Tag Archives: Kurt Cobain

ROCK N’ READ: WAGING HEAVY PEACE

I just finished reading Neil Young’s 2012 autobiography Waging Heavy Peace and I’m feeling really conflicted.  The best memoirs are the ones that feel like you’re sitting with the author listening to their stories.  And while Waging Heavy Peace fails on a number of levels, one thing it does well is capturing the essence of Young.  Reading the book totally felt like having a conversation with Neil Young, albeit a really one-sided conversation.  I really wanted to recommend the book, but Young’s scattershot recollections and constant jumps through his life’s chronology make Waging Heavy Peace a tough read for anyone not already a die-hard fan.  I’m okay with a non-linear account of one’s life, but it has to be done correctly and Young isn’t up to the task. Young also tends to refer to his famous friends as…well his friends.  Paul McCartney is “my friend Paul” which is really cool and down to earth, but also very hard to suss-out when reading a book about someone’s life in which they meet a lot of famous and un-famous people.

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Also frustrating is the fact that a sizeable chunk of the book is devoted to Young’s passion projects: a “revolutionary” new audio system called PureTone (which is later renamed to Pono), an extensive collection of Lionel model trains, old cars that Young buys online, the Lincvolt electric car he’s building/financing to raise awareness about fossil fuels. Like a timeshare meeting where you’re given a free vacation, if you can sit through Neil’s PureTone pitches you’re free to wander about his strange life.

I don’t mind a legacy artist (as he describes himself) indulging himself and talking up his pet projects, but Young brings these things up multiple times.  Worse, he usually just regurgitates what he’s already said about them.  This gives the book a feeling as though it was patched together and not edited very well.  The looseness of the book, indeed the reason the book exists, is that Young has learned he is on the cusp of dementia. So I’ve decided to cut Young some slack in regards to the repetition in some of the book.  In the beginning, Young explains that he broke a toe and stopped smoking marijuana on the advice of his doctor.  These two events forced the legendary musician to temporarily give up music, so he sat down and wrote Waging Heavy Peace. I really did enjoy Young’s discussion of sobriety and it’s effect on his music.  He explains that he’s never written anything without being under the influence and is worried he won’t be able to access the “cosmic” world of music without drugs.  It’s a valid worry and it was interesting to read about his hopes and fears regarding his music.

As the book plods along, he writes about how long it’s been since he’s smoked or drank and correlates that to how long it’s been since he’s written a song.  Neil’s album PSYCHEDELIC PILL was my number one album of 2012 and I hope he wrote and recorded it after/during the writing of this book, but it’s not made clear.  In fact, throughout the book he talks about getting Crazy Horse back together to cut an album, but never writes about doing it…so I’m thinking the album was done after the book.  It would have been nice for him to add an extra chapter explaining how it went.  I think PSYCHEDELIC PILL is one of Young’s best albums, so if he did it sober that would be so amazing.

I admire the guts it takes to write an account of ones life, and despite being a notorious curmudgeon, Young frequently acknowledges his mistakes.  This more than honest look at himself and his career is what saves Waging Heavy Peace and refreshingly, at no point in the book does Neil Young come across as anything but authentic.

I didn’t pick the book up just to read the story about his relationship with Kurt Cobain, who famously quoted Young in his suicide letter, but at the time the book was published there were stories in the media that led me to believe this topic would be addressed in Waging Heavy Peace Sadly, Cobain is mentioned fleetingly—like just one sentence.  It was disappointing, but that’s not Young’s fault.   Young’s experiences as an illegal (undocumented) alien at the start of his career were fascinating.  I knew that Young was Canadian at a time when it was uncool to be from the Great White North, but I had no idea he snuck into the country and was terrified each and every time he got behind the wheel of a car.  He had no license or Social Security card for many years and to this day still has pangs of fear when he sees a Sheriff’s patrol car.

Waging Heavy Peace reminded me a lot of Bob Dylan’s 2004 autobiography Chronicles Volume 1.  Like Dylan’s book, Waging Heavy Peace is an unconventional and unfinished look at a legendary life.  On the final page Young says that there will be future books, which may someday surface and shed more light Young’s remarkable career.  I’m not sure if I’d pick up Young’s next book, at least, not for $30.00. If you’re a fan and still haven’t picked the book up I definitely recommend you do.  For everyone else, I’d say familiarize yourself with Young’s music and maybe pick up another biography before wading into Waging Heavy Peace.

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About That Paul McCartney/Nirvana Song

Last night a pretty incredible benefit concert was held at Madison Square Garden to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.  This so-called “12/12/12” concert was jam-packed with tons of talent: The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, and The Who were there just to name a few.  Of course today all anyone can talk about is Sir Paul McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana. Apparently Nirvana and McCartney got together and recorded a song for a documentary Dave Grohl put together called SOUND CITY.

The song’s called “Cut Me Some Slack” and it’s surprisingly not the horrible train-wreck you’d expect from a Paul McCartney-fronted Nirvana.  Not that there’s anything wrong with either Paul or Nirvana, it’s just not two things I’d expect to go together very well.  Sure, Cobain worshipped The Beatles and infused his own music with their unique pop-sensibilities (although he made them heavier) but when I think of Nirvana I don’t think of The Beatles.  Whereas The Beatles were very much a peace and love band, Nirvana was angry and moody.  Plus, McCartney is really getting up their in years and I’ve always associated Nirvana with youth.  Destructive, unbridled, youth.

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I guess maybe that’s why “Cut Me Some Slack” works so well: this isn’t a young version of Nirvana.  Hell, this isn’t even really Nirvana.  Yes, I went there.  I realize that there are bands that can exist without their lead singer, but Nirvana sure ain’t one. Don’t get me wrong, it was really cool to see all those guys playing together again. It was especially nice seeing bassist Krist Novoselic on stage again, as he’s mostly dropped out of the music world, opting to direct films and study law.

Had the song sucked we could have blamed McCartney for being too old and for mucking about where he didn’t belong.  Thankfully the song is good enough, and their performance was energetic.  I was reluctant to write anything about this because I’m starting to feel weird writing so much about all these old dinosaurs of rock. I was looking over my Top 10 Albums of 2012 and I feel kinda strange about having so many classic rock artists on it.  Rock has always been about the here and now AND young people.  I’m not saying that old people can’t contribute to rock music or that rock artists should shut up (or be killed LOGANS RUN-style when they get to old) but the previous generation’s shadow is stifling this generations artists.

As if to drive this fact home, I got an email from Live Nation that really turned my stomach.  Take a glance at the upcoming concerts in my area:

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Memories of Elvis? An Allman Brothers Tribute?Dark Star Orchestra (which is a Grateful Dead tribute)?  Not only are these older acts not going away, when they do (usually only when death intercedes) we are then given tribute bands to fill their places.  Why in the hell aren’t we just going to see new bands? I’m just as guilty as anyone.  In fact, the next concert I’m attending is a Pink Floyd tribute. Just like the film industry won’t let old franchies go, the music industry won’t let old brands die.  And make no mistake, The Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd are nothing but brands at this point.  Three tribute bands/acts in a long list of upcoming concerts isn’t so bad, I guess.  And this is a Live Nation email, which is designed to goad aging hipsters into hiring a babysitter and having a night out.  I get that.  I also get that every night in this city there are awesome, young bands playing their hearts out.  I just wish the Nirvanas and the McCartney’s of the world would bow out gracefully and let them into the limelight.

Ah, don’t listen to me…I’m just an aging rock fan.

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Neil Young Is More Bummed Out By Kurt Cobain’s Death Than You

Rock ‘n Roll icon Neil Young just released an autobiography called Waging Heavy Peace and some of the book’s more choice nuggets are becoming 30 second sounds bytes on the 24-hour news shows.   One such story found in the book (which I haven’t read yet) is about Young’s involvement in the final days (and death) of Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain.   Cobain’s suicide note famously quoted Young’s 1979 song “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”  Specifically the lyrics, “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”  The song was written for RUST NEVER SLEEPS and is about John Lyndon of The Sex Pistols abandoning his “Johnny Rotten” stage-persona.

Basically, a sad, sick kid heard Young’s song, which I’ve always interpreted as about creative death and rebirth, and took it more on face value.  That said, I can totally understand why Neil Young is still to this day shaken up by that.  What I didn’t know (until it came out in Young’s book) is that Young was actively reaching out to Cobain in the days leading up to his death.  Neil Young was recently interviewed by Classic Rock Magazine and reveled that “When he died and left that note, it struck a deep chord inside of me. It fucked with me.  I, coincidentally, had been trying to reach him. I wanted to talk to him. Tell him only to play when he felt like it.”

Neil Young: Rust never sleeps.

Interestingly, Cobain is not the only dead rock star to have interpreted Young’s song on a more literal level.  In 1980, John Lennon told Playboy “I hate it[“Hey Hey, My My “] It’s better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out.”  Lennon, ever the provocative bastard who was always willing to say what most people might only think, went on to add: “If Neil Young admires that sentiment so much, why doesn’t he do it? Because he sure as hell faded away and came back many times, like all of us. No, thank you. I’ll take the living and the healthy.”

First off all, I think “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” is a fucking amazing song.  I can see how various people, at various stages of life (and metal status) might interpret it in different ways…but in general I think it’s a fantastic work of art that is pretty self-evident.  But if a person is in the wrong mindset (or worse looking for a more sinister reading of the song) can certainly find some really dark shit in Young’s tune.

That said, I personally think that  Young is right, in a creative sense it is better to burn out than fade away.  Lennon’s band The Beatles are a classic example of a group that burned out rather than fade away.  Their albums progressed and their sound evolved to such an astonishingly degree it can scarcely be believed (thankfully we have the records to prove it).   There were other factors at play, but I think part of the reason they broke up was over creative differences.

But I digress.  I know my opinion doesn’t matter, but I don’t think Neil Young should beat himself up too much about Cobain’s death, because it certainly wasn’t his fault.  I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have someone quote you in their suicide note.  All of this just puts Neil Young, and his work as an artist, into perspective and makes me really want to read Waging Heavy Peace.    

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Highly-Unscientific Rock Poll: All-Time Greatest Front-Man

Sometimes there are questions too big for one man. Sometimes, in the search for ultimate truth, we must seek the guidance of others. And then there are times when one wants to increase traffic to one’s blog by actively seeking participation of one’s small readership by stoking the fires of eternal debate…

Yes friends, it’s time to review the lastest statistical disaster I like to call my HIGHLY-UNSCIENTIFIC ROCK POLL!  It’s been a while since this poll was conducted, sorry that it took so long for me to get my act together but I had some stuff come up and I wasn’t able to devote myself to DEFENDING AXL ROSE like I should have/like to. I knew that this poll would be controversial but I didn’t know just HOW near and dear Rock Frontmen were to people’s hearts. What makes a good font-man?  He (or she) has to be charismatic in addition to being a good singer/performer.  A good front-man is like an ambassador for his/her band.  Musicians can be pretty difficult to get along with and some of the best technical players are completely unable to connect with human beings–and that’s where a front-man comes in.  Unlike just about every other part of a band, a front-man is really hard to replace  (more on that later). Anyway, I opened Pandora’s box and asked DEFENDING AXL ROSE’s followers “Who is the All-Time Greatest Front-Man?”  Here are the results:

8, 7, and 6 (no votes) Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, and Kurt Cobain:  Honestly, these were all solid choices and the fact that MICK JAGGER got ZERO votes should tell you how cut-throat this poll was.  Jagger pretty much came to define the classic rock front-man: the swagger, the bat-shit crazy dance moves, the delivery. Roger Daltrey is another excellent “classic” front-man in the same tradition as Mick Jagger.  The Who was an explosive band (literally, go ask Pete Townshend about how explosive they were–if he can hear you) and to front a band like The Who was no easy task.  More than just being a rocker, Daltrey paved the way for more theatrical front-men when The Who started doing rock operas. Kurt Cobain was the most modern front-man on the list and as such, Cobain’s role in Nirvana was much different than tossing his hair and strutting around like a rooster.  Cobain helped popularize the “tortured” front-man.  By making himself less accessible to fans, Cobain drew us all in closer.  That’s very different from Jagger’s chicken-dancing.  Still, as awesome and important as these front-men were (seriously, try to picture their respective bands without them) they got no love from my poll-takers.

3. (TIE one vote each) Axl Rose, Robert Plant, and Lemmy Kilmister: I bet you thought I voted for Axl Rose, didn’t you?  Well as much as I love and respect Axl, I didn’t vote for him.   And from the way this poll panned out, not very many of you voted for him either.  Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin’s self-proclaimed “Golden God” only got one vote as did Motorhead’s fugly metal-head Lemmy Kilmister.  Lemmy and Mick Jagger are the only two front-men on this list that I’ve actually seen in person and let me tell you–Lemmy was waaay cooler in person.  He’s ugly, loud, brash and he know it. Robert Plant’s mellowed significantly over the years, so I can understand why many people don’t hold him in as high regard, but in his hey-day he was considered a force of nature.  Guitarist Jimmy Page has spent the past 30 years trying to find someone as dynamic as Plant to front his music–and he’s come up dry.

Axl. Axl, Axl, Axl…what happened?  He’s a bit like Mick Jagger mixed with Cobain’s stand-offishness, mixed with a gallon of gasoline and asshole.  I think he’s a brillant front-man but I think he shot himself in the foot with his inability to work well with others, a trait that every good front-man needs.  A front-man fronts a band, he doesn’t just represent himself–which Axl is often guilty of doing.

2.  Ozzy Osbourne (2 votes):  The Oz Man Commeth! I recently took a long car trip and one of the things I listened to was Ozzy-era Black Sabbath, what a band that was!   Ozzy’s great because he has fantastic range both vocally and the kinds of songs he can do–scary ass Satan songs? Check.  Whistful ballads? Check.  Rockin’ anthem? Check.  The bitting the heads off stuff sure helps, too.   He’s a legend of hard rock and I was not surprised he came in second.  There’s a reason he’s got an entire FESTIVAL named after him (he married a pushy ball-buster, I kid! I kid!).  There’s a (mostly complete) Black Sabbath reunion hitting the road right now and I would love to check them out.

Before I talk about the #1 I feel that I should acknowledge that there were a few requests that I add a few font-men, specifically Thom Yorke of Radiohead fame and Bono from U2.  I didn’t add these two because frankly, I’m not a Radiohead person (nothing wrong with them) and Bono slipped my mind.  Initially I wasn’t going to do anything but ignore these requests…then I thought about it and decided that what I would do is have another poll and then have the winners of each poll battle it out.

But that was before Freddie Mercury swept this poll.

#1. Freddie Mercury (13 votes): This doesn’t really surprise me.  When the topic of font-men come up, Freddie’s name always comes up.  You want charisma? Mercury had more than enough, he was oozing charisma.  Queen’s a awesome rock band because they were so many different things: gay/straight, operatic/balls-to-the-walls rocking, playful/dead serious–but despite their duality, they were always amazing.  How badass was Freddie Mercury?  He was still writing and recording music right up to his death.  How committed to his art was Freddie Mercury? Doctors told him for years to fix his overbite and he refused, he was worried correcting his teeth would change the sound of his voice.  That’s commitment.  That’ s love.  And you know what? He did it all for you, the listener.   If I was on my deathbed, you better believe this blog would be the last thing on my mind.  Freddie just wanted to make music and he did.  He complimented his bandmates and helped make them superstars. A few years ago, Queen re-formed and tried to solider on with Paul Rodgers, a legendary front-man in his own right (he was in Free and Bad Company).  How did that go?  Not so well…it wasn’t that Rodgers was bad–he just wasn’t Freddie Mercury.  Freddie Mercury is the greatest rock front-man off all-time.

Poll Closed.

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