RNR News and Notes Archives for 2022-11

Read Dana Spiotta's Introduction to the New Novel - Kurt Cobain: The Last Interview

Nirvana lead singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain changed American music in just the 7 short years the band was together.  He was also a  feminist, LGBTQ+ ally, antiracist, and champion of eccentric musical visionaries. 

In the new book - Kurt Cobain: The Last Interview - Melville House compiles released and never before heard interviews - showing the grunge god's funny, thoughtful, sarcastic, impassioned, and even kind sides.  It is a collection of interviews that provides a look at a man who was too often misunderstood.


The book will make a perfect holiday gift for the music fan in your life - or yourself (get it HERE).  Read Dana Spiotta's intro to the book below: 


It is one of the jobs of the young to rail against the failures of the previous generation. You can trace a particular line of concern from Holden Caulfield in 1951 to Nirvana in 1991: phonies, conformists, squares, the establishment, the Man, the mainstream, yuppies, corporate culture, poseurs, fakes, sell-outs. The concern comes down to an ideal of authenticity, with maybe the worst sin being hypocrisy. Capitalism has always absorbed and appropriated dissent and resistance, which is why they have to constantly be reinvented in subculture. Nirvana and Kurt Cobain’s version in the 1990s was perhaps an apex, and also when tensions within that concern became unsustainable. Afterward, future critiques would have to be differently conceived.


Cobain, like other kids growing up after Vietnam, after Watergate, after the counterculture, absorbed a jaded, knowing quality. An obsession with irony coexisted with an obsession with authenticity. Satire became ubiquitous: Mad magazine (full of “take-offs” ridiculing everything from blockbuster films to TV ads), Wacky Packages (stickers on cards that kids collected that had fake advertisements for joke versions of products) and Saturday Night Live, which in 1975, its inaugural year, featured Jerry Rubin, the Yippie, in a fake commercial selling wallpaper with hippie and anti-establishment slogans on it. The joke was that Jerry Rubin had sold out, and somehow his knowingness made it okay, but that cynical stance contained a form of surrender. That version of the left seemed to give up. And in fact, Reagan and Thatcher were just around the corner.


Punk rock offered a giant refusal to that cynicism while still cloaking itself in irony. In 1977 the Sex Pistols released the ironically titled single, “God Save the Queen.” Johnny Rotten famously sneered as he asked his audience, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” The sneer insured that the joke was complicated: the Pistols were cheating the audience because they defiantly refused to please, but also that the culture had cheated all of them and left them with a kind of nihilism. There was a lot of spitting going on: gobs at the band and gobs back to the audience. As punk developed, it retained its nihilist refusal, but it also had a more egalitarian side. Lester Bangs wrote about the Clash inviting their fans to share their hotel room with them. They were not arena-rock gods, they were just a garage band. Virtuosity on your instrument was not the point, but being politically virtuous was. And it is this strain of punk purity that carried into the 1980s as a counter to the materialist corporate culture of the Reagan years. 


There were always traps contained in that youthful fervor for authenticity: how to identify authenticity, first of all, and then how easily markers of authenticity can become just another pose, full of clichés (the hallmarks of hackery). Kurt Cobain, in these interviews that start in 1990, the year before Nirvana made the big time, and end two months before he died in 1994, had internalized the punk rock of the 1980s in the indie/alternative “underground,” and we see him grapple with trying to be true to his punk-rock ethics. But it was impossible: one must have the irony, the ambivalence of not caring, of admitting your own complicity in the system. At the same time, one had to care, and follow very strict rules for not selling out. You had to be like Calvin Johnson, maybe, obscure but respected. Kurt Cobain might have been the last person who believed in punk, and he grew weary navigating these tensions. Besides, there was something art-school and elitist in cultivated obscurity, wasn’t there? Punk should not be elite (this is the problem with a subculture often defined by what it is not). 


One of my favorite threads of punk ethos perhaps came from the Stooges and was picked up on by the Replacements: proud loser-dom. It was a sly form of anti-capitalism, of resistance to the 1980s worship of avarice and material, amoral success. This is illustrated in the famous Sub Pop T-shirt that said loser in all caps and extends to Beck’s 1994 hit, “Loser.” And we can hear this self-deprecation when Cobain says Nirvana is “lazy” and “illiterate” and would lose an argument about any topic because they “took too much acid and smoked too much pot.” This is self-deprecation as liberation and subversion—the bullied kids appropriating the words that once were hurled at them. But it is also a kind of pose, as if they didn’t want to get caught caring about anything too much. You can’t criticize my songs ’cause I already said I suck and can’t play. Like all of these threads, it’s complicated. Kurt Cobain may not have been schooled in music or literature, but he was good. He was proud of the albums, if not proud of anything else. 


But his humility was also real. After the traumatic divorce of his parents (“the legendary divorce is such a bore” he professed in “Serve the Servants”), he led an itinerant existence, even living in his car sometimes. He was a high school dropout, worked as a janitor, but was mostly unemployed. The thing that saved him, the place he began and finished, was music. He was a true believer in music as a space where he could be himself. He began with total commitment to writing songs, playing his guitar, and performing. And he knew how he wanted the music to sound. He wanted it to be like the music he loved: raw and hard but with pop hooks and lyrics you could hear over and over and still find oddness and interest in them. As much like the Beatles as Black Flag, which turned out to be very appealing to a big audience. The problem was what the world did with the music, with selling the music, and with promoting the music. Ultimately, in his interviews, you can see him trying to work that part of it out. He doesn’t want an “image.” And, as in his lyrics, he manages sarcasm and ambivalence while also exposing how much he cared, a lot, about everything, and constantly. While this worked in his songs, it was harder to pull off in his life. In interviews, he often lied or obscured while also being almost compulsively honest, vulnerable, a person in pain who kept confessing and pouring his heart out even as he felt betrayed by the press and unnerved by his fans.

He continued to do interviews even after the infamous Vanity Fair article that portrayed his relationship with Courtney Love in a cruel, harsh light. He became wary, defensive, angry, yet he still kind of believed that he could break through, regain control. He passionately voiced his complaints. Why didn’t he just shut it all out, become a recluse? He must have wanted, on some very deep level, to be understood. He must have believed that he could be understood. He could not be indifferent or ambivalent no matter how he professed it.

He denied he had ambition, but then admitted it. He wanted to make records and have an audience. He just wanted to do it on his terms, like his punk heroes. At first, his terms meant being on an indie label versus a major label. But this felt unsustainable. Nirvana were not some coddled middleclass kids in suburban garages. They were not even vaguely making a living on Sub Pop. And distribution (a now vintage consideration) sucked. Nirvana thought they could stay true to their vision while getting the advantages of a major label. That worked for Sonic Youth, who also signed with Geffen Records and gained just enough success to still maintain their indie cred, but Nirvana instantly became world-wide superstars selling millions of records, which was hard to reconcile with punk-rock bona fides. Nirvana complained about MTV but wanted to use MTV as much as MTV used them. They complained of playing big stadiums (arena rock, yuck) and the lack of intimacy and connection. But their audiences were too big now. And who exactly was in the audience? Those same kids that used to bully them when they were in high school. Cobain goes back and forth about this new audience: at first, they are not his true fans. They frighten him. Then he tries to control them. After the runaway success of Nevermind, he even puts this in the liner notes to Insecticide:


If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us—leave us the fuck alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.


And this points to what was probably the most interesting and enduring and new thing about Kurt Cobain’s punk ethos. He really wasn’t going to be just another rock god, he wasn’t going to exploit women, he wasn’t going to dog-whistle the cliches of rock and roll masculinity. He was a backwater white boy, but he was not a stereotype, not racist or sexist or homophobic. His sensibility was gay, he declared, and he liked strong, smart women. He was fragile, in constant physical pain, and he admitted it. He was highly married and he didn’t date models. He liked being a dad. It even extended to how he looked, or how he presented himself. Like Johnny Rotten, Cobain had great style, but it came out of his own contradictions. He was very pretty, but he didn’t comb his hair, and he wore grandpa sweaters. He wore dresses—not sleek glamour man-dresses like Bowie had once worn, but thrift-store castoffs. And he also wore hospital gowns (his own, which, come on, is really punk). So his style, as it were, came out of his vulnerability, his wearing it all on his sleeve. Or on his T-shirt. He famously wore a T-shirt on the cover of Rolling Stone that said corporate magazines still suck. (Does that give him cover? No, not really. Is self-reflexivity ever really an out? But it is better than nothing.) He also used his shirts as billboards for other, lesser-known artists. As if to say, if you are all going to stare at me, I might as well use the space for good. He wore a Daniel Johnston T-shirt, and when he was on MTV Unplugged, he wore a T-shirt for the proto-riot grrrl band Frightwig. Like REM before him, Nirvana used their fame to promote other artists while also giving credit to their influences (and proving their own cred). Despite MTV wanting the grunge hits and Pearl Jam cameos for Nirvana’s Unplugged set, Cobain insisted on playing three Meat Puppets songs and having them join the set. He also covered songs he learned from the Vaselines, and Leadbelly, and sang (what was then) a more obscure Bowie track. You could hear devotion in his singing: heart out, heartbroken, heartfelt. He tried to accept his contradictions vis-à-vis MTV, interviews, and his own fans. “Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be.” In his last interview, he said, “I get a few hours to try and subvert the way they view the world.” These tensions are never really resolved. They must be lived in. Or through.


In the 2020s, punk is sometimes seen as just another retro “aesthetic,” like goth or glam. One pose among many, and it is an expression of sensibility more than ethos. And, of course, artists are expected to pay even more attention to image, marketing, and self-promotion. The always contradictory notion of authenticity is not just quaint, but not even legible. Selling a lot of songs/books/tickets is a sign of quality, and it is fine to do ads, consider yourself a brand, make Marvel movies, etc., because you need to reach people in a noisy world, and you need to make a living if you want to continue being a maker/creator. And there is something refreshing in the lack of pretense about being commodified (not just your work, but you, the maker/creator). Resistance and subculture no longer have to be obscure because there are other values involved beyond the sense of self: virtual communities with horizontal reach that don’t need to breakthrough mainstream gatekeepers to be viable. There is the possibility of a real egalitarian leveling of access, which is subversive and anti-corporate. You can take the “sub” out of subculture, or you can say everything is subculture, that there is no mainstream to rail against. Maybe there are just streams: streams of music, of films, and somehow, for some people, streams of revenue. Is it better to be an artist now, or was it better to be stuck on the 120 minutes that MTV allowed late at night for “alternative” music? The answer is, I’m afraid, that it is never a good time to be an artist. But here is 1990s-era Kurt Cobain to tell you that there was something valuable at stake in the struggle to live inside those underlying tensions and contradictions.

Watch: Nandi Bushell and Shane Hawkins Jam to "Everlong," "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and More

Earlier this fall - rock royalty gathered at London's Wembley Stadium to pay tribute to Taylor Hawkins  ...  Nandi Bushell - the tween drumming sensation - who caught Dave Grohl's attention - was among those paying tribute  took to the late drummer.  This week  - she shared  a heartfelt shoutout to another young musical prodigy: Hawkins’ 16-year-old son Shane.


Check out this video montage of the two jamming to the Foo Fighters’ classic “Everlong” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” — incidentally enough, both songs feature Dave Grohl drumming on their studio versions.


Watch: Brandi Carlile Performs with Elton John at his Dodger Stadium for Farewell Show

Elton John played his last American show at Dodger Stadium last night (Nov. 20) and he brought out a host of famous friends to help say farewell - including  Brandi Carlile. 


Carlile joined Sir Elton John for “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” -  From his  1974 album Caribou.  



“To feel the energy from the best fans, not only in Dodger Stadium again, but this time around the world from those watching live at home, will be truly extra special for me,” John said in a statement about the final Dodger Stadium show. “I’m thrilled to celebrate this momentous evening globally. I hope everyone feels the power and joy of performing on a stage as iconic as Dodger’s. Just like I did almost 50 years ago.”


Jack White shares 'Seven Nation Army' live video from rooftop Soho gig and announces live album

Jack White has announced a new live album of his 2021 Soho rooftop performance in London.  Last September, White played a surprise set on the rooftop of Damien Hirst to celebrate the grand opening of his new Third Man Records store down the road


The ‘Live From Marshall Street’ bonus LP is released alongside his two solo albums – ‘Fear Of The Dawn’ and Entering Heaven Alive’ – in a triple vinyl collectors’ set and can be ordered here.

Here's a  clip of ‘Seven Nation Army’ from the gig -



A post shared by Rough Trade (@roughtrade)

Watch The Breeders Play Pixies' Gigantic With Dave Grohl At VetsAid

Joe Walsh put together an all-star lineup of Ohio musicians over the weekend for a big ol' jam at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus.  The show - a benefit for VetsAid, the veterans’ charity he founded in 2017 - featured  Walsh’s James Gang (playing their first full set in 16 years), Nine Inch Nails, the Black Keys, and the Breeders.   Oh yeah - Dave Grohl, a native of Warren, Ohio, was on hand to sit in with some of the performances. 

Grohl played guitar and did backing vocals during the Breeders opening set  - as Kim Deal sang her Pixies classic “Gigantic” 



Grohl also played a second drum set on two of the four songs from Walsh’s finale set -  “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way” and with the James Gang for their set-closing rendition of “Funk #49.”





Dave Grohl Makes Surprise Appearance During Lionel Richie's Rock Hall Performance

After being introduced into the Rock and Roll of Fame by Lenny Kravitz, Lionel Richie, the Commodores musician and American Idol judge, began the his musical medley with “Hello” on piano ... but he quickly switched the mood  - jumping  into the Commodores’ “Easy,”  with a surprise appearance by his buddy Dave Grohl.  Check out the performance below  - 



Grohl has been a longtime fan of Richie’s, the two most recently worked togeher on  Foo Fighters’ comedy-horror film Studio 666 where Richie chastised Grohl for stealing “Hello.” 

Future Islands add their signature spin on new cover of Wham!'s 'Last Christmas'

November 1 has (somehow) become the new first day of Christmas season.   The jack-o’-lanterns still haven't finished rotting on the stoop  - but peppermint spice lattes are out, they are selling christmas trees, and bands are releasing holiday songs.   This year ( to save you from tears) Future Islands have dropped a new cover of Wham!'s 1984 classic, “Last Christmas.”


Staying true to the original version for the most part, but it's vocalist Samuel T. Herring distinctive style that gives the cover it's flare.  Check out Future Island’s “Last Christmas” below and go ahead and check out of Whamageddon before December even starts ! 



Uh - have you been pronouncing Adele's name wrong?

Adele is one of the most famous musicians in the world - and it turns out many of us have been pronouncing her name wrong ... 


Druing a recent Q&A to promote the release of the video for her new song "I Drink Wine" - the 34 year old Emmy, Grammy and Oscar winner set the record straight about her moniker.  


After a fan  asked her a question about songwriting - she quipped - "Love that - She said my name perfectly!"  Turns out the correct pronunciation is "uh-dale," not "ah-dell"  ... and now we know


check out the video for I Drink Wine -