The late great Kurt Cobain has been on my mind and in my ears more than usual of late.
Perhaps it was all the brouhaha over the 20th anniversary (!) of Nevermind. More likely, it was because of my absolutely uncanny resemblance to Kurt this past Halloween, when my wife and I dressed as members of the so-called 27 Club. (She was Amy Winehouse).
The Mrs. has a green cardigan identical to the one famously worn by Kurt on Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York set 18 years ago this month. Once I put it on, along with my “grunge” wig, "Hi, How Are You?" T-shirt and ripped Levi's, all I could say is “This song is on our first record. Most people don’t own it.”
“About a Girl,” was indeed on Nirvana’s first record, Bleach. But a lot more people own it now than in 1993. The album as a whole is more on the doom & gloom end of the grunge spectrum, with dropped-down guitar tunings and more emphasis on raw emotion than melody.
But “About a Girl” was the glaring exception. It's a total John Lennon homage and hinted at the pop genius to come on Nevermind. Cobain allegedly wrote it after spending four hours listening to Meet the Beatles and it captures the spirit of Lennon’s songs from that LP, particularly “Not a Second Time.”
Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York was released in the fall of 1994, about six months after Kurt blew his brains out. Like many Nirvana fans, I recognized its greatness immediately; a tape a friend made from the TV broadcast was in heavy rotation on my Walkman long before it was released officially.
In the opinion of Rock Turtleneck, it's the best Nirvana record, and the best record of the 1990s. Amazingly, the entire show was done in a single take, with no edits. So much for the Generation X slacker myth.
His mind-blowing, show-closing performance of Lead Belly’s “In the Pines” (here renamed “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”) is one of the greatest, most terrifying rock performances of all time.
Kurt’s legacy would have been much more two-dimensional were it not for Unplugged in New York.
For it showed that more than being a quote-unquote grunge rocker, Kurt was an Aberdeen bluesman at heart who was only beginning to explore the extent of his talents. RIP.
Buy Nirvana's Unplugged in New York on iTunes here.