Although he may not have approved of us all fawning over his death and pining for his return twenty years later, I’m sure Kurt Cobain would forgive us for obsessing over his music, in the way that he did about so many other artists… Whether we sought solace in his ability to touch hearts and empathise with our teenage angst, or simply enjoyed dancing along to the hits at parties, here at Gigslutz we’re celebrating the life of this infamously reluctant rock star by recalling our favourite Kurt-related memories and songs.
Nirvana reminds me of sixth form days and studying for A Levels. I never liked school much but college was great! Long afternoons spent hanging out down the pub with mates, chatting about music and everything else in life. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ will always be my favourite Nirvana song and brings a smile to my face as it reminds me of some funny times around my mates and at college house parties. I remember having some very profound discussions on politics and the meaning of life with random people at those parties, as well as drinking and smiling and dancing like everyone else. The line in the track – ‘I feel stupid and contagious’ – sums up that feeling at that time best I think!
Woolworths on Plumstead High Street had much to offer a 14 year-old in 1991: an impressive variety of pick ‘n’ mix that one could ‘sample’ before buying (when the security guard wasn’t looking); a decent selection of comics and magazines you could peruse at leisure (until the security guard pointed out that the library was up the road); and a music section that was surprisingly eclectic for a suburban high street, which was where I purchased my cassette copy of Nevermind. I’d bought numerous albums and singles there previously, but for some reason buying Nirvana’s second LP from ‘Woolies’ remains a defining moment of my adolescence. I recall getting home and listening to side A, then turning the tape over to play side B, and when that ended, repeating the process again. And again.
Over the next year I made numerous copies for friends, who no doubt made copies for their friends (sharing MP3 files is nowhere near as romantic). I went from loving every second of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ to fast forwarding past it to ‘In Bloom’ and the superior ‘Come As You Are’. At some point side B replaced side A at the height of my affections, and for a while I listened to ‘Lounge Act’ on the bus to school every morning like it was my personal mantra. By the summer of ’92, Nevermind was everywhere – in shops, on MTV; even my teachers knew who Kurt Cobain was. But for a brief period, before grunge became trendy and ripped jeans and lumberjack shirts from Millets became high-street fashion items, listening to Nirvana was like being part of a secret, privileged club. R.I.P. Kurt.
I’m going to have to go for ‘Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle’ as my favourite Nirvana song, not least because it contains in my opinion Kurt’s single greatest lyric, the brutally honest ‘I miss the comfort in being sad’. When you analyse it and consider that the tragic end came only seven months later, its sentiment really hits home. Beyond the lyrics, Krist Novoselic – an often overshadowed component in Nirvana’s genius – churns out one of his finest bass performances with the band. And, well, that guy on the drums ain’t half bad is he…
I look back on my early assessment of Nirvana with equal measures of embarrassment and fondness in the face of my sheer naïveté. You see, in my adolescence the only Nirvana song I knew was ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ until that is, a friend played me ‘Love Buzz’, which became a firm favourite. The astute among you will note the blindingly obvious, that neither of these songs are strictly speaking Nirvana songs, having been written respectively by David Bowie and the otherwise lost to history Shocking Blue.
For years, my acquaintance with Kurt Cobain and company was casual at very best, limited to the frequent re-runs of their seminal MTV Unplugged performance back when MTV still showed music instead of pregnant/drunk/idle-rich teenagers. When I first heard ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’, I like to think I heard it the same way people heard it in 1991, those unforgettable introductory chord strums figuratively tearing open my skull to scrawl ‘Kurt was here’ on my brain. Whether it’s your first time listening to Nirvana, or whether you’re one of the many putting on one of their albums this time of year to celebrate the memory of a troubled yet remarkable individual who left us too early, the reaction I hope is the same: recognition of an undisputed genius.
I plucked the baby-clad cover of Nevermind from my Dad’s CD stack in my early teens, turned my amps up to 11 and waited. I was hit with a barrage of sound unlike anything I’d heard before or since, and it was perfect – in the way that it perfect for anyone who ever felt awkward/angry/sad/horny/
When I got to university, over 15 years after grunge was the word, I remember sitting in smokey rooms with cheap larger and grubby boys who still continued to practise their version of Bleach tracks, and arguing over which album was the best. The fact that the band permeated mine and countless others youth’s is a real testiment to how you define them. It is youth music; angry and refreshing. I don’t listen to the band so much now, but I consider their albums to be like parts of my musical toolbox, ready to pluck out whenever I have a ‘Nirvana day’ and will still be as fresh and as understanding as the first time. They are high quality old friends, and they really don’t make em like they used too.
Favourite Album – In Utero
Favourite Track – Sliver, Territorial Pissings or Milk It – I refuse narrow down more!
I was only eight when Kurt Cobain died and five when “Nevermind” was released. I was definitely too young to appreciate and understand how big Nirvana were and how they started a music (and, I dare say, social) revolution. So I discovered Nirvana a few years later while listening to MTV Italy, when music was still the channel’s biggest concern. There was this young journalist who was talking about this young man who decided to kill himself before giving us some music pearls. Then I suddenly realised he was the one who was singing the song I liked so much and, at the same time, I hated so much. “Smells Like Teen Spirits” still hurts my ears whenever I listen to it ( which is quite often). It’s powerful, it’s strong, it goes straight to the heart. However, for some reason, my favourite Nirvana song is “Come As You Are”: I love the lyrics, particularly “take your time, hurry up, choice is yours, don’t be late”.
When I was younger Nirvana were one of those bands that I, ashamedly, only knew the hits of. I wasn’t a massive enthusiast or fully educated on the albums or the back catalogue. As the years went on I thought it was my duty to do so; I obviously started off, as most people do, with the self-titled album and Nevermind, but it was with the purchase of MTV Unplugged album that my education took hold and they really started to make sense to me. The show itself was recorded in November 1993, aired in December of that year but released as an album a year later in November 1994.
Having read many different accounts of that show and listened to the album more times than I’d care to count, it is obvious it was a performance that Cobain didn’t take lightly and one of which he put his heart and soul into. You could easily write a whole piece on that one show due to what went on before and proceeded it, but the vocals are haunting and the sound so raw. It’s Cobain at his most exposed and creative and for that reason will go down as a master piece, which isn’t often said about a live album.
My favourite Nirvana song is – and probably always will be – ‘Heart Shaped Box’. The line “I’ve been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks” is simply beautiful, and although I wasn’t introduced to Nirvana until relatively late in my teens this song is made that much more special for me because it was put on a Mix CD, given to me by someone very special. Y’know those songs that you directly affiliate with a time, a place, a person when you listen to them? Yeah … well this is mine.
“…he likes to shoot his gun, but he don’t know what it means”. My first recollection of Nirvana was hearing ‘In Bloom’ whilst slumped in a chair at school. A friend had passed me his walkman (yeah, tape walkman) and I was listening to ‘Nevermind’, Nirvana’s second album which sent them into the stratosphere of stardom. The year was 1992, three years after their debut ‘Bleach’, and nothing had made an impact on my musical mind as much as this since first hearing Hendrix and the Beatles. If there was a band that could capture that rebellious, free-thinking, introspective teenage angst feeling it was Nirvana. I was astounded that only 3 people could make this much noise, a noise that sounded rich, powerful and connecting. Every party I’d go to there would be the mandatory play of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ where we’d stop doing what we were doing (‘heavy-petting’ in a dark corner usually) and hastily form a mosh-pit near the speaker and go crazy for a few minutes. Bouncing off each other in over-sized jumpers whilst faithfully screaming out every word was de rigueur, time seemed to slow down and we’d never felt so free and wild since we were small kids.
I remember being in a Bavarian holiday cottage with my parents on 5th April 1994 when my dad came up the stairs and said “your friend shot himself”. What? What friend? Who the hell has a gun? I rushed down the rickety stairs and saw to my horror MTV news announcing that Kurt had shot himself. I thought it was a late and very bad April Fool’s joke but it wasn’t, he had actually done it. I could not for the life of me begin to understand why he’d done this. ‘In Utero’, their final studio album, had been playing on my walkman just that day as I’d trekked through snowy hills as I’d sing Dave Grohl’s subtle yet beautiful harmony on ‘Heart Shaped Box’. Kurt’s death tore a large hole in my world but I was comforted by three albums that I could put on whenever I wanted and feel that same euphoria I’d always experienced. It was shame he couldn’t do the same.
Most Nirvana songs hold a pretty important place in my memory, but there is one in particular which will always hold an immense resonance: Pennyroyal Tea. Although deriving its name from a herbal abortive, to me the song’s never just been about stomach pain (which Kurt suffered terribly with)…
I remember being about sixteen, sitting on the kitchen floor of a house party in the early hours of the morning, contemplating another night of social awkwardness. As Cobain’s angst-laden voice strained through the CD player with lyrics about having bad posture and delving into the depths of a depressive Leonard Cohen afterworld, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming connection to the song, and to Cobain, in a way that I will never forget. In my over-sensitive, teenage state, I felt like someone finally understood; he may have just been a voice through a crackly stereo right then, but in him was someone I could relate to, someone whose music could give me a sense of belonging whenever I felt lost.
Although I left the angst of teenagedom long ago, for me, it is this empathy, this overwhelmingly powerful ability to connect and reassure, that makes Kurt Cobain one of the greatest songwriters of our time. And, although it may have only been my 8th birthday when his life ended, his legacy has seen me through to my 28th, and will never fail to touch and inspire, just as it did that night on the kitchen floor.
Whenever I see a long haired youth sporting a Nirvana top it always evokes a range of emotions, from nostalgia through to a twinge of jealously. That iconic ‘smiley’ cartoon face takes me back to a time when music was pretty much the only thing that mattered and Nirvana managed to transcend that to something even more important.
In addition to a musical output which seemed designed specifically for my very own teenage ears and emotions, came an ethos that was to be the benchmark for all other music and in many ways shape my very personality; passion and integrity above all else, rebellion, anti-authority, rejection of the notion of being ‘cool’…. It was all powerful stuff for a teenager and a lot of it still holds true now.
I don’t listen to them as much these days but whenever I do they still stir that raw passion and excitement that they always did. Just try watching the Reading Festival DVD without being awestruck at the sheer intensity of the performance. I thank them for igniting a spark in music that may not burn as brightly as it once did in those heady teenage years, but still lingers on nonetheless. Because after all, it’s better to fade away than to burn out Mr Cobain…