Monthly Archives: April 2014


Donovan Woods 2

You’re about to enter a world of pain. Since BLURT launched in 2008 we’ve asked musicians, comedians and authors to write about their most outrageous stories. They’ve really delivered the gross-eries – we have sex, scat, puke, violence and heart-wrenching tragedy among almost three dozen columns at and in this magazine. What follows is another true story chronicling seriously fucked-up events. It might make you laugh; it might make you cringe; it might make you puke. Grab a bucket; it’s about to get weird. —As told to Senior Editor Randy Harward



 I was in a subway station in New York, standing, waiting for my buddy when I saw a guy (I’m assuming he was a homeless guy, but I don’t know) do a crazy thing. A thing I had never even considered happening even once.

 The man stood overlooking an escalator which was going down. He took his penis out of his jeans, rested it on top of the ledge and began to urinate down onto the bottom end of the escalator.

 There were a number of people who’d just gotten on this rather long escalator, and suddenly they were all slowly, steadily descending towards a stream of hot urine. Many of the people noticed the piss immediately, and, as though this happened all the time, turned and calmly began heading back up the escalator. Their faces hardly changed, though they took big strides to make progress. Five or six folks though, were engrossed in their own conversations or just weren’t paying attention and were still moving towards the piss stream.

 I kept thinking this guy’s gonna run out of pee and it’s going to be fine. But he just kept pissing. It went on for so long (seconds, but it seemed like minutes). I had to do something. I started to move toward the escalator to yell, but another guy, a classic New York loud-talking guy, beat me to it.

 He said, “Hey! There’s piss! The guy is PISSING! HELLO! TURN AROUND! HEY!” They heard him. Everyone heard him. Even a lady wearing headphones heard him. They gasped and turned and started frantically running up the escalator.

 An older lady in front was so close to the piss I thought it was too late – but she made it. A guy turned and picked her up so she could get off at the top. She didn’t get pissed on. Nobody did. A triumph of the human spirit.

 Then the loud-talking New York guy started to yell at the crazy pissing guy. He was strangely succinct, and thoughtful in his word choice, as though he’d been trained for this very situation. “Hey man! What are you doing, man?! You can’t do that! Okay?! You can’t piss down there like that, you’re gonna piss on people! That’s rude, man! It’s fucking rude! Do what you want, but don’t piss down there like that! Don’t!

 Such an American berating! I loved it. The pissing guy took this in pensively. It felt as though he was really considering that this may have been wrong, even for him. He’d realized he’d crossed a line, I guess. He put his dick away, did the “Okay, sorry, sorry” hands and walked away.

 All the people talked to each other about the pissing and how close they’d been to it. The hero New Yorker just put his headphones back on and walked over to the trains. My friend showed up and I told him but he didn’t believe me, so I showed him the piss on the escalator stairs which were now cycling around back up to the top and down again, people walking on it, because they’d just arrived and didn’t know that a crazy guy had pissed everywhere moments ago. Life went on, but what a blessing to have seen that.

 Photo credit: Mark Peckmezia. Canadian Donovan Woods released Don’t Get Too Grand on Aporia Records last summer. It’s fuckin’ great, man. Okay?!


Big Ears poster

After a three-year hiatus, the adventurous—iconoclastic, even—three day event returned to Knoxville, TN, for March 28-30. Among the artists performing were  Steve Reich, Dean Wareham, John Cale, Television and Colin Stetson. Our own Prof. Rosen was in attendance, and he’s rumored to have returned home raving and drooling but otherwise intact.

 2014 Big Ears Festival 3/28-30/14, Knoxville TN


 As the years passed since the 2010 Big Ears music festival in Knoxville, with no announcement of a new one, it looked like maybe it had been too progressive and eclectic for its own good. Or for the land between the coasts.

 In its two-year existence, it had been devoted to that area of New Music where brainy rock/post-rock meets contemporary classical – especially where both use noise, minimalism, repetition, droning and other forms of sonic experimentation. It also honored alt-rock and New Music “elders” – composer Terry Riley had been 2010’s artist-in-residence – and outsiders who defied easy categorization.

 Ashley Capps, whose AC Entertainment produced Big Ears, quickly declared after the 2010 event that planning would start for 2011, but it never happened. Nor did 2012 or 2013.  He had other things to work on, true – Bonnaroo, Louisville’s Forecastle, and two festival ventures in nearby Asheville, N.C., that explored the area where serious-minded electronic music met synth-pop and EDM – Moogfest and Mountain Oasis. Even while a similar but smaller festival, MusicNow, thrived in Cincinnati and proved a heartland audience existed for barrier-breaking music, there was no new Big Ears. (MusicNow’s founder is Bryce Dessner, the classically trained guitarist with The National.

 Still, Knoxville – AC Entertainment’s home – seemed a wonderful place for a thoughtfully programmed indoor festival for serious music listeners. So this year, with support from the city government and the mayor, he brought it back.

 Knoxville is a great place for such a festival. The two main concert venues are treasures. The bejeweled 1,600-seat Tennessee Theatre was built in 1928 and painstakingly restored; the 700-seat Bijou (also restored) was built in 1909 and has a Victorian feel.

 Market Square, site of two clubs used as Big Ears venues, is a model of a human-scale public space, ringed with good restaurants and shops. And the giant golden Sunsphere, a relic from the 1982 World’s Fair that awaits revival, looms over the city like a prop from a dream-state Sun Ra concert, setting a perfect standard for Big Ears’ ambitious musicians.

 Steve Reich was this year’s artist-in-residence. Reich, at 77, long has been accepted (and feted with a Pulitzer Prize) as a composer who reinvigorated classical music with his use of subtle variations in persistent percussion and electronic sampling/looping. He made minimalism as popular in classical music as it is in art. But his impact on (and borrowing from) rock has only lately been recognized. His music has parallels with the Velvet Underground, funk, Kraftwerk and today’s many younger musicians who use electronic sampling and repetition. (Should Steve Reich be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?)

 That contribution was recognized at Big Ears’ closing event, during which Ensemble Signal flawlessly, breathtakingly performed his nearly-hour-long “Music for 18 Musicians.” Vibes, piano, string and brass instruments and voices developed the hypnotic, repetitive melody lines with quietly controlled precision and delicacy.  It rocked.

 When it was over, the crowd at the Tennessee Theater offered Reich, who was present, and Ensemble Signal a long standing-ovation. The piece dates from the mid-1970s, but it was received by many of the theater’s younger attendees as if it was a revelatory contemporary breakthrough. Reich’s audience is growing and widening.

 With acts at up to five venues (including workshops and discussions at the Knoxville Art Museum), there was too much for any one person to take everything in. I tried but missed some. But here are observations about some of the notable others (besides Reich and his interpreters) that I saw:

 Dean Wareham with band: The Velvet Underground side of New Music was well-represented by Wareham, who spotlighted the loping, melancholy melodies and affectingly droll deadpan vocals of his recently issued debut solo album. His guitar solos were particularly fluid and controlled. Wife Britta Phillips played bass in his band.

Dean Britta

 Dean and Britta’s 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screentests: Meanwhile the duo’s Andy Warhol project, which they have been touring with for several years now, continues to grow in popularity along with Warhol’s legacy. Indeed, Dean & Britta bear considerable responsibility for the increasing importance of the screen tests as part of Warhol’s work.

 They were black-and-white silent films – unedited close-up portraits of several minutes’ duration in which the subjects are left to their own devices to do something interesting – that Warhol shot of visitors to his Factory. This was during the mid-1960s, Warhol’s “underground” and most avant-garde phase that Lou Reed wrote about in the songs “Chelsea Girls” and “Walk on the Wild Side.”

 On stage at the Bijou, Dean and Britta told stories about the subjects and then played their suitably downbeat, transfixing songs, some purely instrumental, as the films play on a big screen. 

 With time, fewer and fewer of the filmed subjects – so many looking young, vibrant and impossibly cool – are still alive, adding to the solemnly elegiac nature of the presentation.

 That also adds to contemporary appreciation of the subjects. Applause broke out, for instance, at the screen image of the now-departed Lou Reed, drinking Coke from a bottle and wearing shades. (Dean and Britta played the Velvets track “You’re Not a Young Man Anymore” during this.)

 John Cale: One living link to that era, Cale, was actually something of a disappointment at his Friday night show at the Tennessee.  Now white-haired at 72, but still gifted with a powerfully clear voice – capable of soothing melancholy and screaming grittiness – he should have used his set to make a statement about the worth of his six-decade career. What really mattered the most to him, and what would most endure? His Velvet Underground material? His solo albums from the 1970s? The 1980s? All of the above?

 Instead, he used his set primarily to showcase material from 2012’s Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, a good but not great contemporary alt-rock, fusion-y album that – when performed live, at least – shows Cale trying to fit in with today’s music rather than tower above it. (He did have an excellent guitarist, Dustin Boyer, to offer dazzling playing as Cale mostly was on keyboard.)  Strangest of all, he did a few of his older songs, like “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend,” “Ship of Fools” and the Velvets’ “Waiting for My Man,” in an odd, choppy style as if he was in Devo. Some songs after better left unreinvented.

 There were exceptions – his beautiful tribute to the Beach Boys, Nookie Wood outtake “All Summer Long,” sounded gorgeous. With him on acoustic guitar and several female back-up singers offering harmonies, Cale sang Fear ballad “You Know More Than I Know” with introspective mournfulness. And he can rip the heart out of  “Heartbreak Hotel.”


Television: On the other hand, compared to Cale, Tom Verlaine knew exactly what Television’s showcase Saturday night set at the Tennessee should be about – a statement that the band’s vision of punk as a music where smart, dark lyrics coexist with long guitar solos than build and then soar off from minimalist, repetitive chording is every bit as relevant as the Ramones’ or Talking Heads’ take.

 And is he right! The show featured epic takes on “Marquee Moon,” “Little Johnny Jewel,” “Torn Curtain” and other enduring mid-1970s classics, with Verlaine taking many of the solos but leaving room for second lead guitarist Jimmy Rip (who has replaced Richard Lloyd) to add textured interplay. The second encore, in which Verlaine took “Psychotic Reaction” from its 1960s-garage-rock roots into a strange, slow fade-out that replaced the song’s original bravado with sadness, was unforgettable. Television has a future to match its proud, underappreciated past.

 Colin Stetson: This muscular, polite saxophonist is becoming a sensation – a music hero – with his literally breathtaking playing. Using disciplined circular breathing, he plays long solos primarily on an oversized bass saxophone, and sometimes on tenor and alto. He forcefully plays and hums through the reeds, and the results are cosmic – part Anthony Braxton and part Tuvan throat-singer.

 The surprise is his following, considering the esoteric nature of his work. The bar where he played his Big Ears set, Scruffy City Hall, was jammed for his Friday night show. Air, let alone sight lines, was at a premium. And people talked about Stetson all weekend. Could he become the most popular saxophonist since Kenny G? The thought is as mind-blowing as his music.

 Lonnie Holley

 Lonnie Holley: This 64-year-old African-American “outsider” artist, who uses found material to put together phantasmagorical yet poignant sculpture, has also been recording his improvised, free-flowing songs full of poetic yearning – last year’s Keeping a Record of It was outstanding.  At Scruffy City Hall on Sunday afternoon, where there at least was some room to move, he enchanted as he played keyboard and sang with plaintive gruffness. Vocalist Jenny Hval and members of Julia Holter’s band carefully offered support.  Holley’s humor mixed well with his wisdom – dedicating a song to Big Ears, he observed “What big ears you have” to audience members and then confided – perhaps a nod to the frailty that comes with aging – “I just hope in a year/I can still hear/With my big ears.”

 Time and space doesn’t permit detailed descriptions of all the other highlights as well as the very few disappointments (Jonny Greenwood’s performance of Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint”). But Julia Holter’s hushed, slowed-down version of Barbara Lewis’ dreamy “Hello Stranger” was mesmerizing and belongs in the next David Lynch movie; multi-keyboardist Nils Frahm (below) displayed his talents without for a second appearing to be a show-off; acoustic trio Dawn of Midi featured an equally inventive pianist in Qasim Naqvi; and guitarist Marc Ribot’s constantly inventive playing during a screening of Chaplin’s silent movie The Kid was a treat at the Bijou, which probably showed silent movies when they were new.

Nils Frahm

 It left one eagerly awaiting the next Big Ears. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait four long years for it.

 Photos by Steven Rosen.









Undeniable: Kurt Cobain died 20 years ago this week. Sub Pop Records co-founder Bruce Pavitt’s talks about his recent photo book Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge In Europe, 1989, which offers up a “micro-history” of the band before it and its guitarist—and the Northwest scene that spawned them—conquered the world. [Above, per Bruce Pavitt: “Nirvana’s set took a tumultuous turn at the Piper Club, Rome, 11/27/89. During ‘Spank Thru,’ Kurt smashed his only guitar, then climbed a tall stack of speakers and began motioning that he planned to jump. Fortunately, the security staff talked him down.”]


             After Nirvana’s Nevermind broke in 1991, the media was full of stories by journalists who all jumped on the grunge bandwagon. But most of those actually involved in the scene have been content to let others do the heavy lifting. Even now, the most insightful looks on the grunge phenom have been the oral histories Grunge Is Dead!, by Greg Prato (2009) and Everybody Loves Our Town, by Mark Yarm (2011).

             As co-founder of Sub Pop Records, Bruce Pavitt has more stories to share than most. But there’s wanting to do a book, and having to actually write the book, and as Pavitt admits, “I enjoy writing but only in small bursts. So the idea of writing a long book was a little daunting.” But one day he stumbled across a box of photographs he hadn’t looked at in two decades, the 500-plus shots he’d taken while traveling with Nirvana, Tad and Mudhoney on tour in Europe in late 1989, culminating in a show with all three bands at London’s Astoria Theatre on December 3.

 Looking at the pictures “brought a lot back,” says Pavitt. “How amazing the shows were. And it brought back feelings of camaraderie. When you’re working together, when you’re running a mom and pop business, which is what Sub Pop was, it’s essentially an extended family. Half the time you can pay your bills, half the time you can’t, and the only thing that’s going to keep you together is a sense of trust and camaraderie and an underlying understanding that we value this culture and we’re all just going to do whatever it takes to make it happen. And you’re living for the live shows and seeing the audience response and people coming up to you and going, ‘My life has been transformed,’ and you can see it in their eyes.” (Below photo by Steve Double. Pavitt: “In 1989, the stage presence of British bands was typically understated, while the stage presence of the Seattle bands was insanely overstated. When people saw the energy of our bands, they were totally blown away. Nobody stood still for a minute.”)


             What Pavitt had found was essentially a photo diary. He not only took pictures of Sub Pop bands onstage, but also off stage, doing the kinds of things anyone would do as they travel; passing the time at restaurants, visiting tourist sites, snapping a photo of an interesting image that catches the eye. As he went through the photos, Pavitt saw a story emerging. “And once that kind of clicked I started to piece it together, and reconstruct a narrative around the images. I call it a ‘micro history.’”

             Pavitt’s micro history became the book Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989, first published as an e-book in 2012. “I was really intrigued by the whole idea that pretty much anybody in the world could download it instantly,” he says. “You solve a lot of your distribution problems. And we did get downloads from Hungary and Peru and Nepal. It was kind of mind blowing to see how they were coming in.”

             He was then contacted by Brooklyn-based publisher Bazillion Points who were interested in putting out a hardcover edition of the book. A revamped edition was published late last year, featuring more of Pavitt’s photos, as well as black and shots by UK photographer Steve Double, and excerpts of contemporaneous media write ups, including the reproduction of Nirvana’s first cover story, in the December 1989 issue of Seattle music monthly The Rocket (which also published Pavitt’s “Sub Pop” record column).

             Experiencing Nirvana captures Sub Pop’s bands at a time when they were in the process of transitioning from regional interest to international acclaim. Mudhoney had been the first Sub Pop act to tour Europe, opening for Sonic Youth in the spring of 1989. Sub Pop’s first “Lame Fest,” held in Seattle on June 9, proved that a bill of nothing but local acts could prove successful; the Mudhoney/Tad/Nirvana show “shockingly completely sold out,” Pavitt recalls. “The manager’s still recovering from that; he let most of his security staff go prior to the show, thinking that nobody would show up. And there was complete pandemonium. Google those YouTube videos kids, it’s an epic moment!”

             The next logical step was to somehow generate interest outside of Seattle. “Jon [Poneman, Sub Pop’s other co-founder] and I had very little resources, but a lot of enthusiasm,” says Pavitt. “We were constantly brainstorming and trying to piece together strategies that would help convince the rest of the world that Seattle had an amazing rock scene. You had one journalist, Jerry Thackery, aka The Legend [who wrote for Melody Maker under the name Everett True], saying that Seattle rocked, and we had [BBC’s Radio 1 DJ] John Peel, but that was about it.”

             Sub Pop ultimately arranged for all three of the Lame Fest bands to go overseas, Nirvana and Tad from mid-October to early December 1989, Mudhoney following from mid-November to late December, with all the bands coming together for the December 3 show. Nirvana and Tad had the most arduous time of it; from October 23 to December 3 they would play 36 shows in nine different countries, traveling together in a packed van with their sound engineer, tour manager, and all of their gear.

             “The idea of sticking nine people in a van along with merch and instruments and crisscrossing Europe for six weeks was absolute insanity,” Pavitt admits. “Looking back, I can’t imagine what that was like. And a few of the guys in the van were really large; Tad [Doyle] was large, [Krist] Novoselic was large and very tall. So that must’ve been challenging. Imagine Thanksgiving dinner with your relatives and how challenging that is in a roomy house for one afternoon. Now take nine different ‘dudes’ with different personalities and squeeze them in a van for six weeks crisscrossing Europe — it’s beyond imagination.

             “But the shows were a great release. And when the bands got onstage they totally rocked. All the shows I saw were pretty much universally incredible. I detail the show in Rome, and a couple shows from Switzerland, and you can see the sweat streaming down Tad’s back, which is worth the price of the book alone.” (Below: Kurt Cobain at the Piper Club in Rome 11/27/89.)


             Pavitt and Poneman flew to Rome to meet up with Nirvana and Tad on November 27. Pavitt brought along an Olympus XA-series pocket camera to document the trip — which was more of an investment than it is today, with the proliferation of digital cameras and camera phones. “Being a photographer was kind of an expensive hobby,” Pavitt agrees. “You don’t have enough film, and do I really want to spend $500 printing up these snapshots? I took about 500 photos and I’m really thankful I did because I think I got some classic shots. And I don’t know, it was eerie, how I took more photos during those eight days than I ever had during the pre-digital era. And for some reason I kept taking pictures of Kurt [Cobain]. He wasn’t the rock star on the tour; that was Mark Arm, that was Mudhoney. These guys were essentially backup for Mudhoney, who was without a doubt the flagship band. (Below: “Mark Arm of Mudhoney bends over backwards for rock and roll. Kurt Cobain is the onstage spectator wearing scarf and holding aluminum beer can, LameFest UK, 12-3-89.”)


 “And of course I learned all my tips from [Sub Pop’s primary photographer] Charles Peterson, who’s like, ‘Get in there.’ I’d just walk right on the stage and start taking pictures. Get in there and be sure to get the audience reaction to the band. I learned that from Charles. Whereas most professionals, like Steve Double, only take pictures of the singer because that’s the money shot, that’s the one you get in New Musical Express or Melody Maker. This book has an amazing array of audience shots, so you get to check out the personalities of the people who showed up at these shows. And I find that, from a sociology point of view, pretty fascinating.”

             When the two aspiring moguls caught up with their bands in Rome, Cobain was in a particularly fraught mood. Though he seems relaxed in the photos of the bands taken when they’re having dinner, at the show that evening, he smashed his guitar during the set then climbed on a speaker stack and threatened to jump into the crowd before being talked back down. Backstage, he smashed a microphone and announced he was quitting Nirvana.

 “He had kind of a meltdown, and he pissed a lot of people off,” says Pavitt. “He and Jon went for a walk and Jon came back and he goes, ‘Kurt said he looked out in the audience and he said, “I’m seeing the kind of guys who used to threaten to beat me up in high school.”’ Being a very sensitive guy in rock culture, it’s kind of a challenge. Especially in the ’80s, there’s still a lot of sexism, and there were elements of rock culture that were extremely macho. And he totally did not feel comfortable with that. And I think that is a key part to Cobain’s story, how he dealt with that.” (Below: “Kurt Cobain and Sub Pop cofounder Jon Poneman in conference. Nirvana’s future was in jeopardy, but, by morning, the band had decided to stay together.“)


             The next day, while the other musicians headed off to Switzerland, Pavitt and Poneman decided Cobain needed a break, and the three men, along with Tad drummer Steve Wied, chose to stay in Rome, planning to take a train and catch up with the rest of the group the following night. They bought Cobain a new guitar, then took in the tourist sites: the Coliseum, Saint Peter’s Basilica, and the Sistine Chapel.

             “I really appreciated the day that we took off in Rome, walking around and chilling out,” says Pavitt. “I would say that was one of the highlights of my life, just getting to know Kurt in such a special environment. It’s one thing to spend 10 minutes with somebody at a party, or a half hour business meeting, or ten minutes after a show. It’s another thing to spend eight hours with somebody basically killing time; it’s a whole different environment. We got to talk a lot about music. And his depth of musical geekdom was very impressive.” The two had a playful debate over which album was the best punk record, Cobain choosing the Stooges’ Raw Power, while Pavitt insisted Fun House was the truer punk release.

             After a day of rest, the tour continued, with Pavitt excitedly looking forward to the Astoria show. “It’s a pretty pivotal time for three Seattle bands to go to London and play a sold out music showcase in front of the British music elite and kill it,” he says. “Bringing all three of those groups together in London was definitely an epic moment. I thought the show was amazing. When I looked through the photos, you could see that every few minutes there were legs sticking out of the audience, people were going nuts. So my documentation is key in representing the enthusiasm from the fans, which is undeniable. Undeniable. Almost every live shot has people jumping off the stage. The show rocked. Everybody was ecstatic, and you can see it in the response from the audience. And I think that’s one of the beauties of this book. That show was a true turning point in the international stature of the Seattle music scene.” (Below photo by Steve Double. Tad Doyle of TAD, London Astoria 12-3-89.) L-experiencingnirvana

             And for all the chaos on the road, and in the mosh pit, it was merely the calm before the storm; two years later, the Seattle scene would change forever. “We put out Mudhoney’s Every Good Boys Deserves Fudge in ’91,” Pavitt remembers. “It sold 100,000 copies, it cracked the Billboard chart, and we were going ‘This is huge!’ A band like the Cramps would think this was like getting a gold record in punk rock world. And then Nevermind comes out a month later and it’s all over, and your perspective changes completely. So selling 100,000 records seems like a complete failure, whereas just a few months earlier that would be considered the height of indie rock success. It was an insane time to be in Seattle I gotta say. And so insane I decided to move to a remote island for 17 years!” (Below: “Kurt Cobain signs one of his first autographs, Rough Trade Records, London, 12/4/89. We were thrilled to be at the physical center of indie rock in 1989. We were a little surprised that many of the posters championed American bands—at long last! Within two years Nirvana would be a global sensation. At this point, having a Sub Pop bin (see far left) here seemed pretty cool.”)


 For Cobain, that insanity led to a much darker end. Which left Pavitt with some conflicted feelings about revisiting those years. “It was an amazing, unbelievable period of time, and to be honest, looking back on that period was pretty painful,” he says. “Because here we discovered this brilliant artist, helped nurture his career, helped launch his success. And then he achieved such a high level of success, that the stresses of being the world’s biggest rock star took its toll. It does feel weird. It’s sad and painful, and I think for a lot of people who knew Kurt it was just really hard to even listen to Nirvana [after his death]. I know that was the case with myself.

 “But I think at some point time heals all wounds. And what I appreciate about this story is that you’re in there right at the beginning, focused on a crew of young musicians, including Kurt, who travel Europe in their early twenties, have an adventure, and achieve a certain level of indie rock success. And I think that’s a kind of dream that a lot of young musicians could have and go, ‘I could do that. I could form a band, put out a few records, and maybe tour Europe, see the world and rock London,’ or rock Moscow or whatever. And so I’m really hoping that this book is inspiring, especially for young people who have dreams of success. The thing is, it’s one thing to try and follow an obtainable goal like that. It’s another thing to read the Cobain story and step into that narrative where you become the world’s biggest rock star but you kill yourself. That’s a very intense story.”

             All of which is captured in the book’s title, “Experiencing Nirvana,” which is meant to refer to the experience of the shows, and not one band. “Yes, absolutely,” Pavitt says. “It was kind of a play on words. Because experiencing nirvana, I think, in a sense, is a reflection of the state of let’s say that ecstatic oneness that one would feel at some of these shows, whether it was Tad, Nirvana, or Mudhoney. And as an audience member, when I was at those shows, I would tend to lose myself in kind of an ecstatic trance. And when you see all these crowd shots, no matter what city or what show, you see the crowd, you see that ecstatic look on the face of the fans.”


Photos courtesy of Bruce Pavitt and Bazillion Points. BLURT contributor and author Gillian G. Gaar has written extensively about Nirvana in the past. Her most recent book is Smells Like Teen Spirit: The Alterna-Teen Anthem of the ‘90s, an e-Book published in February by Miniver Press.

CELEBRATING OUR OWN: Drivin’ N Cryin’ Guitarist Buren Fowler


The late rocker, who also worked extensively with R.E.M., will get a tribute concert this weekend in Athens, GA.


 I don’t know if it will help saying this to you… some men in this world are born to do our unpleasant jobs for us… your father is one of them.

 This quote from To Kill a Mockingbird was brought to mind when Buren Fowler passed away last month. Not because he performed unpleasant tasks, though, at times, some were less glamorous, but for being a respected and admired musician who saw moments of fame, the depth of his work was largely unsung.

 When the news arrived about the sudden and tragic March 8 death of the Georgia rocker Buren Fowler, the southern music community was clearly shocked and saddened. James Van Buren Fowler had served as a guitar tech and live rhythm guitarist for R.E.M. in the mid ‘80s and went on to be a core member of Drivin’ N Cryin’, and he was a respected and loved member of that community. He was only 54.

 The day after Fowler’s death, DNC frontman Kevn Kinney tweeted his sadness over losing his former bandmate, while Drivin’ N Cryin’ posted the following message at Facebook:

 It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of our brother-in-arms Buren Fowler. Words alone cannot express the sense of loss that we all feel. He will be deeply missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his dear wife Paula and his family. We love you Buren. Godspeed.


 Subsequently, Kinney (pictured above with Fowler) started putting together a concert to pay tribute to his former bandmate. Titled The Buren Fowler Rock N Roll Celebration, it will take place this Saturday night, April 5, at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, and in addition to Kinney and DNC there will be opening act The Rattlers plus a number of high-profile guests expected to turn up. Speaking to long-running Athens music journal Flagpole, Kinney noted:

“For musicians, it’s a tradition in the community to celebrate our own. My goal on this one is, when you walk in the door, it’s not going to be Brahms or white roses. It’s gonna be full-on AC/DC. Hopefully, by the time you leave, you will have your closure, and everyone who comes will learn something about Buren… When you are next to someone from 1988–1993—which were pretty intense years—we were working just about every day. We did music videos together, did fancy dinners together for the record company, lived on a tour bus together… [Buren] was a real great ambassador for the band.

 “We want [the concert] to be free, because Buren was a very giving person. If he had 10 bucks and you needed 10, he’d give you 10. He would want everyone to come in and have a good time and tell their friends stories at the bar. I don’t want it to be sad. That’s not what this is for. Somebody else is better at doing that than I am. He wanted to have fun and play loud, and that’s what it’s going to be. [Buren] loved rock and roll. He loved Metallica; he loved Deep Purple. We’re gonna get drunk and have fun.”

With that in mind, attendees are encouraged to make a donation at the club. If that’s not an option, at very least write a note and explain what the musician and his music meant to you. Everything will be given to Buren’s widow Paula at the end of the evening. Worth noting: he didn’t leave a life insurance policy.

 On a personal note: I first met Buren in the mid ‘80s while following R.E.M. around on tour for a magazine profile of the band. He initially seemed aloof—a crew member being aloof to an intruding journalist? Go figure!—but I later realized that he was simply focused intently on doing his job. Indeed, at after-parties he was friendly and funny, at one point gently ribbing me for scavenging for guitar picks on the stage and acting like the fanboy that I certainly was. A few years later we met again at a DNC concert and he remembered me as “the R.E.M. writer,” and not in a negative sense.

 My good friend and fellow music journalist Anthe Rhodes also had great memories of Buren, and as we corresponded about his passing and then learned about the tribute/memorial concert being planned, she offered to get some personal testimonials from people who knew him. They appear below, and I sincerely hope Buren knew how deeply he is missed. Rhodes adds this comment: “It’s significant how he caught some fame, but then put it off to raise his kids in Kentucky, and was really left to the local scene once he returned to Georgia. At that time he began working extensively with the Wounded Warrior Project, which extended to some of the vet’s family members. He saw through to all of their pain. This was all done quietly, and he did a good job.”

Meanwhile, on March 18 the Georgia General Assembly passed a resolution honoring Buren’s memory, his life and his work. HR1922 calls him one of Georgia’s “most distinguished citizens” and goes on to outline much of the aspects of his career, additionally mentioning his wife and kids. You can read the entire thing here at the State Assembly website.

 Rest in peace, sir.


 Randy Blazak (Portland State University Professor and former Drivin’ ‘n’ Cryin’ road tech): I have two memories that really stay in my head. One is that after I moved to Portland in 1995, and left the DNC camp, Buren called me to thank me for my support through the years, including in getting him into the band. I thought this said a lot as he had left DNC two years earlier under a bit of a cloud and really had no reason to go back to those days. I thought it really reflected the depth of his kindness.

      The other was after a DNC show in Athens at the 40 Watt. Buren had been invited to jam with Widespread Panic in their practice space. He asked me to drive him. And I had a great time watching them wail. But I think Buren felt bad that I just had to sit there (which I was more than happy to do). So he gave me a harmonica and asked me to join in. He didn’t want me to feel left out. I’m not really a musician but I joined the jam session like I was a pro and we riffed on some blues classics He was just a really thoughtful guy.

 Jon Kincaid (Radio Host at WREK-FM) Buren was a guy that you could see why musicians liked having around as either a fellow musician or a tech. He was friendly, funny and reliable, three characteristics that often disappear from musicians after they become road hardened. I remember one time he was traveling the country helping set up exhibits for Louisville Slugger (the baseball bat company) and he told me about being somewhere and having Ted Williams, whom many consider the greatest hitter of all time, give him batting tips.

      Always imagined the sight of this old school ball player giving fundamentals to this rock n roller and how odd that must have looked. I’m sure others have their own Buren stories but all will feature a common thread, that this was a good man who left us too soon when he still had a lot to offer. I saw Drivin’ ‘n’ Cryin’ probably 150 times when Buren was in the band, from his first appearance at the Metroplex, (12-8-87) to his guest appearances in later years. Through it all he shone like his golden mane.

 Scott Munn (Tour manager at Blackberry Smoke and Shanzig Films): Buren Fowler melted my face with his blistering guitar solos many times as a young music fan growing up in Atlanta. The first time I met him, he came back to the stage long after load out to give all the local crew folks a “thank you” and Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ winter skull caps after a big show at Legion Field in Athens. That left quite an impression. In the twenty years since, he always had an encouraging word and was always ready to rock. Buren is talking baseball and playing ‘hick licks’ (as he called them) in Heaven now, without a doubt. He was a good man.

(below: Fowler in the studio during the DNC “Mystery Road” sessions)


 T. Patton Biddle (Musician and former 40 Watt Club tech): Buren and I became close friends when I was working at the 40 Watt back in the late 80’s. We lost touch when he moved to Louisville but ran into each other one night when I was taking my daughter to the Musician’s Exchange in Athens for a bass lesson. We kept in touch after that and when he and Paula moved to Athens they became regulars at our gazebo parties where we live.

      When I decided to put together a PA recently I asked Buren to be my partner and we had just begun that endeavor when his time came. One episode you might find interesting and telling of his character occurred on our way back from the first show we worked in Monroe last month. He and Paula attended our most recent party last October and he mentioned working with the Wounded Warriors Project and how they needed help with purchasing supplies.

      My wife, Jean, wrote a check for $200 on the spot and Buren had difficulty expressing his appreciation. On the ride back from Monroe he told me that he had used most of the money to buy a guitar for a young girl, I think he said she was 12, who’d been through a rough time. He related how the joy she felt at receiving her own guitar at Christmas put a smile on her face that he’d never seen before.

      That was Buren as I remember him: the phrase “he’d give you the shirt off his back” is often used but rhetorically I believe. In Buren’s case it was genuine; he truly would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He was utterly without guile; with Buren, what you saw was what you got. I have never had a truer friend and the world is a lesser place with him not in it.

 Vanessa Briscoe Hay (Vocalist of Pylon): I first met Buren Fowler back in 1989 when Pylon had reunited for the second time. His former wife did Pylon’s bookkeeping and they had 2 boys around the same age as my daughter Hana who was a toddler at the time. Buren looked like a muscle-bound blonde Viking, but he was really a pussycat with a soft spot for kids, animals and the downtrodden. Buren also loved to share funny stories about the rock and roll life.

      One of my favorites was one that he told of how he would see shows for free at the Fox when he was a teenager. He would show up at load in with a cable coiled around his shoulder and help load in. Pretty soon the staff was so used to seeing him around that they assumed he worked there! I am sure he never dreamed just a few years later he would be up on the stage with first REM and then Driving and Crying playing some pretty monster guitar.

      He moved back to Georgia a few years ago with his beautiful wife Paula and we became friends again through mutual friend Pat Biddle. He had recently suffered some major setbacks with his health, but continued to share his good humor and talent with his friends and The Wounded Warrior project. He helped Pat put together the sound system for a wake in honor of my dear friend Margaret Adams back in December. He sat up front the entire time in case we needed his help.

      A few weeks ago, I was shocked to hear that Buren had passed away in his sleep. I am glad that he is not suffering anymore, but dang-I’m really going to miss seeing him around. It seems unreal that he’s gone. On April 5th. Driving and Crying will honor him with a performance at the 40 Watt. His friends and family will have an opportunity to say goodbye in the way he would have loved best: rocking out.

 Rick Fowler (Musician and bandmate): Buren was a gentle soul offstage yet an aggressive warrior with a guitar strapped on. When we would play, it was like a roaring locomotive with Buren driving the whole thing. In contrast, he would get me to sneak over at Christmas and throw potatoes on the roof of his house so the kids would think Santa was landing. His softer songs had an incredible gospel-like spiritual depth and his rock stuff would blow the walls down. He meant what he played and it was never an act; it was coming from his heart.

 Tony Paris (Music journalist and former music editor of Creative Loafing): Buren Fowler’s place in R.E.M.’s history was not too unlike that of Ian Stewart in the Rolling Stones’ story. He was there, he played the instrument — and the band was much better for it. There was no flash, no pretense, just solid musicianship that took the band to another level when he accompanied them. In Drivin’ ‘n’ Cryin’, Buren was much more prominent, much more a member of the band. He solidified DNC’s sound onstage, pushed them ferociously when they rocked, and added the subtle nuances that were so much a necessity of the band’s quieter material.

 Armistead Wellford (Former bass player of Athens, GA band, Love Tractor): I first laid eyes on him on stage at the Fox playing with REM. I knew he had to be good to get the gig His playing was subtle and accompanied the band perfectly. He also had cool hair. I forget where we first met but he was a gentleman. He was doing some guitar tech at John Kernes when 10000 maniacs were recording there. I was impressed with his knowledge of guitars. And I do remember outside the Bluebird (old El Dorado, Morton theater) meeting his new born Van and being thrilled for him. He said Van was for Van Buren.

      A year or so later was when I heard he joined DnC , then seeing him tearing it up on stage with them, he could definitely get around on the guitar. I just saw Buren in November and he was still cool looking with cool hair. In fact, since I had seen him I was thinking of dropping in on him in Athens and plugging in. I loved his speaking voice and accent too. If I knew that I wasn’t going to see him again I would have hugged him all night long. I can’t stop thinking about him. It’s cool that Buren had been working with vets with guitar therapy, my hat’s off to him.

 Joey Huffman (Musician and former keyboardist for Georgia Satellites): I replaced him in Drivin’ ‘n’ Cryin’ so he should have hated me but he had nothing but love for me. When I had my brain tumor I had to wait 3 months for the surgery. I had no one to talk to and few visitors. Buren called me twice a week to cheer me up. He was the only one that cared. Even though he was in great pain himself he asked me about mine. We talked about everything from music to baseball. He really cared and was a really good friend. If that isn’t love I don’t know what is. I still have messages from him on my phone and listen to them when I really miss him. The world is a little colder and a little darker without him in it. I will miss him till I’m gone.

 Charlie Starr (Vocalist and lead guitar player for Blackberry Smoke): When I was a young fellow, I heard Buren’s playing with Drivin’ N Cryin’ on a daily basis. Their music was in heavy rotation on our local rock station. Later, I wound up playing those songs in bars from 10pm to 2am on the weekends. Later still, I met Buren at one of our shows and we became friends. Thank you for the music, Buren.

 LoriLee Maxim (Photographer and artist): He was a lover of life and music; kind to everyone. We are glad to have known him.

DESERT WIND: Tinariwen

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Touring behind their new Anti- album Emmaar, the Tuareg musicians from Northern Mali performed in Northampton, Mass.,  on March 27 and left our Contributing Editor (and resident African music expert) nearly speechless. Opening act: The Melodic.


Tinariwen’s songs blow in from across vast distances, the guitars gathering like a dust storm from low shapeless drone into a gale force of purpose, the drum and bass stomping up clouds of rhythmic energy. Tinariwen, too, has come a long way to be at Northampton’s Iron Horse venue tonight on their tour for new album Emmaar (Anti-), draped in the colorful robes of the desert, tuned to a frequency that resembles but it not the American blues, prevented by language differences from much banter besides the occasional, “Ca va?” There are six of them present this evening, a bass player, a hand drummer and an auxiliary guitarist and three front men of wildly different timber.

Abdallah Ag Lamida, lately held in the Malian civil wars (reportedly, he was trying to get his guitars out when the soldiers came), is back here in the front row in his bright blue tunic. His mournful eyes, his way of stepping precisely toward the crowd and back in a dance full of premeditated starts and stops, his intricate acoustic guitar picking, all point to a man who has thought long and hard about how music should sound.  He is measured and exact, even at the band’s most cathartic moments.

Not so Alahassane Ag Touhami, in yellow, who moves in an ecstatic, serpentine way, transported by groove, hands carving curves in the liquid air. Nor younger, smouldery guitarist, Sadam Iyad Imarhan, the only one bare-headed and unmasked on stage, who lent an electric charge and a rock and roll edge to the songs where he took the lead.  

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They open with “Tinde,” a song that starts with a single repeated note on bass, a pulse, a hypnotic that builds and is joined by drums, and finally voices, moving in unison and then out of it, shifting, hovering, crossing one another like tidal currents. It is not a long song, but enough to signal that we are not in Kansas anymore… or even multi-culti Northampton… but somewhere foreign and unknowable.

Then it’s off into hand-clapped, camel clomping desert rhythms of “Nazagh Ajbal,” with drummer Said Ag Ayad  getting a whole kit’s worth of tones out of a single economic drum. He plays the hard flat snare-and-tom rhythms on the rim of the drum and slaps the resonant middle for kick drum sonorities. I thought, when we got there, “Oh, only one drummer?” but it’s all you need.

Abdallah takes the lead for the acoustic guitar-led “Kunten Tilay,” a fiery piece that sounds like American Primitive only more emphatic and overlaid with the most aching kind of vocal longing. And then Sadam comes to the front with his electric guitar, and the music takes a subtle shift towards psychedelic rock.  You realize, too, that a young man’s yearning is qualitatively different from an older man’s – it has more sex in it, for one thing – as his shadowy, mournful voice drifts out into the audience.

At this point, I am overcome by the music, and stop taking notes, so you will have to take my word for it that it was a wonderful evening, full of rhythm and emotion, coming to a peak in the three-song bonus round, where in “Tahalamot” Abdallah plays acoustic blues and Sadam joins him on electric, two very different kinds of heat and melody twining in a single thing.

“Sastan Nakham” ups the funk quotient with a ripping bass vamp (that’s Egadou Ag Leche) that sounds like it just escaped a James Brown song. And the closer, which is, according to the setlist “Chraybone,” finishes things off in rousing, exhilarating style. Everyone in the first five rows – college students, grizzled ex-Peace Corp dudes, flower-decked hippie moms – is dancing, but no one as euphorically as the front line of Tinariwen. Who would have thought that guys who started in abject poverty, wound through several episodes of civil war, would end up starting a party in a college town in Western Massachusetts? 

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I should also mention that the opening band, The Melodic, from London, played a very nice set of Mumford-style, folk-referencing tunes, with boot-stomping beats and a couple of bouts of dueling melodicas. (Hence, quite possibly, the name.)  The stand-out, here as on their record Effra Parade, was the shuffling, call-and-response ramble known as “On My Way,” but a bittersweet “Ode to Victor Jara” was good, too, as way the closer, a melodica-blaring extravaganza called “Piece Me Back Together.” The record came out late last year on Anti- (which is probably why they’re touring with Tinariwen), but I don’t remember hearing much about it. Shame. Good stuff.

Photos credit: Jennifer Kelly


ABERDEEN EVERGREEN: Kurt Cobain Demos Slated for Record Store Day

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The late Nirvana frontman’s rumored childhood demos finally authenticated, coming out on Record Store Day 2014 as The KDC Tapes.


A couple of years ago, in a BLURT exclusive report titled “Pre-Nirvana Kurt Cobain Demos Unearthed,” we outlined how a 30-track collection of cassette tapes reportedly dating back to the Nirvana frontman’s childhood had been discovered and were being estimated as being worth “seven figures” or more. Although at the time of the report there was more than a little speculation that it was all a hoax or, at very least, wishful thinking on the you-gotta-believe segment of the Cobain/Nirvana fanbase (and trust us, that is a HUGE segment) we’ve now learned that the tapes have been authenticated and are to be a late-addition to this year’s Record Store Day titles.

Arriving in stores on April 19: a limited-to-1000-copies numbered set of cassettes, titled The KDC Tapes and housed in a deluxe “cigar box” styled packaging and featuring Cobain-derived memorabilia that includes faux-syringes, cigarette packs and snippets of lyrics scribbled on napkins. That will be followed up in June with the non-limited vinyl and CD sets. The artwork is reportedly derived from the recently published photos of the Cobain suicide crime scene.

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From our original report, let’s recap:

      A trove of dusty Phillips cassettes purchased by a self-styled “junker” at an Aberdeen, Wash., garage sale have turned out to be early demo recordings by the late Kurt Cobain. It marks the first time since the 2004 Nirvana box set With the Lights Out that heretofore unheard Cobain material has surfaced, and Nirvana experts are hailing the 30-plus tracks – some of them full songs, others just “sketches” – as likely representing the earliest known Cobain material in existence.

      The individual who bought the box of tapes initially got curious when he spotted the initials “KDC” (as in, “Kurt Donald Cobain”) scrawled in black magic marker on the side of each cassette. Upon listening to them he contacted a music industry lawyer, who in turn contacted representatives of Cobain’s estate and Cobain’s record label; the tapes were subsequently verified by noted music producers Jack Endino and Butch Vig (who both worked with Nirvana) as being legitimate. The finder is reportedly now in negotiations to sell the tapes to the estate and label.

      One industry observer estimates the potential value of the tapes as being “in the seven-figure range.”

      Cobain, who was born in 1967 and attended high school in Aberdeen while living there with his mother, apparently recorded them on a vintage 3M Wollensak mono tape deck when he was in elementary school – presumably about the age of 8 or 9, as several of the song titles focus on people and events circa 1974-75: “Nixon Must Die (Or Resign)”; “I Wanna Be Just Like a Weatherman”; “Carlos the Jackal”; “Shazam!”; and the collection’s lone cover, a ukulele version of the Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker.”

      According to a source who has heard the material, the tunes are “mostly singalongs” performed on acoustic guitar or the aforementioned ukulele, along with some rudimentary percussion performed by an unknown additional musician,  “There’s nothing there that would really give a blindfold test listener the sense that Cobain would go on to form one of the biggest bands on the planet, although it is worth noting that even at that age you could hear the initial stirrings of his trademark rasp – kinda like any kid sounds after he’s been punched in the throat a couple of times, actually.

      “With that said, however, a few recurring lyrical motifs, somewhat precocious on one level and disturbing on another, do provide ad hoc foreshadowing. At least three songs contain the word ‘vagina,’ each part of some childlike rhyming scheme, one of them being ‘your mama’; and there’s an unusual fixation on firearms too, such as in ‘…Weatherman’ where he sings in a kind of taunting tone of voice, ‘You’ll wish you were dead/ When I point my gun at your head.’ That’s followed by the popping sound of a kid’s cap gun.”

      Genuine historical artifact, or merely a curio for hard-core Cobain and Nirvana fans? With interest in both the artist and the band never having waned since his death in 1994, it’s likely that “The KDC Tapes,” as they’re being referred to in industry circles, will eventually anchor several archival releases: a CD of cherry-picked highlights, a collection of DJ remixes, and the inevitable big-ticket boxed set – possibly even a DVD documentary outlining the finding-of, the cleaning-up-of and the marketing-of the tapes. [Editor’s note: the latter info was obviously premature. See the second paragraph above for the current status of the release.]

      Also likely: the unknown percussionist will turn up wanting his cut of the profits. Already, the Cobain estate has reportedly been contacted by several individuals claiming – rather implausibly, and without credible documentation – to be the percussionist. As Cobain’s mother, Wendy, told a Seattle newspaper reporter, “Kurt really was a surly, unpleasant child to be around, and while he’s been characterized as being the type of musician who didn’t like to play with just anyone, it was actually the other way around – nobody wanted to play with him.


As noted above, both Vig and Endino had initially verified the tapes’ existence and likely provenance, but as time went by and the tapes failed to be released, speculation was rampant that it had all been a hoax, and Vig and Endino’s subsequent silence on the matter seemed to justify that conclusion. This week, however, at a press conference at the Universal Music Group’s offices in Los Angeles, the two producers appeared jointly to announce the impending release, implicitly giving their blessings.

“We are pleased and proud to be part of this project,” the pair offered, in a statement. “Kurt impacted our lives in so many ways, this is just our way of ‘giving back’ to the Cobain community.”

In a press release circulated by Universal, it was noted that both the surviving members of Nirvana as well as Cobain’s widow Courtney Love had given their blessings to the project but were not directly involved with the new box set.

Additional reporting can be viewed here. Check out a teaser video trailer for the Cobain box right here.