By zacksigel

Are gun owners no better than sex offenders?

We can now predict the time and place when our latest gun tragedy can finally recede into arbitrariness. After the Aurora massacre last summer, that time was when Wayne LaPierre and his paid-for thugs in the House of Representatives went to the airwaves to offer not the solace of consolation for their advocacy of firearms access but the solution to it, which happened to be an extension of that very same advocacy. The executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association came to and then insisted upon the amazing conclusion that what the theater had lacked that bloody morning was more shots fired into the smoky darkness, preferably by a gunslinger with superlative aim – the better to fire around the hundred or so bodies fleeing for the exit at the exact time – and the reflexive charisma to convince arriving law enforcement that he hadn’t been in league with the original shooter. Of course, when the lights come on and the weaponized smoke finally dissipates, how is the hero supposed to know he hadn’t been unwittingly conscripted by the murderer anyway? I imagine that question lingering just long enough for the sheriff’s department to complete its ballistics examinations, and only then would James Holmes have known whether his fulfillment of Joker-inspired chaos had achieved homicidal feedback.

The day of that shooting, I managed to sustain a pointless debate on Twitter with an unexceptional Second Amendmentist who’d found my name listed on Michelle Malkin’s tweet aggregation website complaining mildly about the N.R.A.’s influence on modern politics. My virtual accoster insisted I view security camera footage of an elderly man protecting a LAN cafe in Ocala from a pair of gangsters intent on separating its customers from their valuables. The video is astonishing for what it shows: the man, Samuel Williams, approaches the criminals with a Zen-like air, his arm extended almost involuntarily as he readies the shots which had excited the tweeter so much. The action is so calm, and over-with so quickly, that one imagines the man thinking nothing of sitting back to his terminal once the rats have fallen over themselves (literally! it’s quite comical) in trying to escape. But the clip is also astonishing for another reason. We are a nation that by some liberal estimates has more guns than citizens, and of which many, especially after the supposedly historic election of our first black president, are of actual military provenance. It did not seem to concern my cowboy friend that after that much proliferation he was able to locate just a single video in which they were used for good.

After the unsuccessful assassination of Congressman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, at least one witness came forward to admit that he had been packing heat but had stayed his trigger finger for the exact reasons I listed above (and in my previous essay on the Dark Knight murders), but also pointed out that the firing was over so soon that he had not even had time to identify the correct shooter. Jared Loughner’s massacre was finally halted when he paused to exchange magazines, meaning that his original discharge had lasted roughly fifteen seconds, the minimum amount of time the magazine he used would need to expel all of its bullets. This also coincided with just the amount of time he needed to kill six people, including the nine-year-old Christina Taylor-Green, and injure the sixteen others, including the congresswoman. LaPierre and the N.R.A. were so unmoved that they were actually able to express genuine perplexion that anyone might call for a ban on Loughner’s extreme firepower, and they could be seen, even a month later, inveighing against it.

In Ian Kershaw’s The End, his perfectly-titled and redoubtable chronicle of the Third Reich’s last year and the resounding death throes it produced in permitting countless Germans to be subjected to a prolonged slaughter by its enemies, I was struck by the salience of Goebbels’ relentless propaganda even as the internal minister himself became aware of the hopeless situation he presided over. Men of “fighting age” but without combat experience were transported to the front lines and expected to turn back Allied advances on either border, with little but the assurance from above that the if only they applied themselves fully to the battlefield then the Reich could be preserved long enough to employ the “miracle weapons” being developed just around the corner. Kershaw illustrates the great fairmindedness of Hitler’s domestic victims in resisting much of Goebbels’ myth-making, but not all were unswayed, and there were still many Volkssturm at the Reich’s last months who expressed a national duty to give their lives for Hitler’s dark ambition.

Listening to Wayne LaPierre’s remarks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, I hope I can be forgiven for being reminded of the industrial effectiveness of that wartime propaganda. He was unable to explain why even law-abiding gun owners should need the same semiautomatic rifles employed on battlefields, but reserved a great deal of invective for a number of video games and movies that have never actually killed anybody. (This is a seductive narrative – I played the Donkey Kong Country series so much as a child that I can no longer stomach the thought of eating bananas.) His suggestion was to place a gun in the hands of every school official and hope for the best, which was obviously successful enough at Columbine (with two armed guards  in-house), Virginia Tech (which maintained a SWAT team on campus), and Fort Hood (a military base). He made a reptilian distinction between shooter and hero, saying that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”, perhaps believing his own fantasy about the Aurora movie theater or the Tucson political rally. More men to the front, please. The war must go on.

But don’t all “bad guys with guns” begin as “good guys with guns”? One cannot even be a “bad guy” and still purchase a firearm legally. Dylan Klebold went to prom, riding in a limousine with a date and her friends, on the weekend before he helped Eric Harris gun down their classmates. Harris himself was at least likable if not somewhat popular, which the journalist Dave Cullen and author of the most important book on the shooting ascribes to a latent sociopathy that enabled the killer to project a fallacious personality even as his plunged into demented nightmares from the solace of his bedroom. Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood murderer, was an Army psychiatrist before Anwar al-Awlaki seduced him into firing against his own comrades. Hasan’s name might be properly written with a “MD” affixed the end, and had James Holmes completed his neuroscience education at the University of Colorado, he would have earned a “PhD.” Prior to his massacre, the National Rifle Association should have been elated to know of his existence. How many PhD candidates do you know who own AR-15s?

Enough Republican lawmakers have profited off of legislating to this reductive fatalism that those who oppose the Second Amendment right have had to take the matters of resistance into their own hands. The Westchester Journal News courageously posted the names and addresses of its neighboring gun owners, and has insisted on continuing publication even after the expected objection. And why not? We already have an accessible national database of similar consequence for child molesters, the better to preserve the safety of one’s sons or daughters and insulate them from even the potential of predation. I will be persuaded by the story in the Washington Post of a 73-year-old woman and gun owner complaining about her having been equated with sex offenders when I can confirm that she has no grandchildren. There are plenty of children of “good guys” (and “gals”) who are still too half-grown to even know the difference between good and bad, and many have encountered a piece of the N.R.A.’s legislative might and succeeded in committing self-assassination. Adam Lanza was one such child, and it did not matter whether his mother was good or bad even as he shot her in the head, with her own weapons.

I count myself among those of us who would not be happy until the Second Amendment is good and repealed, but if we are not allowed to ban guns, then what’s the harm in knowing about the hidden danger in our neighborhood, so we can choose whether to live there? Plenty of felons’-rights advocates have succeeded in making it unreasonable to worry that all sex offenders are itching to reoffend, but why take the risk? I can think of no better illustration of this threat than one blogger’s response to the Journal News’ scarlet-lettering. He thought it appropriate to post the journalists’ own addresses in retaliation, as if a contingent of notebook-wielding writers for a small paper might be as feared as owners of multiple semiautomatic rifles. If only the Fourth Estate actually posed such a threat! No journalist’s child has ever killed himself or others after discovering the tools of that trade, but now they can be expected to fear defending themselves against the tools of another.

Things We Lost in the Fire

Few fascist administrations have proceeded without direct participation of the reigning religious authority. In Mein Kampf, one can find the sentiment, quite early into it, that “In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord”, and a phrase of related significance was emblazoned on the belt buckles of Hitler’s Wehrmacht: Gott mit uns, or, “God with us.” In return for the Fuhrer’s loyalty, the “Venerable” Pius XII managed to do as little as he could to help the wretched conditions and the systematic regime of murder taking place under his very holy jurisdiction. Even after the war, he still could not mention the killers by name, reciting a now-famous speech over the course of forty-five sanctimonious minutes exhorting “mankind” to protect the “hundreds of thousands” (oh, Pius!) from race-murder and oppression. His conduct during the Final Solution and his useless condemnation after the fact earn the pope rightful scorn at the Holocaust museum in Israel’s Yad Vashem, a slight that the current pope, himself a former member of the Hitler Youth, succeeded in protesting early last year, certainly earning his rodentine birth name Ratzinger.
In Young Stalin, Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s redoubtable chronicle of poet and firebrand Joseph Djugashvili’s growth into the first Premier of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the fledgling revolutionary renounces religion as early as he is able to tell the difference. He later succeeds in leading at first groups of other young men on minor waves of terror, ripping off banks in Tbilisi and committing acts of arson, but is finally able to consolidate his influence through a surgical itinerary of internecine purges. These were usually overseen or carried out by a psychotic henchman nicknamed Kamo, with the clear intention of galvanizing the lazy proletariat into participating in a revolution allegedly unfolding on their behalf. This incidentally sounds like the retrospective mandate for the classic black metal scene, with an emphasis on tearing down much the same forces (greedy corporations, corrupt religious institutions) and through much the same means. This is how the tired hashing out of the Euronymous/Grishnackh feud assumes a new element of absurdity, as what has been traditionally understood as an ideological clash – with Aarseth supposedly on the far left and Vikernes very clearly and unapologetically on the right – has more in common with the early Marxists than with their religious contemporaries in Italy, Japan, and the Third Reich.
Vikernes has often admitted to being a religious man. It is only that his faith is largely unrecognizable to a majority of people and comes with the caveat that his gods have been recently played for camp on screen by the Hollywood actors Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. In the documentary “Until the Light Takes Us”, he cutely posits that “everybody can relate” to the pagan gods; his writings on intuit that the church fires he all but admitted to lighting were done to draw the line at the encroaching influence of Christianity. This is key to Stalinism, not Hitlerism, but Vikernes has embraced the latter (see his execrable anti-Jewish rant shortly after the terrorist attack of Anders Breivik in Oslo) even as he offensively pretends against his own neo-Naziism. Had Euronymous prevailed in 1993, the cult of personality would have centered around him, the busiest member of the “circle”, and it is not impossible to imagine black metal shifting leftward for the remainder of its golden years.
The few stated leftists in black metal have taken for their genre the mouthy “red and anarchist black metal”, a reworking of the official name of an anti-racist, anti-fascist skinhead group from New York. (The illustrious Aaron Weaver of Wolves in the Throne Room definitely voted for Obama [no word on Nathan],  and I don’t also doubt that the guys from Deafheaven or Liturgy did as well, but the kind of left-wing black metal I have in mind is more actionable.) RABM does not like to think of itself as a reaction to NSBM any more than Vikernes likes to think of himself as BM at all, but it cannot be easy to dent the triumphant paradigm of nationalism in black metal when every genre release sounds like the first take on a rejected demo. The most well-known RABM band is Jarost Marksa (“Fury of Marx”), and their EP is unlistenable and largely derivative of the usual long-form tropes. The void left by Euronymous and awkwardly filled by the square peg of Vikernes-esque conservatism has, if I may be allowed to breathe new life in that old cliche, produced music first as tragedy, then as farce. For those on the left inclined to the chilly strains of a tremolo pick, the stunted growth of socialist black metal is an unforgiveable loss.
It is a long-documented phenomenon that the most conservative states – those most opposed to institutional assistance – are ironically those most reliant on government intervention for their health and livelihood. And to ignite a church in service to another is not to tear down an institution, but to re-entrench oneself in it anew. RABM, if it ever gets off the ground, may be the last best opportunity of counterposing itself against the victorious trend.  There was a familiar if faintly heard promise in the anti-church dictums of the original black metal scene, last perceived spoken into the yearning ears of Stalin’s and Mao’s proletariat – right before they were sent to the gulag. It is the same promise squandered in the vicious murders of Magne Andreassen and Sandro Beyer (the latter by a confessed neo-Nazi band). It would be nice to see that promise fulfilled in the reddened blush of a new age of black metal.

Mitt Romney has a Jewish Problem: A Quick Question He Needs to Answer

In 1995, the Church of Latter-Day Saints was discovered to have been posthumously baptising Jewish people murdered by Adolf Hitler. These included Anne Frank and her family, as well as the parents of famed “Nazi hunter” Simon Wiesenthal. The church moved swiftly that year to cease its operation, and not least of all because the wretched names of Heinrich Himmler, Eva Braun, and Hitler himself also appeared on the fast-track list for the transportation of their souls to Mormon Heaven.
But as recently as Mitt Romney was identified as the front-runner for the Republican nomination, it emerged that a branch of the church in the Dominican Republic had just baptised Anne Frank for the ninth time. (No word yet on the tally for her killers.) That appeared to have been accident: the memo apparently hadn’t traveled internationally. And yet it should have been no surprise to anyone following the LDS church’s relationship to the Jewish people, as Mormons took it upon themselves to also posthumously baptise another Jewish victim of regional fascism last year: Daniel Pearl, the journalist murdered by al-Qaeda in Pakistan, received one at a more mainstream chapterhouse in Utah.
Pearl’s insult was permitted because the moratorium on baptising slain Jews had only applied to victims of Hitler’s grinding industrial abbatoir. In fact, this narrowing of the holy roll-call was so limited that the guilty church officials would not even say if those sacrificed in Polish and Russian pogroms were also exempt. Let us be clear about how awkward this conceit has become. In order to save exterminated Jews from eternal confinement in the Mormon “spirit prison”, an occultish cadre of latter-day saints shamefully disdained the religion they had died for in the first place. But now that baptisms of Shoah dead are off the table, a priori, doesn’t Mitt Romney believe that the families of Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, and Otto Frank are languishing in Mormon Hell?

How is the N.R.A. not considered a terrorist organization?


Excuse me if you have forgotten it already: The day before James Holmes burst through an emergency exit at the Aurora Century 16 multiplex to gun down twelve people and wound fifty-eight others attending a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, another man had stepped onto a bus in Burgas and promptly exploded, taking the lives of five Israeli passengers vacationing in the popular tourist spot and the driver. The day before that, however, a suicide-murderer in Damascus lit himself up at the expense of Dawoud Rajiha, the defense minister of Syria, and his deputy, who also happened to be the brother-in-law of Bashar al-Assad, the apparent primary target. 
Mankind, in sum, has had a hell of a week, but if all that had happened was the Damascus attack, one would have never known it from the reactions of those to whom those two extinguished lives and the third who was sadly missed were but insufferable and oppressive butchers. The American condemnation of the Burgas massacre was swift, and issued from the highest authority, with all the vehemence and potency of the executive branch; the measurably awkward task of releasing a statement on the earlier bombing, however, was quietly outsourced to the Secretary of Defense, who shed no tears in rightly condemning the Syrian despot for letting it culminate in this. Then, of course, we suffered a terrorist attack of our own.
At 11:59 P.M. on July 19, Holmes was fulfilling a distinctly American fantasy. Here was a highly intelligent and highly educated upper middle class former summer camp counselor with no prior criminal record, a good ol’ (if socially inept) boy by all accounts, who was also unexpectedly indulging in and treating himself to the guarantees and ostensible pleasures of the Second Amendment. Before those first shots, had the mandate of the National Rifle Association ever been so vindicated? As the projectionist in the movie theater started the show, the murderer stalking just outside was still the sort of upstanding member of the community that the N.R.A. had been in the business of cultivating and defending. How dare radical anti-gun activists attempt to take away the constitutional rights of James Eagan Holmes, Ph.D?
And when the weaponized smoke (also legally obtained) cleared, how quickly were we made to watch the right-wing succor the psychopath of Colorado! Louie Gohmert, the extremely loud and incredibly mediocre representative from Georgia, was the first to capitalize on the fun, and the disgraced former state senator Russell Pearce, of racist Arizonan immigration lawmaking infamy, shortly followed suit. No, they dully warned, irrespective of the fact that Holmes owned four firearms – three of which made it into the screening – the problem was that, thank you, but there weren’t enough guns. Is this not the ugly consummation of yet another N.R.A. wet-dream? Consider that these two Republicans received their wish, and some intrepid soul had the presence of mind to draw a six-shooter and stop all the carnage. It is the excipient of N.R.A. ideological force that this hypothetical swashbuckling cowboy be not only a perfect shot in the dark, but to also have the paranormal vision of one able to both see through smoke – Holmes, firing indiscriminately into the void, was not encumbered by this disadvantage – and to then pinpoint the few fleshy chinks in otherwise completely enveloping anti-ballistic body-armor (also legally obtained). It is not so hard to imagine the terrorist wishing someone had had the apparent testicular fortitude of Gohmert or Pearce just to double-down on the amount of discharged ammunition, the chaos, and the body count; and who, then, to indict, when the police arrive to identify the good shooter from the bad? There have already been reports of a half-remembered accomplice streaming out of the chimeric darkness.
To return now to the twin suicide-murders that preceded this. The amazing proliferation of bin Ladenism and its organized cult of nihilistic death-worship is largely thanks to its success in exploiting the anxiety of uneducated and impoverished young men toward the prideful and wealthy people they’ve been taught are holding the purse strings. How is this powerful recruitment tool any different than the election of a wealthy black Harvard professor who is also socialist and Kenyan and communist and fascist, etc., to the presidency and to lord over our own cadres of uneducated and impoverished? In the week after that monumental election, a gun salesman told a CNN reporter that he’d never seen business so good (horrifyingly, the AR-15, Holmes’ weapon of choice, appeared to be among the most popular). The N.R.A., through its executive vice president Wayne LaPierre and his mouthpiece on The Glenn Beck Show, spent the proceeding years of the presidency promising frightened white people that Obama was coming for their guns, when in reality, he has increased access to them, including in national parks; likewise, Bin Laden and al-Zawahari were able to conscript frightened Afghans with promises of a vertiginous paradise in the hereafter when in reality, they would simply disintegrate.
The legacy of N.R.A.’s advocacy is to have convinced the country that no gun owner has ever had a mental illness, and that everyone can be a hero. In order to entertain the ideas of the N.R.A., one must also tolerate the occasional toddler who finds his father’s “hunting” rifle and shoots his own face off, as has just happened in Denver. Does that not sound like the charter of Hamas or Hezbollah? The murderer in Aurora, like the bomber in Damascus but a little wealthier and better educated, is then “our kind of terrorist” – it’s simply a shame about all of the victims! The intellectual model for the National Rifle Association is not the United States Constitution or the Bill of Rights. It’s al-Qaeda.

When did "You Know You’re Right" become Kurt Cobain’s swan song?

There is a moment in the latter half of Everett True’s tremendous exegesis of Nirvana, whose groan-provoking title The True Story happily became The Biography for its paperback release, that an anguished and relapsing Kurt Cobain draws to an end the closing track of a setlist in Paris with a prolonged and agonizing scream. Both True and Charles Cross, in his own rivaling text Heavier Than Heaven (unfairly maligned as presumptuous and hagiographical), each heavily imply that toward the end of the band’s career, Courtney Love – at that point now the mother to the newborn Francis Bean – was known to have rekindled a past relationship with Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan. It is less clear how Kurt, on the other side of the Atlantic playing a tour to support In Utero, was supposed to have become aware of it, or even if the scream was borne of that knowledge. Cross does not mention the story at all, although it is clear he is aware of the specific evening. The Cobain in True’s Story, wrapping up “Drain You”, is a disassociated mess, lost to opiates and apathy, damaged, sad.

True’s scrutiny of that sonic purgation immediately fingers the Corgan dalliance, and I still can scarcely bear to play Siamese Dream when my iPhone shuffles into it. Francis Bean’s nanny seems the primary source of record on the tryst, but Cali De Witt only comes just shy of complete accusation. “I think he suspected her of cheating on him with [Lemonheads’ vocalist] Evan Dando and Billy Corgan,” he told Everett True. “Was she? I think so. Did they get fucked up and make out one night? That counts to a husband who’s wondering. Was it a real affair? No, maybe not.” Nirvana played Paris on February 2nd, 1994, and just over sixty days later, Kurt Cobain was found dead from self-inflicted assassination by shotgun.

The issue of “You Know You’re Right” that most devotees of the band are familiar with is the headlining number on 2002’s Nirvana best-of collection. The track’s simple existence is a marvel in itself, the sole recording to conclude an unofficial hiatus during which Kurt isolated himself with Courtney in an extended bed-in first at the couple’s Los Angeles retreat and next in Seattle, to where they relocated at the beginning of 1994. The best evidence suggests that “You Know You’re Right” first rocked a professional studio on January 30th. Like most Nirvana songs, it was fleshed out in just a few takes. It is the band’s darkest recording, but also one of its best, of thematic kinship with In Utero‘s naked suffering: The derisive “she” who once loved like a Pisces in “Heart-Shaped Box” makes contact on the other side of the abyss with the hateful “she” expending all of that love on herself. Lyric sheets and karaoke consoles are here an instruction in understatement, dryly inserting pain for the grisly scream that finishes each refrain.

It is no small testament to the euphonic indefatigability of Nirvana to say that one’s enjoyment of its latter-day catalogue is considerably augmented by the mere pursuit of unheard tunes. The greatest of these underserved tracks includes “Even In His Youth,” a cut so sublime that it was made to appear publicly on the single that unleashed “Smells Like Teen Spirit” into the world (even if it was later excised from the tracklist that would become Nevermind). I prefer the harsher 1989 demo version that appears on the With the Lights Out box-set, alongside gratifying remakes of Wipers classics “D-7” and “Return of the Rat”, grungier impressions of “Milk It” and “Breed”, and several acoustic covers to rival the unabashed beauty of Unplugged.

A great number of these rare tracks had already been known to Nirvana fans for years. Five volumes of Outcesticide bootlegs emerged in the intervening years between the band’s dissolution and the release of the two official anthologies. Of the 113 tracks spanning this collection by the count of my iTunes aggregate, relatively few constitute a listenable experience. When the publication of Kurt’s journals had been nigh at the end of 2002, there could be heard the ancient sigh of Nirvana apologists for the wanton commercialism of the man’s work, that this public exhibition of his privatest demons was to have pulled that sorry trigger anew. So it was curious that Outcesticide, a similar exposition of Nirvana in bloom compiled beyond the grave, ducked the question of intent when it came time to reckon what Kurt would and would not have wanted heard or read. (To say nothing, as always, of Krist and Dave.)

The bootlegs place even the hardest-core listener into the uncomfortable position of critiquing the monumental band on the level of the primordial. As Mark Richardson notes in his review of With the Lights Out for Pitchfork, Kurt’s usually supreme guitar fretting feels at times hobbled and rote when he is not aware he is playing for an audience. Other tracks begin with or segue into glorious music, only to be euthanized by an excess of feedback and shapeless clamor, such as the only recording of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” in electric instruments. And there are moments on Outcesticide that feel darkly soporific: try not to groan when he manages to slur and stumble over the words “Vicodins” and “Demerol” in an otherwise milky and ruminative rendition of “Pennyroyal Tea”. But consider that this cut was swiped from a soundboard in mid-October 1991, less than a month after the release of Nevermind and just nearly two years before Albini completed In Utero. In the album’s song, the stated addiction to prescription opiates has been euphemized into “warm milk and laxatives”, those vestiges of the brutalizing comedown, but both versions keep intact some of Kurt’s fiercest and most beloved lyrics, begging for the “Leonard Cohen afterworld, so I can sigh eternally.”

There are enough unmistakably autobiographical sketches – “Negative Creep”, “School,” “Sliver”, “Serve the Servants”, “Downer”, “Heart-Shaped Box”, “Rape Me”, certain elements of “In Bloom”, “About a Girl”, and so on – in the Nirvana catalog that fans since the band’s very inception have been content to pad out the Cobain mythos with parallels in his songwriting. The North Aberdeen Bridge really did shelter the artist as a young man when he had no other place in the world, and its spray-painted inscriptions of hope may just be the last line of defense for the teenage pilgrim in whom there is something dispirited in the way. But while critics of Cobain’s writing ability maintain that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was at its genesis nothing more than a statement of Kathleen Hanna’s that Kurt had absorbed the scent of his then-girlfriend’s deodorant, the singer explained to Michael Azerrard that he really had been electrified by a session of revolutionary banter and originally took Hanna’s scrawl for a compliment, not an observation. The feverish strikes-out and margin commentary accompanying Kurt’s journal entry for this song’s lyrics should put the lie to doubters who hear “Dumb” literally.

“You Know You’re Right” does not also benefit from this abstraction. One needs only to hear Courtney Love pressing mourners to call her deceased husband an asshole and a fucker in her eulogy to wager a guess as to what – or, for that matter, whom – the song is about. Those without access to the eulogy (I apparently received it among my Outcesticide bootlegs, but it is not listed with the “official” tracks) nor the stomach to read a transcription may also glance cursorily at the lyrics of this monument to what Camus might have called knocking four quick measures onto the audio-reel of unhappiness. In Cobain’s own disquieting words:

I will move away from here
/ You won’t be afraid of fear / No thought was put into this / I always knew it’d come to this / Things have never been so swell / I have never failed to fail[/felt so well] / Pain!

Nothing really bothers her / She just wants to love herself

I am trying not to be too hard on Ms. Love. As long as the verdict on her infidelities is never settled, she was by most recollections an adoring if often aloof and perturbed spouse, a little too over-bored, a little too self-assured, and completely unprepared for the wailing and the gnashing of the teeth of marrying into psychosis. One almost disturbs oneself by empathizing with the frontwoman of Hole, who can also be credited with the nightmare of saving Cobain from the suicide attempts that did not succeed. And yet the written epilogue accompanying the first and more lethal overdose apparently included the names of men Cobain believed had cuckolded him, and Charles Cross, the most likely person to have actually handled the letter, reports that Billy Corgan was on it.

If one is tempted to implicate Love in the unfortunate culmination of it all the following month, the surest case against her is failing to do enough to mollify her husband’s narcotic paranoia, if that is all it really was. And if Courtney had made all of the appropriate advances at conciliation, Kurt was not persuaded. The With the Lights Out box-set includes a tinny acoustic rendition of “You Know You’re Right” captured on a boombox at the Cobain residence months before he would even suspect perfidy from his daughter’s mother. Here is Cobain excerpted again and sounding almost as if he were freestyling:

I will never walk it through / I could never promise you … / This will mean I’ll love again / Guess I’ll never have a fan … It’s a never-ending dream / I will always want to faint … / It’s another point of view / Look at me when I was you / I could never die again / I won’t lose another friend / She will see another me …

We may detect the cursory hint of relationship anxiety among an otherwise frustratingly vague collection of stanzas, but it remained just that even as the song makes its next appearance at an Aragon Ballroom performance on October 23rd that same year. I first heard this version on the Outcesticide V bootleg, wherein Dave Grohl can be heard erroneously announcing the next track to be “All Apologies.” The audio fidelity of the recording is so achingly poor that in place of the proper title of this previously-unheard track the curators of this disk had apparently heard variously “On a Mountain”, “I’m a Mountain”, or even “Autopilot.” (It is much beyond the pale that a band as artistically novel as Nirvana would have songs called both “On a Plain” and “On a Mountain.”) Even Charles Cross was fooled, misplacing both the speaker and his intent. When the song begins in earnest, virtually none of the lyrics can be discerned. It is what is missing, however, that should interest us – namely, any of the accusatory rhyming patterns of the studio version. Even in a recording as muddied and incoherent as this one, the song can still be identified more closely with the acoustic demo above than with the caustic professional cut that headed off Nirvana. We also see the first emergence of a refrain that sounds, at the very least, like “pain.”

There is another scream to which I would now like to draw your attention. It is indeed rather a succession of screams, and after hearing them the listener may find himself reaching for his throat to massage out a phantom rawness in his vocal cords. Bringing to a climax a concert at Le Zénith in Paris, Nirvana performed the number usually considered the superior exemplar of its live shows, a nearly seven-minute arrangement of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”. Aside from some remarkable tweaks to the cello accompaniment, and given that Cobain has always swelled the violence in his voice for the closing verse, the Leadbelly cover is at first largely indistinguishable from its grand execution on Unplugged. The audience loudly erupts in appreciative ovation at precisely the moment it remembers the music finishing in MTV’s broadcast … but, over their applause, Cobain keeps going. It is February 14th, 1994, the last Valentine’s Day of Kurt Cobain’s life, and the song has not ended, but transformed, with all that remains the question, the verse, the screaming and the tears, as he tries to mask the sonic shrillness of his voice cracking before legions of Parisian admirers by savaging each word into an esophagus-shredding recrimination. At this point, the cello sounds so beautiful that its player seems almost complicit in his very public torture, as it billows out under Kurt’s shrieking for his girl, his girl, don’t lie to him, tell him where did you sleep last night.

Charles Cross and Everett True differ on the whereabouts of Courtney Love when her husband played Le Zénith, and I am more inclined to trust True, that, at least through Cobain’s February 20th birthday as well as their second anniversary four days later, she was in Los Angeles (rather than London, as she would claim). And then, on March 1st, Kurt opened a set with a disturbed cover of “My Best Friend’s Girl”, the Cars song with lyrics that read: She’s my best friend’s girl / But she used to be mine. No psychotic screams, just bitter defeatism. Is it any wonder that, less than two months earlier, “You Know You’re Right” had acquired the razor’s edge that it did? You know he knew.