Nirvana

Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

Last night, after watching a rather unfortunate comeback by the Sens against the Pens, I listened to Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in New York. Young Mike likely would have spun Nevermind or In Utero, but yesterday I was craving the acoustic performance taped at Sony Music Studios in New York City on November 18, 1993.

All of Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in New York is amazing, but it closes with a mind blowing cover of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night". It still blows my mind. Here it is:

"Where Did You Sleep Last Night" is an old folk song that dates back to the 1870s when it was better known as "In the Pines." We don't know who wrote it, but we know whose rendition Nirvana was interpreting. That would be Lead Belly's 1944 rendition.

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16 Years Ago Today: I Was 19, He was 27

nirvanaOn this day in 1994, Kurt Cobain killed himself. I was 19 at the time. When a music lover's favourite artist shoots himself in the head, it tends to be a pretty big fucking deal. When that music lover is a teenager, you upgrade that BFD to DEFCON 2.

If you're looking to revisit the short but stellar career of Nirvana, check out my Nirvana primer. I wrote that one off the top of my head, because I was there and I remember.

If you're looking for some stuff I've written about Kurt Cobain over the years, you might want to start with this one and then crawl through my Nirvana category archive.

Kurt was pure genius, and I miss him.


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Your Nirvana Primer

NirvanaI'm writing this Nirvana primer off the top of my head, because I was there and I remember.

I wish I could tell you I was all over Bleach in 1989 and that I was through with it before you knew what to do with it. Instead, I got my first taste of Nirvana when I heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on CFNY 102.1 here in Toronto. It was a Saturday in 1991 and I remember where I was when I first heard it. Half way through my first listen, I knew I had to hear more.

MuchMusic played the crap out of "Smells Like Teen Spirit", and the video was as cool as the tune. It was the perfect storm, me being 16 years old and those damn cheerleaders encouraging anarchy.

Here's the video for the song that introduced me to my favourite band.

Nevermind, which I picked up at Yonge Street's Sam the Record Man asap, was a play-through, with every song, including the hidden track, a winner. I must have spun this disc a thousand times. When pressed to name a favourite track, I usually went with "Lithium," but I just as easily could have gone with "In Bloom," "Come As You Are," "Drain You" or "On a Plain."

Here's "Lithium" which included lyrics I recite in casual conversations to this day. "I'm so happy 'cause today I found my friends, they're in my head."

Once I heard Nevermind, I had to go back and hear what I missed. I picked up Bleach, which was moody and grungy and as raw as all hell. I loved it. It sat perfectly alongside my other favourite albums of the time, Badmotorfinger, Ten and Dirt.

Here's the first cut from Bleach, "Blew."

In late 1992, Incesticide was released. Incesticide was a compilation of demos, outtakes, and radio broadcast recordings that was as good as any studio album I bought that year. It was the third Nirvana album I bought, but I probably spun it the second most, after Nevermind.

MuchMusic played the shite out of this video for "Silver."

In 1993, I started University. In Utero was released on September 21, 1993, about a week after I started classes. I remember walking from class to HMV at 333 Yonge Street to pick up my copy that In Utero that day, and I vividly remember reading the liner notes at Brennan Hall.

In Utero was the third Nirvana album, but I couldn't have imagined at the time that it would be the last. In Utero was another play-through, and my only complaint is that it was too short. It clocked in at 41 minutes with most of the tunes under four minutes.

The first words we hear sung by Kurt Cobain on In Utero are "teenage angst has paid off well, now I'm bored and old." Here's that great first track, "Serve the Servants."

At the Phoenix on Monday nights, we preferred "Rape Me."

We all know what happened next. I was 19-years old at the time. On the tenth annivary of Kurt Cobain's suicide, I wrote this. Here's a snippet:

What I remember the most in those days and weeks following Kurt's suicide is listening to nothing but Nirvana. It's how I fed my sorrow. All Nirvana, all the time. Shortly thereafter, Alan Cross did an "Ongoing History of New Music" on Nirvana and Kurt's suicide and I still have that episode on tape. Unplugged in New York and From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah would follow, and both were as awesome as I expected them to be.

It was ten years ago today. The music Kurt Cobain produced during the short career of Nirvana is as relevant to me today as it was then. He was pained, vulnerable, screaming for help. He was ours and I miss him.

I am now 29 years old. That's two years older than Kurt was at the time of his death. I often wonder how he was able to look his daughter in the eyes and still want to end it all. Clearly, he felt his daughter would be better off without him. That, in a nutshell, is the saddest note in his final, tragic song.

MTV Unplugged in New York was indeed released later that year, and one single seemed to serve as a bittersweet farewell to the voice of my generation. I must have played this song a million times that year. This is "All Apologies."

From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, excellent in its own right, would follow. As would many bootlegs that found their way into my collection. Six years ago, however, we heard the last Nirvana song. That was "You Know You're Right" from the self-titled greatest hits album, Nirvana.

"You Know You're Right" at the top of CFNY's Thursday 30 on November 30, 2002, prompted the very first entry on this blog. This primer is number 8740.

Since then, we got the box set, further evidence of Kurt's genius. Five years ago, I summed up that genius as follows:

He wasn't just good, he was scary good. Over the past week I've spun every Nirvana CD in my collection. I've listened to Bleach, Nevermind, Incesticide, In Utero and MTV Unplugged in New York (Live) several times each. Every note reminded me of how talented a musician Kurt Cobain was and this entry will never be able to do his talent justice.

Perhaps this will. On November 18, 1993, Nirvana performed an acoustic show at Sony Music Studios in New York for MTV. The performance was taped and posthumously released on CD as the aforementioned MTV Unplugged in New York (Live). Everything was done in one take, as live, with absolutely no re-takes. There was minimal rehearsal and not a single run through of the actual play list Kurt would settle on. Kurt was also going through withdrawal and needed periodic hits of valium to keep him from falling to pieces.

Nirvana wasn't long for this world, but their impact on my ears can't be overstated. There was just something in the way...

Others in this series:

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Californication Does Nirvana and Pearl Jam

musicI call it the show I love to hate. Californication is a David Duchovny series my wife and I watch and it drives me batty. It's so damn contrived and cringe inducing. It's that guy you know who tries so bloody hard to be cool, he's anything but.

We just watched the latest episode and it was surprisingly decent. I'd say it's the most watchable of the 22 eps I've seen. It also included songs from two of my favourite bands of all time: Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

"Heart Shaped Box" played during a flashback scene to the day Kurt's body was discovered and "Nothingman" played during another flashback to later that same week in 1994. It wasn't long ago that tunes from these two bands were off limits for film, television and commercial licensing. That's obviously no longer the case.

The first time I remember hearing a Nirvana song used for such a purpose was a Six Feet Under episode from the last season when “All Apologies” played in a flashback scene in which Nate Fisher talked about Cobain’s death. Now that Courtney has sold out to Primary Wave it seems Nirvana is showing up in video games, television shows and, any day now, a shampoo or jeans commercial.

Here's that awesome scene from Six Feet Under, a series I miss more and more each time I watch Californication.


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Classic Albums: Nirvana - Nevermind

nirvanaClassic Albums: Nirvana - Nevermind was a documentary DVD released in March 2005 as part of the Classic Albums series. It featured interviews specifically for this release with members of the band and "Nevermind" album producer Butch Vig about the recording of the album. Other interview highlights include Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, and Steve Diggle from The Buzzcocks.

If you have an hour, this is solid gold.

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Homer Does Kurt

homerAs I referenced earlier in the day, Homer Simpson assumed the persona of Kurt Cobain during last night's episode of "The Simpsons". He led a band called Sadgasm.

Politically Incorrect

This was the first song we heard from Sadgasm. It's a lot like Nirvana's "Rape Me".

Politically Incorrect Redux?

I can't tell if this is a new song from Sadgasm or a different part of "Politically Incorrect". Either way, this one is Nirvana's "Rape Me" to a tee.

Margarine

I think this one is called Margarine, but it may be called Marjorie. It's not a spin on a Nirvana song but a reworking of Bush's "Glycerine". A grunge spoof has spoofed a spoof, so to speak. It still makes for a great tune.

The Grunge Song

All this grunge satire reminds me of The Radio Free Vestibuels and "The Grunge Song". You remember this gem from MuchMusic. Turn it up!


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Doc Martens and Kurt Cobain

nirvanaI've been reading online that Doc Marten has unveiled new ads featuring Kurt Cobain, Sid Vicious, Joey Ramone, and Joe Strummer. I've seen these ads, but I don't believe it. A quick search for a solid source was a failure, so there's still hope this is bullshit.

It had better be bullshit. I've been wearing Doc Martens since the ninth grade, and when my pair of black, three-hole, yellow-stiched Docs wear out, I just go out and buy the exact same pair again. I've covered this topic before, and if you read that entry followed by this one about Kurt Cobain, you'll realize why I hope this is some kind of Photoshop humour.

Dr. Marten makes a great pair of shoes, but they don't last forever. Just ask Kurt.

Kurt's Docs

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Nirvana? Nevermind...

musicRemember when Courtney Love sold 25% of her share in Nirvana's publishing catalog? My greatest fear was that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" might end up in a girls deodorant commercial. That's not happening yet, but a Nirvana track has been licensed for advertising purposes for the first time ever.

2K Sports has included Nirvana's "Breed" on the soundtrack of its Major League Baseball 2K7 video game. The company will also use "Breed" in a commercial for the game.

And so it begins. Nothing is sacred and every thing's for sale. It's endless, nameless...

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Lithium Redux

tvI had never seen a minute of the reality show "Rock Star" until last night. Waiting for the season premiere of "Rescue Me", I stumbled upon "Rock Star" and stuck around for a bit when I heard someone was going to cover Nirvana's "Lithium". "Lithium" is one of my all-time favourite tunes.

It turns out this guy was a fellow Torontonian and his version of "Lithium" was rearranged so he didn't come across as if he was doing a Kurt Cobain impersonation. It was good, and it reminded me how damn amazing that tune is. It was the third single from Nevermind, and it might be the best.

It's so good, it's made me glad I caught a bit of "Rock Star" last night. That's pretty good.

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Serve The Servants

NirvanaOne of my favourite Nirvana songs is "Serve The Servants". It opens with the splendid lyric "Teenage angst has paid off well, now I’m bored and old" and broods along nicely after that. It's a great tune, but I've always been troubled by the line "I tried hard to have a father, but instead I had a dad."

I believe Kurt has it backwards. He tried hard to have a dad, but instead he had a father. Father is a term that can be applied to anyone who fathers a child. He doesn't need to be anything more than a sperm donor. Fathering a child is easy. A dad is a father who guides their child lovingly through life. Every dad is also a father, but not every father is truly a dad. A dad cares and nurtures his child, and I believe that's what Kurt was looking for.

Trying hard to have a father but instead having a dad doesn't make much sense to me. Kurt got a lot of things right, but he blew a tire on this one.

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