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Monday, January 09, 2012

Kurt Cobain Sleeps With Angels

Pearl Jam's recent film PJ20 featured Neil Young discussing Kurt Cobain and his final days.

In Kurt Cobain's suicide note he quoted Neil Young's song "My My, Hey Hey" lyrics "It's Better to burn out, than to fade away."

From Kurt Cobain and Neil Young:

Cobain's use of the lyrics had a profound impact on Young, who recorded portions of the 1994 'Sleeps With Angels' album in Cobain's memory.

Apparently, Neil Young had been trying to reach Cobain by telephone in the days before his suicide to no avail.

From New Musical Express article "Reflective Glory" (07/15/95) by Steve Sutherland & Kevin Cummins on recording "Mirror Ball" (Neil Young and Pearl Jam collaboration) in the aftermath of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain's suicide and the contradictory forces of life and death:

    On "Mirror Ball", though, the natural incompatibility of these forces has been raised into shocking relief by one disciple choosing an unfeasibly extreme interpretation of Young's message when Kurt Cobain quoted, "It's Better to burn out, than to fade away." In his suicide note, citing Young's lyric as artistic justification for ending his inconsolable anguish, Young was shaken to the bone. Always an advocate of allowing the listener his or her own individual path through a record, he was so devastated by Cobain's personal reaction to a song that was basically written as a celebration of Punk that he was impelled to record the 'Sleeps With Angels' album in lament."

The NME article continues and observes:

    "Perversely, it is testament to Young's emotive power that Cobain should choose his words as an epitaph, but it is something Young still visibly shudders from. Once a song is out there on the radio, he reasons, it's not anyone's responsibility anymore.

    'It's the machine and the fuel. It's over now. I'm not behind the wheel at all. It's gone. It's over.'

    As for Cobain, he mutters: 'I don't wanna talk about that. I just don't know what to say. Obviously his interpretation should not be taken to mean there's only two ways to go and one of them is death.'

    He laughs a cold, dry laugh.

    It's rumoured that Young was trying to contact Cobain at the time of his suicide, that he somehow foresaw the tragedy coming.

    'I don't wanna talk about it," says Young. 'I really don't because I respect the fact that he's a guy who did what he did and, y'know, he did what he had to do and I don't wanna get any ...' He falters and recomposes himself behind alarming blue shades.

    'I prefer to not be involved at all. I certainly don't wanna take advantage of talking about something like that for the interest of somebody else I've never met and selling myself in paper in the process. I'd rather you just left it out. It's just distasteful to me.' "

During Neil Young's induction speech into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on January 13, 1995, Young choked up and concluded by thanking Cobain for "all of the inspiration".

It has been debated as to whether Kurt Cobain or Neil Young is the Godfather of Grunge? Cobain's demise has only added to Nirvana's musical legacy and influence. Yet Young has strenuously avoided any such labeling, preferring to be called "Don Grungio" instead.

From a Neil Young interview in MOJO Magazine with Nick Kent:

    Q. Sleeps With Angels seems deeply haunted by the spectre of Kurt Cobain and his sad end...

    A. Sleeps With Angels has a lot of overtones to it, from different situations
    that were described in it. A lot of sad scenes (pause), I've never really spoken about why I made that album. I don't want to start now.

    Q. Has it anything to do with the similarity of Kurt Cobain's death to Crazy Horse Danny Whitten's death in 1972? They both looked so much alike...

    A. I just don't want to talk about that. That's my decision. I've made
    a choice not to talk about it and I'm sticking to it. [Also see, Danny Whitten and Kurt Cobain: Tragic Similarities]

    Q. Let's not discuss Cobain's death then. But what about his life? Did his music inspire you?

    A. He really, really inspired me. He was so great. Wonderful. One of the best, but more than that. Kurt was one of the absolute best of all time for me.

    Q. "Scenery" on Mirror Ball (recorded with Pearl Jam) seems equally haunted by Cobain's doomed image.
    It's like there's OJ Simpson on one side and Kurt Cobain on the other: two very different victims of celebrity madness?

    A. Well, the problems with celebrity and rock'n'roll start with the
    fact that nowadays it gets way too big too fast. Back in the '50s and '60s, rock'n'roll was 'big' but it was only 'big' to people who cared about it.

    Now it's big to people who don't care about it. So they can't begin to understand it. They just make ill-informed judgements on performers without first comprehending why or what it was that made the person famous in the first place. In the '60s there was a bond between the artists and the audience.

    It's harder to see now because so much these days is simply down to image projection. But today's pessimistic bands have a vision and an attitude that's unified their generation just like the 'peace and love' groups helped unify the '60s generation.

More on Kurt Cobain and Neil Young.

Labels: , , ,


At 1/10/2012 12:50:00 AM, Blogger doc said...

As I said on another can only wonder what would/could have been if Kurt had not ended his life so prematurely...a collaborative unplugged Neil/Kurt session maybe?
We will never know now, hey hey(my my)


At 1/10/2012 09:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never heard this acoustic version - what a gift!! Thanks Thrasher - where is this audio taken from? A Bridge show??


At 1/10/2012 11:35:00 AM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

Wow, that version of SWA is awesome!! Thanks Thrash, that made my day.

At 1/10/2012 12:11:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

A very fine rendering of, to me, a very dark song. It is easy at this point to see Neil's influence on the grundge scene, and their reverence for him. I think the appreciation both ways is based on the respect given for artistic integrity.
Personally I haven't encountered the 'genius(?)' of Cobain, or of Pearl Jam, or Eddy Vedder. Can't quite take it in. To me it's more noise than muse, but that's personal taste to artistic ability and delivery. I think they are very lucky to have 'Uncle' Neil in thier corner.

"A. Well, the problems with celebrity and rock'n'roll start with the fact that nowadays it gets way too big too fast. Back in the '50s and '60s, rock'n'roll was 'big' but it was only 'big' to people who cared about it." - This insight is pure Neil, from one who lived the changes in culture and society relative to the access and importance of the music and the exaggeration of stardom. He has always been able to impart a view of things seldom expressed on most topics relating to the real, down to the ground, impact and interpretation of what's going on.

The linked MOJO interview on the whole is as good a one as I have read, Hard to believe it's 16 years ago already with Neil at 50. Where does the time go?

At 1/10/2012 12:29:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

That's what most people don't get about tortured artists and why so many of them are already dead even before they begin their journey.

The drugs come after you discover that the music or art you create (or the fame you acquire) doesn't quite fill that void for the pain or sorrow or depression or loss.

Kurt needed early intervention. Unfortunately, too many people prospered from this man's pain, fragile mental health, and depression.

At 1/11/2012 12:35:00 AM, Blogger Dan1 said...

Mind blowing, what an awesome version! Thanks Thrasher! Sugar Mountain lists the song as being played live ... eight times ... eight whole times ... 3 in '94, 1 in '95, and 4 in '02 ... I can never get over how Neil puts out an epic album, a real life changer ... then he plays the songs a few times live, before you know it he's on to the next thing, you look back and realize there's dozens of these albums out there ... and he's playing 20 songs a night ... and so there's dozens of example like 'Sleeps with Angels' where he's played an epic, epic song live less than 10 times ever ... my conclusion to this realizations is we need Neil out there touring so his epic songs get the exposure they rightfully deserve:)

RIP Kurt!

At 1/11/2012 09:16:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

SWA from 1994 Bridge Concert, with Crazy Horse.

At 1/11/2012 09:18:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Dan1 - yes, it is quite astonishing how many great tunes have been rarely played live.

There's one song in particular from the RNS era that we'd really like to hear live again someday... ;)

At 1/11/2012 02:09:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

T-funny how 'that song' is on the RNS DVD but cut from the album. Must be when he couldn't release the warts.

At 1/11/2012 03:21:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Stupid question here:

I'm curious how most people knew about "that song" because it was last played in '78. Other than bootleg tapes to which not many people had access (only real Neilophiles) and only very "recent" access to bit torrent technology, I'm curious how most people knew about "that song" before it surfaces in the release of the concert dvd?

At 1/11/2012 04:05:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

MNOTR - no stupid q's here.

And speaking of stupid... what song are you referring to???

I was referring to the song Thrasher never being played in concert since.

At 1/11/2012 09:47:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

I was talking about "Trasher."

At 1/12/2012 03:12:00 AM, Blogger doc said...

Another song Neil never played much live was "goin'home" with crazy horse..its a great song with a really good guitar riff.

Your right Thrash,there are a lot of great songs he never hardly played live at the time.


At 1/12/2012 03:38:00 AM, Blogger doc said...

I notice youtube has a compilation of 100 of Neil's songs..the selection isn't bad...a couple of repeats from different live concerts..but otherwise a good variety of his hits and live gems...worth a look


At 1/13/2012 11:10:00 AM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried
--Richard III

When your bones are frail
I'll still sleep soft at your side
--Tobin Sprout

I've been listening to Sleeps With Angels quite a bit lately. Not that surprising really, since it's one of my favorite Neil albums. So much transformation going on there, dealing with the emotion and confusion. And I'm drawn back at certain times.

Kurt's death so sad. I remember watching him during that last tour as he played his guitar. If only he could have come through the other side. I'm watching him again now, through the magic of film. Go to 1991: The Year Punk Broke and Live at the Paramount to see Nirvana when the flame burned hot and bright.

So sad when we lose music greats. We lost another one this past Friday with the passing of Tommy Ardolino, drummer extraordinaire for NRBQ. In the words of Bonnie Raitt, "There's Charlie Watts and there's Tom Ardolino. That's it." Like many others, I took the Q for granted way too long, until some good musician friends helped me realize their true greatness. The rhythm section of Tom Ardolino and Joey Spampinato was just another way of saying "rock and roll". RIP....

Tommy's story is also one of the great tales of music. He first saw NRBQ when he was fifteen, playing at The Paramount Theater in Springfield, MA. He got in touch with Terry Adams, became friends, then wound up playing drums in the band for the next thirty years. Magical things can sometimes happen at The Paramount...that's where I saw the greatest show of my younger years (more on that some other time).

Sometimes the flame burns really hot, roaring and illuminating everything around. Sometimes it's a long and steady flame, one that's reassuring and right. Either way, when it goes out you sure do miss it. So for Tommy and Kurt, here's a video of Sometimes I Dream of Willie Mays, performed by The Baseball Project.

Out on the corner
The angels say
There is a better life
For me someday
--Neil Young

At 1/15/2012 02:25:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks Mr H., as always.

"Sometimes the flame burns really hot, roaring and illuminating everything around. Sometimes it's a long and steady flame, one that's reassuring and right. "

Captures the sentiments brilliantly.

And sad news on NRBQ.

At 1/18/2012 09:43:00 PM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

"I awoke with well-being and was happy all day until bending to a chore it occurred to me that I had merely dreamed. Caught in this fading strain I tumbled. Yet I felt that once I had been truly capable of this modest incredible feat and could be again if I willed so."
--Patti Smith from Woolgathering

You're very welcome...People Have The Power!


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