Kurt Cobain on how to play guitar

Kurt Cobain, who Rolling Stone Magazine ranked as the 12th greatest guitar player of all time, teaches you the value of music theory in this rare video (at 1m50s):

“I have no concept of knowing how to be a musician at all, whatsoever. I mean, I don’t know the names of chords to play. I don’t know how to do major and minor chords on a guitar at all. I couldn’t even pass Guitar 101. Folk Guitar 101. Everyone knows more than I do. …I never learned how to read the music. I just copied the other people that took the time to learn how to read… [Dave interjects, “He’s a good drummer.”] …if you go by a text you’re kurtcobainjspretty limited, you know.”

“[I’m a] songwriter. I have no desire to become any better of a guitar player. I’m not into
musicianship at all. I don’t have any respect for it, I just hate it. To learn how to read music or to understand arpeggios and Dorian modes. It’s just a waste of time. It gets in the way of originality.”

So, if you are one of the many, many guitarists who think technical proficiency makes you a good musician, then that ostensibly means you and I are probably both better musicians than Kurt Cobain. Except, probably not. So forget music theory. You can have fun sitting in your room practicing your stupid rock solos which all only use the same scales anyway, but the audience doesn’t care how good a guitarist you are. They can’t even tell when you suck. All they know is whether or not it makes them feel something. That’s all that matters.

Love, Death and Suicidal Blood Junkies: Only Lovers Left Alive

Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is a great drug film. Atmospheric, romantic,
doomed. Really, it’s the allegory of a tortured artist, but the drug metaphors are constant and in keeping with that theme. Imagine what being a vampire would really be like. Lonely and sad, you watch ordinary human beings (the zombies) destroy themselves and their world, making the same mistakes century after century. So you isolate yourself. only lovers left aliveThe world falls apart around you, while you sit like a junky Buddha, filled to the overflowing by thousands of years of knowledge, creativity, and dead heroes. Unlike real-life Zen philosopher Nan-in, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) can’t empty his cup. The misery spills everywhere. So he stays still, composing music he wants as few people to hear as possible but is compelled to record. He’s surrounded by the ephemera and detritus of a thousand past lives and his walls are covered in portraits of his dead heroes. He explains his artistic depression and isolation to his vampire wife, Eve (Tilda Swinton): “It’s the zombies I’m sick of. And the fear… of their own fucking imaginations.”

But scoring clean, pure blood in the 21st century doesn’t make for a fun life, either. You have to get the good stuff – medical grade type O negative, available only from crooked doctors. “Now they’ve succeeded in contaminating their own fucking blood. Nevermind the water.” Like junkies, they drift through the night, trying to score, passing the alley onlyloversleftalivebloodjunkyshadows of Tangier dealers who have nothing to offer them, and in the midnight midst of the empty ruins of post-apocalyptic Detroit. Travelling anywhere is a nightmare of organizational set-up to maintain blood supply and avoid the daylight. The blood drinking scenes are performed with junky ritual. The euphoria hits and their faces are shown in close-up, falling back into oblivion in that trademark shot that has come to represent the hit. And, of course, as with junkies, the zombies wouldn’t want them even if they knew they were there.

This is Jarmusch, so there’s no three act plot. But the film is so atmospheric, you can smell the guitars, antique electronics, the antique clothes. The soundtrack is fantastic. It will grow on you after you leave the theater. So will the film. I didn’t like it at first. The intellectual references are a bit forced. You have to settle into what the film is trying to do. I thought there might be something missing apart from plot, but the film grows on you after you feel it. Like heroin.


Sunset Black and White by Cetrone

Their time pours like a waterfall, our time trickles toward the sunset. Our time drips in the dusk from the edge of the world into the dark abyss of the Pacific like summer raindrops on the petals of a corn rose. When the dawn comes, our time shivers across the west in the morning dew of a thousand green fields where a billion blades of grass tremble in the cold before the sun washes over them.

A junky’s time is tangled between past and future.

Yesterday we basked in the warm glow of the sun and the green shade of your garden. You squeezed my hand and you held your breath as you watched the hummingbirds flit from your daisies to my lilies, moving so fast their lives skipped frames. Tonight I went outside to face a cold, dark, starless sky. The garden walls are crumbling into the dead grass and there’s nothing left but a pile of dirt where your daisies bloomed. Tonight, I can’t find you. I don’t want to remember why. Every night, when I close my eyes to see yours, I won’t have to forget what I don’t know.

Let their time flow like a river. My time trickles toward the dawn.

Colonel Kurtz as existentialist philosopher in Apocalypse Now

Colonel Kurtz

An existential philosopher with a spider on his head

Colonel Kurtz is not insane. He’s an existentialist philosopher. A Nietzschean superman. Some of his speeches could just as easily be spliced into the works of Camus, Nietzsche, Sartre.

Like this speech, with its touches of Albert Camus’ The Plague and its darkened Nietzschean undertones:

“We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp…and this old man came running after us…they had hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And, I remember, I, I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out…and I want to remember it, I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized like I was shot, like I was shot with a diamond. A diamond bullet, right through my forehead. And I thought, my God, the genius of that. The genius. The will, to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. Then I realized they were stronger than we. … It’s judgement that defeats us.”

Or this existential nihilist sentiment that almost sounds like a post-modern Zarathustra:

“…what is often called ruthless, what may in many circumstances be only clarity, seeing clearly what there is to be done and doing it. Directly. Quickly. Awake. Looking at it. … I am unconcerned. I am beyond their timid, lying morality. And so I am beyond caring.”


And that, by the way, is what junk withdrawal is like. Pure, existential horror.

“You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame. How could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Sex, Drugs and Self Destruction: FILTH (2013)

Jon S. Baird’s film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Filth is finally out in the U$A, on demand as filth patrol kevin kellyof today, and getting what looks like a very limited theatrical release on May 30. It’s pathetic that this award winning film isn’t getting a wider release in America, and that it took so long to find a distributor in the first place.

For what it lacks in visual style and cinematography (despite all the Kubrick references and some Trainspotting style), the film makes up for in chaos and characterization. It isn’t as extreme as the novel. It isn’t “ghastly and unpleasant” as one reviewer put it. It isn’t as willing to take risks as the novel. But the script does make some wild and intelligent choices in adaptation.

James McAvoy is the real engine of the film. He has the suffering intensity of Michael Fassbender in Hunger combined with the gleeful insanity of Malcolm McDowell in Caligula. He looks like he put his soul into the performance and maybe even taken some years off his life in the process.

The script is better than the direction. Baird parses it down and makes the right decisions. He embraceFilths the chaotic self-destruction but tames it down and stylizes it. It’s not a bad approach. He just doesn’t go far enough. The climactic ending, however, is beautifully twisted and worth the price of admission alone.

Filth was considered unfilmable. It’s one of the few novels I have ever stopped reading mid-way through. The protagonist is totally unredeemable and Welsh’s talent at eliciting disgust is in high gear in this story. The novel actually made me feel dirty—a pretty impressive feat in my case. In other words, it’s pretty good. If you think the film is extreme, though, try the novel.

Valium Blues

Never ever ever never pick it up. Let ring. Avoid contact. Don’t go outside without protection. valleyPractice safe interactions. There are people with intentions. I was fine yesterday before I woke up today. The phone rang. The adrenaline surged. The lorazepam is in the other room, and I’d have to crawl. I used to be fine. Then a bad man gave me Ativan. Children should never trust doctors who offer them prescriptions.

You haven’t really died inside until you’ve experienced benzodiazepine withdrawal. Just line the pills up like a sequence of self-destruct buttons to kindle your central nervous system before the bomb hits. It takes more than a few months to really destroy your GABA receptors. Go slowly. Relax and enjoy. It’s nice to feel calm. Take them and take them. Take them with alcohol and methadone. Who cares? They’re peaceful and good for you. Take them and take them some more.

Now stop. Good idea.

Until something jerks you awake into a world of walls and razor blades and draped windows backlit by the sun of a peaceful, post-apocalyptic afternoon. You shake and your heart pounds and those people on the other side of the wall can hear the palpitations of your heart. They’re listening at me through the walls, but that’s not a problem because I feel like I’m someone else watching myself and it’s hard to know for sure who you are. One thing is clear, the world is in collapse and there’s one way out, and that is to hurry up and die before I and you have a seizure.

arrowsGo slowly. Shave off another 10% and be unable to go outside for a week. It’s a serious, physical withdrawal, not just a sense of anxiety. You seem like you’re crazy when you shake in public and your jaw clenches and your muscles tighten and your vocal cords are so tense your voice cracks with what sounds to everyone else like fear. Maybe it is. Gives people a bad impression. What am I supposed to say? I’m just going through benzo withdrawal, so don’t mind me? Try to smile and say, I never had anxiety until I got on anti-anxiety drugs? Wear a t-shirt that says I’d rather be going through heroin withdrawal? Because I would, really.

How to quit benzos: use the Ashton Manual. Seeing as the doctors who prescribe these drugs usually don’t have a clue about the withdrawal, you had better print out parts of this and bring it to them.

This is not medical advice. I am not a doctor. Do not do anything I say, ever.


Damon Albarn says heroin made him creative and productive

Damon Albarn, frontman for Blur and Gorillaz, is set to release a new solo album, Everyday Robots. He’s now given a rare interview in which he discusses his past heroin use as a creative and productive experience, but he also admits it’s a cruel drug to be addicted to. He describes his habit in one of his new songs, You and Me:

“Tin foil and a lighter, the ship across … Five days on, two days off.”

So he was smoking heroin, not injecting, and he was not using daily. The technical term for this is Damon_Albarn_Performingmoderation. Sure, five days a week could be considered more than moderate use depending on quantity. But what people refuse to understand is that moderate use of heroin can actually exist. There’s been so much demonization of the drug that it’s caused mass cognitive dissonance, even hysteria. Smoking heroin occasionally is not the same as lying in alley with a syringe stuck in your arm. People can’t seem to grasp that, yet they find it easy to understand that having a glass of wine five nights a week with dinner is not the same as drinking a quart of vodka a day.

I hope this turns into something instructive for someone out there, but I imagine Albarn will just be demonized for admitting there are benefits and harms associated with heroin.

As a former junky and as a guitarist, I have to add that to get any creative benefit from heroin (like any other drug), you better use it in strict moderation. Opiate addiction can really sap your creative drive and even deaden how music feels. Again, compare it alcohol: you might be inspired after an evening out with friends talking and having a few drinks. Whereas if you started drinking every day it might ruin you, and soon you could wind up with no friends to talk to and few new ideas to talk about. Then again, according to addiction experts, alcohol is much worse than heroin. And as with any drug, most people who try heroin do not get addicted. The statistics vary by study but tend not to rise above 30 percent.

Damon Albarn’s new album, Everyday Robots, is out April 29, 2014.

Excerpt from the Guardian:

Damon Albarn has given a rare interview about his past heroin use, describing it as an “incredibly productive” time in his musical career.

Although the singer is now sober, the singer addresses his drug use in a new song, which describes how he would regulate his heroin intake to “five days on and two days off”.

“[Heroin] freed me up,” Albarn said in this month’s Q cover story. “I hate talking about this because of my daughter, my family. But, for me, it was incredibly creative … A combination of [heroin] and playing really simple, beautiful, repetitive shit in Africa changed me completely as a musician. I found a sense of rhythm. I somehow managed to break out of something with my voice.”

Albarn began using heroin “at the height of Britpop”, after returning home from tour and finding it “in the front room”. “I just thought, ‘Why not?’ I never imagined it would become a problem,” he said.

“I’m happy I found that poetry,” Albarn told Q. “I can move forward now without all the nudge nudge, wink wink innuendo I’ve had in the background for years.”


This Day In Music History: Radiohead ends World War II

Radiohead ended World War II when Adolf Hitler had a nervous breakdown on his 56th birthday after hearing The King of Limbs for the first time. At least he didn’t live to suffer through Atoms For Peace.

While Hitler and I were both Radiohead fans from way back (I think I might have seen him at the Sept 11, 2001 Berlin show looking very pleased and shoving people in the pit), there is one thing Hitler and I disagree on. I thought Codex, at least, was good.

Thom announces the terrorist attacks on 9/11 while playing live in Berlin, Germany:

What a shot of heroin feels like to a Buddhist monk

A federal law enforcement officer once asked me what heroin feels like. She tried to hide the glimmer of that long suppressed, reckless teenage curiosity I caught in her eyes. Cops, you see, are really just latent criminals. Late developers. First I dismissed her with the Trainspotting cliché: take the best orgasm you’ve ever had, multiply it by a thousand and you’re still nowhere near it. This actually seemed to peak her interest though, so I decided to go Zen on her. I should have stuck with the sex metaphors. This is what I said:

You’re a slow lizard in the cold dawn of a black desert. Your blood is frozen in your veins. You can’t move. You feel icy, you feel cold, you feel old. Your eyes cry for the sun. And the sun rises like a shot of heroin, and you’re bathed in the warm glow. The black sand cooks your belly and the heat hits your lizard brain and you lick your lizard lips with joy as the sunlight courses through you.


She didn’t say anything.


You’re a dry, empty glass, standing alone in the arid sun of the Sahara. Your glassy skin is baked dry with caked sand. All you feel is pain as your delicate body starts to crack in the heat. Then the rain comes in a torrential rush out of the bright sunlit sky. It washes over you and fills you to the brim until you overflow with joy and you are now finally alive.

She looked puzzled, but thoughtful. Like a curious horse.


You’re a horse and—

—Nevermind, she said.

Heroin. It’s nirvana.

California uber alles

California, here’s your new state anthem.

The media lied to me. They said California was progressive. Social freedom? Not technically allowed here, but maybe they’ll let it slide if it’s something the bourgeoisie don’t frown on. I didn’t expect much in terms of economics. I’m not that naive. But I guess I’ve traveled too much and forgot I was in the United States, where liberal means “10 degrees to the left of center in the best of times, and 10 degrees to the right of center when it affects them personally.” In a way, I prefer the discreet fascism of the red states because of their brutal honesty and authentic, ignorant convictions. Nothing is worse than hypocrisy. These California progressives speak equality and freedom while stuffing money into their pockets and legislating enough bureaucracy into existence to make Big Brother proud.

I’ve seen homeless people treated better in right wing cities where no one cares about anything but money. Here the methadone clinics apparently don’t even match federal guidelines and restrict you to 7 day take homes instead of 28, are even more overpriced than the rest of the country, and all sound horrible. The better to protect you from yourself? Also, everything is against the law.

The original is by Phil Ochs, an early compatriot of Bob Dylan, and a great protest singer.

Maybe Woody Guthrie summed up California best.

The alternative state anthem is a pretty obvious choice.