Monday, June 9, 2014

25 Years of Bleach

Back in 1989 pop music and glam rock ruled the airwaves. Madonna and Michael Jackson’s fame were at an all time high and cheesey hair metal was being blasted on the rock and roll airwaves. The music community was longing for something real and at the end of the decade a band called Nirvana hit the music scene and gave people that special something that they were looking for.

Nirvana simply changed the face of music as we knew it. For those of us that were just entering their teens, Kurt Cobain became the poster boy for all the things that we were feeling. He made it cool to be an outcast. I remember the first time I heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" like it was yesterday, 20 years later it still gives me goosebumps. Nevermind and an album called Live through This by Hole became my life. I studied every lyric, screamed them out my bedroom window when I was mad at my parents, and started wearing baby doll dresses, red lipstick, and way too many hair barrettes. Grunge penetrated my entire being in a way that nothing else had before or has since. I obsessed over Kurt's suicide, I read every book that I could and watched the music videos like there was going to be some clue that no one else had discovered. I kept hoping that somehow I could change the fact that Kurt was gone, but alas I couldn't. 

I think a lot of us obsess over things when we are younger. Sometimes those obsessions fade away, but my obsession with grunge rock and the bands that played it has been different. The music that came out of this era is still as relevant today as it was then. I still tear up when I watch Nirvana’s Unplugged. Who knew that a green cardigan could become so iconic?

Nirvana was recently inducted into the hall of fame and all sorts of new information was released including a note that was in Kurt’s pocket when he died. There are still people who obsess over how Kurt died, I think the fact that this still makes news 20 years later is a testament to the impact that this band had on the world. At the end of the day, I have personally come to the conclusion that Mr. Cobain took his own life. He was a heroin addict in a bad marriage who felt that he was failing as a husband, father, and icon. If only he knew how far his music reached and how many lives he changed for the better. Kurt and Courtney's music made me the person that I am today. It is a large part of the reason that I love writing about bands, going to shows, and listening to a new album. I am still waiting for another band to make me feel the way that these bands did.

It will always irk me that I won't get to see Nirvana play live, but I have found a really cool way to get together and celebrate Nirvana’s legacy right here in Detroit. This Saturday, June 14th, members of Superbomb, DandyLyon Whine, and Remnose are coming together to play Bleach in entirety for the 25th Anniversary of the album. I wouldn't normally get so excited to see a local band cover Nirvana, but this group performed In Utero last year for the 20th anniversary of that album and they did an amazing job. Singer Greg Aubry sounds so much like Kurt that I could almost believe he was still alive if I closed my eyes. I think that any Cobain fan would be proud to see musicians of this caliber tackle these famous songs. 

I asked Greg to chat with me and weigh in on the band before the show. It's always fun to talk to another fan. Check out what he had to say and head out to Small's this Saturday at 9 p.m. to hear the gritty sounds of Bleach played live, in full, 25 years later.

HID- When and where did you hear Nirvana for the first time?
Greg- "It was the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video on MTV like everyone else. I can't claim I was into them before that. I grew up fairly sheltered, never had a cool older brother or anything like that."

HID- What is your favorite Nirvana album and why?
Greg-"In Utero. It's so raw. There's sort of a sense of danger to it. A kind of riotous celebration of one's own pain, vulnerability and weakness that really makes it compelling. The songs are just so intense and so good. Plus, THOSE DRUMS. "

HID- Where were you when you heard that Kurt Cobain was dead? What was your reaction?
Greg- "I was home; it was a weird blur-- at the same time I was watching MTV, several friends called my house to tell me the news. It was pretty terrible. I was down about it for a long time; probably longer than was healthy if you want to know the truth. I threw a tape in the VCR as the news unfolded and recorded a few hours' worth of coverage, including the replay of the "Unplugged" show. I still have that tape now, all these years later (not to get all morbid). For whatever reason, I felt like I should hold on to it. It's very simply labeled "April 8, 1994"."

HID- How do you think that this music holds up 20-25 years later?
Greg- "The music is definitely a product of its time, but a very classic, very vital product of its time. Really, it all comes down the songs, and the songs are amazing. That's always going to be true. That being said, I wouldn't mind hearing a "less flange and chorus" version of Nevermind one day."

HID- What inspired you to do In Utero live last year?
Greg- "Brandon (my guitarist cohort in Superbomb over the years) and I had talked about how the 20th anniversaries of a lot of our favorite records were coming up, and the whole "play the entire album" trend that had popped up with bands playing their legacy albums today. We'd covered "School" in Superbomb a few times to great effect, and people would come up to us and tease that we should play more Nirvana. The conversation then centered around the fact that bands are often dead set against touching Nirvana, like it's too hard to properly do it justice, and the fact that Nirvana themselves obviously weren't around to do it. Both of those ideas became very compelling, and we talked ourselves into giving a shot. I'm glad. It was incredibly fun to do, and people loved it."

HID- Being a big Kurt Cobain fan I have to ask, what are your thoughts on Courtney Love?
Greg- "It's really easy to hate on Courtney because of her many perceived (and actual) shenanigans and problems. But I saw the Hole show at The Fillmore a few summers back and found her quite charming and funny, and the show was good. It was weird to see her playing with hired hands that were half her age, though. She's put up with a lot of BS due to being perceived as the Yoko Ono of Nirvana. I'm not always wild about her, but she's not boring."

HID- The officials have recently re-opened Kurt's case and said there was a second letter in Kurt's pocket that said some pretty mean things about Courtney, what are your thoughts on this letter being released 20 years later?
Greg- "That this letter and these "new" death scene photos were released at all felt incredibly strange to me. I know there's that Tom Grant contingent that's never going to believe the death was a suicide, and that's why the Seattle PD did it, but still. Odd. If you've ever read any of the Cobain bios, it's pretty obvious that the note was a sarcastic love note between Kurt and Courtney. That's how they were."

HID- I also have to ask, did Kurt take his own life or do you think he was the victim of foul play?
Greg- "He did it. Charles Cross' "Heavier Than Heaven" book had a ton of testimony about how frequently Kurt had openly talked about suicide for years and years. There was a time where I wanted to believe it was foul play, but looking back, I don't really see why. He's just as dead either way."

HID- Did you watch Nirvana's hall of fame induction? If so what were your thoughts on the presentation?
Greg- "I watched the performances, but not the actual induction. I'll probably go back and watch it eventually. I mainly wanted to see how the other artists would fill Kurt's role. I think they all did fairly well. Joan Jett's rasp was perfect, and I enjoyed what Annie Clark and Lorde brought to the table. Kim Gordon was Kim Gordon. I got exactly the performance I expected out of her, and I think Kurt would have gotten a huge kick out of it. The idea of strong women doing his music would have been very appealing to him. I was actually hoping for Courtney to belt one out with them, just because. I'm glad she and Dave hugged it out."

HID- How has Nirvana inspired your own music throughout the years?
Greg- "It's pretty much inescapable. Sometimes I have to consciously work against it, because I'll intuitively fall back on Nirvana-esque chord changes or song dynamics. It's not the worst problem to have, but people pick up on it from time to time and I do have to make an active effort to not fall back on that influence. On the plus side, being influenced by someone whose songs get stuck in people's heads helps you to also write songs that get stuck in people's heads. At least I hope."

HID- Do you think that this music will still be relevant 20 years from now? Why or why not?
Greg- "Those of us who grew up with the Nirvana phenomenon as it happened are always going to be a little bit too close to it to say without being clouded by nostalgia. But I think it will. The themes are as relevant today as they were twenty years ago. People all grow up kind of fighting against their own identity, trying to figure it out. Nirvana's music was primarily about that struggle, and the aggression, beauty and confusion that's all wrapped up in it. Go on YouTube and look up and watch "Teens React to Nirvana". It's priceless. Their reactions tell me the material's got legs."

HID- This year you will be doing a show dedicated to the 25th Anniversary of Bleach, tell us about it.
Greg- "It's at Small's in Hamtramck on June 14 (a Saturday). Like the In Utero show we did last year, it's going to be a two-set, split show with an intermission where we play the entire record and a handful of that era's B-sides. We've got a great Mudhoney tribute act opening. They blew the doors off the place last year. Lance Sanders sings a great Mark Arm. Bleach is Nirvana's almost-metal album, so it's been very different from In Utero to learn. The songs are pointedly more technical yet weirdly sloppy. For In Utero I looked to nail the album performance. For Bleach the approach is little more based on their live performances of the songs. Things will be slightly different in tuning and vocal performance, with maximum focus on the energy."

HID- Anything else that you want our readers to know?
Greg- "Keep an eye out; we'll be capping this cover series off with Nevermind in 2016, and may fill in the "no anniversary" year of 2015 with Incesticide, just because. Also, obviously, check out the bands of everyone involved. Remnose have been turning heads with their Deer Tick influenced grungy folk. Jeremy, our drummer, has a great Neil Young inspired band called DandyLyon Whine. The Axis Mundi Collective has an interesting roster of exciting and challenging acts on it. Pthalo Sky, Red China, Pupils-- all worth seeing. Finally, thanks for letting me go on at length to get the word out!"

Small's is located at 10339 Conant in Hamtramck. Doors for the show are at 9 p.m. and tickets are only $6. 21 and over are welcome. A Mudhoney cover band is opening the show, so get there early!


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