Kurt was really into those lilies. He had them all over the stage.
November 14, 2018 10:54 AM   Subscribe

The best television episode of the 1990s starred a short, blond man and his band. On November 18, 1993, at Sony Music Studios in New York City, Nirvana took on MTV Unplugged. That night, the biggest group of the decade staged one of the most hypnotically intimate rock concerts ever captured on film.
posted by Etrigan (83 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Three Feet From God

This is why, when someone calls Nirvana "overrated", they are not saying they were bad.
posted by thelonius at 11:04 AM on November 14, 2018 [15 favorites]




There must have been 15 of us kids crammed into my cable-having friends living room to watch this. We started off joking around and flirting and like normal high-schoolers do, but as the show went on we got quieter and quieter. By the time they got to "Where did you sleep last night" we were dead silent and all of our cigarettes slowly turned to ash. The first half of my teenage years were perfectly encapsulated in that living room, surrounded by my friends, watching Nirvana Unplugged on the TV. I still think that Unplugged was one of the best things that MTV did.

And yeah, there are a lot of lilies. I never noticed that before.
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:25 AM on November 14, 2018 [44 favorites]


I'm still a huge fan of this album, but its version of "About A Girl" is, alphabetically, the first track on my phone's itunes.

As a result, my car's terrible entertainment system will try playing it 2-3 times at the beginning of every journey, regardless of whatever else I was playing during my last journey, or of whatever I've specifically asked it to play before I start driving. It's also the first track of the album, so that first half-second of "woo! welcome to the stage" applause now makes me instantly, Pavlovianly furious, and I'll forever associate it with the experience of nearly crashing into concrete pillars as I weave through the parking garage, jabbing at my phone and swearing.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 11:26 AM on November 14, 2018 [34 favorites]


That's the record that always made me bummed Kurt missed the indie / emo/ folk scene of the next decade. I would have loved to see him beat up some acoustic guitars with Conor Oberst or Jeff Tweedy, or hear his perfectly sustained husky notes harmonizing with Neko Case.

Also, god bless the Meat Puppets.
posted by es_de_bah at 11:29 AM on November 14, 2018 [45 favorites]


The best television episode of the 1990s

I always had trouble with the level of hyperbole used to describe this set, even before the suicide. Yes, I could enjoy Nirvana with the volume turned down some, but only as a sideshow. Such could never match the annihilating intensity of the properly amplified version.

Unplug this m*****fuckers!
posted by philip-random at 11:33 AM on November 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


I love Nirvana, but totally feel the exact opposite about this particular concert. It took everything that was interesting about them and sat them in chairs to dirge their way through a few of their songs and some dull covers of midtempo strumming like they were REO Speedwagon or something. Even John Mellencamp was doing more interesting things with acoustic guitars, but somehow sitting, slowing down and mumbling became the defacto rock acoustic guitar mode until Days of the New took it to 11 and beyond and killed it. It's not their fault that they essentially created a music genre, but I still hold it against them.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:43 AM on November 14, 2018 [7 favorites]


The_Vegetables, funnily enough this is the only Nirvana I like. And I went to college in the PNW in the early 90s, totally primed to like them. I don't think they're awful or anything just not my cuppa. Except this performance, it's amazing.
posted by Nelson at 11:45 AM on November 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


My dad played this in the car when I was 8, and my sister and I were immediately hooked on Nirvana for the next few years.

I was such a little hipster asshole. My friends started getting into Nirvana when I was maybe 13, and I was all “psh, of course I’ve heard this, Tommy, I’m already over Nirvana.” (I’d moved on to the Velvet Underground, which is so stereotypical that it’s embarrassing and worth sharing to illustrate how much of a little hipster I was.)

Anyway, someone put this on at work the other day, and since I hadn’t heard it in like 20 years, I was struck by how tight everyone is playing together. Really strong musicianship all around. I think I’m still kind of Done with Nirvana, but it was nice to revisit. I still know practically the whole thing by heart.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:49 AM on November 14, 2018 [16 favorites]


I had seen Nirvana play twice before Nevermind came out. And they were a great indie punk band but no one thought like “the next Beatles” or anything like that. Then a friend came over to my Berkeley co-op room the day Nevermind came out and was like “Listen to this.” And it was in fact amazing and good and they deserved all the fame and fortune.

But of course the famous and fortunate frequently become uninteresting to broke scenesters and with In Utero and Courtney and arenas no one I knew was even paying attention any more by 93. But MTV was so ubiquitous. I was in San Francisco and I think that’s when The Real World was filming in SF and you just be like slumming it at a bar in the lower Haight and all these cameras would show up.

Anyway, it was impossible to avoid this Unplugged episode, and there he was playing Bleach and the Vaselines and The Meat Puppets and joking about how David Geffen wouldn’t buy him Lead Belly’s guitar and he’s just screaming into the mike...I think that kinda brought everyone who was too cool for MTV back to the authenticity and humility and talent of Cobain and six months later instead of just another rock star with and OD it was the tragic loss of a generation’s voice.

I can’t even begin to imagine what he’d be doing now.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:05 PM on November 14, 2018 [29 favorites]


Nice of them to link to Frightwig. Kurt was always great with checking his underground heroes with his t-shirts. There's a Daniel Johnston shirt in another photo in the article, and also there's the photos where he's wearing Scratch Acid.
posted by larrybob at 12:06 PM on November 14, 2018 [6 favorites]


My fave Nirvana album is Bleach by several degrees, but I quite like the Unplugged set, despite it clearly setting us all up for another generation of thumb-fingered sad bastards howl-mumbling away over out-of-tune acoustic guitars.

And it did expose a bunch of stoned teenagers to Leadbelly, the Vaselines and the Meat Puppets, which more than makes up for it IMO.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:11 PM on November 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


Cobain's sigh during "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" expresses the weight of the world like nothing else I've ever heard.
posted by Lyme Drop at 12:13 PM on November 14, 2018 [15 favorites]


I've always really loved this set, especially when wearing my musician hat. Like, go listen to Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam and it's just undeniable. Nirvana and Kurt / Dave in particular were incredibly loud, energetic, raw edged players. Most guys like that, you take away the distortion and the volume and they sound like garbage [sic]. Not these kids. Gorgeous.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:15 PM on November 14, 2018 [11 favorites]


I love how they don't even follow the rules of Unplugged and use a pickup on Kurt's guitar through various pedals into an amp. Sounds so good nobody cares, particularly how that sounds against a background of acoustic instruments.

I often listen to bands like Oasis and think how much better they'd sound mostly acoustic and particularly with less distortion on the guitar. It's like they learned nothing from how people liked Wonderwall so much more than their other songs.
posted by w0mbat at 12:19 PM on November 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


This Unplugged album and the sound of a dial-up handshake are inextricably fused in my auditory memory. The harsh, raw, yowling chorus of Pennyroyal Tea plus modem static is literally the sound of 1994, for me.
posted by halation at 12:38 PM on November 14, 2018 [27 favorites]


I couldn't figure out why I knew this whole set. My parents definitely did not let me watch MTV until the TRL era. MuddDude must have introduced me to this album so as is right and proper, it is the soundtrack to my freshman year of college. I think in a weird way Nirvana is often underrated. I remember in the late 90's early 2000s practically every teen cellist I knew wanted to play rock music. They were all taking jazz lessons trying to figure out how to jam.
posted by muddgirl at 12:48 PM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


I loved this album, definitely one of those ones that brings me straight back to my teenage years whenever I hear a song from it.

This article, however, is in a style that seems to be cropping up a lot lately. Anyone know the deal with these "oral history" articles? When did they become a thing? I can't bring myself to read them, even when I'm very interested in the subject matter. Do I blame podcasts for this?
posted by Grither at 12:51 PM on November 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


This album was such a formative part of my teenage years, and somehow I haven't listened to it since ... probably 1998? I was in a shitty band very shortly after this came out and we learned just about every song and played the hell out of them, badly.

I'm gonna rock it on the way home tonight.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:51 PM on November 14, 2018


I’d moved on to the Velvet Underground, which is so stereotypical that it’s embarrassing

Don’t be embarrassed—they were really that good.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:03 PM on November 14, 2018 [14 favorites]


Anyone know the deal with these "oral history" articles? When did they become a thing?

They have been popular for I don't know, five years now?
posted by thelonius at 1:03 PM on November 14, 2018


Oral histories have a long tradition academically and on radio (think Studs Terkel). I believe the popularization of oral histories of the entertainment industry started with book publishing and then caught on to the internet around 2011. Written oral histories don't really work for me, either, but they are very popular.
posted by muddgirl at 1:08 PM on November 14, 2018 [6 favorites]


This was the event that boosted the Meat Puppets' career years after their prime. Meat Puppets II, am I right? (The sequel is a sad story but it comes out OK in the end.)

But also, this was a lovely performance.
posted by sjswitzer at 1:20 PM on November 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


I’d moved on to the Velvet Underground, which is so stereotypical that it’s embarrassing

Only if it made you start a band.

And I'd rarely admit something like this publicly, but I didn't like "The Man Who Sold the World" until I heard this album's cover of it. To be fair to myself, I thought that it influenced Bowie's version on the bonus disc of Bowie at the Beeb, recorded in 2000, which also has my favorite versions of "Let's Dance" and "I'm Afraid of Americans."
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:24 PM on November 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


funnily enough this is the only Nirvana I like

Yeah, I was sorta meh on the music of the young people when I was 14, but I remember hearing this on the school bus (My uncle, the coolest bus driver, wired a modest sound system and would play kids' cassettes as long as the music wasn't crap) and being gobsmacked when I was told it was that unintelligible band Weird Al made fun of.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:26 PM on November 14, 2018 [6 favorites]


I was in my late 20s when this came on and already a Nirvana fan. The performance had me enthralled. I still have a memory of running into DJ Riz Rollins (Seattle folks will know who I'm talking about) in my favorite Capitol Hill record store to buy this on vinyl and crying with Riz about losing Kurt.
posted by matildaben at 1:29 PM on November 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


I don't know, I'm not normally into the ROCK AS HARD AS POSSIBLE OR ELSE camp, but for me Nirvana was all about the crunching and the yelling. I mean, they weren't even very important to me personally as a band, but (controversial opinion ahead!) that opening riff to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is just indelible even twenty-plus years later. With "Unplugged," the lyrics were moved more forward, and I'm not sure that had a great effect.

But kudos for taking that high-profile step away from their established style just when they were most salable and notorious.
posted by praemunire at 1:33 PM on November 14, 2018


Oral histories have a long tradition academically and on radio (think Studs Terkel).

Or Jean Stein (and George Plimpton).

Always thought Nirvana was "okay..." and loved "Teen Spirit", but to this day I still have to fight the urge to push Zen Arcade, et al upon folks who thought that Nevermind was the Second Coming and that there was nothing but barren earth during the period between the Ramones and Nirvana.
posted by gtrwolf at 1:47 PM on November 14, 2018 [6 favorites]


I can’t even begin to imagine what he’d be doing now.

I feel like Kurt would be doing some experimental indie in the style of Fuck Buttons. And I think Dave Grohl would have still outgrown Nirvana and found a way towards creating the Foo Fighters. Maybe the early albums would be a bit different but we'd still have Dave, that talent was just not going to be contained inside of Nirvana.
posted by Fizz at 1:47 PM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


"It took everything that was interesting about them and..."

The things that were most interesting about Nirvana had nothing to do with music. Things like paying tribute to your favorite obscure bands, doing the opposite of what the record industry wanted you to do, being unafraid to step outside of genre boundaries, being humble and self-deprecating. I only rarely listen to Nirvana's music anymore, but I think about the lessons I learned from Kurt Cobain (on full display in Unplugged) at least weekly, if not more often.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:47 PM on November 14, 2018 [13 favorites]


"Anyone know the deal with these 'oral history' articles? When did they become a thing?"

Spin magazine was doing them in the early 2000s. I'm pretty sure there was one in an issue with the Strokes on the cover in 2003, and I don't think it was the first one I read.

The deal is that they don't require any actual writing. The "writer" just interviews a bunch of people and then copies and pastes from their notes. Likewise, since everything is a direct quote, there no real copy editing required. It's effective if you have a good story to tell, but don't have the narrative gifts of a Hunter S. Thompson or Michael Lewis, or an editor to polish your lousy prose. That's why they've flourished online, where everyone has the ability to write and no one edits.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:53 PM on November 14, 2018 [8 favorites]


You don't even need to interview anybody. No one talked to Grohl or Novoselic for this article - they repackaged interviews they gave to other reporters.
posted by muddgirl at 1:56 PM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


Bobcat Goldthwait (comedian-filmmaker): Kurt was a fan of my stand-up. It’s like finding out that Jimi Hendrix really liked Buddy Hackett. He wanted to meet me. It was before the band had broken. I was in Ann Arbor doing a gig and I think Nirvana was playing the Blind Pig.

I can confirm that Nirvana played at the Blind Pig, because I was there.
posted by 41swans at 1:58 PM on November 14, 2018 [9 favorites]




For some reason I always wish Kurt had lived long enough to hear the Handsome Family.

I love the Unplugged set. The ending of Where Did You Sleep is still amazing to me.

But the whole thing always makes think of how my cousin was sat, quietly devastated, watching it on his vhs taped from BBC2 on the day after the news had come out that Kurt was dead. His evangelical happy clappy mum popped her evil head in the room and said “it’s such a shame he’s now in hell.”
posted by gnuhavenpier at 2:07 PM on November 14, 2018 [9 favorites]


Wandering around Boulder one day with an older hippie gal pal of mine, we decided last minute to see our friend Johnny Meggit's new band Dogbite that night at the Penny Lane coffee house. Dogbite were great. We stuck around to see the headliner, who was of course, Nirvana, and stood slack jawed in the back, blown away by how awesome they were. Bought Bleach the next day and spent the next year raving about them. By the time Nevermind came out i was digging in to hard bop and Krautrock and totally over Cobain & Co. I do concur that bringing Leadbelly, the Vaselines & the Meat Puppets into the wider musical lexicon was a great good. I'll have to relisten to this and see if it has a spark for me now.
posted by talking leaf at 2:08 PM on November 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


I feel like we haven't spent enough time talking about Krist Novoselic playing the accordion. Of all the weird things about Nirvana, that their bass player was a serviceable accordion player, and that he played the instrument on MTV, might just about be the most delightful.
posted by Kattullus at 2:14 PM on November 14, 2018 [18 favorites]


When this aired, my ex-wife and I were weeks from separating.

A few months later, Kurt killed himself around the same time I myself was suicidal, handcuffed by the police, driven to the county hospital, and endured in the back seat of the parking lot the questions of a well-meaning cop about my (non-existant) faith in Christ before he finally led me into the ER. Later that night I overheard the nurse's telephone conversation when my (separated) wife refused to come pick me up when the hospital realized they had no spare beds.

I'd first heard Nevermind a couple months after it was released, I'd just turned 27, and it stopped me in my tracks. It was the most arresting, affecting new music I'd heard in many years. Nirvana's music and something of Cobain essentially and powerfully resonated in my core.

Kurt's suicide badly upset me, but then it was during what I still consider the worst period of my life. I suppose I could have been negatively influenced by his suicide, but I was so deep in my own miasma, haunted by the sense I would drown at any moment, that this was more like something the way the world naturally was and not particularly an invitation to follow-suit.

By the time they released this as an album, I was turning thirty, moved to a new town, made new friends, wasn't obsessing over my ex, vowed to live a life without expectation or self-recrimination. (Not because that would be right, but that way maybe I'd survive.) To this day, my memory of that time is represented by an image of me alone in a boat on the sea, throwing almost everything overboard, good or bad, anything that weighed.

I had no time or emotional space for this album. I'm not one to be especially overwrought when a favorite celebrity dies, but Cobain hit harder than anyone else had, or has since. Despite this and because of this, I don't think about Cobain or Nirvana that much, though I do still listen to Nevermind.

You see, only just now, just this hour, did I finally watch and listen to MTV Unplugged in New York in its entirety.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:21 PM on November 14, 2018 [33 favorites]


I saw him on the phone. It was before cellphones. So it was on a landline phone. I didn’t know what he was talking about or who he was talking to until he said, “Mom, we did it. We did a great job.” It was really like a kid had gotten an A on a test. “Look what I did! I’m so happy!” Not bragging, but really, “I aced this really hard thing.” It was very, very sweet.

Well, shit.
posted by petebest at 2:32 PM on November 14, 2018 [9 favorites]


Although written shortly before Cobain's death, Neil Young's Change Your Mind sounds like a plea to a friend. Not sure how it fits into this thread, but whatever.
posted by sjswitzer at 2:41 PM on November 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


The best television episode of the 1990s starred a short, blond man and his band.

Its amazing, because the best television episode of the 1980s starred a tall, brown haired man and his band.
posted by biffa at 2:42 PM on November 14, 2018


Its amazing, because the best television episode of the 1980s starred a tall, brown haired man and his band.

Chewbacca?
posted by thelonius at 2:57 PM on November 14, 2018 [11 favorites]


challenge accepted
hey guys...lets all go mefi music and get a challenge going, huh? I always thought that one of the most underappreciated things about Nirvana tunes was that they were how adaptable they were.
posted by es_de_bah at 2:58 PM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


As kind of an counterweight to the oral history hate I'm seeing here, sometimes the most effective way to encapsulate a period of time or a scene is in the words of those who experienced it directly.

I'm not a big fan of the 'oral history in name only' type articles that I, too, have noticed as being much more common lately, but in book form where the format can be explored in-depth, it's highly effective.

Also - to those who think putting together something like this is just getting a bunch of quotes and then throwing them together because you don't have to do any writing, and that there's no editing required - I'd love for you to see the amount of work required to gather first-person sources for even a modest 2,500 word magazine article.
posted by jordantwodelta at 3:05 PM on November 14, 2018 [13 favorites]


I entirely missed out on this at first because I a) didn't really like Nirvana initially and b) was attending college on a campus that didn't have cable in the dorms. But a year or two later I was studying abroad in China, which had just gotten into it's rip-roaring trade in bootleg CDs of the most bemusing assortment. I couldn't actually find much that I *wanted* to buy but I was so homesick, when I saw Nirvana Unplugged at a stall I was like, well, it's a band I've at least heard of, from this decade, and I like the unplugged performances generally and also it's $1 so sure, why not. It's stayed in fairly regular rotation since then, even as I've grown to appreciate the rest of Nirvana's oeuvre (though honestly I'll never be punk). My little son just came down to say his goodnights as I was watching the YouTube link, and we sat and watched Jesus Doesn't Want Me For a Sunbeam together. We had to explain the concept of MTV to him.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:22 PM on November 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


I liked Nirvana 25 years ago and still like them but for whatever reason I have only listened to their In Utero and Unplugged albums in full. I listened the hell out of those two albums for a good 3 years and even saw them on the In Utero tour but for whatever reason I've never felt the need to listen to Nevermind or Bleach.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:54 PM on November 14, 2018


My younger brother played me Nevermind when it came out and I was like, nope, too abrasive for me. It took me a few years to develop the ears necessary to enjoy it, which I now do. But Unplugged connected with me immediately. I could hear it right off the bat, and the music was profoundly affecting.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:56 PM on November 14, 2018




Maybe it makes me too much of a hipster, but if this doesn't include Tony Bennett's swing/big band cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," complete with the Wynton Marsalis horn solo and the band in white tails... ah, screw it.
posted by aurelian at 6:02 PM on November 14, 2018


Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for her oral histories in 2015. I don't get the hate.

Well, I think it was for the subset of pop culture/entertainment "oral history" articles.
posted by thelonius at 6:08 PM on November 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for her oral histories in 2015. I don't get the hate.
They're talking about things like "An Oral History of Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl" cobbled together from interviews found on Google, Instagram screenshots, and an email from an agent.

A friend of mine stole my copy of Parklife and replaced it with Nirvana Unplugged, and I'm still annoyed about it fifty years later even though I had two copies of Parklife and the Nirvana ended up being useful during my brief time as a barista.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:30 PM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


That's the record that always made me bummed Kurt missed the indie / emo/ folk scene of the next decade. I would have loved to see him beat up some acoustic guitars with Conor Oberst or Jeff Tweedy

That indie, folk rock, punk-Americana scene was already around, No Depresson came out before Nevermind and the Meat Puppets had about 15 albums already.

I'm faintly horrified someone called Jeff Tweedy emo. Or conflated the two scenes.
posted by fshgrl at 6:40 PM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


> Cobain's sigh during "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" expresses the weight of the world like nothing else I've ever heard.

Yeah. Yeah. It reminds me so much of the end of Elvis' final song on the night of his final recorded concert. He plays "Unchained Melody" and at the end there's just this crazy, end-stage Elvis kind of ... noise ... like "GhwaaaaaaugggghhHhhh!"

Different videos seem to draw from different audio sources, some of which mix in backing tracks not present in the original performance, and some of which reduce the level on the Weird Elvis Noise or eliminate it all together (IIRC it does not appear on the album release of the concert, to which some videos have synced the sound.)

You can hear the Weird Elvis Sound pretty clearly at the end of this video. It's at about 3:19 in this video, but back it up (or even listen to the whole song) for context.

It's also in this video but the sound level on the Weird Elvis Noise is really low. The intro, however, is, uh, memorable. Like Cobain, he's a man struggling with a really bad drug problem at the end of his life. But man, then he sits down and totally belts it out, like he's channeling something completely outside of him, terminal-phase Elvis becomes almost a totally different person literally the moment he begins singing.

It really reminds me so much of the end of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." Here's the end of it for comparison.


> Also, god bless the Meat Puppets.

Derrick Bostrom has a good blog; go dig through the archives! Also this is a good excuse to share the Meat Puppets' version of "Tennessee Stud," which is a very beautiful and faithful version of the original except for their digression on the Tennessee Squirrel.
posted by compartment at 7:04 PM on November 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


Just finished rewatching. The last howling verse of Where Did You Sleep, my god. I never noticed that "pause within the breath" thing until now. I'm sure there's lots of ecstatic out-of-body moments in music but that split second, right there, you're looking into Kurt's eyes and witnessing a man who is channeling something beyond comprehension.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:02 PM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


They're talking about things like "An Oral History of Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl" cobbled together from interviews found on Google, Instagram screenshots, and an email from an agent.

Genre's....basically the same, although you can obviously execute it with.....more or less skill.

Personally, I think they're harmless. There was just one on "Hit Me Baby One More Time" that was reasonably interesting, although some of it's recycled from other pieces.
posted by praemunire at 8:35 PM on November 14, 2018


I saw this show a year after the initial broadcast, as I was just graduating uni in 1993, and was in the interim phase of moving and settling into NYC, so I didn't have cable where I was staying when it originally aired. I had a crappy hostessing job for a few months, from September 1993 until February 1994. Since I had been the last person hired at this restaurant prior to the Nirvana show at Roseland that November, my request to take the night off to see it was denied, to my everlasting sadness. Just about anyone who wasn't new at the joint had gotten the night off for it, damn it.

I have the DVD of Unplugged stashed away in a binder, but I've only watched it once since I bought it, and I've not watched it online either. Maybe I'll look at it again this weekend.
posted by droplet at 8:52 PM on November 14, 2018


I've always assumed - though I have no idea if it's true- that Please Kill Me, the oral history of punk's origins, is what kicked off the oral history craze. Either way, it's great, 100% recommend. And it's beyond time that I finally listen to this album, so thanks for getting me off my butt!
posted by Going To Maine at 9:34 PM on November 14, 2018


Heck I just remembered it was my super-Mennonite but NPR-addicted grandmother who told me "the guy from that band you like killed himself."

I feel vaguely sad and old!

I've never felt the need to listen to Nevermind or Bleach.
Nevermind is actually extremely well-produced, to the point that people were copying it both immediately and for the next decade. It's worth listening to even just from a technical standpoint.

Bleach is not, but prominently features Dale Crover on drums for many tracks, and a number of Kurt's finest howls.

I also just remembered that Blew and Incesticide exist, and kinda want to pick something off one of them for a filk cover.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:03 PM on November 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


I can’t imagine this article in dry “traditional” format. The facts are cool, but it is really emotion that powers the whole thing. The collection of perspectives and experiences surrounding an iconic TV moment. You need to hear that in people’s own words. I would have preferred to see it in documentary-style video, though.
posted by mantecol at 10:17 PM on November 14, 2018


Watching the video Pat Smear looks so young. I think he was maybe 35 or so, but at the time he was referred to as Pat Smear, elder statesman of punk rock.
posted by fshgrl at 10:28 PM on November 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


One of Adam Todd Brown’s mannny podcasts is Heart Shaped Pod, about all things Nirvana. He does a lot of history, and it always strikes me just how YOUNG and, well, shitty Kurt was as a guy, especially around Nevemind. Like, he was a creative genius and his heart and politics were pretty sound. But he was an immature asshole and Courtney wasn’t helping. I’m not judging, I just never really understood him as a shiity young punk until this year. Makes it all the more tragic we couldn’t see him age. I still think he would have fallen on the side of Bowie, Petty, and Young as an aging artist.
posted by es_de_bah at 10:57 PM on November 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


"I'd love for you to see the amount of work required to gather first-person sources for even a modest 2,500 word magazine article."

I mean, I'm not suggesting it's easy. But it's absolutely, undeniably easier than gathering those same sources and then synthesizing them into enjoyable, attention-grabbing, refined prose. There are more interesting stories to be told than there are writers capable of the latter; thus, this type of oral history.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:36 AM on November 15, 2018


I wasn't really a Nirvana fan until I heard this album. His version of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" absolutely blew me away and still does. I've never heard a better rendering of heartfelt pain than in this song. His scream at the end comes from a cold, dark place that scares me to think about.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 6:22 AM on November 15, 2018


betweenthebars: A friend of mine stole my copy of Parklife and replaced it with Nirvana Unplugged, and I'm still annoyed about it fifty years later

Don't bogart the time machine, man
posted by tzikeh at 7:12 AM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm not suggesting it's easy. But it's absolutely, undeniably easier than gathering those same sources and then synthesizing them into enjoyable, attention-grabbing, refined prose.

Yeah and nah. I'm on the side of any story being tell-able in any number of ways. Sometimes I want the passion and finesse of strong writer to guide me along the spine of things, focus me with their point of view -- other times, that just comes across as heavy-handed and "in the way" (ie: shut up with your impressions and just present me with the documentation; which itself is guided and finessed, of course, because it's not as if you're getting every word spoken by every individual interviewed, but at least it feels more open).

Whatever method is pursued, I guess it's only a problem if I notice it, get distracted from the story itself. Clearly a bunch of people are noticing the "oral history" angle of late, getting distracted.
posted by philip-random at 9:31 AM on November 15, 2018


My problems with online written "oral" histories are (1) I have a problem with names so when I get halfway down the story and see "Gillespie: I thought it was totally crazy man! I did not believe they could pull it off!" I don't remember who the fuck Gillespie is and I have to scroll back up. In book form you can stick a bookmark or your thumb in to flip around, can't do that as a reader on the web. Whoever lays out the story could put in linkbacks or tooltips or something but they never do. (2) Philosophically I'm annoyed that they call these ORAL histories when they're not recorded so I can actually listen to them. It's the age of multimedia!
posted by muddgirl at 10:39 AM on November 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


His version of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" absolutely blew me away and still does. I've never heard a better rendering of heartfelt pain than in this song.

tallmiddleagedgeek, you might enjoy Mark Lanegans version from 'The Winding Sheet' - features Kurt (guitar/vox) & Chris (bass).
posted by phigmov at 11:20 AM on November 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


> It took everything that was interesting about them and sat them in chairs to dirge their way through a few of their songs and some dull covers of midtempo strumming like they were REO Speedwagon or something

I remember the scorn that people in that scene had at the time for Unplugged -- it was something for Rod Stewart to do. Real punks didn't sit.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:36 AM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


Here is my memory of this.

I was about 14 or so and watching MTV in the kitchen. The video of All Apolgies from this show came on during some segment or another in the late afternoon one weekend.

My grandfather, who raised me, and was about 60 at the time, walks by, pauses and says with more concern than I would have expected “that man looks like he’s in a lot of pain!”

I looked at him and said in all seriousness “oh he is Daddy, he is.”

At the time I knew nothing of heroin (Kurt) or cancer (my grandad). But would find out very soon about these things both of them already knew deeply at the time.

It was only years later that I made any kind of connection to the idea that my grandad already knew something was wrong with his insides and was indeed in a great deal of pain. He couldn’t bring himself to tell us yet.

So now he and Kurt Cobain are inextricably linked in my head, men with aches they couldn’t cure no matter what they did, knowing they’d only hurt their loved ones more to even say it.

Both died far too young.
posted by sio42 at 12:51 PM on November 15, 2018 [14 favorites]


This part really bothered me:

Coletti: I showed [the sketches] to Kurt, and he said, “I want a lot of flowers.” I said, “OK, great.” He said, “I want candles and stargazer lilies.” I said, “Like a funeral?” He said, “Yes, exactly.” This wasn’t on his mind at all. I put that out there. It was me that brought that kind of gloom into the shorthand of how we would describe it. When he said it, there was no organ sound effect.

Uh, yeah, sure, he wasn't into the idea of it being a funeral AT ALL. He killed himself less than 6 months later. I am not surmising that he went into the Unplugged with the idea of it being a last hurrah or anything. I don't know what I'm saying. Still sorry he's gone.
posted by agregoli at 1:16 PM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


Uh, yeah, sure, he wasn't into the idea of it being a funeral AT ALL. … I don't know what I'm saying

Seems like you have a pretty good idea what you're saying.
posted by kenko at 1:26 PM on November 15, 2018


No, I really don't. It bothered me that someone was trying so hard to say, *I* was the one that thought it was like a funeral, not Kurt. As if he wasn't potentially thinking of it that way. It seems weird claiming death wasn't on his mind.
posted by agregoli at 1:38 PM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


I was never much of a Nirvana fan, but I always thought that the best thing about the band was Kurt's fantastic voice, and since this album was the most straightforward showcase for it, it was my favourite and the only one I ever owned.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:16 PM on November 15, 2018


“It’s ok to eat fish because they don’t have any feelings”

I wish he was still alive.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:21 PM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


I would have loved to see him beat up some acoustic guitars with Conor Oberst or Jeff Tweedy

I’m imagining some kind of collaboration with Jack White that would’ve made us all roll our eyes, but knowing now that we’ve missed it, it probably would’ve been amazing.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:35 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


I’m imagining some kind of collaboration with Jack White that would’ve made us all roll our eyes, but knowing now that we’ve missed it, it probably would’ve been amazing.

I don’t think that anyone’s pointed it out yet, but Cobain was a big fan of R.E.M., and one project that very nearly happened was a collaboration between him and Michael Stipe. From “Heavier Than Heaven”:
When [Kurt and his dad] next spoke, Kurt promised to call as soon as he got a break from his busy career.
That career—at least when it came to Nirvana—was essentially over by the second week of March. Kurt’s decision to cancel the tour, turn down Lollapalooza, and refuse to practice had finally confirmed what Novoselic and Grohl had suspected was looming for some time. “The band was broken up,” Krist recalled. The only musical project Kurt planned was with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. Stipe had gone so far as to send Kurt plane tickets to Atlanta for a session they had scheduled in mid-March. At the last minute, Kurt cancelled.
And Stipe, quoted in an MTV article about their relationship:
"I was doing that to try to save his life. The collaboration was me calling up as an excuse to reach out to this guy. He was in a really bad place," Stipe told Interview magazine earlier this year. "I constructed a project to try to snap Kurt out of a frame of mind. I sent him a plane ticket and a driver, and he tacked the plane ticket to the wall in the bedroom and the driver sat outside the house for 10 hours. Kurt wouldn't come out and wouldn't answer the phone."
R.E.M. later wrote “Let Me In” about Cobain’s suicide.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 11:35 PM on November 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


This Unplugged is one of the greats, of course, but I'm mostly just chiming in to say that 14-year-old me was at the Springfield, MA show mentioned at the beginning of the history, and it was awesome.
posted by Errant at 11:38 AM on November 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


I would have loved to see him beat up some acoustic guitars with Conor Oberst or Jeff Tweedy

He did a whole EP of Leadbelly songs with Mark Lanegan but it was never released. Some of the songs are on some boxed set or something I guess.

Some people seem to have decided posthumously that Nirvana was primarily a third wave three chord can't-play, kid punk band which they weren't. They were pretty good musicians and played acoustic sets at shows and were part of a scene which had diverse influences, which they talked about all the time. There was plenty of acoustic/ bluesy/ americana/ metal/ global beat stuff in the "grunge" or whatever you want to call it scene. Most of those bands had really good musicians and really good singers for starters.
posted by fshgrl at 4:18 PM on November 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


I can't find the full academic article "Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and Brahms’ Principle of Developing Variation" by Graeme Downes (PhD in music, professor at University of Otago in Dunedin, NZ, and member of The Verlaines), but there's a summary of it in this 2001 Washington Post article.

"[Arnold] Schoenberg defines the technique as variations of the features of a basic unit -- which provide for fluency, contrast, variation, logic and unity on one hand, and character and every needed differentiation on the other hand -- thus elaborating the idea of the piece.

"In 'SLTS's' case, the idea is the four-note riff -- up a fourth, down one, up a fourth -- on which the song is based. The melodic span of the verse is derived from the inverted riff -- down a fourth, up one, down a fourth -- with the fourth intervals filled in by stepwise motion.

"From here the song rigorously employs linkage technique," Downes continues, "whereby a 'new' idea evolves spontaneously from a preceding one. The last two notes of the verse melody generate the material for the pre-chorus; then the final four notes of the pre-chorus generate the material for the chorus." Just like the first 14 bars of the third movement of Brahms's Symphony No. 2, he says.

posted by larrybob at 1:57 PM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


I've been listening to Bleach, Nevermind and In Utero a fair bit over the last week (When the kids are around I'll put on Unplugged). I feel like I've heard all of Nevermind's songs before, because I probably have, but it is nice to hear them all together in order. It is a very good album but I still prefer In Utero. I've been listening to the original version of Bleach and don't enjoy how it sounds at all. I see now that there's a remastered version out there so I'll give that a listen. Hopefully it's better.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:05 PM on November 21, 2018


I haven't seen a mention yet of the cellist who played with Nirvana during Unplugged, even though she brought another beautiful layer of sound to a couple of the songs and I loved that Kurt chose to include a cello in the arrangements. She lives in Seattle still, and her name is Lori Goldston. She often performs around town, solo or collaboratively.
posted by jokeefe at 3:49 PM on November 24, 2018


the full academic article

It was of course their mastery of the Aeolian cadence that set Nirvana apart
posted by thelonius at 4:09 PM on November 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


“What Makes This Song Great? Ep.44 – NIRVANA”Everything Music, Rick Beato, 13 September 2018
posted by ob1quixote at 9:11 PM on November 24, 2018


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