Tag Archives: Black Flag

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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The Mars Volta

On Tuesday The Mars Volta released a new cd, The Bedlam in Goliath. Interestingly, you can also buy the album on a 1 gig USB drive that carries the songs and a video and magically gives you additional goodies such as videos, more songs, and b-sides every month for a year. Cool. The band says while writing the new tunes it was channeling dark spirits that cursed them via their purchase of an old Ouija board. Listen to two songs from the album here; download their cover of the Black Flag song I’ve Had It here.

I want to like them so badly, still hoping for a reincarnation of At the Drive-In, who had brilliant music and awesome concerts (watch them go ape-sh*t on Later with Jools Holland). Like Elliott Smith, they’re one of the few acts I rue missing. Sigh. At the Drive-In broke up in 2001, after which the band members split into The Mars Volta and the good-but-not-great Sparta. (Sparta’s 2002 Wiretap Scars disc was very good, but now they’re starting to sound more Coldplay-ish. It does not suit them.)

I saw The Mars Volta open for A Perfect Circle in 2004, and I was ready to give them all the adoration I had stored up for At the Drive-In. Alas, their uber-technical wall-of-sound explorations just didn’t rev me up like I’d hoped. I couldn’t get into them then, and this disc didn’t change my mind.

One caveat: I do enjoy some of their songs with more apparent Mexican influences, like L’Via L’Viaquez. But if I’m going to listen to angry Mexican rock, then I’m probably going to go straight to the more aggressive bits of older Cafe Tacuba or Plastilina Mosh, or even the hip hop of Control Machete.

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