Year: 2011

Albini on Cobain

     While going through a stack of old issues of the Chicago Reader for another project, I happened upon the April 14th, 1994 issue, which featured a few selected reactions to Kurt Cobain’s then-recent suicide.

     The first words in the feature come from Steve Albini, and the no-nonsense type treatment that the Reader’s designers gave to his copy seemed to match his tone perfectly. I was surprised when I googled to find that this article seemingly hasn’t made it onto the internet.

     So, here it is in full: “Nevermind the Bullshit: An Outsider’s Reminiscence:”

     The phone started ringing about midday Friday. Journalists from all over the globe, being stalled in their bloodthirsty quest for gory details from anybody who might know anything, had begun grasping at straws, trying to find someone with a pithy, incisive comment on Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Probably because my phone number is easy to come by, and probably because a few of the more dense practitioners thought I would have an ax to grind, they called me. They all called me. Radio guys, newspaper guys, magazine guys. English, Japanese, Italian. Certain fuckups who knew I wouldn’t speak to them had their stoolies and underlings call me.

     I didn’t have much to tell them. I knew Kurt Cobain, sure, but so did a lot of other people. I wouldn’t call him a friend, but not because I didn’t like him. I met him too late in the game for a real friendship to have been possible. By then, he was already a millionaire rock star. He was surrounded by people whose status and income depended on his popularity. All of those people and more presented themselves as his friends.

     He was smart enough and realistic enough to know that someone popping out from behind a bush trying to be his friend probably had an angle. He was weary from those people being his friends. Out of respect for what remained of his patience, I never pressed him for any intimacy.

     My impression of him is probably as skewed as anybody else’s. I saw him during a resolute period, where he and his band were operating at capacity: productive, confident and (mostly) at ease. There were obviously episodes before then and since where things were not going so well, but I’m disinclined to speculate why. Plenty of other people who knew him less than I did will do that for you.

     I was and remain an outsider to the daily goings-on within the band and in Kurt’s life, like a small child dazzled and a little frightened by a carnival, which others around him took little notice of. As an outsider. I had benefit of a neutral perspective when weird things occurred, as they do in the lives of all important people.

     I realized how different their world was from mine the first day I was in the band’s company. Krist Novoselic had brought a pile of settlement papers with him from Washington for the band to sign. The settlements were for different nuisance law-suits that had sprung up like fleabites once the band became successful. Sign here, and give a few grand to someone who claims a splinter from a broken bass guitar got in his arm, requiring traumatic tweezing. Sign here, and give a house down payment to some bastard who says somebody in Nirvana was once in a band that was once in debt to him for a phone bill. Sign here, and pay off somebody for remembering that his high-school band was once named “Nirvana.” Sign here, and put some greedy bastard’s kid through military school because he wore a Nirvana T-shirt to a wake, traumatizing the guests.

     The nonchalance with which these parasites were bought off, as though it were a common and insignificant chore, dumb-founded me. The band, before breakfast, had dispersed more money to liars and cheats than I would make in a year or more.

     There seemed to be no end of badgering crap. Everybody, everywhere wanted a piece of them; wanted them to pony up and pay the street tax on the road to popularity. In addition to the periodic bleedings they had to endure, there was the constant intrusion of the world at large into their lives. A journalist with a chip on her shoulder had almost cost Kurt his daughter, whom he loved with more enthusiasm than any other thing. The authorities, once tipped, belligerently ignored the plight of the thousands of truly unloved and uncared­ for children whose parents didn’t happen to be famous, in an attempt to make an example of a nontraditional couple.

     Another pair of would-be journalists (crazed groupie chicks, actually) had been hounding Kurt, his wife, and all of their friends while “researching” a “book.” Their research apparently included seducing Family members, swiping personal artifacts, and accosting them in public, in an attempt to cause a “scene.”

     Traveling in rock­-music circles makes dealing with death inevitable. There is a persistent and pathetic association between extremes of lifestyle, indulgence, obsession and rock music. ln the last couple years, l’ve seen a half­-dozen friends and acquaintances die or pretty much so. It’s a drag, and it’s a shame, but as long as there are suckers for the myth of the outlandish rocker, there will always be people to encourage them and profit from their decline. They’re also going to die once in a while. That’s part of the myth, too.

     Every thinking person has, at some point, contemplated ending his or her life. Few of us do it, but everyone can appreciate the impulse and occasionally entertain the thought. Given the magnitude of the life that was dropped in his lap, it would be pompous and naive to criticize Kurt Cobain for acting on it.

     Kurt Cobain’s death was not an accident. It was a shame.

Steve Albini, a Chicago-based recording engineer, worked with Nirvana last year on its third and final studio album, “In Utero.”

Sam the Record Man

I guess it’s been a lot longer than I thought since I’ve been to Toronto: I accidentally found out today that the iconic, animated neon signs of Sam the Record Man can no longer be found on Yonge street: the store closed in 2007, and the signs lit for the last time in 2008.

My next thought was: “What happened to those signs?” Thinking they may have suffered a fate similar to Ann Arbor’s recently-defunct neon landmark, I did some googling and found the following at Wikipedia:

On May 30, 2007, supporters started a Facebook group to save the store’s neon spinning record signs titled “Save the Sam’s Sign!!!”; the group, and its attached online petition, garnered more than 18,000 members. On June 14, 2007, it was announced that the sign, and the contents of the store would be auctioned-off by Benaco Sales on June 27. However, on June 22, 2007, the Toronto city council voted in favour of designating the entire property as a heritage site, protecting the entire building, including the landmark signs. The entire building was designated because the Ontario Heritage Act has no provisions to protect store signs.

On January 18, 2008, Ryerson University officially acquired the property for future expansion of its nearby campus.

On October 4 [2008], the iconic neon signs were lit for the last time as part of Toronto’s Nuit Blanche festivities. The removal of the signage commenced shortly after the final lighting, and by mid March 2009 the building had been partially demolished.

Further searching reveals that Ryerson University was expected to put the sign back up at some point, but no one seems to be in any hurry to do that:

In 2008, a local newspaper reported that the signs, “gently removed and documented like artifacts from an archaeological excavation”… will be “refurbished and put into the new building.”
Ryerson appears to have changed its mind since then. Wednesday as he unveiled the design of Ryerson’s new $112 million student learning centre on the Sam’s site, the school’s president, Sheldon Levy, told me that, “when we took down the records, we had negotiated with the city that they can appear on one of the buildings. They are going up high on the existing library,” he said, pointing to Jorgensen Hall, which is next to the new centre. But Craig Dykers, the architect at Snohetta, the Norwegian firm that won a competition to design the new building, had a different answer when I asked him about the Sam’s records.

“We know that it’s a protected piece and we should find a home for it,” he said. “Ryerson is going to form a committee to find a home.” Janet Mowat, a spokeswoman for Ryerson, said that the signs are resting off campus, in a warehouse “somewhere in the GTA.”

Time will tell where Sam’s Records will end up, but for now, here’s a video of the last lighting of the original sign:

Beer Label Color Separations

In the past few years I’ve accumulated all sorts of bizarre saved eBay searches – things I’m interested in being emailed about whenever they are listed on eBay. This is because I am insane.

One of the more random searches I have saved is “Color separation” – these are the transparencies that were once used in full-color printing – often one sheet each for Cyan Yellow, Magenta and Black. I like them because looking at these color separation sheets both individually and within their shared context can serve as a nice, procedural narrative of the production of the final printed piece (See, I told you I’m insane. Further insanity: ‘separation’ is frequently misspelled as ‘seperation,’ so I have that search saved as well).

I’m generally obsessed with the artifacts of mechanical reproduction – but I’m also obsessed with comic books, so it works out nicely that what most frequently pops up under this search are comic book-related separations (Baseball / trading cards are also well represented). This past week, an interesting batch of separations were listed – beer labels. It looks like these were used in producing cans for a few regional / store brands, as well as a few I recognized (ie Schlitz).

That’s pretty much it – I just thought these were cool looking, and thought I’d post them: Pathmark, Brew II, Horlacher, Schlitz, American Dry.

“Ivan has a masterpiece in him; it’s just getting him to do it.”

Chip Kidd, art director at the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house, says, “I think Ivan’s been following a reductive path, trying to see how much he can pull out of a character and still have it read emotionally. It takes Ivan like one or two brush marks now to do it, like Charles Schulz. Which is hard.”

Brunetti’s one-page artist biographies, structured within panels echoing the artists’ work are the best thing ever. Several appear in Schizo #4 – there’s a tiny image of the Mondrian strip here.

Self-defeatist Vintage Valentine

     Sarah recently went through a giant bundle of used valentines that she bought from an estate sale, some dating back to the 1940s. There were all sorts of gems in the stack, but the one below was my favorite. While I’m a fan of the literal, sad-sack interpretation, we did manage to puzzle out a few alternate explanations (ie if the penguin isn’t a “cool valentine,” then he’s a “Hot” valentine, maybe?).

Click the image to embiggen.