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May 24, 2007

Ned Vizzini Interviews Rasmus Holmen (founder of the Nirvana Fan Club)

In this feature series for Largehearted Boy, authors interview musicians and music-related personalities (and vice versa).

Fans of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana need no introduction to the Internet Nirvana Fan Club. After ten years online and almost 18 million visitors, the site houses an "extensive collection of information, pictures, sound clips, music videos, fan-made artwork, news and much more."

Author Ned Vizzini's interview with the Internet Nirvana Fan Club founder, Rasmus Holmen:

Ned Vizzini: You've been running the Nirvana Fan Club for ten years. How have you seen the audience change?

Rasmus Holmen: It's difficult to say since I haven't really run any demographic studies over those years. But I think the audience has somewhat remained the same. By that I mean that most of the audience is teenagers and, perhaps surprisingly, not so much comprised of people who were Nirvana fans back in the early 90s when the band was still active. I get the impression that my website appeals more to "new" Nirvana fans, particularly people who are teenagers today, as opposed to people in their late 20s or early 30s who may have been a fan of the band when they were still active.

NV: The band's been gone for 13 years, yet we still see new material coming up (like Kurt's faxes to Courtney ). How is this possible? How dissectable can a life possibly be?

RH: I think there will always be material popping up now and then. Look at Elvis and The Beatles. Not to compare those artists with Nirvana, but legendary artists like that - bands that ended maybe 30-40 years ago, still have an active fanbase to this day. And there's still "new" releases coming out; new projects, new ways their music is used. New facts that emerge; new books; new "tell all" magazine articles. With Nirvana, the vaults have indeed been exhausted, but I think there's still enough unreleased stuff left to keep fans excited, and Courtney probably has a small Cobain-museum stashed away somewhere that could keep people excited for decades.

NV: The most fascinating breed of Nirvana fans have to be the "completists"--the people who are out to get EVERY SINGLE SHOW THE BAND EVER RECORDED. I have a couple questions about these folks:

To what lengths will they go?

RH: To great lengths, for sure. There are people who will literally pay thousands of dollars to obtain a certain recording, for example. On one hand, you gotta admire the 'hardcore' collectors who turn every stone and follow every lead to obtain a recording - indeed, often enough they are successful in their pursuits, and in the years I've followed Nirvana's fanbase online, literally hundreds of unofficial recordings have been uncovered. On the other hand, it can become a tad too obsessive in my opinion. Like, those fans who have maybe ten different versions of one concert, with, say, three of them only differing by a few more seconds of audience noise or whatever. Nirvana is definitely a band that has its fair share of these "hardcore" collectors - for better or worse.

NV: Unlike the Grateful Dead, who played forever, the relatively few number of Nirvana shows means that a complete record might be uncovered eventually, right? Do you think it'll ever happen? When?

RH: That's a good question. I don't think there will ever be a complete record, unfortunately. Some shows simply weren't taped by anyone. Especially the early shows may have been attended by only a handful of people, at some obscure venue in the 80s, and most likely weren't recorded in any form. Then again, I'm constantly amazed by what is uncovered and the fact that Nirvana's first concert was recorded - in fairly good quality no less - is pretty remarkable, considering the circumstances. I think the amount of new concert recordings to be uncovered in the coming years - by that I mean concerts of which any recording has previously not been available - will be rather low. It is probably relatively limited how many "unknown" recordings that are out there. I mean, if you had taped a show 20 years ago by a band that is today considered one of the greats in music history, why wouldn't you tell anyone or share it with anyone? Unfortunately, there are hoarders who do just that - sit on a recording that they know is valueable to the fan community. For whatever reason.

NV: How is it that this band had people recording them from the VERY beginning? There are recordings from the first show. Did people just know?

RH: Like I said, it is pretty remarkable that a recording of their first show exists. I don't know the story behind it, but I guess it was just a big coincidence that this guy happened to tape a show by a band that would wind up being so huge. Did people just know? Hard to say. Nirvana created a name for themselves early on and that probably had something to do with it. And sometimes Nirvana would open for other, at the time, more established bands like Skin Yard or TAD, so perhaps people came to tape them and ended up taping Nirvana. I'm not sure.

NV: Have you seen this kind of completist effort given with any other band? Rage Against the Machine played very few shows. Are there Rage completists?

RH: Yeah, I think there are other bands with such completists. But I can't think of any specific examples, to be honest. I think it's perhaps easier with Nirvana because the band is over and you know there'll never be another show, so you can focus your efforts on the somewhat limited amount of shows they DID play. So, with enough effort, it IS possible within a certain timeframe to build a collection with all the known recordings of Nirvana shows. This is especially made easier nowadays by fast internet connections and lossless formats, as opposed to the old tape trading days.

NV: Let's talk about Courtney Love's sale of 25% of the Nirvana catalog for $50M. It's been promised that it will be used "tastefully"--"Breed" is now in Major League Baseball 2K7. What do you think of this?

RH: Tough one. I think I'll be in a better position to answer that after a few years, having seen what Nirvana's music ends up being used for, and what the consequences of Courtney's deal are. But, despite Courtney's bad rep (especially in the Nirvana community), I do think they honestly intend to use Nirvana's music tastefully and in the proper contexts, notwithstanding the MLB thing. New Wave Publishing seem to have the best intentions, and are genuinely respectful and mindful of what the fans want. Despite everyone's worst fears, I don't think we'll see SLTS being used in, like, an Axe commercial or something. For the most part, I'm positive about the potential use of Nirvana's music in stuff such as movies, shows and video games - as long as it's done in a respectful way.

NV: How much time do you spend running Nirvana Club, and what kind of cash flow does it bring in?

RH: There's limited Nirvana-related news to report these days, and no new releases on the horizon, so I don't spend so much time on it on a day-to-day basis. I'd say maybe an hour a week. Perhaps more, if something is going on. Like, recently, it was reported that Courtney planned to auction off Kurt's belongings. That's actually a good example. The story was reported by *one* source in the media initially. Within approx. 48 hours, it was all over the place. In 5 newspapers out of the 5 I read that day, all of them ran the story - one with a full page - and that was in DENMARK! I mean, Jesus. That really shows how much news value Nirvana and Cobain has, even today. Anyway, returning to your question, if I'm adding new material, I'll work on the site a lot, but for the most part I don't spend that much time updating it at the moment.

The ad income is fairly limited. It pays for the hosting and other costs, but doesn't generate much income outside of that, which is fine. I'm definitely not in it for the money!

Ned Vizzini links:

official site
Largehearted Boy Book Notes for It's Kind of a Funny Story

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)