Saturday, September 29, 2012

bye bye blogspot!

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XOXO, Annie & Lindsey

Monday, May 7, 2012

SHOW REVIEW: Zammuto w/ Lymbyc Systym

It must be difficult to emerge from the shadow of a ten-year-long, critically acclaimed project as prolific as The Books. Few solo projects reach the heights of the acts that begot them, and in Nick Zammuto's case, the hope here is that his new output – creatively titled “Zammuto” - will somehow be comparable to one of the most innovative and beloved projects in experimental pop and sound collage in the last decade. It would be nice if it was possible to separate the two acts and evaluate this new venture on its own individual terms, but the reality is that there's probably no one who will write about Zammuto (the band) without mentioning Zammuto (the musician's) resume, and in this case especially, it's extremely difficult to avoid.

Nick Zammuto has a lot going for his first self-titled album. Some of the elements and ideas that made The Books' recordings so compelling make appearances here from time to time - the curated snippets of bizarre audio from anonymous sources, carefully constructed but sometimes chaotic sounding progression, digitally processed vocals, exacting wit and clever wordplay. There are a few songs (“Too Late Topologize” “Harlequin” “The Shape Of Things To Come”) which would be right at home on any Books record, and then there are those that would somehow not. These contain a kind of straight-forwardness that obliterates the mystery, beauty, precision, and whimsy that made The Books what it is. At best, the indignant, driving undertones of “F U C-3PO” improve on the ambiguity that marked Zammuto's prior work (though what he has against beloved the Star Wars character is not made apparent). But at its most cloying, the jam-band tendencies of “Groan Man, Don't Cry” might make some Books fans want to groan and cry, and the disembodied female androids “rapping” through the entirety of “Zebra Butt” seem, well, asinine. Overall, however, the record is a triumphant experiment in the same spirited vein as the music Zammuto made as one half of The Books, yet sets itself apart just enough for these explorations and new additions to remain interesting (stream it below via the band's soundcloud).

Nick Zammuto met Paul de Jong in 1999 as tenants in the same New York City apartment building, but it wasn't until six years and two and half albums later that they finally started touring, screening unique and often hilarious video collages of found material during the shows. For Zammuto, Nick's wasted no time in assembling a group of considerably talented band members and embarking on a proper tour, borrowing some elements from his former musical project but creating something that is wholly different. That tour culminated at Glasslands last Monday, with Lymbyc Systym opening.

Lymbyc Systym is a two piece that sounds like a band five times its size. Hailing from Tempe, Arizona (but now based in Brooklyn), brothers Jared and Michael Bell make earnest, transcendent post rock. Their intricate compositions are thought out to the most minute detail and replicated live with stunning exactness. Having not released an album since 2009, this particular set featured plenty of new material, much of it tinged R&B beats and influences. Though there's very little to see onstage – Jared hunches over some electronic equipment, while Michael drums beneath a swath of dark curls – the sounds they make take on a breathing, seething life of their own, instantly occupying every inch of space from floor to ceiling. While the nostalgic undertones are at some points crushing, there is no room for pretentiousness and it never really has a chance to rear its head. For having played with so many huge names in indie rock, the pair have remained humble, and that nonchalance somehow makes their music seem that much more potent. They were joined on stage for a few songs by a friend with a violin, the strings adding sweetness and drama in just the right amounts.

When Zammuto took the stage it was not Nick as soloist, but Zammuto as a full band, joined by brother Mikey on bass, Sean Dixon on drums, and Gene Back (who had also played intermittently with The Books) on keys and additional guitars. Like an actual extension of the mood introduced by album's first track (entitled “Yay”) there was a collective, ecstatic enthusiasm so apparent it could have been a fifth band member. The sense that it gave me was so different from having seen The Books; whereas The Books wanted to tickle at thought processes, Zammuto's live show is all about the act of playing. Nick in particular seems so motivated by desire to expand on a live sound and share it with anyone willing to bear witness that it's hard not to respect - though it is slightly ironic when you consider that he manufactures most of these sounds by himself, holed up in a shed behind the eco-house which he inhabits with his wife and children in the sprawling countryside of rural Vermont.

In terms of visual stimuli, Zammuto also had something to offer, though the projections here were less choreographed and a bit more random that the video pairings I'd seen at Books shows. A bit more akin to Found Footage Fest or Everything is Terrible, the first projection was a chopped and screwed how-to for finger skateboarding, while another took stock photos of actors “experiencing” back pains, headaches, and otherwise twisting their faces and contorting their bodies into unpleasant shapes. But the most intriguing video was one that actually formed a song – for “The Greatest Autoharp Solo of All Time”, Zammuto took the sights and sounds of a Bob Bowers-led instructional video for the autoharp player, editing the song “Battle Hymn of the Republic” until it was all but unrecognizable. The band played alongside the video, drawing on its unique rhythms to form a cohesive, moving piece with just a hint of a clever smirk.

The only real low-point of the show, for me, was a crunchy version of Paul Simon's “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” that fell flat mostly because it lacked imagination and also because in Paul Simon's oeuvre “50 Ways” has got to be one of the weakest, most trite tunes.

The encore of Zammuto's set was the big payoff for fans expecting another Books show. In attempting to present “Zebra Butt” live, there had been some unexplained technical difficulties. Nick had promised to come back to it, even offering to hook up another computer that supposedly would have had the necessary files. For whatever reason, these plans were to no avail and resulted in one of the most awkward interstices between set and encore I've ever observed. But out of that wreckage came the first twangs of “Smells Like Content”, the seminal philosophical love-letter to living from 2005's Lost And Safe. I've been trying to decide whether this was a cheap shot – if picking out the most instantly recognizable and moving track that you've built your musical career on as an encore to one of your new band's first shows is somehow a weak move. Would I have felt more gratified if he'd chosen a “deep cut” as opposed to a “hit”? Did I feel slightly pandered to, being reminded in such an obvious way of one of the greatest contributions The Books made to independent music? Yes, but also no.

There's this beautiful and sort of tragically funny truism that appears as a sound-byte at the end of the recorded version of “Smells Like Content” (Expectation leads to disappointment. If you don't expect something big, huge, and exciting.... usually uhhhh... I don't know... you're just not as... yeah) and though Zammuto didn't roll the clip at the end of playing the song, its unforgettable to anyone who's listened to that song as much as I have. Thinking of it served almost as a caution not to expect Books-caliber output from only half of the band, that it would by its nature be the same in some ways, different in others, and there was simply no reason to obsess over the particulars when you should just try to enjoy it. While the high-minded creativity that propelled The Books is present in some aspects of this project and absent in others, Zammuto (as a band) is a new iteration in that direction. Even if in the end Zammuto doesn't feel as wholly imagined as its predecessor (because one half of it is literally missing), there's plenty of merit and beauty in the music that Nick Zammuto is still more than willing to create. And whether its fair or not to evaluate this album against The Books' releases will stop being a question the longer he continues to produce work and come into his own, shedding those expectations and freeing himself for further sonic exploration.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

SHOW REVIEW: Here We Go Magic w/ Glass Ghost

Here We Go Magic are crowd pleasers. When they released the video for “Make Up Your Mind” (in which a variety of women suffer seizures instigated by frontman Luke Temple's mystical musical powers), they unwittingly unleashed a maelstrom of indignation from a some overly sensitive viewers. Rather than embrace the controversy or use the subtle sexual undertones (some YouTube commenters noted that the “seizures” were rather orgasmic) to generate buzz for their third album, A Different Ship, out May 8th on Secretly Canadian, they shelved the video entirely. This decision seems baffling for a band whose video projects often skew a bit bizarre and push some boundaries, but the choice was made to avoid any conflict that might take attention away from the music. That music was front and center on Thursday when the band played its sold-out record release party at The Knitting Factory. And once again, their crowd-pleasing nature came into play, with a nicely rendered set that showcased the newest album and offered surprising takes on old favorites.

Openers Glass Ghost, a Brooklyn-based band who have cultivated a creative friendship with Temple, were a nice compliment to the set. Offering a contemplative batch of eerily unspooling tunes, Eliot Krimsky's otherworldly falsetto swirled through Mike Johnson's ephemeral synths and diffused beats, then over an unusually reverent audience. The power of Glass Ghost lies in moody disconnect, which they achieve through an elevated sense of fragility and a slightly autistic manner of delivery. Both players were stoic to the point of coming off as robotic, interacting with the audience and each other minimally, while retro video projections flashed on the screen behind them. Though the subdued nature of the set was unusual for an opening band, whose typical responsibility is revving up an audience for the headliners, this wasn't necessarily a detractor. As testament to how powerful ambivalence and alienation can be, the tragically gorgeous “Like A Diamond” served a perfect thesis statement, and somehow television talk-show host Marc Summers (of all people) became the poster child for that lost feeling.

Marc Summers is famously known as the wise-cracking host of Nickelodeon's Double Dare, which ran from the mid-eighties into the early nineties and pitted kid contestants against the likes of a giant ice cream sundae and some water balloons filled with tomato sauce; if they failed to answer trivia questions correctly they had to take a “Physical Challenge,” the end result of which often involved getting covered in some sort of goo. There were a bunch of spin-offs, including “Super Sloppy” and “Family” editions of Double Dare, which caused my parents to buy a second television when I threw a fit because the evening news they wanted to watch aired at the same time. Summers also hosted What Would You Do? in which guests were regularly doused with slime.

What does this have to do with Glass Ghost? Well, the irony in the fact that Summers spent the better part of his adulthood getting slimed and sliming others is that he suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, a mental illness which can manifest itself in a frantic need to stay immaculately clean. That dichotomy – the disjointed sensation of wanting to participate, be involved, stay there, to feel versus the failure to do so despite having these emotions and knowing what is normal, even doing what is normal but remaining out of place – is at the crux of it of Glass Ghost's music, a lá seminal Radiohead track “Fake Plastic Trees”. So when the projections shifted to a distorted video recording of Double Dare (including many shots of Marc Summers grinning through his despair) it brought not just a wave of nostalgia, but also served as a peculiar illustration of a much deeper theme.

the beguiling Jen Turner
For all the removed grandeur of Glass Ghost's set, Here We Go Magic brought just as much intensity to the stage, though it was of a different variety. Backed by bandmates Jen Turner (bass & keyboards), Michael Bloch (guitar), and Peter Hale (drums), Temple's enigmatic voice soared through renditions of “How Do I Know” “Hard To Be Close” and old favorites like “Fangela” and “Casual”. The new record was produced by Radiohead's Nigel Godrich, who became interested in the band after seeing them play at Glastonbury. For most of the tracks Godrich employed a live recording technique with few digital flourishes meant to enhance but not perfect the recordings. It's hard to say whether that emphasis came from his initial, inspiring exposure to the band, or if the in-the-moment improvisational methods utilized in the studio have infused their latest performances with a newfound go-for-broke energy. But something magical indeed happens when the band is playing together as a cohesive whole.

It was not uncommon to see the band extend normally unassuming musical breaks into spiraling, extravagant jam sessions more apropos of arena rock bands, or hair metal even. But instead of cock rock, the audience was treated to the plaintive, dreamy “Over The Ocean” rendered epically, in all its shimmering glory. Even if it seems overwrought for more a genre of pop that is typically more humble, make no mistake: this is exactly how these songs are meant to be experienced, with all their dormant power front-and-center. It's a bold move in these times; as the influence of technology on indie pop becomes more and more ubiquitous, it's become increasingly uncommon to see a band who can actually rock out but that's exactly what Here We Go Magic do, and do well. Though Temple started this project as a solo one, he's found some tremendously talented players whose skill is so assured that they make each other look even better. And their confidence in the new material truly gives these tunes a worthy showcase. So maybe they don't need a gimmick or a controversy to propel their own hype. No one at the show went into seismic convulsions, but the crowd was very, very pleased indeed.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

SHOW REVIEW: The Horrors, live at MHOW

Given the infrequency with which these guys tour, I had no idea what exactly to expect from them as a live act. I got into Primary Colours when it came out in 2009, because of the song "Three Decades", which starts out seeming like disjointed a-harmonious chaos, and becomes, at the exact moment you feel you're going to lose your mind, melodious and really quite beautiful. It's like being handed a glass of cold water when you didn't even know you needed it.

To me, they are what Joy Division would have become had Ian Curtis decided not to give the ghost up. However, after I listened to more, I realized I like them for one pretty obvious reason: if all the best aspects of shoegaze and 80's new wave were to have a love child, it would be the Horrors. You could say that the former progressed naturally out of the latter, but that doesn't necessarily mean the two sound good together.

The Horrors do pull it off though, pretty brilliantly. Playing into their new-wave aesthetic, they cultivate a louder-than-life persona on stage, with Faris Badwan's freakishly tall frame in the forefront, towering over the audience, his faced obscured by a mop of disheveled hair. The rock star ethos he works pretty hard to achieve (he prefaces each song with a slur of incoherent mumblings, for example) is tempered by the spacier lo-fi, effect of all the distortion and synth they employ. This contrast alone, adds a compelling ingredient to what could otherwise be thought of as a pretty formulaic recipe.

Anyway, I'm happy to say that their songs sound as good live as they do on their albums--which I find is often a conventional indicator of any band's ability to walk the talk.

They opened with "I Can See Through You"--an angry, incredibly loud love song, that combines post-punk lead guitar lines with various iconic, 80's-esque synthy arpeggios (think "Bizarre Love Triangle").  The evening progressed from there, with most of the work off their newest album Skying including "Still Life", which I think is the track that best (and perhaps singularly) captures the above-described conceit with which they began making albums, as well as "You Said", which to me, points to where they may be venturing next: a bigger, more ethereal and instrumentally complex sound that still maintains its basic foundations as music that induces profound nostalgia. For what? Who knows. Most of us--including these guys-- weren't around then...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

SXSW: In Annie's opinion...

Some things change, and some things stay the same:

One remarkable aspect of SXSW is, of course, the unbridled havoc it wreaks on any sense of equilibrium with which you may have arrived in Austin. As much as you feel compelled to do so, trying to plan any sort of agenda in advance feels intractably challenging. Somehow though, when you’re finally in it, you manage to create discreet experiences in the throes of what often feels like a timeless, endless loop of days and nights, stages and voices and bright flashing lights. Unsurprisingly, it’s the point at which you acquiesce to the cacophony of it all that things begin to come together. Trends become noticeable, for example.

One of those trends that I ran into repeatedly, and one I’ve been trying desperately to wrap my brain around and come up with something cohesive to say about, is the integration of prepared (e.g electronic) music that, for instance, comes out of a box or mobile device, with live music that comes out of instruments that have existed for centuries. Most of the more notable contemporary artists whom I watched play at SXSW use prepared music (beats, samples, their own previously recorded voices) as an instrument onto itself, whether they are composing it all on stage and looping it over live music, or playing along concurrently with electronic music they’ve already created, or creating more improvised moments by extemporaneously feeding the sounds their instruments make through any handful of new and crazy effects.

To put it more simply: it seems that the line between let’s say, indie rock and experimental electronic music is becoming increasingly more obfuscated by things like rapidly-evolving new technology. However, there's something else to it; When I watched folks like Washed Out perform--while yes, they utilize cutting edge music recording technology on stage as as a band member in and of itself (like when Ernest Greene stepped up to start singing, he waved his Ipad at the audience in silent acknowledgement of that of which I speak),  I also sensed an abiding evocation of decades-old ideas (heralded by the likes of Roxy Music and the Talking Heads, to name just a few) about the boundaries live music can test and trample altogether.

 Washed Out perform "New Theory"

Live music used to mean going to see a group of people coming together to showcase their technical proficiency, if not virtuosity, and play for you the songs you love listening to on albums at home (hopefully, if the band is at all decent). These days, you can find many of those people behind the counter at Guitar Center ready to talk your ear off about their favorite Jimmy Page riff. 

But things are changing dramatically. And what it all seems to indicate and reveal, is that live music has taken an almost defiant step away from what it has formerly endeavored to achieve--primarily the communication of specific and nameable talents belonging to individual band members--and toward something entirely new, possessed of a markedly different morphology that usually includes a glowing Apple logo. I haven't quite been able to put my finger on the pulse of this transformation, but I know that it's due to the convergence of the following: The rise of Apple and thus the proliferation of increasingly advanced music editing software, the disintegration of the record industry, and a shift in musical zeitgeist toward a movement that has been put on hold since the late 70's and 80's.

I'm not saying it isn't exciting to watch musical virtuosity on display. Now though, watching live music--at least in this new iteration I'm describing (one that seems to be pervading so many different genres, rather than continuously spawning new subcategories of electronica as it did in the past) --is compelling due to a myriad of other performative aspects besides the technical expertise of whomever is playing. 

Someone like Shigeto is a perfect example of this. While he's a great drummer in his own right, it's not his musicality that exhilarates those who watch him, nor is it necessarily the electronic components of his sets, which are also quite good. What's amazing about him, is the way in which he jumps back and forth between the electronic and live aspects of his work, juxtaposing these two different (potentially opposing) styles of music. And he toys with the opposition with brilliant fluidity, at times underscoring tensions between the two and at other times resolving it or showing how each can coexist with the other, all the while exhibiting to the audience the process he uses to compose his music. It's almost like watching a chef prepare a meal on cooking show.

Shigeto, live on Drums and Turntables, SXSW 2012
Lindsey has a great video of this performance, methinks

Anyway, so much more can be said, but for the sake of brevity I'll leave you, for now (over the next few days I'll be posting on my top ten shows from SXSW, the content of which will extrapolate further on all of this), with a video of Matthew Dear performing "Headcage", which I think encapsulates perfectly the ideas I'm attempting to formulate. This is a band whose sound hinges on the use of new recording and editing technology. However, there is no absence of talented musicians on stage here. This stuff is technically considered electronic music, but I think that kind of categorical imperative truly sells it short. Enjoy please!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Taking a Look at Jesse Frohman's Photos of Kurt Cobain

Because he was a photographer and not a psychic, Jesse Frohman had no way of knowing that his now-iconic pictures of grunge idol Kurt Cobain would be some of the last ever shot. But judging by the Nirvana frontman's erratic behavior both leading up to and during the session, originally commissioned as a feature for the Sunday Observer, it wasn't hard to see Cobain's demise on the horizon. By the time Frohman met Cobain in November 1993, he'd overdosed once and been through several stints in rehab. He famously appeared for the shoot three hours late, strung out, and introduced himself to the photographer by asking for a bucket he could puke in.

The Morrison Hotel Gallery in Soho is showing the series of photographs for the first time as a collection. They were shot over the course of just that one meeting, in the New York City hotel where Nirvana was staying when they played a show at Roseland Ballroom. There are some live shots from the show that night and a few taken with Krist Novaselic and Dave Grohl as well. Most of what is on display at the Morrison are straightforward portraits of Cobain against a neutral background. He is dressed eccentrically in a tattered leopard print coat, Jackie-O style bug-eyed sunglasses, and an aviator cap, with a shabby tee and jeans underneath. Chipping red nailpolish adorns his fingertips; in some pictures he is seen with a cigarette, smoke trickling from his mouth, in others he swigs a bottle of Evian as though it were Jack Daniels. The images are nothing if not captivating, in spite of (and perhaps moreso?) their repetitive quality when presented side-by-side, on a scale literally larger-than-life.

© Jesse Frohman/courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

© Jesse Frohman/
courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery
As a whole, it's hard to tell how much of these photos represent a Kurt that is real but coming unhinged, and how much is Cobain simply playing the part of “rock star” - an image that he felt was forced upon him in the wake of Nirvana's insane successes. By the time these photos were taken, Kurt had publicly expressed his disdain for the media, and in many ways, his flagrant disregard for Frohman's schedule, paired with his apathetic demeanor appearing in one shot to the next, is indicative of that. While Frohman has said that during the shoot Cobain was easily molded into poses and could be very dramatic in his gestures, he refused to remove the trademark white-framed sunglasses, adding another layer of mystery and alienation from the viewer. Interestingly enough, they do provide the viewer with a unique insight into the artifice of the image – you can see lighting set-ups and even the photographer himself reflected in Kurt's lenses – and while I'm sure that was not a meditated action taken by the subject, the fact remains that what we are seeing are not candid shots. They are in some regard meticulous, despite Kurt's attempt to sabotage the shoot as Frohman planned it. Very few people really knew Kurt Cobain without the media filter either building him into a God or shaking their worried heads at his drug-addled antics, and as such, these images are part of that machine. Without expressly turning his middle finger skyward for the camera, Cobain seems flippant, defiant, aware of the fact that everyone is watching. 

On the other hand, if Kurt was as strung out as all accounts (including Frohman himself) claim, and taken in context with what would transpire mere months later, it is possible that these really are images of a man with his guard down and his back against the wall. As with any life ended in suicide, it's natural to look back to that person's actions leading up to their demise and pick each moment apart to try to discern just what went wrong. Kurt Cobain had everything, and the eyes of the world were upon him. While that pressure has been cited as a key factor in his coming unhinged, there's really no way to know why someone so talented and vital – or why anyone, really – would put a shotgun in his mouth and pull the trigger as if that wouldn't have an impact on his legacy or the world at large. It's possible that suicide was the furthest thing from his mind in November when Frohman and Cobain crossed paths, a camera between them. But it doesn't really matter; at that point, Kurt Cobain's fate as one of the most iconic musicians in rock-n-roll history was already cemented, with or without his indelible image burned into silver emulsion.

Kurt Cobain: Photographs by Jesse Frohman is on exhibit at The Morrison Hotel Gallery, 124 Prince Street, NYC through April 23rd.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hole's Eric Erlandson Talks "Letters To Kurt"

There is one question that every music connoisseur dreads, and though it is often innocently asked, can be astoundingly difficult to answer. It might happen at a party or an intimate dinner gathering, on a first date, or on the fiftieth. But inevitably, as a means of qualifying your musical tastes, future, past, or present, it's perfectly natural for a friend or acquaintance or romantic interest to casually wonder “What's your favorite band?”

For some, the question doesn't invoke a desperate clamor or sheepish backstory; the answer is permanent and enduring and needs no defense whatsoever. For others, such as myself, it can be a bit more tricky. It's not that I'd deny my sonic proclivities, but my musical obsessions have been known to shift from one moment to the next. That doesn't necessarily make my love for any of these acts less deep, but I do end up with a quite a long list of sometimes obscure material that sort of leaves the original query unanswered.

Throughout most of my life, I've sort of maintained a Top Three essential acts that I feel provide a definite framework from which most of my musical interests can be gleaned; with these, I try not to mention anything too obscure or recent so as not to alienate anyone or pigeonhole myself. Typically, one or two of these might rotate, but for the last several years my go-tos have included Caribou and Animal Collective, which I don't think are really much of a stretch in terms of their similarities to one another, and pretty representative of the sort of genres I tend to explore nowadays.

And then there's my longtime, all time, most favorite band ever, which isn't like either of the others. As my interests in music have evolved, there's one constant which so completely informs so many aspects of my personality and my past that it will never be ousted by any other act, no matter how experimental, challenging, or prolific they seem at the time. That band is Hole.

Now, I am fully aware that Hole's early and mid-nineties contemporaries offered far more in terms of innovation and contribution to the history of what was to become alternative rock, a genre that I hold responsible for my eventual introduction into independent music. But I look to their presence in that movement as a whole to act as a sort of stand-in for so much of what was important to me at that time. They existed at the confluence of grunge and riotgrrl, two forces that offered me a precise blueprint for the way I would form my opinions, express my emotions, and live my life from that time forward; the center of the wheel from which all spokes of my being would radiate. If you think I'm exaggerating, I assure you, I am not. Even my aesthetics as a young artistic hopeful were indelibly shaped by what these bands, and Hole in particular, offered to the world at large.

She warned me it would be this way; I remember the specific moment I heard Courtney's gravelly premonition: “Someday you will ache like I ache.” I saw her black-and-white heartbreak over the loss of husband and rock idol Kurt Cobain, writhing in crumpled bedsheets each time MTV aired the video that accompanied “Dollparts”. My bad skin thankfully wouldn't last for the rest of my life, but it ensured I'd never be the prom queen on the cover of Live Through This, an album so blistering and beautiful it felt like the truest thing in my life.

I felt a kinship to Courtney Love, an ugly-ish girl obsessed with vanity and needing to be heard, to be appreciated, to be loved, and able to see the loveliness lurking in hidden, sometimes unattractive places. I watched her trashy glamour transform into Celebrity Skin, a glittering piece of pop-rock perfection with just a bit of a bitter underside. It arrived in an era where girls my age were pimped for Total Request Live, their bare bellies and pouty lips so far from anything I was interested in being or seeing, their horrible songs the last thing I wanted to hear. Instead I pumped “Awful” with a knowing smirk, in on the joke even if no one else laughed with me. Courtney's impeccable aestheticism in film, music, literature and fashion felt specifically curated for me alone, and it was with her recommendations that I explored cultural boundaries not typically tested by other girls my age.

But I don't often go into these lurid details when someone asks about my favorite band, for it seems too detailed an explanation. If I align myself with what Courtney once was, I feel I have to amend it these days; she's become a sad, drug-addled train wreck incapable of her former brilliance as a lyricist, performer, or songwriter, her tastes questionable though at one time I saw her stamp of approval as essential. And I've grown out of the need for an idol, especially when that idol has grown into a joke.

One of my biggest regrets is never getting to see the band perform live, never standing before Courtney with her leg propped on the monitors, her skirt hiked up and her guitar swinging brazenly. Her solo releases were kind of pathetic, and last year when she revived the Hole moniker as a desperate means of selling records and concert tickets I only briefly contemplated buying in. It would simply not be the same without Eric Erlandson's prolific guitar or Patty Schemel's thunderous drumming, and though she wasn't an original member, Melissa Auf der Maur's angelic backup a deft bass seemed essential to the equation as well.

On the eighteenth anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death, I realized how truly essential these people were. Though I've made a pact with myself never to patronize evil bookselling empire Barnes & Noble, I had to make an exception that evening - Eric Erlandson was releasing his book of prose poems, Letters To Kurt, and would be joined in conversation with Melissa Auf der Mar. The discussion was warmly and expertly led by journalist Katherine Lanpher, and I was pleased as punch that Patty Schemel was also in attendance. Through the course of the evening, Erlandson fielded questions pertaining to his writing methods, the hardships he had been through both during his time in Hole and the period after they'd disbanded, and even touched on the state of American economics, politics, and music. The conversation was punctuated by both musical performances from Melissa and Eric as a duet, and readings from Letters to Kurt.

Eric opened with a shimmering banjo solo, joking that Hole had been known for their use of “traditional” instruments; his picking became more urgent and darkly tinged as Melissa introduced and began singing “My Foggy Notion”, a track from her first solo album, Auf der Mar. For later numbers, they would cover Jacques Brel's “Le Moribund” (better known as “Seasons In The Sun”) and close with The Smiths' “Paint A Vulgar Picture”, songs chosen for references that had been casually inserted into Eric's writing but also for the relevancy to the somber anniversary at hand. When Patty Schemel joined the group on stage, the three of them shared memories of the impact of Kurt's death, and Patty related a beautiful story about the first anniversary of his passing, in which Hole was on tour in Europe. A Parisian youth was waving a fanzine around desperately trying to get the band to read Kurt's interview within, and Melissa had to translate it from French. It turned out to be a blurb about how much Kurt had loved Hole, found Live Through This to be a brilliant record, and thought Patty to be an exceptional drummer.

That's the thing that made the evening (and the work presented) less salacious and more authentic than one might expect – it seems impossible, almost unreal, but these people were there, as an integral part, of music history in its making. They had a hand in writing some of the most dramatic, chaotic and prolific chapters in the story of rock music. But until now, their voices had been drowned out by the loudest, proudest widow of the bunch, who wore her pain on the sleeves of her babydoll dress. Almost two decades later, Erlandson has presented a body of prose work that attempts to approach and possibly relieve the pain that surrounded him and his band, and reproach the mistakes made not only by his muse, but those made by himself as well.

Which brings us to the “letters” contained in Erlandson's book. They are seething & surreal, hallucinatory free-associations densely packed with metaphor and memory, lifting references from pop culture and self-help manifestos, as incantatory as spells that threaten to rouse old ghosts. He delivered these pieces with a sarcastic snarl, but in reading each short chapter it's apparent that anger is not the only emotion he is attempting to excise and examine – there is suffering, empathy, sadness, love, wonder, admiration, envy, bitterness – each present in varying hues to different degrees. They feel like relics from another era, and it's true that not everyone will grasp each inside joke or obscure reference, but that is hardly the point.

Erlandson was handed, by his own admission, two things by Courtney – one that would kill him and one that would save him. The latter refers to his own dark experimentations with drugs, and the former to the Buddhist path he has followed since becoming clean and staying sober. More than anything, Letters To Kurt presents us with a portrait not of the titular muse but of Erlandson himself and the journey he has been on in the aftermath of rock stardom. The book is evidence of whatever peace he has reluctantly reached, snapshots taken from the path he is still on as a means of coming to terms with the past and meeting the future head-on. He's finally stepped into the spotlight, however reluctantly, and raised his voice, and the results are captivating.

Like Erlandson, Auf der Mar and Schemel have moved on from Hole but have respects to pay to this period of their lives; Schemel documentary Hit So Hard opens in New York on April 13th, comprised mostly of material shot while touring in the mid-late nineties, and Auf der Mar has recorded a new solo record and is heavily involved in the renovation and reopening of arts and performance space Basilica Hudson in Hudson, NY.

For all the time I spent idolizing Courtney Love, attempting to justify her antics to her detractors and to myself, emulating her bravado and feeling her pain as though it were my own, I realized on this night that so much of what really and truly resonated with me was not her histrionics, but the music itself. That truth had been obscured by her blazing star, and only now, long after that comet trail has faded into oblivion, I was able to see the earnest and authentic people responsible for the true magic which still captivates me to this day. While the front-woman who led them to fame and ultimately destroyed the band was trying to be larger than life, there were always three other band members with their feet on the ground, diligently playing with skill and grace, waiting for a time when their own brilliance would become apparent. I can no longer deny their place in my own journey, but I can thank them for shaping me, and I can share in the pride of their survivals and successes.

You can download my full recording of the conversation HERE.