On the 50 greatest grunge albums and the “Seattle scene”

I know what you’re thinking. “Eric, please give us more of your thoughts on music dating back to the late ’80s and early ’90s. We need yet more of your wisdom here.”

Okay, okay, I hear you!

I’ve spent a few weeks slowly making my way through Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Grunge AlbumsI won’t go deep level nerd out and re-rank fest as I’ve done with things like Nirvana’s 102 songs recently, but just wanted to note that it’s fun to look back and see the diversity of sounds and styles that roughly make up what would come to be known as to  the “grunge” music style. Shout out here to Mad Season, featuring “Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin and bassist John Baker Saunders,” for showing off the jazzy side(!) of grunge, and quite well at that.

It seems like by today’s standards, grunge is a little bit of a catch all term, a way to describe a culture of a quarter century ago that comprised music of course, but also a certain now dated Gen X-y slacker/ironic attitude and even “grunge fashion.”

Browsing through and listening to songs from many of the albums on the list, I was particularly struck by some things I hadn’t heard in a long time, such as Seattle’s The Gits and 7 Year Bitch. Both sound incredible.

Even though I live in Seattle these days, the “Seattle scene” was a mysterious and exotic thing to me, growing up on the east coast. Ironically, it was not until I was living in England with my good friend Nirav after graduating from college that I “discovered” a bunch of bands, ranging from the aforementioned to Tad, The U-Men, Green River, and a particular favorite, Fastbacks (who I finally got to catch live last year, right in my neighborhood of West Seattle).

The reason? A documentary that documented the exploitation of the Seattle scene, called Hype!. One of us had picked up an alternative music magazine (Kerrang!) sometime in the rainy early winter of 1996, and noticed that there was a contest to attend the premiere of the documentary. As a gas, we decided to enter the contest (note: this was pre-Internet access in our world, and pubs close weirdly early in the UK), and as fate would have it, we won. What’s hilarious to me now is that we had a notion that this would be a star-studded red carpet event in London, with perhaps the likes of Dave Grohl or Courtney Love in attendance. Instead, it was a bunch of scruffy folks like us, along with some people who worked for the magazine.

Anyway, the point being that the soundtrack to Hype! was a gateway drug to what was a relatively new world to me at the time. As much as we talk about the backlash against technology and the Internet these days, it’s important sometimes to take a step back to recognize that we’re all forever a few clicks away from an ocean filled with endless hidden treasures in its depths.

Finally: I may or may not have compiled a Spotify playlist (called The Grunge Years, a name I stole from a compilation album I owned back in the day) comprising 1,158 songs while going through this list.

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

How should we value digital media? (+ behind the scenes of The Berlin Files!)

Tribune Publishing has a wacky, turbulent, and soap operatic history (if you have any interest in this kind of stuff, Ken Doctor at Nieman Lab is indispensable). At the time that I worked there — and it always seems to be changing — Trib owned a bunch of newspapers, including Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Baltimore Sun. I worked out of the LA Times building in downtown Los Angeles, a grand and historic structure that you see featured in more movies and TV shows than you might realize — recent seasons of Bosch and American Crime Story leap to mind, for example. Sadly, the LA Times (now decoupled from Trib and under the ownership of billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong) recently moved its headquarters all the way over to El Segundo, but that’s a story for a different time.

I helped to manage digital registration and subscription tools (i.e. login and paywall stuff) while I was there. It was challenging and interesting, and I got to work with some of the brightest and coolest people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of being around. It also gave me the opportunity to think a lot about the exchange of value between publishers who produce content — news content in this case, heavily focused on the printed word but also lots of pictures and some video — and readers.

The Internet of course helped to scramble what was once a pretty straight forward business model. With so much news content now available on the Internet for free — some of which is of a very high quality — how do publishers get people to actually pay for news, or for written content at all?

Coming from a background in blogging and co-owning a blogging-centric company (Blogcritics), I was acutely aware of how hard it is to gain attention (read = eyeballs or website traffic) to content even when it’s available for free. Equally hard is monetization (read = making money) based upon a non-paying audience, which requires, at the least, millions of monthly page views to have any hope of generating anything close to real money via advertising revenue.

“Tip jars” started showing up on blogs at some point as a way to allow readers to voluntarily and directly support the publisher’s efforts. Other experiments pop up from time to time, such as Dutch publisher Blendle’s deployment of “micropayments,” which essentially allow readers to make small payments per article that they view.

These days, many large publishers are looking to the paid subscription model as the key to revenue growth as there’s a general recognition that the digital advertising economy is inherently volatile. And paying one subscription to gain access to an aggregation of news sources — such as Apple’s recent Apple News+ launch — may point the way forward for some publishers as well.

But the truth and reality is that no one knows how things are going to play out and how publishing is going to stay viable in the long term. There are weighty things at play here, such as the value of journalism as a public good, and how writers and creators of all kinds should be compensated for their knowledge and output.

You’re probably not shocked to learn that all of the above is partially why I became interested in launching an e-mail newsletter. The expansive and flexible format, coupled with the relative “intimacy” of e-mail, is appealing to me in a digital world awash in the noise of social media and the difficulty of drawing people to one document that has the temerity to cover more than one topic at one time. I realized that there are very similar reasons that I’m also obsessed with podcasts. A great long form newsletter or podcast conversation gives you a feeling of closeness with the writer/speaker(s) in a way that you don’t get with other media formats.

One of the more frequent questions I get about the newsletter is how long it takes to write. The short answer is that I really don’t know. I’ve gotten more efficient at integrating the writing of it into my other activities, which has helped some. And I’ve also become a little bit more organized in not necessarily chasing every story that catches my interest during the week (though it may appear that way at times!). A week typically goes as follows:

  • Sunday: Usually I don’t do much with the newsletter. As a football fan, this fits rather well, but because I’m a New York Giants fan, maybe not so much.
  • Monday-Wednesday: Lots and lots of reading. As much time as it takes to write this newsletter, I spend far more in scouring the webs for interesting stuff. As I find things that I think might fit — and over time I’m filing most stories under media/tech, pop culture, or politics (mainly 2020 electoral machinations) — I save them and perhaps make a few notes.

My two main tools for writing the newsletter, by the way, are e-mail and Evernote. It’s pretty bare bones, but it works for me. When I find stories that I want to read later, I’ll often e-mail them to myself and then use my inbox as a clearinghouse at the end of the week. Gmail’s “snooze” tool is a killer feature as it allows me to “punt” anything that I don’t need to look at immediately. It’s a fantastic organizing tool.

  • Thursday-Friday: I’m trying to get what I’ve assembled into some kind of shape here, seeing what I have a lot of, where I might want to do a little more digging, and starting to flesh out what I want to say about the topics I’ve decided to cover.
  • Saturday: Production day! First, I make a go at getting to “inbox zero” (see; the “snooze” thing that I mention above), and then I mow through the mess I’ve made in Evernote to assemble a rough draft, during which I’ll play around with the layout, make some cuts and additions, and get it close-ish to the shape it’ll take as its final form. I then move the copy from Evernote into Mailchimp, where there’s a bunch of grunt work involved with adding links and such, but also gives me the chance to do some additional polish. Finally, I send a test version of the newsletter to myself and do a final read through, which serves as a proof read and opportunity to do fact checking (I try very hard to be accurate whenever/wherever possible, though I’m positive I will get things wrong from time to time!). And then, finally, I schedule it for publication on Sunday.

So, yeah, there’s some stuff involved. I’ve come to understand that I put the time in because I enjoy it. I try to create something each week that I myself would want to read. I find the weekly “production deadline” that I’ve set for myself is a good and motivating thing, and I also believe that a consistent publishing schedule is important in many ways.

Early on, I landed on scheduling publication for Sunday mornings with the thought that this newsletter is akin to the Sunday print newspaper that so many of us grew up with. It’s long, it’s ruminative, and you can read the parts that are interesting to you and skim over the parts that aren’t.

The fact that I’m hearing so many nice things from y’all is incredibly gratifying as well.

I started writing this On Media section in part because of the name change to The Berlin Files, but also because of Siobhan Thompson, one of my favorite follows on Twitter (for more Siobhan, see Tweets of the Week below). I saw her mention that you can “buy her a coffee” via a site called Ko-fi, which got me intrigued. Basically, the idea is that Ko-fi makes it easy to send three dollars (or multiples thereof) to anyone, including creators of stuff that you enjoy, so that they can purchase some caffeination to keep the good stuff a-rolling.

It’s not only established, brand name publications like The New York Times and The Atlantic that are scrambling around to find a sustainable business model, of course. The “little guys” have been getting crushed by the whims of Google and Facebook policies and the increasingly difficult challenge of obtaining new readers without a highly paid full time staff and/or spending a king’s ransom of coin on paid marketing efforts.

I loved Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish, which was a successful effort around a subscriber-backed publication focused on the output of writer/journalist/pundit Sullivan. Sadly (for us, not so much for Andy), Sullivan shut down the project due to burnout from the ruthless blogging schedule that he had set for himself.

More recently, sites like Patreon (which my brain keeps wanting to turn into Peloton for some reason) are a natural evolution of the “crowd sourced” movement. So whereas Kickstarter is crowd sourcing for projects and products, Patreon is stepping in so that creators can “develop a direct relationship with your biggest fans and generate predictable, recurring revenue from your creative work.”

So Ko-fi and Patreon are not so different than the tip jars of old (and if you want to go really old school, the concept of artistic patronage extends at least as far back as the Renaissance and Italian city-states) and can be thought of modern experiments in the exchange of value between publishers (or “content creators”) and people who dig on what they’re creating.

On that note, I set up my own Ko-fi page as an experiment. If you want to buy me a cup of joe, you can (anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of the stuff), but you are under no obligation!

As The Dana Gould Hour, one of my favorite podcasts, likes to say of itself: FREE…. AND WORTH IT!

A few other quick notes on podcasting.

I read this piece, “Are podcasts killing music or just wasting our time?” and found it to be cranky and out of tune with what’s happening in this booming space.

As I mention above, podcasting is a great format because it’s intimate and flexible and asynchronous/on demand. Episodes can be long or short, and conversations become a “theater of the mind” that you can enjoy while you’re mowing the lawn or driving across town.

Also, can’t people find it within themselves to listen to both talky podcasts and music? Not at the same time, of course, but I do indeed think this is possible.

Finally, Mark Zuckerberg has launched a podcast called Tech & Society with Mark Zuckerberg. I started listening and maybe got 35 seconds in. My review: Zuckerberg comes across as an entity with a computer in his mind designed by aliens. The computer is immensely powerful and does an incredible job of feeding the Zuckerberg host form with the words and sounds so as to appear as a relatable human who just happens to run one of the largest and most powerful technology companies of all time.

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

2020 Democrats: state of the race (April 21st, 2019)

We now have a 2020 Republican to compete with our incumbent President of the United States (cue the party horn!): former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who from all appearances seems like a sanity-based person with legitimate reasons (“It is time to return to the principles of Lincoln — equality, dignity, and opportunity for all”) and experience to run for higher office. And who knows, maybe he’ll even make some headway in the GOP nominating process, even in these wacky times. Also, he was Gary Johnson’s running mate for the Libertarian Party in 2016, which is kind of interesting. 
I’ll be watching to see if the likes of (now) Sen. Mitt Romney will be willing to take the political risk to endorse Weld for president. Romney, for his part, claimed to be “appalled” by the findings of the Mueller Report just this week. So let’s keep an eye on this, but holding of the breath will not be on the table, if you can dig. 
Washington Governor and 2020 Dem Jay Inslee has proposed a debatefocused solely on climate change, but the Democratic National Committee responded with an “extremely noncommittal statement last night, even as the party emphasized the topic’s importance.”

This seems like an exceptional idea to me, even if it leans into Inslee’s main rationale for running. To me, that’s fine: let’s hear exactly what each candidate has to say about climate change in as much detail as possible.

Inslee was a guest on the Pod Save America podcast this week, and I found him to be an impressive, competent, accomplished, technocratic, mild mannered, Western governor. He’s progressive especially on climate change (a good thing) but has a bipartisan and inclusive tone, and talked about working with Republican opposition in the Washington state legislature.

I came away believing that this is a guy who should get a serious look over from Democratic voters. It could well be that in a crowded field and as a relative unknown with the public nationally (I had not heard of him until well after I moved into the state where he’s the governor, I’m ashamed to say) he’s going to have an uphill battle to gain serious traction.

And in terms of larger numbers of Democratic voters hearing from him and other candidates in the crowded field, the debates are going to be a critical forum. Five Thirty Eight looks at “Who Might Make the Debate Stage?” And here’s a primer on how they calculate who “major candidates” are.

I also heard an interview with Beto O’Rourke on the excellent Axe Files podcast with David Axelrod (not to be confused with Bobby Axelrod from Billions). As expected, Beto was personable and affable and presented a generic progressive-yet-inclusive Democrat vibe, but I didn’t quite come away thinking, “This guy could be the next President of the United States.”

Here are the biggest bets of the 2020 Democratic field so far from a campaign spending standpoint:

  • The early hiring spree, which cost Warren’s campaign nearly $1.2 million in salary plus more on related expenses, amounts to a big bet on what it will take to win the 2020 presidential race. The buildup had Warren spending money almost as fast as she raised it at a time of year when presidential campaigns traditionally hoard their cash, according to new campaign finance filings. But the decision sheds new light on the priorities and strategy behind Warren’s campaign, which believes organization in the early-voting states could make the difference next year.

Also interesting to learn that Kamala Harris’ splashy and successful early campaign rally in Oakland “cost the campaign more than a half-million dollars — but drew 22,000 people and saturation media coverage, providing an early jolt for her standing.”

Speaking of Harris, she is leading the way in attracting donations (those who helped raise at least $100,000) for those who also made big time money donations to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Joe Biden is inching ever closer to a third run at the White House:

  • Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has begun accepting financial donations for a 2020 presidential campaign, an unambiguous sign that he intends to begin his challenge to President Trump within days.

He has also hired “over a dozen senior advisors from the Obama administration” for the 2020 campaign.

Here’s Harry Enten’s take on Biden’s chances:

  • Biden’s biggest obstacles for winning the nomination imho are… 1. Most Democrats don’t say they’d feel comfortable nominating someone over 75. 2. He could be QUITE rusty campaigning. 3. Are people thinking he’s merely Obama? And then will realize he’s not.

Former Virginia Governor and Clinton adviser Terry McAuliffe won’t be running for president, so that’s one off the list.

I almost sent off a politics section without a Mayor Pete mention, but(tigieg) I must note this New York Magazine piece that talks about why the presidential candidate from Indiana may check “so many boxes relevant to this moment.”

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

Fake reviews, trust, and why managing digital communities is really, really hard

I helped to run blogging community Blogcritics back in the day. My friend, founder Eric Olsen, is a master at managing online communities. He makes it look easy, using a mix of relentless engagement, aplomb, enthusiasm, and occasional sternness to keep the restless and vocal hordes of bloggy commenters and commenting bloggers in line (and online).

I bring this up because managing online communities is really, really hard. It was hard when the Internet was a little bit younger and smaller and more innocent, pre-algorithms and bots and fake news. And it’s vastly more difficult today.

I’m as harsh a critic of Facebook and other social platforms as anyone, but it’s important to keep in context that the issues that they’re trying to address are incredibly difficult even with massive brain power and resources thrown at combating them.

Here’s a good example: Amazon has a serious “fake product reviews” problem.

  • The fake Amazon review economy is a thriving market, ripe with underground forums, “How To Game The Rankings!” tutorials, and websites with names like (now-defunct) “amazonverifiedreviews.com.”But the favored hunting grounds for sellers on the prowl is Amazon’s fellow tech behemoth, Facebook.

    In a recent two-week period, I identified more than 150 private Facebook groups where sellers openly exchange free products (and, in many cases, commissions) for 5-star reviews, sans disclosures.

(Full disclosure here: I semi-recently had some early conversations with Amazon about a digital product gig in which the role would “incubate” a solution to the fake review problem and then evangelize it to executives within the company with the goal of rolling it out more widely. I thought it was… strange that they wanted to bring in someone from outside the company in a non-executive capacity to tackle a problem that is and will be incredibly challenging to solve.)

Twitter (my favorite social media product) has plenty of its own issues to deal with in terms of policing bad actors (including, some would argue, a certain head of the executive brand of the U.S. government), protecting people from harassment, and blocking bad people from doing bad things. Recently, “CEO Jack Dorsey said the company is looking to change the focus from following specific individuals to tracking topics of interest, a significant shift from the way the service has always operated.”  Dorsey notes that “what’s incentivized today on the service is at odds with the goal of healthy dialogue.”  If this is executed, it will fundamentally change the way that Twitter works. It remains unclear if this will result in the desired impact, but Twitter is at least discussing fairly radical changes to its core product experience.

Then there are times when social media companies actively do the opposite of helping:

  • #Linkedin is becoming scary with fake connect requests being sent, making you think the other person has genuinely sent the invite. Only later realising that Linkedin is playing the users by auto generating the requests.

Not sure if that one is real or some spammy thing, but it does speak to the increasingly uneasy relationship with social media products that many of us have.

Then there are times when companies do things to make you scratch your head and wonder what in the world they could have been thinking.

  • Facebook’s controversial factchecking program is partnering with the Daily Caller, a rightwing website that has pushed misinformation and is known for pro-Trump content.

For what it’s worth, here’s what Facebook is saying here:

  • Asked about its collaboration with the Daily Caller, a Facebook spokesperson noted that any news organization can apply to join the program after it gains certification from the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network, run by the journalism institute Poynter. Poynter could not immediately be reached.

And speaking of Facebook, there’s quite a read from Wired, called “15 Months of Hell Inside Facebook.” You get fun pull quotes like this, for example:

  • The confusing rollout of meaningful social interactions—marked by internal dissent, blistering external criticism, genuine efforts at reform, and foolish mistakes—set the stage for Facebook’s 2018. This is the story of that annus horribilis, based on interviews with 65 current and former employees. It’s ultimately a story about the biggest shifts ever to take place inside the world’s biggest social network. But it’s also about a company trapped by its own pathologies and, perversely, by the inexorable logic of its own recipe for success.

The Wired story starts off with a George Soros quote from Davos’ World Economic Forum, where he says:

  • Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment

Fear about how Facebook (and, to be fair, other social media and tech companies) uses and at times exploits user data and privacy has an impact on every new initiative the company attempts.

When this story came out — “Facebook is working on a voice assistant to rival Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri” — Drew Olanoff (one of my favorite follows on Twitter) responded with:

i mean seriously. here are the things facebook would now like us to trust them with, even though they haven’t properly addressed privacy issues, etc. etc. etc.

– our eyeballs
– our homes/offices
– our voice


Techcrunch rips into Facebook for simply offering a sale(!) on its Portal product with, “Facebook’s Portal will now surveil your living room for half the price.”

  • No, you’re not misremembering the details from that young adult dystopian fiction you’re reading — Facebook really does sell a video chat camera adept at tracking the faces of you and your loved ones.

So, yes, these problems are incredibly difficult to solve for, but Facebook in particular has done a good job of deserving “blistering external criticism” along the way. It’s no wonder that Mark Zuckerberg has spent recent months attempting to reinvent himself as an advocate for stronger Internet privacy and election laws.

Or, as a piece from The Ringer succinctly puts it:

  • The company’s motto used to be “move fast and break things”; now it might be “move fast and fix reputation.”

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

Nerding out on Nirvana’s 102 song catalog

I saw Nirvana live just once, during the In Utero tour in Buffalo, New York on November 5th, 1993. It’s one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen — the band was focused, crisp, and ferocious from front to back. A super loud noise rock band called Boredoms, from Osaka, Japan opened for them, and at the end of the show both bands took the stage for an extended feedback-filled jam that almost blew my eardrums out. Kurt Cobain kicked over a bunch of the set design at one point. My friends and I concurred that Nirvana’s decision to not perform “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was both wise and bad ass.

One other quick anecdote from that night was that at as we entered the venue (Alumni Arena at the University of Buffalo), the security guys enjoyed telling everyone to “open your flannels” so that they could pat you down for metal or weapons. This was an obvious tongue-in-cheek reference to the “grunge fashion” that was in vogue for a time in that far flung era. The ironic thing to me, though, was that living in central (Binghamton, for me, my college town of the time) or western (Buffalo) New York, wearing a flannel jacket was the perfect attire to both battle the cold and then tie around your waist once you get inside highly heated interiors.

That’s all preamble to the fact that I recently nerded out big time on Rolling Stone‘s “All 102 Nirvana Songs, Ranked.”

If you don’t care about Nirvana, feel wildly free to skip over this lengthy section, but if you’re willing to let your Nerd Flag fly proudly, I offer my reaction to various songs and rankings:

  • #92 – “Black and White Blues” – This is one of a small handful of songs on this list that I had never heard before. It’s cool as hell — as the piece alludes to, it’s like Kurt Cobain summoning Jack White-meets-legendary blues guitarists here.
  • #83 – “Old Age” – So great, one of the catchiest songs in Nirvana’s catalog, I’d wager.
  • #81 – “Seasons in the Sun” – Gorgeous and haunting. Has the feeling of an elegy.
  • #68 – “Do Re Mi” – “The last known composition by Kurt Cobain” is musically ear pleasing and points the way to a post-grunge, post-art rock style for Nirvana that would never fully come to pass.
  • #69 – “Verse Chorus Verse” (not the one that appears on No Alternative, a compilation album that I owned and listened to endlessly back in the day as an aside, but the “Neither side is sacred” one) – This is probably my favorite Nirvana song that did not appear on a studio album. It’s way, way up there for me overall. The lyrics are Cobain at his opaque, alienated, hollowed out best (“You’re the reason I feel pain / Feels so good to feel again”). And the drums on this song alone, man… good stuff.

All five of the above should be way, way higher on the list in my view… though I would have likely had a very different take 25 years ago.

  • #61 – “Marigold” – A pop gem. I didn’t know that this song did not involve Cobain; it’s written by Dave Grohl and performed with Krist Novoselic. This of course points the way to a bright future for Grohl with Foo Fighters. It also gets into a topic I love to annoy people with, which is that the first Foo Fighters album is absolute magic in my view, but while there are solid efforts and a few great songs after, Foo and crew never again matched the level of its earliest offering.
  • #46 – “Very Ape” – One of my favorite songs on In Utero. Surprised that it’s ranked this low, relatively speaking, on the list and is the lowest ranked song from that album.
  • #45 – “Oh, the Guilt” – This is one of my favorite loud-and-raucous Nirvana songs. So great for when you’re stressed and just want something loud, relentless, and thud-tastic.
  • #44 – “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” – The song title takes away some from the fact of how great a hard rock song this.
  • #34 – “Stay Away”/”Pay to Play” – Love that it’s referred to in the piece as “still a perfect song to slam your bedroom door to.”
  • #32 – “Sappy” – If you had to choose one song that represents the band, you could do worse than this song. It’s described as a “lament against the expectations of others,” which kind of symbolizes Nirvana’s universal appeal (particularly to the adolescent youth folk of the era) and Cobain’s personal appeal as well. Also another great bit, from writer Grayson Haver Currin, with regard to the No Alternative version (see above, where I explain how I listened to that comp album to pieces): “…with a guitar solo that dips and climbs and vocals that suggest irritation morphing into emancipation.”
  • #30 – “Aneurysm” – I might have once spent a solid amount of time figuring out my favorite version of this song among those that I had access to. I think I landed on the caustic yet joyous live version on From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah.
  • #19 – “Territorial Pissings” – This is probably the one loud/punk-y song that I like a lot more now than I did when it was first released on Nevermind. I never disliked it really, but there was something about seeing it weaved expertly into an early scene of the Montage of Heck documentary that gave it new life for me.
  • #18 – “Love Buzz” and #17 – “Come As You Are” – These are good examples of songs that I would rank much, much lower. They’re not bad songs, and I honestly can’t figure out if I just heard them so often during the ’90s that they don’t particularly do much for me when I listen to them today. They’re kind of fine, they’re good, but I still find so much of the other stuff more exciting and more interesting.
  • #2 – “In Bloom” – Great song, fantastic music video (remember those?). Don’t think I would have it nearly this high on the list though.
  • #1 – “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – It’s a great song and an important song for the band and the era and pop culture and all, but putting it as their number one song of all time? “About a Girl,” “Drain You,” “Aneurysm,” even an “Oh, the Guilt” — that’s the stuff I’d have in contention for the number one song.

A few other quick thoughts:

  • I didn’t mention anything about the the stuff from the Unplugged album; but it all holds up magnificently. It’s an all time great album, and the filmed version for MTV captures the band at its absolute best.
  • Apparently, Nirvana did some recording in West Seattle back in the day, which happens to be the neighborhood where I live now.

Nirvana’s an amazing band, to say it as plainly and fan boy-y as I can. If nothing else the Rolling Stone list shows off the eclectic, weird, and broad influences on the band. It’s way more than “Teen Spirit” and “All Apologies,” (the latter of which is probably my least favorite of their better known songs, and certainly their released singles). If you haven’t listened to Nirvana in a while, give the Rolling Stone piece a check out. Every entry has an attached video that includes some version of the song they mention. Go deep, have fun, and then send me your thoughts.

Here’s some deep reporting on Kurt Cobain’s final days, and it’s as dark and depressing as can be imagined. One fascinating and tantalizing tidbit though is that Kurt Cobain and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. were planning a musical collaboration near the end of the Nirvana front man’s life.

I happened to see a thread on Twitter relating to great female-fronted bands from the ’90s. I’ll have to delve into this topic in another edition, but let’s start here, quoting moi:

  • Nirvana is one of my favorite bands, but there are so many great female-fronted bands out of the ’90s (Hole among them): Distillers, Elastica, Veruca Salt, L7, The Gits, 7 Year Bitch. Such a great era for music

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

2020 Democrats: state of the race (April 14th, 2019)

We now have 18 2020 Democrats with flame-throwing California Rep. Eric Swalwell officially in:

  • Swalwell becomes the second Dem to receive a special pin that reads: “I Announced on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Kirsten Gillibrand was the first. If nothing else, we’ve got a nice grouping of candidates running split out by current/former senators:

  • Booker
  • Warren
  • Gillibrand
  • Klobuchar
  • Sanders
  • Biden (not yet officially in)


  • Gabbard
  • O’Rourke
  • Castro
  • Swalwell

And governors:

  • Hickenlooper
  • Inslee

Oh yeah, and don’t forget the mayoral segment, fronted by the bourgeoning canidacy of Mayor Pete himself:

  • Buttigieg

Note: this was the first time I spelled Buttigieg’s name without looking it up. I can also pronounce it (I go with the but-edge-edge methodology). 
Speaking of Buttigieg: the Buttigieg boomlet is booming (yes, I came up with that by myself, thanks in advance). Two polls in early voting states by different organizations — Monmouth for Iowa and St. Anselm for New Hampshire — have Buttigieg in a clear third place, with Biden over Sanders in the top two slots in both polls. 
If these poll numbers hold, with a huge caveat that we’re still many months off from live voting, Buttigieg will be a major factor in this race, with an opportunity to take on all of the “outsider” and youth/fresh-faced energy against, let’s say, an entrenched older person we’ve known for years in a Biden or Sanders. Buttigieg then brings in a Midwestern credibility to potentially beat Trump in the rust belt that’s critical for the 2020 general election, while lacking a voting record that can be picked apart by oppo researchers, and, well… things could get interesting. 
That being said, it’s clearly way too early to write off the likes of Warren, Booker, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, and take your pick of several other legitimately experienced and qualified candidates. The first debates coming up in late June will likely have some impact in terms of providing a “breakout” moment for a candidate or two and an “oops”-y gaffe-y moment for one or two others. 
From Nate Silver:

  • FWIW, my current thinking on the tiers in the Democratic primary, in terms of likelihood of winning the nomination. This is very rough, obviously: Tier 1a: Harris, Biden Tier 1b: Bernie, Beto, Buttigieg, Warren Tier 2: Booker, Klobuchar

By the way, about a half hour after I read that tweet, I received an e-mail titled, “Can we explain this Nate Silver tweet?” from Kamala Harris for the People, which talked about the enthusiasm behind the Harris campaign and an entreaty to donate to her campaign. 
Five Thirty Eight looks at “What Happens If Biden Doesn’t Run — Or Flops?” 
And this piece argues that Warren’s middling to date poll standing and fundraising haul (for a perceived electoral heavyweight) is “good enough” for now and at the least “not dooming.” 
If you can’t tell, I’m into this stuff. 
What’s wild too is that the list of candidates is more likely than not to grow even longer over the next few months, with people ranging from current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloombergconsidering hopping in the race.  So the NYC mayors club alone could pop this thing to 20 easily is what we’re saying here, I guess.

And finally, a Biden Our Time (I’m trademarking this, just so you’re aware) watch (via Axios):

  • He plans to announce his White House run toward the end of April (likely after Easter, which falls April 21), friends say.

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

Game of Thrones Season 8 primer

Winter is finally here: Game of Thrones returns for its final six episodes beginning Sunday, April 14th on HBO. If you haven’t heard about this, it’s because you’re doing a really good job of avoiding the marketing and media onslaught. 
I tried to launch a re-watch of the first seven seasons — many of which approach or surpass a full hour in length — and made it early into the second season. What often gets lost amongst all of the epic battles and dragons-y stuff is that the show is as good as it is because of its rich and finely developed world building, including the grounded politics and religion and relationships and “rules” of this world (including its super low tech and mostly non-magical technology). This is all thanks to the writing of novelist George R. R. Martin of course, but as someone who has read the five (of expected… seven, maybe?) published novels of the A Song of Fire and Ice series, I can say this is a rare occasion where the television or film version of an already very good (if quite dense) series of books is far surpassed in the visualized story form. 
I looked for a solid synopsis of the TV series to date and couldn’t find anything worth sharing that’s in chronological order. However, The Ringer‘s Definitive ‘Game of Thrones’ Episode Rankings does a fine job of summing things up on an episode-to-episode basis with an editorial tilt, and further provides a take on who “won” each episode (Jon Snow’s the winner of the brilliant “Hardhome” — “The last 20 minutes are as blistering an action sequence as anything I’ve seen in films or television in the last five years” — for instance), and links to the equally nerdy and outstanding Binge Mode podcast episodes. 
There’s an endless amount of content out there to help you get hyped for the final episodes. Staying with The Ringer (which has gone all in on coverage this week), they did a bunch of fun pieces, such as Power Ranking the Top 25 Villains in ‘Game of Thrones’ History. The #1 selection is a little hard to guess if you’ve not done a recent and full re-watch, but ultimately makes sense given the criteria The Ringer team rigorously applies. And here’s a power ranking of the 25 most anticipated reunions in the final episodes.  (Yep, there are that many characters and moving pieces and locations to deal with at this late date.) 
Alan Sepinwall checks in with the 10 Best ‘Game of Thrones’ Moments So Far. And I found this Vulture piece to be really cool: Game of Thrones Official Photographer on Her 14 Favorite Behind-the-Scenes Shots.

Then there’s just a bunch of silly and wacky stuff, such as this genuinely funny Saturday Night Live “New HBO Shows” promo sketch.  If you’re curious about what Conleth Hill, who plays Varys, looks and sounds like in real life (full head of hair!), check him out on Seth Meyers’ couch. And then discover that Sean Bean Is Really Meaning to Catch Up on Game of Thrones.

There’s a lot of talk in TV critic-y circles about how GoT represents the end of an era, with this being the last TV show for the foreseeable future that people will watch when it airs (or close to it) and discuss in a next day, around the water cooler (virtual or otherwise) kind of way. Here’s a few of those pieces, if you’ve an interest.   
Some opinion pieces are better than others. One, on the less better than other side, asks, “Must I watch them?” of the final episodes. This question is answered with musings such as, “Well, in part, it’s because I feel fairly certain that the final episodes will be bad.”  
Last I checked, the Sons of the Harpy will not be on deck to massacre those who choose not to participate in watching the final Game of Thrones episodes.

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.