played by Curtis/Silver Management in getting many of the early bands their major label deals.
Strikes me as odd, really, that none of the magazines ever list Bleach among their "essential grunge records", though they often bizarrely list "MTV Unplugged" or, in Spin's case, Stone Temple Pilots. Maybe they just can't handle the genuine article. Maybe cuz there's no "hits" on Bleach, and because it made little impact at the time of its release, unlike "Nevermind" or "Superfuzz". Maybe the songs are not as good as later stuff, and it's not slick production (you try doing better with 600 bucks!). But it's actually one of the, um, better sounding $600 records I made in those years, or ever. Even for me, back then, that was cheap. I have a few theories. I wonder if the celebrated 600 dollar number ITSELF makes journalists discount it? After all, we're talking about a celebrity culture and entertainment industry which worships stupid money and ostentatious wealth. Imagine the subconscious thought: "600 bucks? It can't be very good." In other words, since it claims to be so cheap, it can't be WORTH much. Plus, its existence is anomalous, inconvenient; it ruins the story. There's no drama attached to it. A band showed up, had fun, recorded, went home, and there was no massive wealth transfer. I suspect many have never actually bothered to listen to it. Spin does list Babes In Toyland's "Spanking Machine", which they couldn't have known I also recorded in about 4 days. Nice surprise to see that one remembered. But all I can say is: "Negative Creep", "School", "Floyd the Barber", "About A Girl", "Paper Cuts". Crank 'em. I rest my case.
This is a pet peeve of mine. The only people who think Nirvana were "punk" are journalists who obviously didn't grow up listening to punk. Kurt desperately wanted to align himself with punk ideals, more so after tasting "success". But his songwriting ITSELF had nothing to do with punk. I mean, hello! This emperor has no clothes! It is straight-up, classic rock, right out of the 70s. Big melodies, sing-along hooks, on top of simple chord progressions or big hard rock riffing, with a rhythm section about as punk rock (but just as solid) as Led Zeppelin's. Social commentary, explicit political content: zero. This romanticized "punk" business about Nirvana gets mighty old... If this is punk, then so is Deep Purple's "Fireball" and Thin Lizzy and Neil Young. Smashing instruments... Richie Blackmore did it; Pete Townsend did it. Nor are heroin abuse and suicide particularly punk. "Bleach" is not a punk rock record, nor was it intended to be. I asked Chad about this, and he laughed at the thought. It's a hard rock record with a little bit of punk attitude... i.e., textbook grunge. Some of it could have been right off Budgie's "In For The Kill" from 1973, right down to having a token ballad tune, a cliche of all hard rock/metal records from the early 70s going into the 80s. When we were mixing it, the band and I were referencing to an AC/DC record!
And, even though I've made a couple hundred better-sounding records in the ensuing 16 years, I still stand by Bleach. I thank God it sounds as good as it does, considering how quickly it was made and how many people ended up hearing it. It sounds exactly like it was supposed to sound. The band were very assertive during the mixing. I hear it now, and unlike so many of those other el-cheapo "grunge" records I made in my first two years as a recording "professional", I don't cringe too much. It's accurate. That was them... then... in an eight-track studio. Drums submixed "live" down to four tracks, one bass track and one guitar track recorded live simultaneously with the drums, plus one overdubbed lead vocal track, with track 8 set aside for any extra guitar or vocal bits... but usually unused. Recording doesn't get more honest than this. What is played, is what you get. There it stands, this record, mocking us for spending so much money and time in studios. Mocking even ME, now that I'm a experienced pro who has been spoiled by working in some of the biggest and best studios in multiple countries, with big budgets and finicky artists. The lesson: to make a record like this, you need a band like THAT! The budget, the technology, the number of tracks... it's irrelevant. It's all about the band that's playing it, and the guy who's recording it. The most important pieces of studio equipment are SONGS and PEOPLE. [And, I would add... TIME.] Sadly... bands like Nirvana don't grow on trees... and if there were three or four of me, I could make a lot more money. :-(
Coincidentally, I just spent two weeks in the studio with an excellent band which includes ex-Nirvana drummer Chad Channing. He's a hell of a drummer these days, and the band, "East Of The Equator", was pretty darn cool. When their CD is done, I'll either have copies to sell, or Weed files... perhaps in a few months. Chad and I had some pretty good memory-lane conversations, and I even got to hear a tape he had of Ben Shepherd's old band March of Crimes (low-fi garage punk). And we listened to Tic-Dolly-Row, a band from 1986 or so that Chad and Ben were both in... wish you could hear these! (But please DON'T write me and ask.)
As this Kurt anniversary thing was developing, each day I'd show up at the studio and say something like, "Well, this morning it was a journalist from Canada on the phone" and Chad Channing would roll his eyes... he has pretty much refused to talk to anyone about it, and that's that. He's doing just fine though. Some of the 9 million of you Nirv fans probably want me to forward messages to him, but please don't ask me, I respect his privacy too much and I'm a busy geezer.
Meanwhile, I just loaned my old TEAC 3340S 4-track reel-to-reel to Steve Fisk so he can prepare a retrospective CD of early Seattle band The Beakers for K records. The history just won't quit around here.
As for my threatened mastering rant... that'll have to happen next time. I have a full studio schedule now into June, producing albums for people... so much for my festering mastering career, which keeps threatening to explode, whether I like it or not. People keep insisting on me mastering stuff, and they keep coming back, so I'm doing something right. Stay tuned.
20% of Warner Music employees will reportedly be losing their jobs real soon due to the latest musical-chairs corporate acquisition. If you are a band negotiating a record deal with Warners or any of their affiliates right now, I'd stall for a few months... and see if the people who want to sign you are still working there. If you sign, and they get fired, you will be contractually tied to a company where no one cares about you. It may end your career. This has happened many, many, many times... I could say "ad nauseam" but it would be vast understatement.
Thanks for reading. I don't get too many new subscribers these days, even though my site traffic is WAY up from past years... I think people are just overwhelmed with spam and email in general now. I sure am. If you know of anyone who might like my rare newsletters, feel free to forward this... and remember, always use BCC (blind copy)!
'Til next time,