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.

By David Malitz |  April 9, 2008; 10:31 AM ET Screeds
Previous: Getting Crazy with Monotonix | Next: Six Questions For ... Wye Oak


Please email us to report offensive comments.

I was at that Pearl Jam show too, pretty awesome. I remember that they'd already played one encore, and the lights were turned on, which is usually the signal for people to shuffle out. But almost no one left, just everyone screaming for more, which is when the band came back out for "Rockin' In the Free World"

Posted by: Hemisphire | April 9, 2008 11:58 AM

Damn. 14 years gone. Different world today.

Posted by: wiredog | April 9, 2008 12:29 PM

I do kinda wish Pearl Jam had chosen to go with IMP again. Not that IMP is necessarity a huge difference from Libe Nation, but Seth's not Live Nation at least.

I also kinda wish they had broken the seating up a little rather than charging 79 for the whole building. That's really going to suck for the person who gets the seats in the upp back of the building.

Posted by: EricS | April 9, 2008 1:06 PM

I appreciate the article and all the reviews. It keeps us informed and enteryained.


Ricky Byrum

Posted by: Ricky Byrum | April 9, 2008 3:12 PM

When Cobain committed suicide (I was 23 at the time), I stopped listening to Nirvana on a regular basis. These days, the only album I play at all is Incesticide. I can't explain why this is the case. I respect Nirvana's legacy, but the band's music doesn't appeal to me anymore.

By contrast, I respect Pearl Jam more and more as the years go by, even though the last few studio albums haven't been that great. I admire how Vedder and Co. have carried on in spite of the early pressures which almost did them in. Plus, they still put on a great live show, and their classic albums from the '90s still sound good to me (though Ten is overproduced and overrated, just like Nevermind).

p.s. Best PJ album, in my humble opinion: the Touring Band 2000 live DVD. Too bad they didn't release this compilation of songs on CD.

Posted by: SSMD | April 9, 2008 3:13 PM

Would this "punk rock outsider" Kurt Cobain also be the same Kurt Cobain who called MTV management to complain they weren't playing Nirvana videos enough? Is it the same guy that got REM producer Scott Litt to remix some of Steve Albini's tracks from "In Utero" to make them more radio-friendly?

Posted by: mikef | April 9, 2008 3:17 PM

Quien es mas Punk Rock Outsider, Kurt Cobain o Eddie Vedder?

Posted by: Self-Congratulatory Hipster | April 9, 2008 4:20 PM

Great entry, David. I never really listened to Nirvana other than their radio hits and I was only 10 when he died, but this entry makes me want to go out and buy everything Cobain ever did.

Posted by: msto | April 9, 2008 4:43 PM

Has anyone ELSE ever heard of Fugazi?

Eddie was into them and idolized Ian YEARS before Cobain became punk.

If you are going to pass off your own writers opinion, as opposed to fact, then do a little research before you infer that Vedder co-opted Kurt's gig.

Another fine example of the media offering convenient opinion, as opposed to fact.

Posted by: Joe | April 9, 2008 6:58 PM

well, unlike most of the people who seem to judge Cobain on almost every site I ever see...I actually saw Nirvana in concert in Dallas in December 1993. They were awesome and that is all I have to say.

Posted by: c.ray | April 10, 2008 11:21 AM

@Joe: hi, this is a blog, the writer is free to offer his opinion. not to mention i don't think he said Cobain or Vedder were the first to go punk.

Posted by: msto | April 10, 2008 4:41 PM

Kurt was and is an original. He didn't really die. Radio should play something else besides same ol' same ol'. Like most people that are truly successful Kurt's intelligence and insight, though, idiosyncratic boardered on genius. And the hooks, oh, the hooks. I reserve judgment on suicide and feel it 50/50. Courtney's capable.

Posted by: MC | April 10, 2008 9:25 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company