Everett True

Deconstructing The Myth | 10 Reasons Why “Secret Memo Regarding Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ Reissue Leaked” Is Not For Real

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Urban Outfitters Nevermind with In Utero angel T-shirt

Several people… I say several, I mean hundreds… have asked me whether the blog entry Collapse Board ran yesterday, Secret Memo Regarding Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ Reissue Leaked, is for real. And dozens… I say dozens, I mean hundreds… have asked me whether I was the person responsible for actually writing it, immediately assuming that such a cynically written document has to be some sort of spoof on the intersection between the record industry and music journalism, and also not wanting to be caught out in case the whole affair turns out to be some giant cruel hoax.*

The truth is as follows:

Yesterday morning, I (alongside several other music website editors, apparently) was sent a document that claimed to be some sort of in-house memo regarding the rumoured reissue of In Utero later this year. It was a fascinating, if somewhat worryingly cynical, document and it immediately attracted my attention.

I had no way of ascertaining whether it was real or not, short of contacting the record company in question (which I was reluctant to do, bearing in mind the content).

I decided to print it anyway, as I figured it was of interest to many people. So is it actually for real? Let’s examine the evidence:

This memo is being sent out to prepare everyone for the major musical event of 2013. I am speaking, of course, about the 20th anniversary reissue of In Utero by Nirvana. Our friends at Pitchfork will produce a news item around May letting people know that the reissue is coming. Details will be scant, but it will nevertheless grease the wheels and allow a suitable amount of excitement to build up before the actual reissue. When the reviews start to appear it is vital that they all hold to a similar pattern. To understand why this is the case we must look once more to The Beatles. The sheer amount of Beatles literature (and its continued market success) should tell us all one very important fact: people not only like to read the same story over and over again, they demand it. Our job is to retell the story, to reinforce the legends, to emphasise the inflexibility of the narrative. So, given these facts I’ve prepared some bulletin points that focus on what each review should highlight:

Plausible. Clearly, In Utero is going to be afforded some sort of 20th Anniversary release, very probably along the lines of the Nevermind reissue in 2011. There isn’t too much to be read into the phrase ‘Our friends at Pitchfork’ beyond the fact that various different factions of the music industry like to believe they’re on first name terms with each other. And The Beatles legend does indeed suggest that people like to read the same story over and over again.

1. Give some brief background details. This is called SETTING THE SCENE. The Nirvana/Kurt Cobain legend must reinforce again and again the idea of the reluctant star, the uncomfortable voice of a generation. I recommend the use of the term “thrust into the limelight”. It functions beautifully for our purposes. I can’t stress enough that if the tragedy of the story is to emerge it can only do so from the idea of the reluctant star. Nevermind made them famous. What would they do now? (If you must mention Incesticide, be sure to call it a “stopgap” release.)

Plausible, but unlikely. Why would someone within a (presumably, but it’s never made clear) record company be so explicit about their proposed dealings with the press within a memo? Although one could argue that this first proposed strategy reads like the after-effects of a particularly brutal ‘clear sky thinking’ session between several keen, just out of college, music business marketing people: if they were that green they might not understand that hype simply isn’t generated that way. Or is it? I just did a Google Search on “thrust into the limelight”/”Kurt Cobain” and it threw up 170,000 results.

2. In Utero must be viewed as their attempt to regain punk credibility. Nirvana are on a major label, but you should present Cobain as a punk rocker at heart. Further tragedy can be wrung from the idea of the compromise that Nirvana made when they opted to sweeten two of the Steve Albini-produced tracks and make them more airplay friendly. (Please note: the original Albini-produced album will be available with the reissue. We have several bloggers working on reviews that seek to dismiss the original release and describe the original Albini mix as a ‘revelation’. This should bring the Nevermind haters on board).

Plausible. This is indeed how the music industry chooses to represent Cobain. There’s a slight error here, inasmuch as three of the Steve Albini-tracks were remixed, but if anything this makes the memo ring truer: how many record company marketing people (for I think we can assume this memo originated from a marketing person, if it is indeed real) would know the finer intricacies of the albums they’re helping to promote? Again, the line about the bloggers – shocking as it reads in brutal black and white – has the ring of authenticity about it. But, of course, it could simply have been stolen from writing that already exists around the album.

3. The reissue itself. The best way to get people to buy an album twice is to say it has been remastered. This usually amounts to making it louder, but this is where reviews can be crucial. The reviewer must create an unscratchable itch in the reader that makes them view the original release as an inferior product. Phrases like “went back to the original master tapes” and “working with the band” help, but it must be more than that. Use other phrases like “Cobain’s aching howl sounds even more revelatory” (be careful not to overuse revelation/revelatory), and indicate that the remastering job “breathes new life” into the album. Don’t insinuate that the mix has changed, more that it has been enhanced so that you hear everything with new ears.

Highly plausible. Forget the howls of outrage this ‘revelation’ about how “remastering = making it louder” has caused within the recording industry, this is the simple truth. The reviewer must create an unscratchable itch in the reader that makes them view the original release as an inferior product. This is the key line. The creator of this memo, real of not, fully understands the processes that go to create a buzz around a record: it is common knowledge among Nirvana fans that only THREE TRACKS WERE REMIXED. No matter. How do we sell it to them all over again? Say that it’s been ‘enhanced’. It’s a trick that has been proven to work time and time again, particularly within the film/DVD industry with the clunky and unsightly Blu-Ray disc players. (And of course, the unneeded and backwards shift from vinyl to CD to MP3.) Phrases like went back to the original master tapes and working with the band will indeed help.

4. The bonus tracks. The original Albini mix will be a huge draw. Ultimately this will be the thing that convinces the doubters to part with their money. When dealing with the original Albini mix, explore the idea of compromise versus Cobain’s “original vision”, and don’t miss the opportunity to bring tragedy to the surface once again.

Highly plausible but unlikely. See above. Everyone (i.e. everyone who isn’t a die-hard Nirvana fan, who has heard them already) is going to be after the Albini mixes, especially if they’ve read hyperbole around the album such as, “If Kurt and Nirvana had been allowed to release the original version of In Utero as mixed by Albini – the engineer claimed he had a spoken agreement with the band that no one was allowed to touch the recording after him – then rock would have been revolutionised. I swear it” (Nirvana – The True Story). The line about tragedy doesn’t ring true, though. No one would be that upfront about it… would they?

5. Summing up. Two things are essential when summing up In Utero: It must be touted as the best Nirvana album. A phrase like “though Nevermind was their breakthrough, In Utero is undoubtedly their best” should work fine. You might want to say “may well be their best”. We’ve already sold them Nevermind by making it seem like a special moment in musical history, so let’s sell them In Utero by pointing out that it’s actually their best. This time, it’s all about the music. The second thing to emphasise is that In Utero must be seen as the last will and testament of a soul not long for this world. Stress how dark, disjointed, and angry the album is. Stress its compromised creation. Be sure to include a sentence along the lines of “just over six months after In Utero’s release Cobain would be dead by his own hand”. By all means, mention heroin and suicide attempts but make sure Cobain’s untimely death seems tragic yet inevitable.

Plausible but unlikely. It’s possible the record company could choose to promote In Utero in comparison to Nevermind in such a way – after all, it would barely dent the sales of Nirvana’s best-known album – but the pedantic correction may well be their best seems a bit of a giveaway. Really? And the line about  how Nevermind SEEMS like a special moment in musical history doesn’t ring true either. I think any record company exec worth their salt would state this as an unequivocal fact. Although this line is genius – This time, it’s all about the music – again, it clearly could’ve been written from any of the numerous writings around the band, and this album. As could everything that follows in this paragraph. The idea that anyone could have written the final two sentences seriously really does begin to strain at the boundaries of credulity. On balance, I think this is where the memo’s writer might have showed their hand a little too much. It reads too angrily, and too cynical, to be genuine.

Kurt Cobain: Reluctant star. Pressure. Compromise. Depression. Heroin. Death. It’s that simple. Don’t feel like you are selling yourself short by sticking to these guidelines. Instead know that you are performing a public service. You are providing comfort and certitude in a world of confusion. You are giving people something to believe in. You are helping to make the art of Kurt Cobain immortal. Expect more high profile media events along the lines of the Nirvana/McCartney collaboration before long and, with any luck, we can anticipate a lucrative last quarter in 2013. One last thing: is 2014 too early for a 15th anniversary of the first White Stripes album, or should we wait for the 20th anniversary? I look forward to your feedback. Let’s make the myths.

Not plausible. This White Stripes line has no relevance to anything that goes before, although I suppose one could argue that the very randomness of its inclusion points to the veracity of this document… couldn’t someone have waited just five more years before releasing The Velvet Underground & Nico 45th Anniversary [Super Deluxe] [Box Set]? The McCartney reference rings true. But the tone here reads a little too false.

To sum up. I think this memo is probably a spoof. A very cleverly worded and artful spoof for sure… but still a spoof. The kicker is, even if the person responsible comes forward and admits to writing it, we’ll still never really know, will we? We choose to believe what we want to believe.


*It’s also been suggested that Courtney Love, Steve Albini and Nirvana’s record company themselves might be behind it.

The first suggestion is clearly nonsense: the document is far too cleanly written, and punctuated, and doesn’t contain enough capital letters and swearing to be from La Love. The second is a possibility, as Albini is well-known as a master of letters and has been known to engage with the record industry in the past, but it’s not really his style to hide behind the mask of anonymity, even for a spoof. The third suggestion is too cynical for words, and those of you who thought it should be ashamed of yourselves. The record industry that evil and scheming and manipulative?! Perish the thought.

Related posts:
Secret Memo Regarding Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ Reissue Leaked
That In Utero memo Google-translated into Haitian Creole, Russian, Welsh, Esperanto, Icelandic and back again into English
That In Utero memo | An outraged* reader responds

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