Posts Tagged ‘Dave Grohl’

Thoughts on “Sirvana”

January 28, 2014
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Image: Rolling Stone

Apparently, at the Grammys on Sunday night, a Grammy award was given to Paul McCartney, Krist Novoselic, Pat Smear, and Dave Grohl, collectively known as “Sirvana”. They won a Grammy for best rock song, or something. As a huge Nirvana fan, I’m glad that Krist and Pat could get some time in the spotlight, but I don’t much care for “Sirvana.”

It all started horribly when they decided to get together and make a song with Paul McCartney for the Hurricane Sandy Relief concert at Madison Square Garden. The reasoning was very admirable. They were using their celebrity to raise money for a good cause. It went downhill as soon as Paul McCartney hit the studio and had no idea who these other people were. Billboard quoted him saying:

“I didn’t really know who they were,” he reportedly said. “They are saying how good it is to be back together. I said: ‘Whoa? You guys haven’t played together for all that time?’

“And somebody whispered to me: ‘That’s Nirvana. You’re Kurt.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

This, to me, is a lack of respect to Nirvana and Nirvana fans. You can’t blame Paul, though. He’s been really busy making some really awful music. So, you can forgive him for not knowing about a band who completely changed the face of music. It’s like if Nirvana didn’t know who the Beatles were. Everyone knows who the Beatles are, and everyone knows who Nirvana is, except, of course, the person 3/4 of them just won a Grammy with. That makes sense.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, McCartney tried to backtrack his earlier ignorance saying:

Asked about future collaborations with the Nirvana members, McCartney said, “You never know. They really are great to play with. They were a great band with Kurt. That’s what I experienced – just playing with a really good band, which is a very special thing. I should know.”

Another reason I can’t get behind “Sirvana” is that it seems so contrived. I’m glad they didn’t cover any Nirvana songs, but I am not interested in them recording new songs, either.

The Atlantic Gets It Mostly Right On Nirvana Unplugged

December 16, 2013


Earlier this week, The Atlantic published an article commemorating the 20th anniversary of the airing of their MTV Unplugged in New York (Unplugged) album. It provides a great overview of the concert, some of which is transferred to the album, and some of which is only visible on the live show. However, I believe the author gets it wrong, as most do, when it comes to the subject of Kurt’s solo performance of “Pennyroyal Tea” (video above).

If you listen to the banter before the song, you could surmise that the solo rendition of the song was a spur of the moment decision made by Kurt, and the band was in such a bad place by then, that they had no choice but to listen for fear of a public melt-down. That is not the case, at all, though. Certainly, Nirvana was in a bad place. Dave had already been looking into a new band (what would become Foo Fighters) and Kurt had talked in interviews about a life after Nirvana. The album containing “You Know You’re Right”, assuming it would have been completed, could have easily been their last. However, this tiny exchange was not a micro-cosm of the bigger problems.

Nirvana had planned to play “Pennyroyal Tea” as a Kurt solo. They rehearsed it solo. The author of the Atlantic article jumps to several wrong conclusions.

Watching the video of the performance only heightens the effect. At the end of the first song Kurt looks at the camera and gives a gnarly forced smile. He later told the producers to make sure it was edited in because, “My manager tells me I need to smile more.” It’s a rare glimpse of humor from an agitated and prickly soul. Even Kurt’s closest allies seem wary of him. Dave Grohl sits quietly throughout, with only a stripped-down kit and a pair of brushes to protect him from Kurt, who repeatedly spins around on his chair and glares at the drummer over hunched shoulders. At one point Kurt passively tells Grohl to not play on “Penny Royal Tea,” [sic] saying, “Am I going to play this, alone?” Dave immediately understands that it’s not a question but a command and lays down his brushes on his snare: “Do it alone.” Grohl then nervously turns to guitarist Pat Smear, asking, “Do you have a smoke, Pat?”

Kurt goes on to play the very personal song alone with his eyes closed. As it ends Grohl shouts out “That was really great!” Kurt responds, “Shut up.” It’s a sore moment revealing a singer uncomfortable in his own skin, through addiction and depression, and a friend who seems to only want him to pull through.

The “nervous” conversation between Grohl and Kurt was more of a “should I really do this by myself?” with Dave answering “sure, why not”. The only question was if Pat would also help singing backup vocals.. As you can see from the setlist, it was always going to be jsut Kurt and Pat. The insecurity of Kurt show throughout the show. Right before he played “Pennyroyal Tea”, he starts of “The Man Who Sold the World” by saying that he “could screw it up” and after the song was over, with almost a surprised relief, he states “I didn’t screw it up, did I? OK, but here’s another one I could screw up…”

He then launched into “Pennyroyal Tea”. The song was rife with errors. He screwed up the second verse and subsequently, the second chorus. He also screwed up the chorus in the third verse. He did not screw up the guitar solo by not doing it. It was planned that he would not do it. Perhaps, it was a sign of his insecurity, perhaps he just didn’t feel like playing it. We’ll never know. He knew he screwed the song up, and Dave knew it as well. It seems that Dave was trying to ease the tension and anger Kurt felt after that performance.Kurt also did not, as the article states, play the song with his eyes closed. He played it the same way he played every other song during the performance.

Going into the Unplugged concert, Kurt was really nervous and anxious. There were at least two reason for this. This would be a stripped down set where everything would be exposed, and Kurt was keenly aware of his limitations on guitar; which is why Pat Smear was added to the lineup. The anxiety was also because of the setlist they chose. Nirvana had seen other bands play this concert and they were disappointed that they would play their hits. No one in Nirvana thought it was the proper venue to do that. There was a lot of pressure on Nirvana by this point. They decided to do the “Unplugged” concert because “In Utero” had not reached the commercial success of “Nevermind” and they weren’t selling out arenas anymore. “Unplugged” was a last ditch effort to breathe some new life into the band. All of this played into Kurt’s attitude and demeanor during the show.

All in all, The Atlantic piece is a great tribute to a great show, it just gets a few things wrong, reads into situations incorrectly. The “Pennyroyal Tea” myth has been persistent since people first saw it. The reality, however, is not as sex as the myth which is why it has persisted. To hear what the song should have sounded like at the show, listen to the demo version that was released on the box set. Because Kurt ended his life so shortly after the show aired for the first time and before the album was ever released, it has become the final portrait of a tortured soul. It has stood on it’s own merits for 20 years, and it will last the test of time.

Nirvana Pt. 2

October 2, 2008

Once Dave Grohl was put into place they could start recording Nevermind. They started in Butch Vig’s Smart Studio in Madison, WI. The set up was low budget and so was the sound. Once they got cleared by their new label (Geffen) to rent a recording Studio they went over to Sound City in Van Nuys to record it on a more professional level. The did, however, use one track from the Smart Studio sessions on the final version of Nevermind – Polly. Soon after recording was completed, they filmed a video for their new song “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

After filming they went on a tour of Europe and without the Internet in those days, they were oblivious to the kind of impact their song was making in the US. They were just happy touring. They were able to see album sales climb and they noticed that Smells Like Teen Spirit was in heavy rotation on the radio and on MTV. They came back to the States in October (after playing clubs in Europe) and they sold out Seattle’s Paramount Theater. They had arrived on the scene.

They hated the new fans that they attracted. The “Frat boys” that bullied kids like them were now listening to their music and buying their CDs. After a high demand for new music Nirvana released “Incesticide” which was a compiliation of B-Sides and other rare songs with limited release up to that point. In the liner notes, Kurt wrote a long diatribe about the fans that they did not want. They did not want racist or ignorant people buying their records.

By 1992, Nirvana was on top of the world. Nevermind had been Number one on the Billboard charts knocking off Michael Jackson and they were selling out arenas all over the country. When it came time to make their second record for Geffen, they were in the driver’s seat. They wanted to make a record with Fuzz Master Steve Albini who did most of his work for Touch and Go Records recording The Jesus Lizard.

They trekked up to Pachyderm Studios in Minnesota and recorded In Utero. The entire recording process lasted 2 weeks and Kurt laid the vocals down in one day. Early masters were very raw and Nirvana had them remixed by Scott Litt of REM fame. This caused a riff between Albini and Nirvana because while Nirvana claimed that the label balked at the tapes, Albini feel that Nirvana was the ones who did not like it. The album sold well and early concerts sold out. As the year went on crowds became slightly smaller.

Shows were not selling out until the day of the show andsome were not sellingout at all. Sales of In Utero started to decline. In an effort to pick up ticket and album sales, Nirvana agreed to an “Unplugged” concert for MTV. They wanted to take a different route than the previous concerts. Everyone played their hits like it was Madison Square Garden (paraphrasing Dave Grohl) and Nirvana wanted to do something different. They played mostly thier songs, but detoured a bit and played covers like “Man Who Sold the World”. They Introduced the world to the Meat Puppets when they covered “Plateau”, “Lake of Fire”, and “Oh, Me” (all of the Meat Puppets second record titled II). Kurt capped off the evening with a breathtaking version of Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”. Nirvana fever was reborn.

The return to success did not help Kurt at all though. His drug use was heavy and slipped into a coma in early 1994. They canceled a tour in Fbruary of 1994 due to Kurt’s laryngitis. Kurt checked himself into a rehab clinic in Los angeles. Sneaked out to get some cigarettes and never came back. His body was discovered in his Seattle homea few days later. He took his own life. He was 27.

Todd

Nirvana Pt. 1

September 16, 2008

Let me start out and state, in my opinion, there would be no Nirvana without the Melvins. Would Kurt have started a band? Probably. However, the chances of that band being with Krist Novosellic, and Kurt getting to record a demo would be extremely low had it not been for the Melvins. Now then, let’s dice right in.

The year was 1985. Kurt Cobain was in high school without hardly any friends and was being shuffled around relatives for a place to stay. He had heard of the band called the Melvins and went to a practice of theirs (a common hangout place for music people). He saw a really tall guy (6’7″) that he recognized from school. This guy was Krist and he listened to punk rock and could play bass guitar.

Kurt really wanted to start a band with Krist, but Krist showed little interest. He went down to Reciprocal Recordings with Dale Crover (100% of the reason Endido gave this Kurt guy the time of day) and they recorded a demo called “Fecal Matter”. Kurt gave this tape to Krist and he was finally convinced. All they needed now was a drummer.

They had simple requirements – someone who was willing to practice 5 days a week. They found a Chad Channing. He had a goofy drum set, and he didn’t do everything exactly the way Kurt would’ve liked him to, but he was there 5 days a week. Now that they had all the pieces in place, they were ready to rock.

They performed at a few clubs under numerous names (Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew…etc) until they finally settled on a name – Nirvana. They felt pretty confident about their songs and started shopping themselves around to labels. They sent tapes to Touch & Go, K Records, and Sub Pop. Sub Pop was the only label to bite and signed Kurt. They went into the recording studio with Jack Endido.

They recorded their first single, “Love Buzz” and wanted the song “Blandest” to be the B-Side. However, Endido thought the title resembled the song and balked. Nirvana decided to go with “Big Cheese” instead. So the first installment of the Sub Pop Singles Club was Nirvana’s Love Buzz b/w Big Cheese. the 7 inch vinyl’s were hand numbered to 1000 and were quickly snatched up. Nirvana was pissed because they were at shows and people wanted their stuff, but they had nothing to give them. the ploy worked though because there was so much demand that when Bleachwas finally released, there was a lot of underground hype for it.

When Nirvana was recording Bleach, they had to come up with $606 dollars to pay Endido for the studio time. Well, being completely broke, Nirvana did not have that kind of money. Enter Jason Everman. They struck a deal with Everman. If he paid the money, he could join their band. They even gave him a guitar credit on Bleach despite not playing on it. After Bleach came out, they went on tour to promote it. They were living their dream. Kurt noted that the tour was great, but wouldhave been better if “Jason wasn’t such a prick”. Everman was kicked out of the band shortly after the Bleach tour.

After the Bleach tour, they had another problem. They grew increasingly frustrated with Chad Channing, so they wrote him a letter effectively kicking him out of the band. So now they had no drummer again. They played shows with Dan Peters, but h had to go back to Mudhoney. They played some shows with Dale Crover, but he had to go back to the Melvins. They let Aaron Bruckhard play with them, but he still wasn’t what they were looking for. Buzz, from the Melvins knew a guy.

DC Punk band, Scream, was touring LA and their band literally fell apart, and they broke up in Los Angeles. Kurt called their drummer, Dave Grohl, and told him to come to Seattle to be in their band. Grohl had nothing to lose so he went up to Seattle. He was everything Nirvana was looking for in a drummer, and now in 1990, 5 years after “Fecal Matter”, they were complete.

To be continued…

Todd

Nirvana…on Vinyl

May 7, 2008

Recently, I was able to purchase a record player at a flea market, and I got it hooked up and ready to play records. Only one problem. The only record I owned was a scratched up Leadbelly record my brother bought for me a few years ago for $1.99. Quite the steal, if you ask me. So, as you can see, I needed to build my vinyl collection up from nothing. I went to my local record store, that has one of the widest selections of any record store in the country. I went to the vinyl section and searched for the Nirvana sub section. To my surprise they had new copies of the “Bleach” album (the one that most people don’t own). So I snatched it up, even though I already had it on CD. I got a few more Jazz LPs and called it a night and went home.

When I got home I went into my room and dropped the needle on “Bleach”. I was blown away. The sound was so rich and full I felt like they were in my room. Sub Pop’s use of the 180 Gram Vinyl was a stroke of genius because it provides the best sound possible. A regular vinyl already provides a better sound than CDs, but the thicker vinyl gets better grooves and the needle picks them up better. The only way the sound could have been better would to be on the needle picking up the vibrations myself.

Sound ranges I had never heard on “Bleach” before came in crystal clear. Tracy Marander’s front cover photo is so detailed on the 12 inch cover. The inner circle art on Side A gives us the old school Nirvana logo they used before adopting their infamous logo for the “Bleach” release. Side B has the artwork for The Seven Layers of Hell from Dante’s Inferno. The ONLY drawback to this vinyl is that it does not include “Big Cheese” or “Downer”. I did not expect it to have “Downer” because it was not included on the original pressings of the vinyl, tape, or CD of “Bleach”, but I would have liked “Big Cheese” especially since it was the B-Side to their first single. Oh well, still highly recommended.

Todd


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