Category Archives: Books

Kurt Cobain: About A Son

I’ve been geeking out on the soundtrack for Kurt Cobain: About a Son. I can’t speak to the way the songs articulate with the film, because I haven’t seen it, but I have gotten a lot of enjoyment from listening to and thinking about the artists that influenced KC.

Buy the About a Son CD or DVD for reasonable prices. The trailer for the documentary pulls from 25 hours of interview tape done for Michael Azerrad‘s biography Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana. (His other book, Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, follows Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Beat Happening, The Replacements, Butthole Surfers, Big Black, Fugazi, and Mudhoney.)

Azerrad wrote the liner notes to the soundtrack, which contains no Nirvana songs but instead other artists’: “stuff he studied and worshiped and adored … So if watching About a Son is like seeing the world through Kurt’s eyes, then listening to this music is like hearing it through his ears.” I think fans will appreciate the amount of respect this choice shows for them and their ability to do the mental labor of analyzing influences and processing the clips of KC speaking that are sprinkled among the songs.

In particular, I like the inclusion of the Creedence Clearwater Revival cut Up Around the Bend because KC’s first band was a CCR cover band. CCR was logical, in retrospect, according to Azzerad, because it’s “basic, chunky guitar music, easy to play and yet boundlessly resonant, full of simple, catchy melodies and a singer with a voice that sounded like a tuned scream.” Nicely put. And when the CCR is juxtaposed against Put Some Sugar On It by Half Japanese (download), the Nirvana sound emerges around the margins.

Two songs that Nirvana covered are included: the original David Bowie version of The Man Who Sold the World (download) and Son of a Gun by The Vaselines. If you’re interested, Matt Yglesias talks about Nirvana covers of Vaselines songs here.

Of course Mudhoney (download Touch Me I’m Sick) and Lead Belly (The Bourgeois Blues) are on there. But I was unpleasantly surprised to note the absence of The Pixies and The Breeders, who influenced KC mightily. The Pixies’ lyrical ambiguity (for a discussion of that, see the 33 1/3 book for Doolittle) is what lets Nirvana go national; it made the angst malleable to any set of personal circumstances, to anyone who thought that the world and/or themselves were SNAFU central.

My only other complaint is the incongruous cut by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service; his unmistakable voice concludes the CD with the song Indian Summer, and it sort of leaves me lost. I would have liked to see something more assertive or definitive as a closer. He helped compile the songs on the CD, so this track sort of feels like when a first-time film director gives him or herself a cameo.

But, regardless, the thing is worth buying. And in case you aren’t convinced yet, check the list of artists on the soundtrack I didn’t even talk about: R.E.M., The Melvins, Bad Brains, Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, Arlo Guthrie, and Iggy Pop. Whew!

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Levon Helm

I’ve been enjoying Levon Helm’s grammy-nominated disc Dirt Farmer and eyeing his book This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm & the Story of the Band on my nightstand. I’m not going to write a Levon bio, so if you need, catch up here.

Listen to a bit of Dirt Farmer here, and find yourself at home no matter your musical tastes. It’s folk music, but the reason that music resonates with us is we’re all just folks. So when you tire of indie rock navel gazing, let Levon’s harmonies with his daughter Amy satisfy a craving you didn’t even know you had.

You can listen to Levon perform four songs on NPR’s World Cafe. He is touring the album, but mostly in the form of Midnight Rambles, which are jam sessions open to the public at his Woodstock, NY, home/studio/barn. He’s been holding these shows for a long time, and often all-star guests pop in unannounced. Very cool. Plus, isn’t it sweet to think of him always and forever playing at Woodstock?

Dirt Farmer makes judicious use of the drums, including 86ing them entirely if the song can stand alone. I think of Levon as a drummer first (take a lesson from him here) and a singer second, but I don’t know why that would be since he sings lead on The Weight, one of the best songs of all time, and lots of other The Band songs. Regardless, I should take my new-found focus on his vocals and re-watch The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese’s documentary of The Band’s final rock-out.

Oh yeah, and if you weren’t convinced of Levon’s multi-faceted coolness yet, check out his memorable acting performance in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (pic of him in character). A friend swears that when Levon’s character is dishing some soup out of a pot he’s situated toward pot, lid, and spoons as if about to play on his drum set with drumsticks. Wink, wink, from director Tommy Lee Jones if it’s true.

UPDATE 1.24.07: Aquarium Drunkard posted on Levon today, offering two downloads; one of them is a Steve Earle cover.

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