I Think I Have to Stop Listening to Nirvana, and 6 Random Thoughts

25Apr12

I don’t know that I’ve ever loved Nirvana as much as I do at this moment, and I can actually feel it killing my mood. You cannot think about this band for more than one minute without being reminded of suicide. I guess I should be sort of happy, because my post-Nirvana listening mood confirms my morality and normality as a human being, but it’s kind of finding out the hard way. Like getting harsh notes on a script: you needed to know it, but it’s still rough.

All that being said, I can’t seem to escape playing them, and I’m considering an exorcism from my iPod, much like I’ve done to the Stones when I get in a rut with them. Last week I picked up used copies* of “Bleach” and “From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah,” but I’m already afraid they’re turning me into (at best) a crank and (at worst) a moody, dark person. I’ve had to counter balance my Nirvana diet with some much needed girl-vocals from Elastica and the “Josie and the Pussycats” soundtrack. This is not a joke.

I think I’ve always been an empathetic person, verging on idiocy. There’s a story Kevin Smith tells of the time he was writing a new Superman movie, and he met with producer Jon Peters. Smith says that one of their meetings came around the time the special editions of “Star Wars” had been released, and he was convinced that Peters saw these movies again, because Peters insisted on “having an R2” in this Superman movie. Peters, Smith believes, is one of these people who see something and want it so badly that they’ll almost convoke themselves it was theirs to begin with because he is incapable of coming up with his own thoughts.

I’m afraid I am that way, only with emotions, and even if Kurt Cobain hadn’t killed himself (and if you listen to any part of “In Utero,” how would it have been avoided?), the tone and mood of Nirvana is rarely joyful. It’s bitter, angry and dark.

Again, I am an idiot. Everyone knew Nirvana wasn’t made for children back in 1991. But the hooks are so hooky and the melodies are so flowing that it makes a bitter pill easier to swallow. I still sing “Come As You Are” as a lullaby for Henry, and he’s 2.5 years old. It’s entirely possible that I’ve sung that song more times than even Cobain has, and knowing all I know about it — where it came from, the lyrics, and the mood of the music — I still sing it. Henry actually requests it now.

I can’t tell if this is bad parenting or not. When I first sang it to him, I was simply searching for a song which A.) I knew all the words to, and B.) had a melody which did not depend entirely upon instruments. I was singing it a cappella, so I had no choice.  It was this choice of “Come As You Are” that may have served as the inciting incident for my 20-years-after-the-fact re-love of the band. Or at least my re-appreciation. Melody is hard, man. Songs are easy, but melody is really difficult. Or it seems difficult when all you know are Ramones and Rolling Stones songs. But having a song in which the melody rises and falls naturally and changes enough to be interesting is very difficult in rock n’ roll. That’s not to say that every Nirvana song has a great melody, but the ones that do have it in spades, and they’re infecting my brain.

And my son’s. He can now sing along with “Sliver” (which, along with “Aneurism” have become the best re-discoveries of this wave). It’s got words he knows: “Mom and Dad” and “Grandma take me home.” We usually sing it a lot more bouncy than the “Incesticide” version, but that’s just good parenting (I think).

Other random thoughts:

1.) In listening to “Bleach” for the first time in possibly ever, you can really hear the Motorhead and Black Sabbath influences on the band. It might be interesting to do a study of pre-voice work such as this, because albums preceding the breakthrough albums often sound like a completely different band. Such is the case with “Bleach” as compared to “Nevermind.” Radio play might have something to do with this, since the 1991-92 saturation of Nirvana on the air solidified what Nirvana sounds like to most people. However…

2.) Dave Grohl was the secret weapon.  Across the board, the best songs on “From the Muddy…” are from “Bleach.” If you were like me (aka a poseur), then you first heard “MTV Unplugged: Live From New York,” you were blown away by “About a Girl.” Well, maybe not blown away, but you might have thought, “This is a damn good song — why haven’t I heard it before?” This would make you think you need to hear “Bleach” right away to hear other uncovered jewels, but they wouldn’t exactly be there, because Grohl wasn’t the drummer. This leads me to believe that if Grohl had been the drummer for the “Bleach” sessions, that album would be 5 times better than it is. As it is now, it’s OK. It’s just not Nirvana. With Grohl, they became legitimately powerful. Compare the versions of “Negative Creep” for proof of greatness.  HOWEVER AGAIN…

3.) What Qualifies a Great Band as “Great” Might Actually Be How You Love New Songs. If your’e like me (again), then Nirvana’s cultural debut was “Nevermind” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” That was the first time you heard them. This means that every song since “Teen Spirit” can be counted as a “New to You” song. I would wager that nearly every major new song you heard from Nirvana from that point on was good if not plain outstanding. The singles go: “Teen Spirit,” “Come As You Are,” “Lithium,” “In Bloom,” “Heart-Shaped Box,” “All Apologies,” “Rape Me,” “Pennyroyal Tea,” “About a Girl (live)” and “You Know You’re Right.” A harsh critic might argue that there is an Act 2 low point there at “Rape Me” and “Pennyroyal Tea,” but I think those choices were much more calculated than artistic, especially “Rape Me,” which is the only one of these songs I can’t stand. AND that’s the one that’s a co-single with “All Apologies,” which remains unabashedly great.

THE POINT is that Nirvana had a great record of churning out great songs, and that should quantify the band as great. Once you’re on board with these songs and this sound, then when you find the deeper cuts like “Aneurism” or “Been a Son” or “School,” played by the band at the peak of their powers, as they appear on “From the Muddy…” you have the recipe for something special. When’s the last time you dug through a band’s catalog and realized you were actually missing something?

4.) They have some of the dumbest titles in the history of the world. I’m almost thinking that Cobain’s suicide had more to do with legitimizing his poor word choices than any other affect on the band’s legacy. First off are the easy ones, like the references to “suicide” and “guns” all over the catalog. But then there are stupid titles like “Incesticide” that feel just shy of high-school dumb. I know he never claimed to be a genius, but for those who would call him that, you must answer for forced puns. With that being said…

5.) The subject of “On a Plain” only works when you know how the title is spelled. Just singing it, you could easily mistake it for the singer being on a JET plane (which, frankly, is more likely these days than someone being on a flat stretch of endless prairie). It’s too bad I had to realize this, because it’s one of my favorite songs of theirs, but sing along with it and try not to feel like a moron. It’s going along, singing the same old Cobain nonsequitors, and then it sounds like you’re telling people you’re flying someplace. Now, many bands have sung about being on planes and not sounded stupid… BY COMPARISON. But with Nirvana, the context of sitting on a (presumably commercial) airplane feels so out of sync with their library that it stands out.

6.) I also bought** Hole’s “Live Through This.” If you want a weird-by-historical-comparison trip, try that one on. I promise to write more about it later.

*From Amoeba Records in Hollywood, and I did not pay full price for them, even the “used full price” of $8.00. I got one for $6 and the other for $4 or $5 because they were labeled “worn,” but guaranteed to play. Which they do. This is residual bargain searching from my years as a music store clerk in college. Nearly 15 years has passed, and I still can’t give up the belief that there’s a cheaper version of something somewhere else. I can’t give it up because, most times, I’m right.

**For only $2.00. Jackpot.

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