Cry to the angels
And let them swallow you
Go and part the sea, yeah, in Malibu
– Hole Malibu 1998
First I thought that Mudhoney had instigated the blacklisting of Chris Newman in 1986 after stealing his signature Big Muff / Small Clone / Wah / Fender Twin set up. That was until I saw that Kurt Cobain was already writing about the blacklisting (86’ing) and the imitation (Clone! Clone! Clone!) in his 1985 Fecal Matter cassette.
So I wondered if the blacklisting went back to 1981. Chris freaked out after Napalm Beach’s gear was stolen out of a van after a Portland show with X. The gear was located and returned a few days later with the help of a teenager named Sean Croghan, who’s band released a single on Sub Pop many years later.
After that night in 1981, Napalm Beach received a letter of rejection for “unprofessional behavior” from X’s management. Now I believe it was another set up, another of many manufactured “bad breaks.” I was stuck on the X incident as the origin of the blacklisting for a while, because, well, just look at the band name!
But Malibu, Malibu, Malibu the songs kept singing. So I time-traveled to Malibu 1974 and found something that appeared to be a “smoking gun”: a bowl of drunken cherries served by a woman named YOLANDA (a Greek word for the color violet or an orchid with long “arms” on its petals). Now my presumption was that Chris was a rowdy 21 year old boy in the wrong place around the wrong people eating the wrong fruit at the wrong time.
But you know what? Now I think there is even more to it.
Remember how in the 1968 movie Rosemary’s Baby, the witchy couple curse Rosemary by coercing her to wear stinky “Tanis root”?
from Live Through This. Virgin Publishing Ltd, London. 2001.
…Oh, and of course Kurt left a great narcissistic suicide note behaind, one that would ensure he’d be remembered for a fair few years yet. That Neil Young line he quoted in his scribbled handwriting – ‘It’s better to burn out than to fade away’ – what a great way to take that final stage bow! He did us proud with that one, and also with the use of a shotgun to literally put a hole through his head. Say what you like about Kurt, but he certainly had a sense of occasion. (p 64-65.)
gun – camera hole – hole (buried sun) head – leader of an organization
I met Kurt at a club in L.A. right before Nevermind came out. We took a picture and he said, “Come on, let’s give the finger!” So we did.
– Iggy Pop, Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Artists.
(Note: Run your pointer over the boldface words for more info if your browser is equipped to display definitions or additional information in “title” attributes.)
It’s difficult to start writing about rape, and all the time it shows up in grunge lyrics, and especially, videos. And by “grunge” I am talking about a specific community of musicians who got their start in the Pacific Northwest during the 1980s.
It’s difficult in part because everyone (even me – a little bit) wants to stay in denial, but more so because the rape imagery is so pervasive. It’s pervasive enough to make me think that a literal rape occurred. And that the victim was Kurt Cobain.
If this is true, Cobain’s 1994 suicide doesn’t make everything “ok.” Even if you don’t think the dead deserve justice, there are related crimes which continue to this day, including the continuing exploitation of Chris Newman (who is not, in fact, dead), the decade-plus smear campaign against Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, and the fact that Cobain’s daughter Francis has to live, without a father, under a cloud of lies. From my perspective, the truth is vital.
I already wrote a bit about two of Hole’s songs, Burn Black and Dicknail. Maybe the next logical thing to do is to go straight to the source and write about Nirvana’s rape songs, especially since Kurt Cobain went to such lengths to finger someone.
The key to Nirvana – and Mudhoney – rape songs is the song “Sweet Young Thing” by the Monkees.
In the TV performance of the song, the Monkees perform “Sweet Young Thing,” (1966) elderly people dance around, take turns in wheelchairs, etc. In the circus mirror, (uninitiated) innocence is represented by old age.
More notable are the lyrics:
And it’s love you bring,
No that I can’t deny,
With your wings,
I can learn to fly,
Sweet young thing.
People try to talk to me
Their words are ugly sounds
But I resist all their attempts
To try and bring me down.
Turned on to the sunset
Like I’ve never done before
And I listen for your footsteps
And your knock upon the door.
21 years later, in 1987, Mudhoney wrote a song with the same title (Sweet Young Thing), though this time the hook was “sweet young thing ain’t sweet no more.” It’s a snarly, sinister-sounding song about the end of innocence, shown by the lines “mommy’s little pills spilled all over the floor” and “mama can’t handle her on her own, she said ‘you just wait ’till your father gets home.'” It might be worth noting that the word “pills” sounds like “bills” on the Superfuzz Bigmuff version of the song. (Sweet Young thing full lyrics) Indeed – when you’ve got dogs, pigs, and ducks chasing you, you know there are big bills involved. (Ask Lady Gaga.)
Another contemporary Mudhoney song (also on the Superfuzz Bigmuff EP) which seems related is “Sliding In And Out Of Grace.”
Cry for mercy, relieve my hate
Sliding in ‘n’ out of grace
Spill my seed, suck my waste
Sliding in ‘n’ out of grace
Oh God, how I love to hate
Sliding in ‘n’ out of grace
Save me Lord, and fuck the race… etc (full lyrics)
Songs performed later, mainly by Courtney Love, suggest that “Sliding In And Out of Grace” was specifically about Kurt Cobain. The word “grace” comes up in a couple of her songs which I believe are about Kurt, most notably “Northern Star,” but also “Happy Ending Story” and in some of the live performances she’s done. In fact, I believe that “Northern Star” matches Courtney’s more recently penned “Honey.” I believe that both of those songs were written not about twins, but about triplets. Three other songwriters: Kurt Cobain, Chris Newman, and Mark Arm.
Anyone who really pays attention to Courtney’s lyrics, videos, and live performances would have a hard time missing the subtext she’s been weaving in since day one. But the ringleaders work hard to re-direct your attention anywhere but where you should be looking. That is, I believe, the reason for the seemingly never-ending smear campaign against Courtney Love.
Around 1990 (same era as Hole’s songs “Dicknail” and “Burn Black”), Kurt Cobain wrote two very important songs dealing with rape and abuse. One was written from the perspective of a kidnapper and rapist experiencing what seems to be dissociated shreds of empathy, and appeared on the 1991 album Nevermind. It is called “Polly.” The other was written, sarcastically, from the perspective of a rape victim. It was called “Rape Me,” and though, like Polly, it was said to be written around 1990, it didn’t appear on an album until 1993’s In Utero. There is a third song that is connected, which I’ll just mention in passing, and it is “Negative Creep.” Negative Creep, with it’s chorus of “Daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more” is clearly a response to the Mudhoney song “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More.” The fact that every single rock critic has missed that most obvious point for the past quarter of a century ought to suggest that something is really fucking stinky in Denmark. And everywhere else, too.
In any case, I believe that in all of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love’s songs, “Daddy” is Mudhoney’s Mark Arm. (With or without a “twin.”)
The name “Polly” means “parrot,” going back to the 16th or 17th century (OED), and the classic phrase “Polly want a cracker” makes the parrot reference undeniable. The distinctive characteristics of parrots are imitation. (They also tend to be yellow and green – “sun” colors. – see lexicon) Because the “night club” reflects and imitates the sun, and because the grunge myth is tightly controlled (everyone has a script from which no one ever deviates) Cobain was forced to “parrot” the party line. “Speak at once while taking turns” is the way he described it in a later song, Radio Friendly Unit Shifter. The parrot reference is the reason I think that Polly is specifically about Kurt Cobain, written from a place of dissociation. Dissociation is what happens when you experience severe abuse. Though Polly is also a “mirror” song. I couldn’t call it a “twin” song because there are multiple images in this mirror. It’s a POLY-MIRROR. (See how Kurt does that? EVERY. WORD. MATTERS. and sometimes every letter.)
The poly subjects are all crime victims and/or perpetrators: Chris Newman (as usual); and the 14 year old girl (who’s name was not actually Polly); and Kurt Cobain. Also the perpetrator/s of the respective crimes. I believe there are 5 subjects in Polly. And by that I mean that I believe that the crimes against Kurt Cobain and Chris Newman had the same perpetrator.
I also believe that Kurt Cobain was using the news story upon which he based the song as a metaphor for something that had happened to him (very possibly an actual rape), and something that he wanted to happen: escape from an untenable situation, and ultimately, justice.
Friend had picked her up near the Tacoma Dome in his car after she had attended a rock concert. She was able to earn his trust and sympathy by convincing him she enjoyed it. She managed to escape when he stopped for gas. She got out of the vehicle and made a scene attracting attention from surrounding people. – from Wikipedia Polly_(song)
Polly was saved, I guess because the “surrounding people” had no investment in her continuing captivity and/or silence. Kurt Cobain was and Chris Newman is in a different situation.
The perpetrator of the incident that inspired the song “Polly,” Gerald Friend, was thought at the time to be the Green River killer. (Wikipedia: Gerald Arthur Friend)
Green River, of course, was name of the first band to sign with Sub Pop, fronted by Mark Arm. In 1988 Green River essentially split into two bands: Pearl Jam and Mudhoney.
In terms Kurt’s “other” rape song, Rape Me, there are lines like “my favorite inside source, I’ll kiss your open sores” (suggests someone with a hidden heroin or other syringe-drug habit), “you’ll always stink and burn” (recalls a Sylvia Plath line “turn and burn” which in turn recalls the position of the hanged man, which is the sun), and then there are some very notable lines, like “rape me – hate me – waste me – taste me.” “Hate me” reflects a line from Mudhoney’s aforementioned “Grace” song, “Oh God how I love to hate.”
If you listen carefully to the song, Rape Me, Cobain is singing “I’m not the only one,” but he’s also slurring into “I want the only one.”
I’ve tried to write this story, or something like it, a few times, but always got mired. Then, on July 11, something about the way two contrasting images cut across my brain – the 25-year-old daddy-band Mudhoney surfing across the blue skies of Seattle, while the 33-year-old granddaddy-band Napalm Beach says farewell from deep inside the Star Theatre – made me think it’s time to finish. Continue reading Introducing Napalm Beach: The band that taught Seattle how to rock→
I’ve tried to write this story, or something like it, a few times, but always got mired. Then, on July 11, something about the way two contrasting images cut across my brain – the 25-year-old daddy-band Mudhoney surfing across the blue skies of Seattle, while the 33-year-old granddaddy-band Napalm Beach says farewell from deep inside the Star Theatre – made me think it’s time to finish. Continue reading Introducing the band that taught Seattle how to rock…→
Orca Team… this bass drum is about the size of most people’s floor tom. What they’re is saying is, you don’t have to be the biggest whale in the ocean to be the most ferocious.” – Calvin Johnson (at Old Disjecta 10-01-10)
A surfer I went to college with was bit by a great white shark off of Trinidad Head, in far northwestern California. He showed me his scar, a half-moon across his torso, and described swimming out, feeling himself pulled down into the water, and then released. There he floated on his board in the ocean, bleeding and gazing toward shore, wondering whether the shark would return. “I decided,” he said, “That if I’m going to die, I’m glad to die right here. It’s so beautiful.” Continue reading Surfing with the Orca Team at Record Room, Portland→
I feel really terrible to have waited so long to write about Jan Terri’s greatly anticipated comeback show at Seattle’s Magma Fest, March 31, 2012. Life sometimes steamrolls one’s best intentions. Still, this was too important a show to let go without some kind of review, and plus, there is a brand new video of Jan’s Magma Fest set thanks to Kenn Piekarski’s Off Tempo underground NW music archiving project. Continue reading Jan Terri meets Thë Ünïcörnz and conquers Seattle→
Last fall I discovered, and became fascinated by, the work of outsider artist Jan Terri. I wrote an article about her for Collapse Board, and shortly after I finished the article, Jan released a new video on YouTube. ‘Excuse My Christmas’ is already a hit, of course. Then Garrett Kelly of Seattle’s Hollow Earth Radio contacted me to say he had booked Jan to play MAGMA FEST March 31. This is Jan’s Seattle debut, and her first public performance in more than 10 years.
Because I kept journals through my teens, I can pinpoint the date that the light began to dawn for me in terms of how sexism affected my life personally. It was December 1983. I was 15 years and eight months old. Coincidentally, my daughter is that exact age this month. Continue reading Winter Solstice 1983→
I grew up in a rural area outside a logging town in northwestern California, and I wanted to play guitar ever since I could remember. I did have a sense of how great it might feel to perform and sing, but I had no idea how long, convoluted, and confusing the path could be. Continue reading How I Learned To Play Guitar→