It might be the weed, but this morning I was struck by the revelation that not only do I know every single word of a song I’ve utterly despised for over thirty years, but I think I don’t utterly despise it anymore.
I’ve spent much breath and ink slagging the band Nirvana, and its tragic lead singer Kurt D. “Kurdt” Cobain. This might surprise you, but at one point I owned every Nirvana album (that wasn’t live or “unplugged”), including Hormoaning. I pawned ’em all years ago, but there are still a handful of Nirvana songs to which I return now and again, like the bonus track I mentioned in the strip. (The DEVO cover was “Turnaround”, which is not really one of my favorite spud-boy tracks to begin with, all due respect, and it’s on the easily-available Incesticide anyway:)
That’s a perfectly serviceable cover (song, I mean), but I think we can all agree that Kurt and Co. were in their Sunday best, and playing nice to impress DEVO, or maybe land the tune on a soundtrack for a bad sci-fi flick and buff a tidy $75K. This weed is pretty good.
When I count the Nirvana songs I could claim without lying that I “love”, as I am a “Generation X-er” and these things are in fact unavoidable, I begin to notice that each one can be argued as a “perfect Nirvana song”. All of the elements that made the band the cultural atom-smasher that it was are in full view. Cobain’s ability to scream on pitch, like a male Patti Smith, and his supernatural skill with guitar feedback; Krist Novoselic’s ability to match Cobain’s intensity and add an unbreakable bass backbone, and Dave Grohl’s ability to pound the sound into the foundation like no other.
A brief aside regarding Grohl; you readers probably know this already, but his later band Foo Fighters had one or two tracks that approximate a “perfect Nirvana song”, like, you’ve heard “Enough Space”, right? Grohl can scream on pitch too, and well:
Holy shit, how great is that? Top to bottom, that song is fucking awesome.
So anyway; back to Nirvana, and what I was saying; If I had to pick a favorite Nirvana album, it would most likely be In Utero. But here’s the thing, I really only listen to three or four tracks on it. I can’t stand any Nirvana songs that are slow and/or sad. I’m so, so not into listening to depressing words sung slowly and/or sadly by a gentleman who later beheaded himself with a blunderbuss. Crikey!
Let’s throw down. I think “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” is the best cut on the album (original release). It’s Nirvana’s “Locomotive Breath”, thundering and relentless. God bless whatever fucked-up pedals Cobain had wired to his guitar for that session. Those of you before and after Gen-X may not fully understand how piercing feedback is literally music to our ears. And Novoselic’s bass is absolutely god-tier:
Each element’s tone fits the overall piece like black magic. Cobain’s spectacular solo at the end sounds like what Lou Reed wished he was creating when he made Metal Machine Music. It’s actually pretty miraculous in retrospect that this was on an album that millions of teenagers bought. I’m betting that it opened a lot of kids’ minds to more complex and interesting musical concepts, and fuck if that isn’t something to cluck about.
Keep in mind, it was much easier to get annoyed when Cobain was alive and on the cover of every magazine with his filthy hair, granny glasses, and freshly-lit Dunhill a-dangle from his ever-pouting hairless face. This will also sound weird and pompous; you kids these days don’t know the time before Nirvana was popular. B.N.: Before Nirvana. I bet those letters mean something bad on the internet. I’m not looking.
Oh, Nirvana existed, but it wasn’t until a certain album with a baby’s penis on the cover went platinum that anyone cared. A friend in my college dorm (he’s the one cringe-inducingly air-guitaring in the first panel of the strip, which he never did, but I had to draw him doing something) arrived one day with Blew on vinyl, and proceeded to play the wretched song “Stain” to the point where his roommate was openly muttering about slitting his throat as he slept. That track’s title is ironic, in that it stained my opinion of Nirvana pretty badly. I’ll see myself out, thank you. No need to shout invective.
If you bother to watch the so-so movie adaptation of Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil, you will see the exterior of my 1991 apartment; it’s visible in any scene where Lady Chablis exits her house. She would be living next door. I wouldn’t have any problem with that, because I actually met her and saw her perform at Club One Jefferson in the early ’90s, despite it being a gay club and me being straight. Sometimes that was the only place in Savannah where the cool chicks could dance back then, because the music was excellent/at least danceable. Like I said, I’m Generation X. We ended bigotry. I wouldn’t be so hung up on it if you weren’t calling me nasty names all the time. I’m as open-minded a human being as you will ever encounter in your life. Fuck you if you can’t take a joke.
Moving on. I digressed to my 1991 digs because that’s how clear the memories of the breaking of Nirvana still remain. Basically one of my two roomies acquired a big blue baby-penis-sporting LP of Nevermind, and spent the next several months wearing the grooves out on one track and one track alone.
I mean, honestly, I know I’m not the only one who will begin hearing this particular white-hot single the moment I type out a handful of lyrics. Shit, I don’t even have to do that; I can just remind you of this article’s title, and it’ll happen. Again.
Maybe I’m getting old, but I think it’s more of a matter of distance; enough time has elapsed since the media saturation of Cobain’s life and death for me to appreciate this song like I did when I first heard it; on its own merits.
It’s possible but unlikely that someone reading this might never have heard it, which is enviable, because you’re about to discover something that, in terms of massive cultural wallop, one searches in vain for the appropriate metaphor to describe it. If you’re in the “holy shit if I hear this one more time I’ll kill myself too” club, of which I am president, in lieu of self-harm please pretend you’ve never heard it instead. If you’ve also lucked up on some fire weed, this will be markedly easier, as will imagining yourself in my filthy apartment on E. Liberty in the glorious by comparison Year of Our Lord, 1991.
Ready? Don’t sing along or I’ll fucking punch you. Just listen to it. Absorb. Forget any corny “music video”. You’re in a living room in front of a turntable and a box speaker, seated on a mattress on the floor amidst assorted pizza detritus and broken beer bottles, the needle is lowered, and the following hits the air:
Holy living fuck dude. And that’s thirty-two years ago.
How much passion, talent and emotion did you experience in those scant five minutes? It’s not just a perfect Nirvana song, it’s a perfect song. Say what you will about Butch Vig’s production– and I don’t know why you’d have a problem with it– the elements are in perfect balance. The moment it ends you want to hear it again, which was what got us into trouble in the first place.
For all the sass I’ve handed to Kurt Cobain and Nirvana in my life, I can’t deny that their impact upon my generation was well-earned, through exceptional musical ability that’s lamentably absent today. My ribbing comes from a place of love and respect. After all, Nirvana’s music inspired not just my original 2003 comic strip, but Kurt Ro-Bain, and this stupid article featuring art that I am selling because I will literally die without money. I sometimes fantasize about what it’s like to pay rent on time. If you’re gonna bust my balls about the weed, compare this article to the one before it, where I’d been sober as a judge for days. Well, technically I did get drunk on liquor, but that was out of misery. You have to understand; trying to make income doing manual labor makes me not want to draw, because drawing feels worthless. I’ve drawn less in the past few months than I have in years. There was actual dust on the cap of my inkwell. That’s why I keep begging for you to donate, Patreonize me, or buy some art. This is what I do, and why your support is so unbelievably crucial.
I owe a bigger debt of thanks to Nirvana than I’d presupposed. They brought me a significant portion of joy, material, and even fame through their music. I feel stupid for not already recognizing it, and I don’t know why the inspiration contagiously struck me this morning.
It might have been the weed.
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