Here is a photo of me sitting on the front porch in 1991. In front of me there is a small pasture belonging to the family across the street. There is a fence in front of the pasture, and behind it, the treeline. Do you see the ha ha wall?
The ha ha wall is between the pasture and the treeline. When I was a child, I was puzzled by seeing people walk across the pasture and seem to sink into the ground and disappear just before reaching the wooded area. Continue reading HA HA Armageddon→
The following image is taken from an advertisement for Nirvana’s 1992 appearance on Saturday Night Live. It appears in Charles Cross’ beautiful book, Cobain Unseen. It should be pretty obvious from the imagery employed on this flyer that everyone associated with Saturday Night Live was aware of and/or complicit in the predation on Napalm Beach.
You see here the use of the colors red, blue, green, and yellow. You see the mirror imagery in the two opposing images of fire/flames. The flames (Napalm Beach) are behind the television. A man points to the flames with his thumb (“under my thumb” is a reference to someone being oppressed). He shows his teeth (truth). There is a prominent button on his shirt. I believe that buttons (which appear frequently in lyrics and imagery) suggest confinement (buttoned) and in at least one old James Bond movie, hidden microphones are disguised as buttons.
Another man is observing the flame from a lawn chair behind the television. His quiet casual repose suggests “sleeping” – lack of action, and complete acceptance.
On the television is an image of the swimming baby from the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind album. The baby appears to be reaching for a one-dollar bill on a fishhook. This baby is a “sun” (Chris Newman/Napalm Beach) reference. And the dollar, hook, and string a symbolic reference to the manipulation being done to Chris’ life and career.
In front of the television is an image of a woman in a hula hoop. The hoop symbolizes the “hole” and the hula symbolizes dancing (and Hawaii, which is of course where Kurt and Courtney had married that same year). The woman’s shirt shows a face with two x’s for eyes. This is an early Nirvana logo, and the crossed eyes, lolling tongue suggest blindness, speech, and death.
According to several sources, Kurt Cobain overdosed on heroin and nearly died just a few hours before this Saturday Night Live appearance.
I would be remiss not to discuss Alice In Chains’ The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here since it was released just last May. And it is deep and insightful and it rocks.
First, the album cover. Red, the color that seems to be associated with Seattle.
Next, the Triceratops skull image on the cover, referencing both the Napalm Beach song “Screaming Skull” and the Untouchables song, “Caveman Go” (“Don’t let the triceratops slip you three horns!” – oops. too late.) And of course, there’s that Land Of The Lost album cover that Chris painted in 1986.
To my knowledge, Chris Newman has never met a single member of Alice In Chains. Nonetheless, it seems like he is always somehow present in Alice In Chains albums.
On its surface, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is a song about religious fundamentalism and damages wrought by misguided, non-scientific, black and white thinking. That’s how most of the music websites describe it. The video, is about something different, reflecting the underlying meaning of the lyrics. The little children’s show drama is a funhouse mirror held before 25 years of secrets.
THE DEVIL PUT DINOSAURS HERE
Come to me, I’ll fill the hole
Why would I be lying
End fan, all planned out
Offering a wonderful
Peace of mind worth buying
Bow down last round up
Chorus: I am wise and you don’t know
A cloud is my home
Only some get in
Got a ‘maginary friend
The devil put dinosaurs here
Jesus don’t like a queer
The devil put dinosaurs here
No problem with faith just fear
Promise those who’ve gone before
Waitin’ on you flyin’
Leading, receiving us
I’m as flawed as any man
Look at me I’m smiling
Drink me, eat me up
Fear – Liar
The line “a cloud is my home” reflects a line from Nirvana’s Dumb “we’ll float around, hang out on clouds.” I think The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is for Chris Newman (the devil) and Kurt Cobain (the queer). “No problem with faith, just fear.” Faith is not the problem. Fear is the problem.
The primary players in this video are someone I’d call the ringmaster, the clown, and the Easter bunny. (In this video, I believe that Courtney Love is represented by the little blonde girl.) We have the common reference to a “show.” In the 1995 Alice In Chains song, Grind, we’re told “Come the morning light, it’s a see through show / What you may have heard / and what you think you know” – and of course, in the Nirvana Heart Shaped Box video, and on the In Utero cover, the angels are “see through.” Maybe it’s a reference to how Chris has been silently observed, imitated, and probably also injured – but not helped or openly recognized.
The Easter bunny is a particularly clever reference, being as Kurt Cobain’s albums and videos were laced with “easter eggs” (inside references and symbolic markers). The bunny is pink (white + red – also can signify innocence, homosexuality).
Here is the scenario in this video: there is a television show with a story to be told and products to be sold to children. The “ringmaster” is part magician, part businessman, part bully, part thief. The clown is a naive drunk. And probably a junkie too (his arms are covered all the way to his hands). The children and puppets watch the clown and imitate him, eating what he eats. The bunny is having fun at first, and is clearly a fan of the ringmaster – at first. The ringmaster tricks, robs, slanders, steers, and beats the clown. The ringmaster teaches the clown’s tricks to the Easter bunny, and he then he rapes and terrorizes the Easter bunny. For example, he takes the bouncy balls he has stolen from the clown, and throws them at the bunny’s head. The bunny seems further terrified as he witnesses how the ringmaster is abusing the clown. Finally the bunny jumps through the wall (like the cowardly lion in Wizard of Oz) exiting the scene entirely.
The children watching the show enjoy watching the clown, and they also laugh when the clown is abused. When they are forced to witness the rape of the Easter bunny, however, things change. The TV show isn’t fun anymore.
Between 3:10 and 3:20 a puppet show on the TV show (show within a show) explains why no one will speak out about these crimes. FEAR. Two puppets, a boy and a girl, dressed in red, look at the dinosaur skull lying before them, and look distraught, like they want to do something, only to be terrorized by a devil. We see dinosaur teeth and big red eyes (probably a reference to the Napalm Beach song, Monster: “He’s got big red eyes / moving to and fro / forked tongue / sharp teeth all in a row.”) We see Gozilla’s red-eyed decapitated head sitting bizarrely in a nativity scene.
The ringmaster appears on the TV to be humbly praying, showing that he puts up a pious front for the viewing audience.
The blonde girl is obviously upset by the rape of the bunny, but even more afraid of the clowns toothy (truthy) smile. After the bunny jumps through the wall and disappears, things get horrific. The little girl can’t stand to watch the ringmaster constantly abusing the clown.
At 4:30 we see the clown dancing with a skeleton, and the skeleton is wearing what looks like a Shriner’s hat – but in fact I think it’s supposed to look like the hat of an organ grinders monkey. The skeleton reference is probably something to do with the transparent angels in In Utero and/or the skeleton references with Chris’ self released albums on “Skullman Records.” In Radio Friendly Unit Shifter Kurt Cobain sings “starve without your skeleton key.” I think the skeleton – like the sun, the monkey, and the dinosaur – is another symbol related to Chris.
At 5:17 the “ringmaster” is sitting on a couch with the bunny’s head on one side, and the skeleton on the other.
At 5:24 the bunny stands behind the clown holding what appears to be a circular saw. (to saw his way out of that box? or something else?) At 5:29 we see a close up of the Nativity scene. One of the kings holds a golden box before the teeth of the Godzilla head. Mary kneels behind his head, and there is a sheep too. Images of teeth biting flesh. A skeleton. A skull.
5:40 the clown is now wearing the fez that the skeleton had been wearing. There is a weird man with a sheep-like mask standing behind him. (Masks and masked figures are another common theme in these videos.)
The clown had transformed to a crazed monster, beaten and bloody, blackened eyes – but about 5:45, we’re back at the beginning again. The lights go on around the set. The clown looks like his old self again. He puts white powder around his blackened mouth, not really covering anything successfully. He’s getting ready to go on stage again.
The “ON AIR” light goes on again.
Whatever happens next is being written here and now.
other interesting things
There are ladders around the set, another reference to ladders and stairs.
At 4:45 the clown is making signs with his hand that either represent a “gun” or an “L” (for LOSER).
The two puppets that show up throughout the video – the one in pink looks like the Easter Bunny, and has two prominent teeth. The other one is red. These puppets appear onscreen with the words “I am wise and you don’t know” and again with the words “a cloud is our home.” Kurt Cobain & Layne Staley?
My favorite HOLE song, Beautiful Son, was written for Kurt Cobain. But, like so many other Hole songs, it is also for (he who shall not be named) Chris Newman. It is a song not just about a boy dressed in his mother’s clothes – or a husband dressed in his wife’s clothes – it is a song about Kurt and Courtney’s relationship, especially musically.
Beautiful Son was recorded (in what various sources indicate was a fraught session) and produced by Jack Endino in Seattle, November 1992. It was released in April 1993. It is said to be written around the time that Kurt and Courtney got married. (wikipedia: Beautiful Son)
The single’s B Side, Old Age, is a song that I believe is about Mark Arm (Anne Boleyn) and Chris Newman (Hester Prynne).
Why do I think Beautiful Son is about Chris as well as Kurt? The obvious clue is the Sun/Son wordplay in the title. (see: lexicon) This is reenforced by the way Courtney often introduced the song live. She found all kinds of ways to nod to Chris and/or Portland before launching into the song (I’ll show some of these at the end of this essay).
You look good in my dress
I’ll get your friends to clean this mess
You look good in my clothes
I could feel where the doctor goes
My beautiful son
yeah – no – yeah – I know
He had ribbons in his hair
and lipstick was everywhere
you look good in my dress
you look good in my dress
My beautiful son
yeah – I know
you’re buried (barren)
you’re buried (barren)
yeah – I know
My beautiful son
If Chris is the “sun” then Kurt is the “son.” Kurt was young compared to the others. Kurt Cobain was born in 1967, Mark Arm in 1962, and Chris Newman in 1953. I believe Mark Arm is often referred to as “Dad” or “Daddy” in Kurt and Courtney’s lyrics. So the idea of Kurt Cobain as a “beautiful son” works in that sense.
It is possible that Beautiful Son is, to some degree, a response to Babes In Toyland He’s My Thing. There is a line in that song I always thought was strange: “Walks around in her boyfriends clothes – No one knows.” Why does no one know? Are the clothes invisible? Metaphorical?
In contrast, the primary image in Beautiful Son is the son (or husband) wearing the mother’s (or wife’s) clothes, and her encouragement and approval of it. “You look good in my dress.” Courtney is from Portland, while Kurt Cobain and his friends were more closely associated with Olympia and Seattle. “You look good in my clothes.” You often see photos of Kurt Cobain, Dylan Carson, and Mark Lanegan all having fun wearing dresses and smeared lipstick.
I believe that Kurt knew early on, if not all along, that his Small Clone effects box had come from Chris Newman through Mark Arm. And I believe it wasn’t the effects box alone that influenced Kurt’s playing. It was also Chris’ songwriting as heard through his recordings: tapes, records, bootlegs. “Sun shines in the window – when we play.” (from Kurt’s cover of Vaselines’ Son of a Gun)
When Courtney sings “I’ll get your friends to clean the mess,” that, too has a double or triple meaning (most things do). It’s clear that this whole Big Muff/Small Clone thing – and anything to do with Portland, really – was (and still is) seen as a potential mess, probably because it would expose the underbelly and (God forbid) unravel The Myth. Another potential mess was, I believe, the implications about Kurt’s sexual orientation. I have noticed how his labels seemed to downplay it, while he himself seemed assertively open.
The line “he had ribbons in his hair and lipstick was everywhere” echos a line from the B-Side of Hole’s first single, Dicknail/Burn Black. “She’s got vultures in her hair, and blood and feathers, they are everywhere.” This tends to reinforce my idea that Burn Black is a different angle on a similar, or the same, situation. Beautiful Son is a more “positive” song than Burn Black, but there is still a sinister feeling.
The line “I can feel you where the doctor goes” is weird, childlike – clinical? It suggests confusion between lovemaking and a medical exam (reminding me of the anatomy dolls again). It suggests “playing doctor,” a metaphor for (or literal description of) sexual experimentation in childhood, or even incest. (It is interesting that Nirvana had an album called Incesticide.) It hints at the cervical exams an expectant mother receives.
The bridge of Beautiful Son offers more evidence for the song’s connection to Chris Newman. When I search for lyrics online, they say “You’re buried, like me.” But when I listen to the words, I hear, “You’re barren, like me.” I believe that the written and sung lyrics may be different from each other in order to express two different, but related meanings. It’s obvious that Chris had been buried – and it seems obvious that Courtney couldn’t get traction in the Northwest after her first single.
Barren, on the other hand, means something different. First, it’s kind of a joke – men can’t give birth. (Unless they are male seahorses? Subvert the dominant paradigm?)
Barren taps into the empty side of Kurt and Courtney’s fetal imagery. “You’re barren,” means that you are not able to carry and give birth to a child (or perhaps an album, a tour, a career, or even your true self). Courtney isn’t saying that she is literally barren, but maybe she’s commenting on her lack of power in certain situations.
How the song is introduced
Here are some live versions of the song, and Courtney’s introductions.
In the first video, Hole performs Beautiful Son on the English television show, The Word, in March 1993. The host introduces the song as “Brother Sun.” It seems like an error, but I’m pretty certain it isn’t.
The second video is from Cologne (Köln) Germany, April 1995. Sounds like she introduces the song as “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Lots of meanings to this. First, the dog/kennel imagery that is so prevalent in Sub Pop’s first wave grunge lyrics. She wants to be in a different kennel? Or maybe it’s a reference to a song from Napalm Beach’s 1993 album, Curiosities. The song is called “My Master Calls” and in the chorus Chris declares: “I kill for my bitch – because I care.”
The third video is a full set: Live at the Gorge Amphitheatre, July 4, 1995. Beautiful Son come at 5:36. Right after inciting the crowd to call out 1-2-3 BITCH!!! (“I want you to say bitch” (4:56 – 5:35)) Courtney calls out to Eric, “Eric, should we do ‘Over The Edge’?” Then she launches into Beautiful Son.
Napalm Beach opened for the Wipers’ Over The Edge album release in 1983, and Hole had covered Over The Edge for the T/K Greg Sage/Wipers Tribute. “Should we do ‘Over The Edge’?” was Courtney’s way of (silently) shouting out to Chris and to Portland.
Shouting, but silent… but shouting… for more than two decades… waiting for him to hear.
Mudhoney are less known for their rapey lyrics and better known for witty onstage banter.
They also love to gloat.
One way that Mark Arm gloats (and gives himself away), is in the way he introduces songs onstage. This is illustrated by the following videos.
The first video was taken in Berlin 2009. Before playing Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More (a song I believe is for Kurt) Arm comments, “It was very nice to see Kurt Cobain up here a little while ago. Welcome back Kurt. You’re shorter than I remember.”
The second video is from a performance in Sheffield, 1992. Before playing Blinding Sun (a song I believe is about Chris Newman – though I think the “you” in the song is Kurt Cobain), Arm tells the audience they sound like a bunch of “British Walruses.” (Steve “Instant Newman” Turner finds this hilarious.) And just before launching into the song, Arm says, “We don’t understand why you’re calling us ‘fat.'”
My friend Sara is about a decade younger than me and grew up loving all the “grunge” bands and even fantasizing that Mark Arm was her father. On Thanksgiving 2007 we had a record listening party, and she played me her original vinyl copy of Gluey Porch Treatments. I loved it. It was my favorite album of the night, followed by Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual.
Unlike the Cyndi Lauper album which I had heard in high school, I’d never heard Gluey Porch Treatments before. I did notice that song title at the time, Steve Instant Newman, and wondered, briefly, if it was a Chris Newman reference. But how could I know?
Now I know. Funny how a little background information can open up so much.
To recap, Mark Arm of KCMU / Muzak / Sub Pop / Green River / Mudhoney carefully examined Chris Newman’s amp and pedals while Chris was setting up his gear to perform with Snow Bud and the Flower People at the Vogue in Seattle sometime between February and May 1986. That would have been a Fender Twin Reverb with a Big Muff and Crybaby Wah. In his other band, Napalm Beach, Chris used a Small Clone and a Big Muff (though by ’86 he was phasing out the Small Clone).
Mudhoney’s guitarist, Steve Turner, began using the Big Muff soon after this. (Thus the Melvins’ song title: STEVE INSTANT NEWMAN.) Eventually Mudhoney made t-shirts picturing the Big Muff, with the word MUDHONEY replacing the words BIG MUFF on the effects box. Also, according to Everett True’s Nirvana book, in 1987 Green River members (and Mudhoney manager Bob Whittaker) helped develop Sub Pop’s LOSER character. Also in 1987 a crap vanity label called Flying Heart glommed onto Chris Newman, paying him tiny bits of cash to make records which never got any promotion or distribution. Chris became untouchable and unmentionable for anyone in the local music business who wanted to do business with Sub Pop. And when Chris did try to tour, his gigs in England were always cancelled. Napalm Beach was successful in Europe, but in 6 years of touring, they weren’t able to play a single show in the U.K., though they were booked to play there several times. There is a great deal of evidence pointing to string-pulling. “It’s so relaxing to know that you’re asking wherever you get your way.”
Meanwhile, Kurt Cobain ended up with the Small Clone. It became his signature pedal, just as the Big Muff had become Mudhoney’s signature pedal.
It’s clear that Cobain was deeply troubled by this situation. “Use just once and destroy / Invasion of our piracy” he sang in Radio Friendly Unit Shifter. “I’m a liar and a thief,” he sang in Pennyroyal Tea. “Skin the sun” he sang in Dumb. (The sun represents Chris Newman.) “In the sun I feel as one,” he sang in All Apologies. “Married / Buried.” (I believe that “married” refers to Cobain’s relationship with the Sub Pop “family,” not to Courtney – and that Courtney is also “married” to the same family.)
Both Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain have several songs that suggest that Chris was supposed to be not just buried, but literally destroyed. (I’m going to analyze several songs over the next few weeks, and I’m sure this theme will come up.) Mudhoney’s 1992 “Blinding Sun” is one of several “death wish” songs that have been written about Chris.
It absolutely astounds me that Sub Pop appears to be completely supportive of this artistic genocide. The hate is so pervasive that Bruce Pavitt’s good friend, K Records founder Calvin Johnson, wrote one of those Chris Newman death wish songs, Pine Shaped Box.
Who are these people? And what is wrong with them?
Kurt Cobain, for his part, felt bad enough about this situation to draw out a symbolic road map for Chris to find in the lyrics of In Utero, and in the images of the Heart Shaped Box video. The message seems to be “I love you, I feel a kinship with you, and I want to let you know that a crime has been done to you and me both. It seems the only way out for me is death, but I want you to know these things so that you can be ‘born.'”
It’s an extremely heavy message (which is one of many reasons I can’t let it go) but it was delivered in a playful manner.
I believe that Cobain did this for Chris for a few reasons. For one thing, it was fun. For another, it allowed him to pull a “gotcha” on those who had tormented Kurt and tried to destroy Chris. Also, it allowed him to express feelings of love and kinship for Chris which he was not allowed to express overtly. Kurt probably thought that once Chris discovered the breadcrumb trail left in the lyrics, Chris would then get at least as much recognition as was given to all the bands that Cobain had publicly name checked when he was alive.
I’m not sure Kurt was counting on the In Utero puzzle staying unsolved for 20 years. (Obviously, Sub Pop’s inner circle was well aware of the In Utero puzzle, and what Kurt was trying to accomplish, and that is why Calvin wrote Pine Shaped Box – he wanted to gloat, and to express hope that Chris would die before discovering the truth. Calvin Johnson and Kurt Cobain were NOT friends. Not after 1990, and probably not ever.)
Finally, I believe that Kurt Cobain thought Chris Newman might shed some light on people and things that had hurt Kurt very deeply, and maybe even drove him to suicide. The “Kurt in the poppies” section of the new directors cut Heart Shaped Box video strongly suggests this to me. And I truly believe that is the meaning of the In Utero song, Rape Me. Kurt needed someone to bear witness to something very traumatic that happened to HIM.
It seems like Cobain really didn’t want this song, Rape Me, to be misunderstood – yet I believe it was misunderstood, and continues to be misunderstood. Cobain could be so shockingly straightforward in his lyrics but at the same time so cryptic that everyone seems to miss what is right in front of their faces. But I will say this: I’ve been looking at this history for a while now, and to me the indications that Kurt was screaming about a real, literal rape that he experienced personally – seem almost overwhelming. And I believe the perpetrator was a “friend.” And if it wasn’t a literal rape, it was something that felt very much like a rape. And I believe that drugs were involved as well.
Whatever it was, I believe that Kurt Cobain suffered a trauma well beyond the childhood divorce he always spoke about. And if I am correct, it further appears that he did not receive the support and validation he needed to recover from that trauma – just as we are not receiving support or validation for our trauma.
He wasn’t even able to tell about the trauma, except in song lyrics, where he had to pretend the words were really about something or someone else.
The Melvins song Steve Instant Newman was recorded in October 1986 (wikipedia). This tells me that 1986 is when Chris’ banishment began.
1986. 1980 fucking 6. The Sub Pop mandated shunning and destruction of Chris Newman – a genuine musical genius if there ever was one – has been going on for 27 years.
STEVE INSTANT NEWMAN
Open the vein / To my shot glass ear / Infected in / Too much intensive
Disinvite / Dis, Dis-in-vite / Disinvite / When eating alone / They think you’re talking alone
Disinvite / Dis, you Dis-in-vite / Disinvite / Steve Newman Melvins – from Gluey Porch Treatments 1987
You know – while I’m here I may as well mention the similarity I notice between the Melvins’ Steve Instant Newman and Nirvana’s Paper Cuts. I already know that for these songwriters, similarities between songs indicate a likely response of some kind. It is possible that is the case here.
I believe that Paper Cuts has to do with Kurt Cobain’s relationships around Sub Pop and K Records (both labels are connected to each other, and to Olympia). The image of newspapers spread around has multiple meanings. One meaning is publicity – the newspapers soak in the stories and publish them. “Soaking” also suggests “all wet” which is slang for someone who lies or tells tall tales. Finally, “soak” also means to extract great deals of money from someone. “Hosing down” is a violent and degrading way to clean someone or something presumably covered in shit. The image is really of a puppy or pet being “paper trained.” Cruelty. Captivity. Humiliation.
The dog/kennel imagery is a recurring theme in the lyrics/imagery of Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and other early Sub Pop artists.
When I’m feeling tired
She pushed food through the door
And I crawl towards the crack of light
Sometimes I can’t find my way
Newspapers spread around
Soaking all that they can
A cleaning is due again
– a good hosing down
The lady whom I feel maternal love for
Cannot look me in the eyes
But I see hers and they are blue
And they cock and twitch and masturbate!
I said so [x3]
Black windows of paint
I scratched with my nails
I see others just like me
Why do they not try to escape?
They bring out the older ones
They point in my way
They come with a flash of light
And take my family away
And very later I have learned
To accept some friends of ridicule
My whole existence is for your amusement
And that is why I’m here with you!
All these lonely lovely ladies
Keep on kockin’ on my door
I’m the only game in town
And it’s so easy to score
– Mudhoney “Hard On For War”
from Under A Billion Suns 2006
The Grunge Myth is a swiss-cheese version of northwest music history. Some of the holes in this cheese have had a significant impact on the lives of artists and other human beings. I believe that the band name HOLE directly relates to this. Obviously, there was not a “history” when Hole was formed – but there was a hole. A rift. A recess. The whole town of Portland, Oregon dwells in that hole, and at the very bottom, lies the sun.
We live in upside-down land. We live behind the looking glass.
Once you begin to learn the magicians’ slight-of-hand tricks, it becomes easier to see what is going on. If they say “look HERE” – you have to look in the opposite direction. If they say “don’t look there” – that is exactly where to look. I mean, if you care about the truth.
Another thing that they know is how effective flattery is in the entertainment industry. Flattery is essential to the “divide and conquer” star machine. It is a sugary poison poured into the ear used to soften and sometimes, to misdirect.
Naive musicians hungry for attention get so caught up in their own alleged awesomeness that they fail to recognize – or care – when the same industry players slander, dismiss, burn, and bury their neighbor. Or worse, they buy the anti-hype and join right in with the scapegoating. Now they’ve got us fighting ourselves. Then they come in to “rescue” some of us, while ensuring the others continue to drown. To add insult to injury, they pretend to be “experts” on us, when in fact, their whole goal is, and has always been, to conquer us.
The humor for which they are so famous is used to sweeten the experience – at least for them. Too often, the humor itself is cruel, even to the point of being abusive. They seem to care a great deal about being funny, and almost nothing about the lives of human beings. “There are many here among us / Who feel that life is but a joke.”
Too many people just want to be on the side that’s winning. That, of course, would be the side of money, power, and manufactured credibility.
That’s how they are winning a war that we can’t even seem to recognize exists.
HARD ON FOR WAR – MUDHONEY Under a Billion Suns 2006
Can you hear the little girls asking
Daddy where have all the little boys gone
The little girls, they ask me
Daddy where have all the little boys gone
They don’t tease us in classroom
They don’t meet us at the mall
The little boys are fighting
They have left us all behind
The little boys are dying
To preserve our way of life
It’s our patriotic duty
To make sweet love tonight
See these lovely lonesome ladies
They don’t ignore me anymore
All these lonely lovely ladies
Keep on kockin’ on my door
I’m the only game in town
And it’s so easy to score
Now i know why dirty old men are always pushin’ for war
Now i know why dirty old men are always pushin’ for war
I’ve become a dirty old man with a hard-on for war
Those who control The Grunge Myth are very concerned with dates. Specifically, who met whom when. Anyone who has read Everett True’s NIRVANA: The True Story knows that True has devoted a lot of space to his claim that he introduced Kurt and Courtney to each other for the first time in Los Angeles 1991. Everett True claims that Courtney was dating Eric Erlandson in 1990, and that she met Kurt in 1991 while she was pursuing Billy Corgan in 1991. Or something along those lines.
Similarly, there is confusion around when Kurt Cobain and Mark Arm first met. Everett True avoids putting a date on this, while Charles Cross’s biography indicates they first met in 1990. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that 1990 is so far off as to be a red flag marking a big lie – not manufactured by Cross, but by the myth-managers. I believe Kurt Cobain and Mark Arm knew each other by 1987, if not earlier.
When did Kurt Cobain meet Courtney Love?
I don’t know the answer to this question, but I will say that I think there is a definite interaction between Nirvana, Mudhoney, Hole, and Babes In Toyland lyrics that dates back at least to 1990. Dicknail/Burn Black were said to be written in fall of 1990. Similarly, Nirvana’s song Rape Me was said to have been originally written in 1990. Another anti-rape song, Polly, was supposed to have been written in 1988. So both Hole and Nirvana were writing anti-rape songs by 1990 or earlier. (Mudhoney lyrics also tend to use a lot of rape imagery, but from the opposite perspective.)
When did Kurt Cobain meet Mark Arm?
For a number of reasons, I believe Kurt Cobain met Mark Arm in or before 1987.
This recently surfaced Girl Trouble video suggests as much. Why? Because it shows Mark Arm (twice), it shows Bruce Pavitt, it shows Kurt Cobain’s girlfriend of the time, Tracy Marander, and it shows Slim Moon. It doesn’t show Kurt Cobain who may or may not have been there. But it does show that Kurt Cobain’s neighbors and girlfriend.
There are many reasons why Kurt should have met Mark Arm before 1990. Mark Arm had been going to Napalm Beach shows at least since 1981, and Chris Newman first met Mark Arm probably as early as 1985. Chris Newman met Kurt Cobain around 1988, in Portland. That should give a hint as to how small and close together the northwest music scene was.
In 1987 Sub Pop put out their first vinyl releases. In 1988 they released several more records. According to Sub Pop’s page on the band, Mudhoney’s first release was a single: Touch Me I’m Sick backed with Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More. Super Fuzz Big Muff came out in 1988 and Mudhoney in November 1989. Nirvana released Bleach in June of 1989.
January 6, 1989 Mudhoney and Nirvana came down to Portland and played Satyricon together. This was supposedly Nirvana’s first out-of-town show. Courtney Love was at the show. I know this because my friend David took photos of that show (the only photos of that show that exist, I believe) and I took his negatives to be developed. She was definitely there.
Everett True will tell you that Courtney was there to see Mudhoney and she may have not seen Nirvana at all. This may be true, but it’s also clear that there weren’t a lot of people there that night. And Courtney Love does pay attention.
Another important reason that Kurt Cobain would have met Mark Arm well before 1990 is the Melvins connection. Kurt Cobain was connected to the Melvins enough that Cobain and his girlfriend at the time, Tracy (pictured in the Girl Trouble video), are thanked on the back of 1987’s Gluey Porch Treatments. In fact, according to Wikipedia, one of the songs on Gluey Porch Treatments (Leeech) is a re-purposed Green River song (meaning, Mark Arm wrote the lyrics- and with its references to love and sickness and a missing link, I think it’s directed to Courtney).
Another amusingly titled song on Gluey Porch Treatments (recorded in October 1986) is “Steve Instant Newman.” Remember, it’s Mudhoney guitarist Steve Turner who ended up with Chris Newman’s Big Muff.
Lukin left the Melvins and joined Mudhoney in 1988. According to Wikipedia, in 1988, Lukin was also living in a house with Kurt Cobain in Aberdeen. Mudhoney helped found Sub Pop in 1987, and Kurt Cobain was involved with Sub Pop (and therefore, with Mudhoney) by 1988.
It also makes sense that Kurt would have met Mark Arm in the 1980s because Mark seems to have established himself as top dog in the Seattle punk scene by 1986, Green River scoring choice spots opening for national touring acts, and at that point in time, being one of the only northwest underground bands to ever tour. It is natural that the younger up-and-coming band (Nirvana) would want to make contact with the older, more established band.
Finally, image. Between 1987 and 1990 Kurt Cobain was copying Mark Arm’s look (his hairstyles, anyway) and playing a Fender Mustang like Steve Turner.
In Part I I made some general observations about overlapping songwriting conventions in four bands: Nirvana, Hole, Babes In Toyland, and Mudhoney. In Part II, I drew up a lexicon of symbols and what I think they mean. Now I will use some of those concepts, along with my understanding of the relationships between the songwriters, to analyze a song.
Malibu is a single from the 1998 album Celebrity Skin. The single’s B-side was a song called “Drag” which is thematically similar to Malibu (The main point being: “Drive away to Malibu”).
It seems like a lot of things happened in 1997 and 1998. Kurt & Courtney was filmed in 1997 and released in 1998. Kurt & Courtney was a mostly privately-funded movie in which Nick Broomfield, a U.K. based film maker, paid a bunch of people cash up front to dish dirt on Courtney Love. Many of the informants were known junkies. This of course, is a completely unethical way of making a documentary and makes the whole thing bunk. Still, it hurt people.
Another thing that happened in 1998 is that Everett True flew in from England to become music editor at Seattle’s weekly The Stranger. According to True’s Wikipedia page, his tenure lasted one year. He then returned to England and wrote a book called Live Through This.
A third thing that happened in is that Portland songwriter Chris Newman (Napalm Beach) was arrested for heroin possession. While trying to escape prosecution, he lost his apartment. By 1998 Chris and his wife Valarie were living homeless on the streets of Portland.
Malibu: the back story
“Love wrote the lyrics to the song based on her late husband Kurt Cobain’s stay at a rehabilitation clinic in Malibu, California while receiving treatment for his heroin addiction prior to his suicide in 1994.”
why the back story is probably false
It is possible that Kurt Cobain stayed at a rehabilitation clinic in Malibu – but I can’t find any evidence of it. He did stay at a clinic in Marina Del Rey, 40 minutes away. So, maybe. Still, the words of the song don’t quite fit the scenario. In particular lyrics like “How’d you get so desperate? How’d you stay alive?” and “Get well soon – please don’t go any higher – how are you so burnt when you’re barely on fire?” – just don’t make sense in that particular context, especially considering this song came out a full four years after Kurt Cobain’s suicide.
That’s why I believe that Malibu is not so much for Kurt Cobain as for Chris Newman. The subject’s true identity is further confirmed by the line “come and part the sea in Malibu.” She’s not talking to Jesus, she’s talking to Moses.
That said – maybe a song for Chris Newman is, by proxy, a song for Kurt Cobain. I’m beginning to think that Kurt Cobain desperately needed Chris (or someone) to tell the truth. And I believe it was Bruce Pavitt who said, “Kurt would smash his last guitar to express himself.”
So here’s a truth that I can see. SMASH! Malibu is for Chris Newman.
Except I think one part – “and you knew love would tear you apart” – may have a multidimensional meaning, by which I mean, she may mean it in a couple different ways. The change in vocal tone suggests something different about it.
symbols in the song and video
If you accept the lexicon I wrote out in Part II, Chris Newman is represented by the sun. Here is how the sun appears in Malibu: “And the sun goes down / I watch you slip away / And the sun goes down / I walk into the waves.” Again, this album came out shortly after Chris became homeless.
Another clue is the song’s title and location. Chris had lived on the beach in Malibu when he was in his early 20s and trying to “make it” in music. This is something I learned about him very early on, so it is likely something that Courtney remembers about him, too. Chris also loves surf movies, and has made allusions to surfing in his music (“let’s go surfing on the lake of fire!”) His band’s name, Napalm Beach, was inspired in part by the movie Apocalypse Now. I believe that Courtney was trying to let him know that if he wanted to get anywhere in music, he would have had to get out of the Northwest.
Napalm Beach. The flaming palm trees should have caught Chris’ attention (had he seen the video before last week).
Another interesting symbol in the Malibu video is the painted backdrop and model city. At first it looks like you are seeing an aerial view of a nice cul-de-sac, but then the sense of perspective is shattered by the dried up palm leaf which points to the wheel of a car, and there is Courtney standing on the hood of the car. The cul-de-sac is a model, not a real neighborhood. The hood of the car under Courtney’s feet is painted with red and white stripes (maybe an allusion to divided/combined loyalties? rose white/rose red?) She’s playing her guitar and behind her is a painted backdrop of a city, similar to something you’d see in a theatrical production.
As Hole sings “don’t lay down and die” a hole begins to burn in the fake backdrop. By the time the chorus begins, the hole has opened up wide and the backdrop has fallen. As Courtney sings “drive away FROM Malibu” the little fake village is destroyed by a wrecking ball (sans Miley). For (him) to stay alive, the backdrop (myth) has to be destroyed, and vice versa.
When the chorus comes around again, the words change to “drive away TO Malibu… oceans of angels… oceans of stars” and we see a phalanx of blonde beauties clad in fire-red 1980’s style french cut bathing suits. They stand at attention, facing the setting sun. In addition to the french cuts showing “a blanket of ass,” the red suits suggest the television show Baywatch. According to the Wikipedia article on Baywatch, “Saving people from drowning tended to be one of the most typical situations used in the (Baywatch) shows.”
I believe that the imagery here suggests a few different things. First, there is more red and white imagery. Courtney is in white. Second, the bay watch babes suggest an ocean of angels sent to save Chris from drowning forever. Third, they cradle the baby dolls under their breasts, almost maternally, suggesting nourishment and protection. The baby-as-Small Clone allusion is in there too. And perhaps also the idea from Kurt Cobain’s song, Francis Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle: “come down like fire – burn all the liars – leave a blanket of ash (ass) on the ground.” The “blanket of ash” imagery also suggests Mount Saint Helen’s which erupted in Oregon in 1980, coating the northwest in ash, making streets look like a beach. Napalm Beach.
Also, in this part of the video, there are flashes of Hole band members making “scary faces.” I think this is meaningful because you also see these scary faces in other places. For example, at the end of the original version of the “Heart Shaped Box” video. Dave Grohl is making scary faces, pulling down the skin on the bottom of his eyes. On the insert of the In Utero CD, there is a photo of Kurt Cobain making a similar face. I think these scary faces have something to do with Chris and Napalm Beach. (Update May 2014: yes, it’s the left-eye of Horus)
Here is what you may be wondering: Why on earth would a bunch of famous rock stars be so obsessed with a completely “unknown” musician? And/or, as Chris himself asked me, “are you out of your mind?”
I would consider how fast Nirvana went from being “one of us” to becoming the biggest rock band on the planet. Kurt Cobain was a musical and literary genius, and he became very famous, and he was one of us. If it is true (and it is) that “grunge” is a game in which an older genius, Chris Newman, is considered untouchable, isn’t that likely to cause Chris to also become an object of fascination? Like a monster? (One of Chris’ better known songs is called “Monster” – it appeared on a 1987 Seattle compilation called Bands That Will Make Money.) Isn’t the forbidden fruit the sweetest? You know, “don’t think about pink elephants!”
Meanwhile, both Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love had a connection to Chris which they were not able to express, apparently, except covertly through their art. So everything is in the lyrics. Hidden in plain sight. No doubt Kurt and Courtney’s pure punk rock natures (they were and are punk rock) made them want to subvert the grunge paradigm, especially considering how divisive that paradigm has been.
The end of Malibu is beautiful. “I can’t be near you, the light just radiates.”
When I first understood this song/lullaby/prayer was for Chris, it made me cry. Chris and his wife Valarie went through hell during the six years they were homeless, but miraculously survived and even more miraculously, recovered. I had already sensed that Chris is surrounded by guardian angels. When I saw this video, I understood how much it all matters.
I feel like Kurt Cobain’s description of Courtney in his suicide note as “a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy” is apt. I see this song, Malibu, and the associated video as a beautiful gesture among many that have been made. I also understand that these gestures – messages seemingly sent into a void, and which may have gone unrecognized forever – may have had serious consequences for those who made them.
All of it matters.
I began to understand how the false back story to Malibu would have backfired on Courtney, especially in the Kurt & Courtney era. Because Love claimed the song was about her deceased husband, listeners may have believed that the words “I knew love would tear you apart” were directed to Kurt, as if it were some kind of admission of guilt. No, no, NO. That’s a misreading forced by The Grunge Myth.
Malibu is a beautiful song infused with love, hope, and courage.
I first noticed these symbols appearing in a consistent manner in “grunge” songs (Nirvana, Hole, Mudhoney, etc), but I now see that it is an encoded language that predates recorded music (check the lyrics to the folk ballad “House of the Rising Sun” – what’s in the suitcase? who’s in the trunk?). This symbolic language lends itself well to visual representation, so you see it appear in graphic design, television, movies, music videos.
Nothing is more fascinating than a massive secret. I myself have a Masters Degree in English and in all my years at college, no professor ever hinted to me what was the real topic of T.S. Eliot’s most famous poem, The Wasteland. Or of William Carlos Williams’ famous red wheelbarrow.
My best guess is that this is a secret symbolic language belonging to a sect of freemasonry called Illuminati. My main problem with them is their connection to and ignoring of, crime, in particular, crimes against me, my family, and others whom I love – and their unwillingness, so far, to speak with me directly, much less admit or rectify any wrongdoing. And there has been a great deal of wrongdoing: financially, psychologically, socially, and otherwise.
Illuminati seem to me to be tied together in two primary ways, one being money, and the other being the manipulation, observation, and exploitation of a human being designated as “the sun.” The sun sacrifice is, in fact, a criminal situation. So that means that the Illuminati are linked by 1. money and 2. crime. It seems that no one can tap into the Illuminati revenue streams without also participating in, and staying silent about crime (sleeping). And since, from what I have seen, Illuminati control the United States financial systems (and manipulate other systems as well – because you can do a lot of stuff with all that money). That leaves everyone who wants to be financially “successful” in a bit of an ethical dilemma, doesn’t it?
The Illuminati’s secret sun sacrifice is a direct harm to me and to those that I love. In addition, as I began to research this topic, I was tracked, harassed, lied to, gas-lit, spied upon, exploited, violated, threatened, mocked, dogged, hacked, robbed, sabotaged, blackmailed, and finally, kidnapped. And much of this continues to this day. Knowing that the people who are bullying me are actively backed by some of the most powerful human beings on this planet – millionaires and billionaires – and knowing how many artists have suffered and even died because of this, thinking they had no other choice – well – I am not sure the Illuminati deserve quite the level of respect and secrecy to which they seem to feel entitled.
[UPDATE June 19, 2014: I was figuring stuff out as I was writing. It’s obvious by now that these songwriters tap into a symbolic lexicon that pre-dates recorded music.]
Look, I’m just going to do my best. In general is no “right” or “wrong” way to interpret a piece of art, though some interpretations can be supported with evidence and thus ring truer than others. That said, these songwriters seem to have a unique style of communicating to and about each other through lyrics.
The bands that I’m interested in are: Hole, Nirvana, Mudhoney, Babes In Toyland. The lyricists are Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain, Mark Arm, and Kat Bjelland.
Why these bands? A few reasons. First, they are bands that I have noticed over the years. They also have a lot in common with me as far as age, cultural background, community, etc. Second, it’s clear to me that these bands had emotional and lyrical interplay. Third, three of these bands are connected to us in Portland. That would be Hole (Courtney is from Portland), Nirvana (Kurt was connected to Portland through Courtney and others), and Babes In Toyland (Kat is also from Portland). The fourth band, Mudhoney, seems to be connected to all of us.
The fact that Kat and Courtney are both from Portland is very much de-emphasized in The Grunge Myth. But they came up in the Portland punk scene, and Kat and Courtney and Mudhoney were all familiar with Napalm Beach bandleader Chris Newman and his music. Nirvana’s relationship with Chris’ music has so far been locked in a box, wrapped in wool, and buried.
Back to the songs. The first thing to know about the songs is that the back stories are usually – not false, per say – but deliberately misleading. By which I mean, the back story may provide an image or a hint to the meaning, but it’s also often meant to throw you off the true path. If I thought that the writers of these songs truly didn’t want anyone to know what the songs mean, I’m not sure I’d be writing this. But most of the time, artists want to be understood. That’s why they are putting the words into a song instead of into a phone conversation, private letter, or locked journal.
On the other hand, there are things in these particular lyrics which, if not obscured, would cause problems. That is why these (and most) artists make up a false back story about their songs.
In this song, Kurt Cobain says that he is making up words that “don’t make sense.” But listen! I detect sarcasm.
Portland songwriter Rozz Rezabek has said (to me) that “On A Plain” borrows a phrase from one of his songs (if so, it might put another spin on the “love myself” line). Like many of Kurt Cobain’s songs, it alludes to what is and is not “safe” to say. The Black Sheep verse is odd. I guess zip codes are really important. [UPDATE: June 19, 2014 now that I have been repeatedly “punished” by the release of illicit and embarrassing footage, and now that I have experienced multiple counts of implied blackmail, I understand that Cobain’s “blackmail” verse probably ought to be taken literally.]
Another thing to notice with Hole and Nirvana songs is that when the albums come with printed lyrics, the words in print are sometimes different than the real words. Usually it’s just a single word that is swapped for another. (Also, this should go without saying, but lyrics found online are often wrong.) A word-swap example from the Hole song “Nobody’s Daughter” is when the printed lyrics say “no one here could ever stop my ruin now” (a relic from the older “demo” version of the song) but in reality she sings “no one here could ever stop my revenge now.”
Both words, ruin and revenge are significant, as is the fact that one word was exchanged for the other. It hints at a transformation. There are many such little word switches on Nirvana’s In Utero, like swapping ass for ash (“Francis Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle”).
Similarly, sounds of words are important: harrowing / heroin (Napalm Beach) whore / horror (Hole) aqua seafoam shame / I’ll proceed from shame (Nirvana). [Update June 19, 2014: Old Dirty Bastard’s “I am the only unique Ason” sounds like “I am the only uni-gay-son.”]
Symbols are very important to these writers. Kat Bjelland, Courtney Love, Mark Arm, and Kurt Cobain use, and used, symbols which would seem to have universal significance in very specific ways. I find Hole and Nirvana’s lyrics to be particularly illuminating. When the angels, stars, fire, dirt, dust, dolls, candy, mud, honey, santa claus etc appear in their songs (and sometimes in images and videos), they are references to specific people and situations.
For many of these images, you can often make a one-to-one correlation. (Hair = thoughts. Sun = Chris Newman. Dirt = degradation.)
Finally, in each of these four bands’ songs, identities can be fluid. Hole’s “Honey” is supposed to be about Kurt Cobain, and it is – but I believe there are two other subjects in the song. (The name “Honey” alone should be be a clue.) Sometimes one subject addressed in verses, and another in the bridge. Vocal inflections offer clues. [Update June 19, 2014: this transient identity thing is especially true in movies. For example, in the Austin Powers movie, Mike Myers plays several different characters, and the “sun” identity shifts from character to character.]
In particular, songs that seem to be about, or addressed to a woman are very likely actually about, or addressed to, a man. [UPDATE June 19, 2014: This is illustrated in James Bond and Austin Powers as a man dressed like a woman, ala Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre actors.]
Kurt Cobain identified as bisexual, another thing that is very much de-emphasized in The Grunge Myth. And it’s strange that The Myth would bury this aspect of Cobain’s personality, because it is so very present in his lyrics and other imagery. It seemed to be something he wanted people to know and understand about him.