Yesterday Was April 8...
So I listened to some Nirvana. It's an annual tradition, my way of marking the day we learned of Kurt Cobain's suicide. Yesterday's selection was a choice bootleg: Halloween, 1991, Seattle's Paramount Theatre. It was Nirvana's homecoming show after the first leg of the "Nevermind" tour, right as the band was about to be propelled into the world of super-duper-mega-stardom. I've internalized "Nevermind" and "In Utero" so fully and completely at this point that it's hard to get anything out of listening to them. This bootleg is probably my most listened to Nirvana album this decade.
Its awesomeness is apparent from the start, even before the band starts playing. "This song was written by a band called the Vaselines, they were from Edinburgh, Scotland, they were very punk rock," says Kurt Cobain before launching into a mighty and crunchy version of "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam." If you've only heard the "Unplugged" version, dig around on the Internet some to find a live, electric version. You'll have a new favorite Nirvana song, at least temporarily. (And, of course, find the original. The Vaselines were awesome.)
Those were pretty much the only words Cobain said all night; he left the rest of the chatter to goofball bassist Krist Novoselic. It was all business from there on out as the band ran through great versions of most songs from "Nevermind" along with some choice cuts from "Bleach" and "Incesticide." If Butch Vig's slick production on "Nevermind" has turned you off that album (I'm not the only one, right?) this show should do a fine job reminding you how perfect songs like "Drain You" and "On a Plain" were, to say nothing of the huge hits. Sometimes it's a bit sloppy - Cobain forgets some lyrics and flubs a few notes, but who cares? Nirvana wasn't about precision, after all. "Sometimes, the notes you miss are as important as the notes you hit." I remember reading some variation of that quote somewhere during my youth and it always stuck with me as a sort of guiding principle in music.
Anyway, when news of Cobain's suicide broke back in 1994 I was a pretty inconsolable 13-year-old kid. I was actually very excited earlier that day because I had tickets to see Pearl Jam at the Patriot Center. I still went to the show, and Eddie Vedder - not the closest buddy of Cobain at that time - said something like, "None of us would be here today if it wasn't for Kurt Cobain" and they ended their set with "Rockin' in the Free World" and Vedder smashed a hole in the stage with the mic stand, putting a real damper on some crew member's Friday night plans.
After Cobain's suicide Vedder went on a big anti-everything kick - no more videos, no more Ticketmaster, an album ("Vitalogy") that tried to scare away some listeners. Cobain was the punk rocker, Vedder was the surfer dude, and Vedder seemed intent to get in on that whole punk thing. Fast forward 14 years and Vedder has more indie-cred than most people could have ever imagined - collaboration with Corin Tucker! Ted Leo as opening act! - but the press release that arrived in my inbox yesterday was telling.
Live Nation presents Pearl Jam at Verizon Center! Tickets on sale Friday through Ticketmaster!
I'm not saying Pearl Jam is evil or hypocritical for dealing with behemoths like Live Nation and Ticketmaster. Music is still a business and if you want to be in the game, you've to play the game. But Kurt Cobain just couldn't play. Granted, the dude had a laundry list of problems that had nothing to do with music. But he was an insecure punk rock outsider (remember that K Records tattoo on his arm?) and the stardom and compromises were too much for him. So instead of getting swallowed up in the music industry machine he swallowed a shotgun blast instead. And now we're left searching for obscure bootlegs and b-sides to get our Nirvana fix.
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