Toronto Mike

Your Nirvana Primer


I'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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