Deeper Cuts of Nirvana

This is from their album In Utero  which was the last album before Kurt Cobain killed himself. My recollection is that I got into this album before Nevermind because I bought it when it came out.  I thought the cover of the disc was creepy in a cool way.

My old college roommate  came to visit this weekend and as usual, we talked about music and he mentioned he did not like any of the Nirvana he heard on the radio. Well actually, he said he didn’t like the band at all and this alarmed me as even now twenty years later, I love that band. He brought up a very good point though which is that if you don’t ever hear a band’s other non hit songs, it’s hard to really gauge if you like them or not. “Smells like Teen Spirit” is certainly an awesome song, but we have all heard it about a million times now and it’s gotten old. It must be “Stairway to Heaven” syndrome. Great song the first hundred times you hear it.

I used to listen to this song before school like everyday in fourth grade. No, I was not depressed or suicidal and I never even questioned whether fish had feelings or not. I could see why this song would make someone morose, but now, I think it really displays the other side of Nirvana, the quiet as opposed to loud dynamic they borrowed heavily from The Pixies.

Nirvana has  ton of good songs and I’m far more familiar with them as a band than Pearl Jam. It is unfortunate that the public at large doesn’t know more of the deep cuts but that is not their fault. I would lay the blame on the record industry in the last thirty years and iPods, where there is no emphasis on the album. It’s all about the single and how much quick money can be made with minimal effort. It’s a damn shame, I miss cohesive long form albums.

“Pennyroyal Tea” is one from the unplugged album, which my old roommate assured me he’d heard many times so I chose the version off In Utero. The tea is supposed be able to act as an abortive and I guess part of the song is a message to his hippie friends in Seattle that this method does not work. It also seems pretty emblematic of his growing suicidal tendencies which is sad.

Kurt Cobain was definitely a pseudo-hero to me growing up, as I am sure he was to many both now and then, even if he was a drug addled self-destructive mental case. I remember seeing interviews around age 8 before his death and thinking that there must be something wrong with him because he’s so unhappy. At that point, it made no sense to me why someone who so many people loved and had so much success could be feel so down and out. His suicide really confused me for this same reason. I had only a vague idea of the self-inflicted deaths by misadventure by people like Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix and it still made little sense to a fourth grader.

This one was the new song that came off of the greatest hits album in 2002 and apparently was the subject of a long running lawsuit between Courtney Love and the rest of the band. She felt it should be released as a single off of a Beatles “1” style record which it ended up being, while Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic wanted it to be on a B-Side/Rarity record. Love won, it looks like, but I’m sure they all made money off of it.

It’s hard sometimes when I talk to current students about Nirvana because they seem to think he’s their generation’s hero and that I probably don’t know anything about Kurt or Nirvana. I think it’s also a sign of me getting older because I’ve said more than once to them that I was listening to the band before they were alive. I think it’s good kids these days like the band as opposed to most of the bullshit music put out today, but it also concerns me that their fandom is interwoven with the glamorization of suicide and drug addiction. With the prevalence of suicide and self-harm in the teens today, which probably has more to do with mass media coverage than actual statistics, it is a legitimate concern that I try to mitigate whenever I talk Nirvana with the kids. My stock phrase is “Even though I love Jimi Hendrix, doesn’t mean I think it’s cool to overdose on sleeping pills and booze. What a waste of talent”.

I’ve listened to very little live Nirvana which is why I chose this track. I actually like this version more than the unplugged version, probably because I listened to it so many times as a youth.

So, I hope I have illuminated my old friend and anyone else who feels they don’t like Nirvana based on the popular radio hits. With so many internet radio options and some cool radio stations in existence, I could be wrong in thinking that any of these are even new to anyone. For my own interest, I did hear a few songs I’ve never heard and some maybe only once. The last track is one I don’t believe I’ve ever listened to before and that is super cool as I’ve been a fan for so long. For all his faults, Cobain will be remembered as a voice cut short for the 90’s generation and I hope the youths appreciate the music and take  a positive message away from this loss rather than  a negative one. As for my former roommate, I sure hope this post gave you something to like about Nirvana.

These last two tracks are off of Bleach and Insecticide, the two albums I never owned and that are a lot more punk rock then Nevermind. I was never a big punk fan but these songs sure make me want to be. Hope you found some peace Kurt, rest easy.

Impossible Covers: Kurt Cobain and Cole Porter

coleMy brother’s recent post about a fantasy cover describes a conversation we had when I first mentioned our new game–picking an artist and a song for an unsolicited arranged marriage. His version of the conversation is fairly accurate except in the outcome: I think he did a much better job describing the game than I would have and his first proposed cover/artists match-up is better than what I was thinking of.

Let me explain this thing a little bit. As I have made clear before, I am a little obsessed not just with the artistic and philosophical status of a cover but also with the typology of the phenomenon and the criteria that go into song choices. I also suffered a brief obsession with amateurs performing covers on youtube. (Ok, not so brief, I posted three entries about it. Perverse.)

Love this song. It makes me want to sway.

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To Solo or Not to Solo: Is that a Question?

My brother and I have had an ongoing debate for the past few years. In fact, I think that this debate probably predates this blog by a healthy length of time. See, he has a predilection for bands that use what I consider to be too much noise. I have a taste for music that he, at times, considers too ‘emo’ or something like that.

This summary, of course, doesn’t fairly represent either the depth of the discussion or the opinions on either side. The whole concern, I suspect, is so directly connected to our  converging but essentially separate music aesthetics as to represent in toto our different characters and world outlooks.

Most recently, we have been debating the musical structure of songs by Mumford & Sons. One thing we both recognize (and disagree about) is that what sets the band and their style (shared in part with bands like the Lumineers and The Last Bison) is in the eschewal of conventional rock instrumentation—the abandonment of both the drumset and the iconoclastic lead guitar.

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