Loading…

“Straw Men and Courtney Love’s Great ‘Montage of Heck’ Heist”

I have seen the cholesterol jewelry lady. And it is Eddie Vedder’s face when you ask him what he would be without Pearl Jam. It is static and stoic, seemingly waxen, but bulbous and greedy, full of need with no flavor, like the floating Big Boy in Austin Powers. [1]
Everett True, the Nirvana biographer, is a Courtney Love guy, and he hates Pearl Jam. He is British. His initial contact with the American music scene was gracing then-elementary Seattle in 1989 for an “expose,” of sorts, on the music being pumped out — Mudhoney, et. al. — by local record label Sub Pop, progeny of a couple former Evergreen State students. [2] He would pen the eventual spread for Melody Maker. [3] A telling line is “But to me, there’s nothing regressive about the emotional impact or sheer physicality and sexiness of seeing these bands up and in your face.” Tad and Nirvana were notable cohorts in ’89, the infantile days of Sub Pop, but “Mudhoney (were) the standard bearers for Seattle’s new generation of thrash metal merchants.”
True follows here his concession that “A criticism which could justifiably be levelled (sic) at the Sub Pop roster of bands is that they’re retrogressive, merely re-treading the well-worn paths their spiritual fathers such as Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, The Sonics and 13th Floor Elevators laid for them.”
At here the confluence of artistic uniformity and undeniable phenomena, or surreal tactility, you might proffer any of a number of possible existential catalysts, explanations, but the one I’d like to is the churlish negativity doled in the ’70’s by press like Rolling Stone toward Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. We’re talking about two bands here, one that set the record for sales back then and I believe still holds it, and the other featured as beaconing droves and droves to their scened concert in Almost Famous. Hard rock was pushed, and it pushed back. Sub Pop gave it an anchor — they might not have made Nirvana “world-famous stars” [4] on their own, but let’s not underestimate the value for these young kids of gushing, exuberant music fans who love them, and who even so nominally call themselves a “record label.” I could go visit Seattle, try to say that those songs existed in seething, misty pores of the “bubbles of death” [6], but I’ve already had that feeling, and today Seattle is totally different, though still musically notable. [7] I’ve had that feeling being somewhere off the beaten path — I’ve never LIVED in a place like this, but I’ve witnessed it, the entire lack of self-consciousness. It’s documentable in the early music of Nirvana like “Negative Creep,” their indomitable habit of jumping into the drum kit recklessly and elatedly, and smashing all their instruments after every show. [8] Michigan is the same way — you go up there, and people are just having fun, don’t underestimate it. Music is made in places like these, unself-conscious places, but where there’s a code, and where people do more with less. [9] Laughing, cussing, hell, who’s watching. No one. “If the doors of perception were cleansed, then the possibilities of life would appear to the human being as they really are, infinite.”
Nothing ever killed Seattle. Love killed Kurt Cobain. Courtney Love, the two-timing slut, but also just that seething jealous feeling you get when you have a fear of losing what you have, and this posturing, amalgamated conglomerate Pearl Jam, bordering on supergroup territory, invades your life. You’d had visions of being king, but now you’re just an aristocrat, and being human, imperfect and raging, you bash this band, to only much to your chagrin behold things taking shape for them a little more even on their second album Vs., for which they picked up hard-hat and lunch-pail producer Brendan O’Brien and a more garage-type drum sound, they’re no longer overproduced, and they’re a well-oiled machine on tracks like “Dissident,” lamenting domestic abuse just as you do, but piping in with lyre-like guitar solos over climactically drawn, unforgettable choruses.
Courtney Love was never a fan of Pearl Jam’s, neither was Everett True. Actually, they both hated bassist Jeff Ament primarily for the fact that he was a “jock,” Love once responding to Ament’s courteous hello at an awards ceremony with the question “Why are you here? I thought you’d be playing basketball or something.”
Nirvana wanted to make rock cultural. They wanted an abnegation of the “man,” [10] he who could find sports and such things as an outlet [11], they wanted I guess a physical leveling of the sexes, where men no longer had bodily advantages in achievement, or something.
And, aww, this can’t happen, so the world is just “heck,” isn’t it? It’s not that Kurt Cobain acted foolishly and despicably, bad-mouthing Pearl Jam all those times, it’s that the big bad corporations killed his music and his mission to castrate men. He chose by his own volition to sign with Geffen and get distribution, make an album in LA, [12] and to thereby alienate the punk/DIY ethos of Olympia, a town that had emotionally nourished Chris [13] and him in their early jamming days. Sometimes it’s the success of others that’s the hardest thing to take, the knowledge that being human can actually equate to being powerless, to not always having the answers, to the harsh realization that the sound of your own voice isn’t always an invincible, overarching resolution.
Calling the world “heck” is Courtney Love’s rationalization of her husband killing himself, then being able to say that he’s gone to a better place. But as we’ve seen, she was a bit** anyway. And that catchy title “Montage of Heck” for their recent documentary is actually stolen — its true identity, and charmingly enough, belongs to a “sound collage” Cobain had made in 1998 using spools of tape played forwards or backwards, snippeting classic rock songs interspersed with the expressionist gore that is tape played in reverse, perhaps just as indicative of this reality as our more idealized, structured choruses.
.
[1] Check the rhymes in Single Video Theory, a brilliant studio video reviewed erst on DD.
.
[2] Evergreen State College rests in Olympia (a town which gave birth to Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill and Beat Happening, and in part, Nirvana) and does not give out degrees.
.
[3] A British periodical that went the way of the soul in 2000.
.
[4] Sub Pop used to joke about wanting “world domination,” and they call their offices the “Sub Pop world headquarters,” but circa 1990/1991 they used to actually print shirts that would make fun of themselves for being so broke: “Sub Plop / What part of ‘We have no money’ don’t you understand?” [5]
.
[5] Our Band Could Be Your Life (Michael Azerrad) / Mudhoney
.
[6] The rip-roaring documentary Hype! features a scene of some band, I think it’s the Monomen, talking about the “bubbles of death” that used to float around Seattle, solidified masses of nuclear liquid which would escape the local plant and find their ways into the Emerald City’s streets. Eventually the city installed giant “fans” to keep these out.
.
[7] We’re talking Harvey Danger, Shabazz Palaces and the Fleet Foxes, each elite in their own way, as well as housing transplants Built to Spill and The Shins. Built to Spill akin to Tad hail originally from Boise, ID.
.
[8] Props in part to wizard guitar tech Earnie Bailey for making this a possibility.
.
[9] Though also with a sense of humor, as in Modest Mouse calling an album Building Nothing out of Something.
.
[10] Kurt Cobain used to write crazy poetry and press releases something like “Gag on her ashes, jag on her gash. Uh, God is a woman and she is back in black.”
.
[11] This is all very ironic, since Kurt Cobain himself was always a gun lover. Eddie Vedder’s opinion of guns is detailed with engine clarity on “Glorifed G,” a song about his then-band member Dave Abbruzzese, in which he even quotes said band member verbatim for the song’s chorus, “Glorified version of a pellet gun.” I tell no tales.
.
[12] This is poignant because as far as I can tell, Montage of Heck the documentary is steeped more in LA lore than Seattle, the featured components Courtney Love and Frances Bean Cobain both residents of the City of Angels.
.
[13] At this point Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic went by the Americanized “Chris.”

Leave a Reply