Xenophobia: metaphors and the same old questions


At work, some persons were eating ice cream while discussing discussions (…) that they’ve seen on the web. One person, confidently, in offhand manner, stated that “political discussions don’t belong on Facebook”.

This person, a few breaths later, also uttered his belief that “asylum-seekers should not complain as much as they do”. As I asked which these complaints actually were, mutterings were heard. Nothing more of it. More ice cream was eaten. Maybe the workplace is a better arena than Facebook, for flaunting xenophobic fare.

That reminds me of the Wolf in the film version of “The Neverending Story“. It leaped out, fangs and growl, but ended up retreating, with nothing to gain from its attack.

But was it really an attack? Or a try at forming intelligent speak, even?

I’m actually referring to my co-worker, not the wolf.1 Also, since when is something not political, in some sense? And when do people really shun discussions, I mean, really?

I mean, to verbally splatter stuffs as stupidly as the aforementioned person did, either states that’s a) a human being who’s made a dreadful mistake, which means that person should take it back, or b) that the person is experiencing cognitive issues so deep that zombies would take offense when playing Scrabble against it.

Now. I love stupidity in a lot of shapes, like Ramones’ genius ways of dousing their style in it, or Stephen Colbert’s fake punditry, the kind of court jester type of stuff. On the other hand, if you’re male, white, point at a group of people who already suffer beyond what you even comprehend…well, let’s just say I won’t hold the thimble that is more than adequate to collect the depths of your Male Tears. If you say all that, which you actually, doubtfully did, if you’re truly that shallow and don’t reflect on what you’ve said afterward, you’ve got it made2 in the shade. Too bad those sunglasses probably consist of an opaque material.

On the other hand, if there’s an inkling in your soul that seems to indicate that you’ve said something in error, if you look in the mirror without anybody else nearby, you do a bit of conscious soul-searching and you find that your empathy levels match those of Donald Trump, you should get out more. No, not like Damon Albarn shouted in “Parklife“, more like, get out into the world, meet people, be open to how other people experience life, because that may differ from your experiences; it may even be something you’d prefer to how you live life today, so have an open mind. Don’t be afraid of the Dark. That only enables the Wolf. Hang out with asylum-seekers and know they are just like you in most ways. Be critical, mainly of your own thoughts, to see through what you’re prone to accept without questions arising, and you’ll blossom. Promise. See some relevant documentaries at the very least. All people are equal. Don’t be bad. Sometimes I think children should be our leaders, only for their straight-forwardness and honesty.

This is not some patchouli-sniffin’ thing, sitting in a ring, singing Kumbaya. Even if it were, hell, would it be wrong? Don’t be bad. It needn’t be harder than that. Don’t make another person cry, is that OK for all of us?

The Wolf missed its quarry due to bad timing and the imminent danger of rocks smashing its head, if I remember correctly, so what could the rocks be represented by in the real-world scene I’ve described? Riposte? Could be. What would the cave be, the one that the Wolf retreated back to to? Somewhere other than Facebook? Hate-monging sites for xenophobes? Drowning in other distractions? Anonymity? Learning about the suffering and hardships endured by people who flee from persecution and death? I’ll keep hoping for the last choice while I loop Michael Jackson’s “Heal The World” in my head.

Isn’t it strange that some persons who live a very sheltered life, for examples, without the threat of war, getting killed as the result of a wanton bureaucratic decision, carry no qualms whatsoever about judging others, mainly people who they’ve never met or even communicated with, on the basis that they “complain too much”?

Xenophobia rears its head. To even infer the possibility of intellectual design somewhere in that muck is just a hellacious howl to anyone who’s not a half-wit. I mean, you probably won’t let somebody who hasn’t attended medical school and is licensed to perform surgery on you, so don’t accept “home truths” that are actually utterly moronic, without some critical thinking. Please.

I think I’ll go and listen to Bill Hicks’ great monologue about life as “just a ride” a few times now and get filled-up by knowing there’s hope, as there will always be a lot of sane, lovely people living amidst us.

  1. Apropos nothing, I must add that I think it’s fucking weird that the saying goes “raised by wolves” when wolves are better parents than humans. I mean, have you ever seen a bad wolf parent?[back]
  2. That is, if you consider your Apotheosis confirmed by wearing stupidity as your crowning glory.[back]
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Movies I've watched recently:

  • Dödlig drift (1999) - IMDb 1/10

    2015-08-24 21:02

    This film, somehow, marks a new low in Swedish filmmaking; you have Mikael Persbrandt, playing a serial killer in his usual way of waiting--a--long--time----between--------words-to-denote-mental-problems, you have Stefan Sauk, mostly known for crying in strange places in all kinds of productions, and a slew of known Swedish actors...so, what went wrong? The film begins almost admirably, from a Swedish film perspective: the serial murderer kills and then surveys the scene, watching the people who discover the corpse, which is disposed of outdoors. After that, however, Persbrandt joins his family for a dinner where he holds some kind of speech before handing his mom a trophy. Subsequently, things go south. All dialogue is weird, there are some inexplicable dancing scenes - including even more inexplicable g-string underwear - amidst fleeting cops that should be professional but aren't, and you feel no sympathy or empathy for anybody in the film, while everything feels amateurish in the extreme. _Everything_, including the soundtrack, which is more hurtful than the murders. Still, it's a laugh. See sedated.

  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) - IMDb 9/10

    2015-08-23 09:40
    * * * * * * * * *

    Just as "The Thin Red Line" lured loads of boys into cinemas, thinking they'd see something resembling "Platoon" or a mindless Schwarzenegger flick, "Mad Max: Fury Road" takes another route. There's enough action here to shake a stick at, mainly where CGI doesn't really stand a chance to the real-live graphical action and the special effects are concerned, but the real difference is in the human, here. Both in the contrasts between good and bad, including all of the grey areas, of which there are, humanly speaking, many. This film manages to inject feminism into your everyday man-packed genre, it's almost maddening to think that this film has come into existence. At the same time, even a broken clock strikes the right time twice a day. Not that THIS is a broken clock. No, no. This is a world where civilisation is not as us rich westerners know it. It's a world where our poorest live, in cities of dust, with the richest at the top, degrading the ones down the hierarchical line, just along the lines of capitalism, making the ones at the bottom think that's where they belong, all cogs serving the greater good, which in the film is named "Valhalla", to where you gladly sacrifice your life to go, whenever your master feels like it, or you are programmed to. There is no mercy here. No preconceptions like we are used to. People are people. The film starts off brutal, in the wolf's cave, as it where, before Theron's character decides to go off the decided path together with the tyrannical ruler's "wives" and gets hunted for it. In an early scene, when the escaping party makes a run for it, one of the enslaved "wives" kicks the chastity belt she's been made to wear, and quickly jumps into a rig. Theron's communication with Hardy is nearly breathtaking. I mean, enough said, right? I loved the nomenclature. The mixture of language. Words such as "smeg" (possibly culled from TV-series "Red Dwarf"?), "kamakrazee" and "guzzoline" were well-used. Lines like "Is that just the wind or a furious vexation?" and "We will McFeast in Valhalla" actually made sense, rather than seeming like something extremely uncomfortable from, say, True Detective (season two). "How long has it been?" - "Seven thousand days. And then the ones I can't remember." The film's anti-xenophobic. Just see the interplay where War Boy and Hardy's character is. At first, the hatred is inherent, almost inherited; the more they get to know the situation, themselves and each other, respect and like is gained, as with Hardy's and Theron's characters. It's as though naivité and innocence are shown as-is: good things, really, in comparison with prejudice. The fights, the action, is nearly without comparison. I was slightly reminded of the introductory scene in "Saving Private Ryan" when seeing the first battle, but this is beyond that, with a magnificent display made throughout the film. It's really a feministic film, a world based on no bars hold, or rather, on men, women and beings trying to break out of their gender-based cage and away from bad preconceptions. I can't even begin to say how much I loved the action scenes, the cinematography and the quick editing. The soundtrack is just manic, Wagneresque, and it actually works (where that method is usually, 99 times out of 100, trite beyond words), while you have attackers lurking, coming out of every crevice... It's almost like watching Gilliam's "Brazil", it's so far from this world, that it's almost like watching an action-film apotheosis happening before our eyes, in bright, sparkling colours. Killing never looked this good. This film really stimulates growth in thinking areas, while being ham-fisted in a really good way. THIS is the way to go, for all action films. Just a thing pulled from the IMDb trivia department that says a lot about this film: "The film editor, Margaret Sixel, is director George Miller's wife. When she asked her husband why he thought she should do it as she had never edited an action film before, Miller replied, 'Because if a guy did it, it would look like every other action movie.'" I love this film.

  • Johan Falk: Slutet (Video 2015) - IMDb 2/10

    2015-08-19 21:33
    * *

    This film ends the Johan Falk franchise. Admittedly, I've only seen the last five of these, but it doesn't matter. Where some franchises borrow from Shakespeare and epic stories, this one loans from The Gallery Of Sour Faces, as seen on the movie poster. No happy? No. Falk, played by the anthesis of miens, Jakob Eklund, is out to save himself, his family, his colleagues and to avenge everybody, while acting the doused village idiot, somehow still being prone to mass-killings, despite constantly being hounded by expert killers from the Belarus. One is left none the wiser after the franchise has ended, really. There's simply nothing to take away from this, not even the action, which is plain and dodgy, even seen from a gun-bullet-body perspective; I hoped to gain some kind of ham-fisted pleasure from this, but ended up in dismay. I must confess that I expected it.

  • Johan Falk: Lockdown (Video 2015) - IMDb 2/10

    2015-08-18 20:52
    * *

    In the end credits, this film hails people whose names may not be mentioned, for security reasons. They helped in making this film believable, the credits say. Well. A lot of the security procedures that are displayed in this film are incredulous, and it won't take more than a single glance from somebody, say, a custody officer, to find a slew of factual errors here. So, yes, this film talks the talk, but does it walk the walk? No, not really. There's no tension here. The most actual, life-affirming thing that happens in this film, is police corruption as a whole. Otherwise, this film is based on non-believable dialogue and vexation; when one of the police in this film gets shot, I'm happy, as that means that person will most probably hush up from it. I'm no psychopath, but the characters are so unbelievable, you care as much of someone dying here, as you do about swallowing a glass of water. Less so, in truth. So, all in all, what have I taken away from this experience? Nothing, I think. I can't remember much about this film, apart from it feeling amateurish. Guns. Gangs. Violence. Corrupt cops. My psyche has already ousted most of this film, which says one thing: I'm glad to find my mental defenses well prepared against this kind of pap.

  • Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) - IMDb 1/10

    2015-07-05 19:25

    Actually, I will start off my review by quoting Anthony Lane's review of this film: "Mostly, he sounds like your basic stalker: “I’m incapable of leaving you alone,” he informs Ana—a notion that appears to stimulate her, although it would easily warrant a call to 911. She succumbs, up to a point, but her recurring doubts lead Christian to dish up one of those crusty old no-means-yes propositions which feminism has battled for decades: “You want to leave? Your body tells me something different.” Pass the butt plug." Indeed. This film is tragic, in a variety of ways, and sexy in none (for me, at least). And probably for a bunch of other people as well, as this film has marked 4.2/10 on IMDb, which is remarkably low. Still, I give this film 1/10 for a variety of reasons. The characters are one-dimensional. The main character is "god" and, because of the book, is never-smiling and drab. I mean, if he'd only have been interesting in some way! He comes across all Bruce Wayne-y, body sculpted, can do everything (fly a helicopter, play the piano, own at least 75 different neckties), but lacks everything that he should have. Compare this with the lead character in Steve McQueen's "Shame": he says very little, but exudes so much, much more than this film collectively ever will. The female lead character is just an object, nothing more. A boring, self-deprecating object with a touch of defiance, only there to display her as an individual, somebody who doesn't let anything happen to her as she's master of her own will. Still, shit like "I'm incapable of leaving you alone" creeps me the hell out, it is _not_ sexy or passionate. It's cheap. And cheapens a lot of things. A lot of people who actually do enjoy BDSM have raised their voices against this film as it's apparently against what is considered safe BDSM use, and goes against more than that. The soundtrack is a safeword in this film; down-watered covers, mainly used to be "sultry" and "sensual", no doubt, but are, in fact, like adding poop to your champagne. Not that this film is champagne in any way, shape or form; champagne is palatable. This film is not. Avoid. There will be sequels. I'll avoid those.


Review: Stephen Witt – “How Music Got Free”

How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy by Stephen Witt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am a member of the pirate generation. When I arrived at college in 1997, I had never heard of an mp3. By the end of my first term I had filled my 2-gigabyte hard drive with hundreds of bootlegged songs. By graduation, I had six 20-gigabyte drives, all full. By 2005, when I moved to New York, I had collected 1,500 gigabytes of music, nearly 15,000 albums worth. It took an hour just to queue up my library, and if you ordered the songs alphabetically by artist, you’d have to listen for a year and a half to get from ABBA to ZZ Top. I pirated on an industrial scale, but told no one. It was an easy secret to keep. You never saw me at the record store and I didn’t DJ parties. The files were procured in chat channels, and through Napster and BitTorrent; I haven’t purchased an album with my own money since the turn of the millennium. The vinyl collectors of old had filled whole basements with dusty album jackets, but my digital collection could fit in a shoebox. Most of this music I never listened to. I actually hated ABBA, and although I owned four ZZ Top albums, I couldn’t tell you the name of one. What was really driving me, I wonder? Curiosity played a role, but now, years later, I can see that what I really wanted was to belong to an elite and rarefied group. This was not a conscious impulse, and, had you suggested it to me, I would have denied it. But that was the perverse lure of the piracy underground, the point that almost everyone missed. It wasn’t just a way to get the music; it was its own subculture.

And still, the music industry goes forward.

This is a book with mainly, as I see it, two different forks. One is about how the MP3 technology came about, and another is of how digital music piracy came about.

A lot of this book was like walking down memory lane for myself, a computer-savvy teenager as MP3s hit the stage in a world-wide way, along with file-sharing software.

In May 1998, Saehan’s MPMan arrived. The first consumer-grade mp3 player was a box-sized contraption with a tiny monochrome screen that cost $600 and held five songs. It was roundly criticized by reviewers, and sales were limited to enthusiasts.

As the music industry pondered how CDs actually leaked out to piracy groups on the net, one single guy was often responsible for all the releases from a single CD production plant, as he worked there and simultaneously provided for RNS, one of the biggest release groups of them all:

Glover left the technical part to Kali. Unlike many Scene participants, he wasn’t interested in mind-numbing discussions about the relative merits of constant and variable bit rates. He just provided the discs, and after he’d ripped them and transmitted the data, he would usually listen to a smuggled disc only once or twice before growing bored. When he was done with a disc, he stashed it in a black duffel bag he had hidden away in his bedroom closet. By 2002, the duffel bag contained more than 500 discs, representing nearly every major release to have come through the Kings Mountain plant. Glover leaked Lil Wayne’s 500 Degreez, Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2001, and Jay-Z’s The Blueprint. He leaked Queens of the Stone Age’s Rated R and 3 Doors Down’s Away from the Sun. He leaked Björk. He leaked Ashanti. He leaked Ja Rule. He leaked Nelly. He leaked Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. […] The high point of Kali’s year came in May 2002, when Glover leaked The Eminem Show 25 days early. Even though it would go on to become the year’s bestselling album, the rapper was forced to reschedule his tour. […] Anything that Doug Morris signed, Dell Glover leaked, and, in what was becoming RNS’ signature move, all of the leaks hit the Internet precisely 14 days before they were due in stores.

Also, how the industry affected the law – especially in the US of A, here – is interesting, as they really lashed out without knowing what they were doing; the ramifications of placing children and their families in major, live-spanning debt for sharing a few Britney Spears songs were just extreme, hellacious and the result of utter capitalism:

The RIAA’s antipiracy division targeted defendants by the number of files they had uploaded, setting a threshold minimum of 1,000 songs shared. The idea was to go after only the worst offenders, but, due to technical factors, it didn’t quite work out that way. Napster and its clones tended to make one’s library uploadable by default. Savvy users often disabled this function, meaning many of the so-called “worst offenders” turned out to be clueless noobs. So to the outside world, Project Hubcap looked arbitrary and vicious. The RIAA seemed to be choosing the defendants at random, picking up IP addresses from peer-to-peer servers like Kazaa and LimeWire and subpoenaing the responsible Internet service providers for customer details. But even with these subpoenas the RIAA never quite seemed to know who it was suing. It targeted single mothers and families without computers. It targeted senior citizens and children. It targeted the unemployed and people who’d been dead for months. In one high-profile case, the RIAA targeted Brianna LaHara, a 12-year-old girl who lived in a New York City housing project and who had downloaded, among other things, the theme song from the TV sitcom Family Matters. Rather than doing the sensible thing—dropping their civil lawsuit against a child—the RIAA instead offered to settle with little Brianna, provided her parents wrote them a check for 2,000 dollars.

As the music business utterly failed to create anything near a community – and they still cannot fathom this, unlike some retailers like Bleep and Bandcamp – sites popped up to meet the demand, sites like Oink’s Pink Palace, where one could not only download a specific album, but different versions of said album, in a slew of different formats and qualities:

Hosting bills began to mount. By December, the tracker cost several hundred dollars a month to maintain. In early 2005, Ellis posted the address of a PayPal account for the site and made a polite request for donations. Cash began to trickle in, denominated in currencies from all over the globe. More than money, Oink’s army donated labor. They built out the archive, and their enthusiasm for this venture put even the Scene to shame. Oinkers uploaded their own CD collections, and the CD collections of their friends. Some of the site’s elite “torrent masters” uploaded a thousand albums or more. As Scene participants had done before them, Oinkers started to search eBay for rarities and import pressings. As record stores started closing, Oinkers showed up to buy their fire sale inventory in bulk, and these compulsive uploaders were the music retailers’ last, best customers. First, there were 1,000 albums. Then 10,000. Then 100,000. Ellis the elitist presided over it all. It was a beautiful thing: no low-quality encodes, no fakes, no dupes, no movies, no TV shows. Just music. All of it, in perfect digital clarity. All the music ever recorded.


Oink grew explosively. By the beginning of 2006 the site had 100,000 users and hosted torrents for nearly a million distinct albums, making it four times bigger than the iTunes Store. The site’s user base was uploading 1,500 new torrents each day. Every album was available in multiple formats, and soon Oink had complete, thoroughly documented discographies for any musician you could care to name. Think of the most obscure release from the most obscure artist you knew; it was there, on Oink, in every issue and reissue, including redacted promo copies and split seven-inch records and bonus tracks from Japanese pressings you’d never even heard of. Take the artist Nick Drake. Obscure in his lifetime, Drake sold only 5,000 copies of his final album Pink Moon before overdosing on pills in 1974 at the age of 26. Over the next 25 years his reputation grew slowly. He became a “musician’s musician,” beloved by connoisseurs but unknown to the public. Then, in 1999, the title track for Pink Moon was featured in a commercial for the Volkswagen Cabrio: young trendsetters on a nighttime joyride, scored with the chronically depressed singer’s lyrics about the meaninglessness of life. It ended with a pan to the sky, where the Volkswagen logo stood in for the moon. The campaign was a bust from Volkswagen’s perspective. The Cabrio never sold well in the United States and was discontinued within three years. But the effect on Drake’s back catalog was dramatic—the advertisers had done a better job selling the music than the car. Within a few months of the commercial’s first airing, Pink Moon had sold more copies than it had in the previous quarter century. And since Drake had released his music on the UK’s Island label, his back catalog was now part of the behemoth they called Universal Music Group. The music executives there moved quickly to take advantage of this serendipitous gift. You could learn all this on Oink, which acted almost as a museum exhibit of Drake’s critical afterlife, charting the repeated attempts to cash in on his growing critical and commercial stature. The website’s incomparable archives had Pink Moon ripped from eight different sources: the exceptionally rare, extremely valuable first-edition 1972 vinyl from Island Records; the 1986 box set CD reissue from Hannibal Records; the 1990 CD release from Island; the 1992 CD re-reissue from Hannibal; the post-Cabrio 2000 CD re-re-reissue from Island; the accompanying Simply Vinyl 180-gram audiophile re-re-reissue, also from 2000; the 2003 Island Records digitally remastered re-re-re-reissue on compact disc; and the Universal Music Japanese vinyl re-re-re-reissue from 2007. Each of the reissues was then encoded into an alphabet soup of file types—FLAC, AAC, and mp3—so that ultimately there were more than thirty options for downloading this one album alone. You couldn’t find stuff like this on iTunes. The size and scope of Oink’s catalog outdid any online music purveyor, and given its distributed nature, the archive was essentially indestructible. But its growth made it difficult to maintain. Alan Ellis now spent almost all his free time keeping the site running, and as his grades suffered, he was forced to repeat a year at university. By the summer of 2006, Oink was getting 10,000 page views a day, and the hosting bills had grown to thousands of dollars a month. Several times, Ellis ran pledge drives on the site’s front page. The response from his community was overwhelming. In the span of a year Ellis’ army donated over 200,000 pounds—nearly half a million dollars. People liked Oink. They were even willing to pay for it.


By the time Ellis finally graduated from university in 2007, Oink’s army was 180,000 members strong. Among the foot soldiers were several famous musicians, including Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, who admitted in an interview to being an avid user of the site and described it as “the world’s greatest record store.” Ellis himself could attest to this. While administering the site, he’d gone from being a casual music listener to a total fanatic. He used the music-tracking site Last .fm to publicize his listening habits, and during the three years he’d been running Oink, he had listened to over 91,000 songs—6,000 hours’ worth of music.


iTunes was just a store, basically a mall—Oink was a community.

Then, the law caught up with Oink:

The evidence trail amounted to the easiest bust in the history of online piracy. On Tuesday, October 23, 2007, Ellis woke before dawn to prepare for another day in the IT pit at the chemical company in downtown Middlesbrough. He took a shower in his apartment’s shared bathroom, then returned to his bedroom, where his girlfriend, having spent the night, was still asleep. As he did every morning, he logged into Oink as administrator, checked the server logs, and read the overnight messages from his deputized lieutenants. Then the door slammed open and a dozen police officers swarmed into his room. All ten of Ellis’ bank accounts were frozen simultaneously. Across the country in Manchester, his father was inexplicably arrested as well, and charged with money laundering. Alan Ellis’ home computer was seized as evidence. So were the Holland servers, which contained the IP and email addresses of all 180,000 Oink members. Unlike the Pirate Bay administrators, Ellis had not planned for this contingency, and the torrents Oink served went dark.

They also detail how artists and labels started thinking differently, in order to get in touch with their fans and buyers:

Artists began to experiment. Lady Gaga moved a million units in a single week by selling her album Born This Way for 99 cents. Beyoncé released a surprise self-titled “visual” album with 17 attached videos, exclusively sold through Apple. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke pulled his work from Spotify and dumped his album Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes onto BitTorrent. Taylor Swift pulled her work too, then sold nearly two million copies of her album 1989 in a month, the bulk of those as compact discs at big-box stores.

All in all, this book is fairly well-written, despite containing some apparent flaws – such as concentrating on just a few of the release sites, in my opinion, as well as writing abhorrently of some people, e.g. Lindsay Lohan – but as a whole, it so far serves as the best document that I have seen in a long time, of how digital music piracy came to be and stays.

View all my reviews

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Mayakovsky and Sandra Bullock

I was surprised to see Sandra Bullock sporting the below Mayakovsky/Lilya Brik image from the cover of the poem “Pro Eto” as a t-shirt in the film “28 Days“:


I can’t help but feel a bit elated when somebody does Mayakovsky a something into the cultural sphere now and again. And don’t miss out on Bengt Jangfeldt’s supreme biography in Mayakovsky and the Briks, which I, too, gave 5/5.

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My saved links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Review: Nick Soulsby – “I Found My Friends: The Oral History of Nirvana”

I Found My Friends: The Oral History of Nirvana by Nick Soulsby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

But Kurt was super-quiet … He was just one of those guys who would walk by and you just wouldn’t notice him right off the bat. One day in school he passed up a note to the girl behind me; she passed it to me and it said, “Will you teach me to play guitar?” I told him, “Yeah, no problem.” But it never happened.

This is really a whole lot of quotes from a lot of different people, bundled together in chapters, all about Nirvana, collected from the beginning until the end (i.e. after Cobain’s life ended, up until the recent re-release of “In Utero”).

There are a lot of sweet anecdotes from people who actually knew the band.

GILLY ANN HANNER, Sister Skelter/Calamity Jane: I first saw Nirvana when they played my house for my birthday party.

RYAN AIGNER: You’ve seen the “Love Buzz”/“Big Cheese” single? Have you noticed the inscription on the vinyl? Around the label it says “Why don’t you trade those guitars for shovels?” That quote happened during a rehearsal with Robert Novoselic, myself, and a friend called Brett Walker. We were at Krist’s house; we’d gotten together after school … trying to rehearse and learn some cover songs. Krist came home, came upstairs, listened to what we doing, and gave us his opinion about what was going on, helped us out—showed us some guitar leads he knew—then Krist and Robert’s father came home. He was a construction worker and he wasn’t happy about this noise, so he came upstairs to the boys’ bedroom, forced the door open. He was yelling. Krist was yelling back, “Aw, leave them alone! They’re just kids, you know!” Finally they let him in. We didn’t know him well; we introduced ourselves and let him know who we were. And he says with a frown on his face, “You kids, why don’t you kids go sell those goddamn guitars and buy something useful like shovels or something?” That’s where the quote came from—many years later, the story had a mythological life-span and kept coming up. They found it pretty funny so they had it engraved.

LEIGHTON BEEZER: I was invited to play by default, I guess, since it was a record-release party and all the bands were on the bill. But from here on out it’s hard for me to give an accurate answer, since I got very seriously drunk that night and my memory is a little fuzzy … They were really just another band among equals at the time … But here’s what I do remember. Kurt and I used to occasionally have a beer together before he played. He used to stink for some reason … like, really bad BO. And so, one night, as a joke, I brought along a roll of my girlfriend’s deodorant and gave it to Kurt before he took the stage that night. He laughed, and then quickly disappeared. The next thing I knew, I saw Kurt onstage with Nirvana, rolling some of this stuff on, like, in the middle of a song … I can’t remember which one. He then picked it up and showed it to the crowd. The band stopped playing, looking kind of bewildered. Kurt held up the deodorant, Teen Spirit, and said something like, “Leighton Beezer said I stink and gave me this. Now I smell like Teen Spirit.” … A couple of weeks before the Sub 200 show, Kurt stopped by my house on the Hill, just to shoot the shit. He picked up my guitar, a Squire Jagmaster, as I recall, and played these four chords for me. He said he’d been listening a lot to the first Boston album and wanted to use those chords in a new song he’d been working on. I said, “But you’re ripping off ‘More Than a Feeling,’ dude.” He smiled and said nothing.

Also, don’t tell me Cobain didn’t put his money where his mouth was:

I remember Kurt saying that they wanted to leave Sub-Pop because “they’re sexist.”

Cobain was a feminist, which means he’s for equality between genders. The man really was, through and through. Thank Bog.

Nirvana lent weight whenever asked. Cobain dueted with Courtney Love at a Rock Against Rape event. The band played Rock for Choice, contributed to the Home Alive compilation, invited female-fronted bands on tour, and on occasion would chastise male members of their own audience if they spotted them molesting girls in the crowd.

GILLY ANN HANNER: We played West Coast dates, including some in L.A. that were filmed by Lisa Rose Apramian for her rockumentary Not Bad for a Girl, featuring Hole, L7, Babes in Toyland, and dozens of other female musicians. The film was released in 1995, and Kurt and Courtney ended up partially funding it.

ROD STEPHEN, Björn Again: We were doing a concert in Melbourne and Nirvana were playing down the road. They were looking for something to do afterward and stumbled upon our gig. We didn’t know they were there; we were onstage.

Then after, our guy who was selling the T-shirts—I don’t know how many we had, twenty-five or something—and the guys from Nirvana bought the whole lot and told him how much they loved the gig before they left. Our guy ran upstairs saying, “You’ll never believe who just bought all our T-shirts!” … Next thing we know, there’s a phone call through promoters and agents saying we’ve been asked to play at the Reading Festival. We knew the nature of it and though Björn Again had always had this Spinal Tap–meets–ABBA vibe in some regards, we were nervous if we were right for the festival.

Ultimately, though, we understood it was more or less on Kurt Cobain’s insistence that we were being asked, so we thought, Let’s do it!… I positioned “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at about the twenty-minute mark just to establish Björn Again and our identity … I thought we needed something to nail the last ten minutes of the show and that guitar riff was the perfect thing. We launched into it and the crowd moshed like you wouldn’t believe—going mental. Absolute candy … Prior to the gig I’d spoken to Dave Grohl about us doing our version … Ordinarily you wouldn’t dream of doing a song when the main act is going to do it later on. He said, “No, no! You’ve got to do it! It’ll be great!” So we went ahead and it really capped off the performance.

Krist was down in the pit with his camera, people could see him taking photos of us. In context, it was great light and shade for the day … the crowd made the connection to the three guys from Nirvana who, by the end, were almost onstage with us showing it was all right and they were having fun here. I was pleased to see Kurt doing that because before the gig when I went up to talk to them it was noticeable that Kurt was in the dressing room but there was this sense that he didn’t want to talk—nothing was said, but I didn’t wade on in there.

Dave and Krist came out and I think they were kind of putting a bit of a protective layer between anyone else and Kurt. They were chatty, told us they wanted us to be there, but it wasn’t Kurt bouncing out. I didn’t ask about it, but I got that feeling things were going on. To me it felt like shyness. I know that he wanted Björn Again to be there but maybe he would have felt a bit uncomfortable chatting. He must have been bombarded with people just wanting to talk, people wanting information. Maybe part of the problem, he felt he had to be on full form to deal with people at all hours of the day … Kurt mentioned us on the liner notes of Incesticide; he says something about how he realized he’d reached “wunderkind” status when he had the power to bring Björn Again to Reading.

Everybody who’s interviewed keeps coming back to how uncomfortable the band were with their extreme success, especially Kurt. All the while, they would wield their power in good ways.

Nirvana broke again from the corporate plan, canceling their November US tour. Instead, they were motivated to make their first mainland US appearances since the New Year by their opposition to an anti-gay-rights ballot measure in Oregon and to the Erotic Music Law in Washington. Neither was a topic that endeared them to mainstream audiences, but Nirvana saw fame as valuable only if it stood for something.

JON GINOLI: The only communication we had with Nirvana at the time was through Jello Biafra, who was a fan of ours. He was at the No On 9 benefit that Nirvana played in Portland against an anti-gay measure on the Oregon state ballot. I thought, Wow, how cool! Guns N’ Roses would never do that—a popular rock band had never taken such a pro-gay stand at that point in time. Jello told us he was going to emcee the show, and I asked him to ask Nirvana if they minded us doing a gay version of their song as “Smells Like Queer Spirit.” He said he spoke with all three of them together, and said they were cool with it … We did the song the way we did it for several reasons. Nevermind did not come with a lyric sheet; we couldn’t tell what half the lyrics were. We thought, what if the lyrics were slurred and indecipherable because they were all about being gay? That’s when I came up with the title “Smells Like Queer Spirit” … One reason we wanted to do the song was that even though we loved it, it was so ubiquitous that we were getting sick of it. Cobain spoke of the Pansy Division cover as a real pleasure; his band had been baiting homophobes all year.

Cobain and Nirvana made repeated statements, whether subtle or otherwise, regarding the issue of gay rights; Cobain appeared on MTV in a ballroom gown, Novoselic French-kissed him on Saturday Night Live, the “In Bloom” video dissolved into cross-dressing hilarity, and Cobain accused Axl Rose of sexism, homophobia, and racism … Nirvana helped to bring a downplayed strand of the underground to the fore.

Even further, as a comment to Guns ‘n’ Roses and the likes:

JON GINOLI: People noticed all right. It was a big middle finger to hard-rock stupidity. Rock stars were not supposed to make fun of themselves and not take their image seriously. They got away with it because they were huge. I remember too when they wore dresses for the “In Bloom” video—that was a gesture that had major impact, to so blatantly fuck with gender. It wasn’t about rock-star cool … Kurt sang, “God is gay” and “Everyone is gay.” Axl sang “Immigrants and faggots, they make no sense to me,” and that they “spread some fucking disease” … I don’t think much pro-gay sentiment was happening in rock until the ’90s—punk rock got more macho as times went on. Originally punk could be aggressive without being macho. Part of the homophobia stemmed from the idea that people thought gays weren’t making or listening to that kind of music, because almost no one playing it was out of the closet. Part of the reason I formed Pansy Division was that I knew that wasn’t true. Our mere presence (along with queer peers like Tribe 8 and Team Dresch) forced the issue out into the open the same way that Bikini Kill did for women and feminism … Someone told me that Maximum Rocknroll magazine were afraid to give us bad reviews because they didn’t want to look homophobic, but because they were the home of hardcore they were never too enthusiastic, either.

GARY FLOYD: If I had just been singing about gay issues only, I would have been pegged as more of a “gay singer” than I am. I think I was more “a singer that was gay” than “a gay singer.” My songs were multi-issue … I’m happy Kurt felt gay topics were part of what was going on. I loved him for that. However, most punks could not care less that Bad Brains did some despicable homophobic bullshit … Never apologized … Never said “We are sorry,” anti-“bloodclot faggot,” crap … They do not care a fucking thing; maybe Kurt did … Most so-called punks don’t give a shit. I didn’t get shit because I didn’t take shit.

Somehow, I get the feeling that Cobain felt isolated. From the book, anyway.

CHRIS BROKAW: I was walking down the hallway and Kurt came up and was saying how we should come to their backstage room more often. He was saying, “You guys should come and hang out with us before shows … it gets so lonely back there.” When he said that, he was looking into my eyes. He looked so sad, and suddenly a group of people came rushing down the hall at us and mobbed him screaming for autographs and trying to touch him. There was this circle of people swarming around him and he was still just looking into my eyes. He looked so alone, so small and lost. He was a sweet person but his fame seemed overwhelming. I just backed up slowly. It was a scary moment. He was surrounded.

About the death:

PAUL LEARY: Dark days that I do not miss … I remember the day I heard on the news that Kurt had died. I was with Daniel Johnston [founder of K Records] in the living room of his parents’ house watching the news. When it was announced, I said, “Oh my God.” Daniel’s mother asked who that was, and Daniel said, “That’s the guy who wore my [HI, HOW ARE YOU] T-shirt.”

At the end, the book itself says what it is:

This book serves as a celebration of Nirvana, but it is as much about the many musicians who made the underground into the home that the superstars never wished to leave. This book is a tribute to what was created and to the people who are still making it what it is.

It’s a laudable book, and should be read by anybody not only interested in the band, but in the music business at large, and anthropologically, by anyone interested in seeing how money changes everything. A very human take on the story of a band, well collated by Soulsby.

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