Today we bask in the magnificence of one of Rock N’ Roll all times greats the late Nirvana.
Mega-Tons of words were written about this band, and for good reasons. Nirvana had accomplished in a very short life span, what most bands won’t in many years. It transcended its genre in terms of popularity, success and impact.
This will not be a history lesson (though many people may need one). You’d do yourself a good service by reading Charles R. Cross’s biography – Heavier than heaven. The most serious attempt to chronicle Kurt Cobain’s journey as well as one of my favorite biographies in general.
No, What I want to do here is look at a few snippets of Nirvana’s short career and show how awesome this band is and how much it meant to me as a young adult and later on in life.
When I listened to that song for the first time, it blew my mind. The story told in this song, Kurt’s voice, the atmosphere it set, it was a little unnerving but in a different Cobain-y way. The second thought that hit me was perhaps the more significant one. The song is written from the point of view of the antagonist, a would be rapist/murderer? Yet it still demands the listener’s empathy to the victim. Empathy, as would be evident in so many other milestones in Kurt’s life. He would go on to downplay his lyricist talent on plenty of interviews but he was one of my favorites.
Smells Like Teen Spirits
Some snobs would thrash this epic song, but that’s just because they’re pretentious douches… Smells like teen spirits is a land mark, an anthem and a fantastic song in its own rights. Was it overplayed? perhaps. Kurt was getting sick of playing it live and who could blame him. But the fact remains that this song embodies what the phenomena called Nirvana was all about. Loud, Cynical, humorous, a little ambiguous. All the ingredients of Early nineties grunge, packed with a good-looking scruffy front man and his band. Here we are, now entertain us!
While so many rock stars wasted time getting way too serious about themselves, Nirvana was always up for some laughs. The ‘In Bloom’ video was another example for Nirvana’s sarcasm and for why so many people love them. The complete opposite of the ‘Clean’ pop, Nirvana blasted into mainstream status through that grungy sound. For a Beatles fan like me, it was both funny as well as rewarding in a way, to watch this video. It pretty much represented what I felt towards so many things at the time, and to some extent it still does.
So many websites, articles, and other outlets seem to miss the fact that Nirvana ever made the album ‘incesticide’ which is a shame. This album is full of gems. A lot of aggression and surprisingly good, if minimal lyrics. Case in hand, ‘Sliver’ which is a heart wrenching song on the one hand, while being a really raunchy piece on the other. Sometimes the most intimate, personal stuff work better loud than as a ballad. Another trick Nirvana taught us.
This is not my favorite song from ‘In Utero’ but it again represents that kick in the gut (or a few inches lower) that Nirvana gave pop culture and its media outlet MTV. No more Mr. nice guy. Nirvana wrote songs from the depth of its acidic stomach and followed them up with some ‘in your face’ videos (honorable mention to my favorite In Utero song – Heart Shaped Box). When Nirvana did not get a green light from MTV to play ‘Rape Me’ on the MTV awards show, Kurt had to mess with them just a little (watch below). This is the same TV channel that wouldn’t allow Foo Fighters ‘Low’ video, sitting on their high and mighty horse while playing countless hours of almost naked under-aged girls.
Kurt Cobain might have been a junkie. He may have been a lot of things to many people. But Kurt Cobain was a real artist with a pretty good outlook (for a 20 something). We don’t know what if, but I loved watching these interviews which were mostly funny, sarcastic and at times very candid. I like to think of Nirvana the way they appeared in these interviews, and following Krist and Dave through the years, I think they still are just as awesome as they were back then.
The Man Who Sold The World
Nirvana’s unplugged was not the first one to air. But it was by far, by eons – the best. What makes it so spacial you ask? Well, I think that’s due to three things. One is the fact that it was pretty much tailored to Kurt’s state of mind and sensitivities. Starting from the settings, through the sitting arrangement. The second was the conscious decision to go with a cover heavy and big hit light setlist. I think that part of the magic of that night was Nirvana’s understanding of what might work acoustic and what might not. The third was luck. Dave Grohl says that the idea of using these brush-drum-sticks was only raised after frustrating takes using his regular ones. The toning down of the drums definitely helped achieve that fantastic sound.
April 8th, 1994
On that evening we were having a pool party. While we were busy drinking and dancing someone walked in and said ‘Hey, Kurt Cobain’s dead. He killed himself’. The music stopped, the drinking didn’t. To say I felt sad would be a gross understatement. Beyond the sadness for the lost life of a man (which is the most important), I felt like an era came to an end – and in a way it did. For me, Nirvana came to life after a very long time with very little in terms of contemporary musical heroes. The feeling was ‘Now what?’. It would take less than I thought it would before I’d find the new king (same as the old king).
It’s better to burn out than to fade away
I’ve read Kurt’s suicide note a few times. I’ve read interpretations for this note, and have watched a few documentaries, including the aforementioned biography. For years, I was convinced without a shadow of a doubt that Kurt indeed committed suicide. It made sense (if anything makes sense when a young and talented man dies). But after hearing some of the questions being raised around this, I have to admit that while I can’t say I’m a fully fledged believer in the ‘murder conspiracy theory’, I now have more questions than reasonable answers. The bottom line still hurts though. Kurt is dead and I miss him.
What if Kurt Cobain didn’t die? What would Rock music look like? What bands would or would not exist? How successful would Nirvana be and for how long? Which direction would their music take? We may never know the answers to these questions, but one thing we do know is that the Foo Fighters project would likely not happen. I’ve had mixed feeling about Dave Grohl never singing Nirvana songs. On the one hand, as a fan it would be tons of fun. On the other, there would be no way he would be able to establish the Foo Fighters status had he felt compelled to satisfy this nostalgic urge. Kurt Cobain thought very highly of Dave as a musician, and the only reason Marigold wasn’t included in In Utero is that they didn’t feel it gelled with the other songs. It did come out as a B-Side to one of Nirvana’s best songs – Heart Shaped Box.
The Foo Fighters is either what Nirvana would have ultimately resemble, or the sweet takeaway from a tragic development.
Either way, Nirvana will always remain an iconic band and I’m happy they were honored to be inducted into the hall of fame immediately following their eligibility.
- Are you a Nirvana fan?
- Any idea as to any of the ‘What if’ questions?
Let me know.
Until next time…